Learning By Example: An Exercise to Feed the World

The decade is 2020. Drought conditions have reduced global crop production, resulting in rising food prices. Food stocks around the world are decreasing dramatically. Social unrest and regional migration ensues as low- to middle-income countries struggle with food shortages. And, emergency relief aid organizations near their funding and resource limits.

This was the first of four scenarios during a food security simulation that the Center for American Progress (CAP), in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund, the Center for Naval Analysis, Cargill, Mars and various sponsors, including DuPont convened last month. The exercise replicated the many unique and often cyclical challenges that could threaten our global food and nutrition security from 2020 to 2030.

But, despite the nature of the "game," the food chain reaction exercise was not based in fiction. In fact, the Arab Spring of five years ago tells us that quite the opposite is true.

In 2010 and 2011, a series of unusual and extreme weather events in key crop producing countries and regions, including China, Brazil, and the former Soviet Union, disrupted harvests, doubling the price of wheat in less than a year and causing deficits in sugar, soy, and corn.

Some countries took steps to stockpile, removing food and agricultural products from the market. Meanwhile, import-dependent countries in the Middle East and North Africa witnessed street protests and riots resulting from a growing dissatisfaction with country governments. This series of events epitomizes the food chain reaction that CAP built upon during its simulation.

But, we no longer have to look that far back.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has already recognized 2015 as a record warm year - surpassing any year since 1880. Not surprisingly, these record warm temperatures are having profound effects on global harvests, livestock, and fisheries, with millions of people expected to suffer from hunger across parts of Africa in the coming months.

The reality is that the stressors on our food supply are not going away.

Without timely action and thought leadership from the global community, we will continue on our current trajectory. Global warming will continue to strain crop yields. Barriers to trade liberalization will continue to hinder the movement of food around the world. And mounting fears tied to food access and availability will continue to incite social and economic instability.

The CAP exercise was an opportunity to address this new norm of climate volatility, demographic shifts, and changing diets, along with the social, political, and economic consequences that result.

During the two-day simulation, teams of country government leaders, multilateral institutions, and private sector organizations recognized the need to act and came together to develop policy solutions and provocative steps to address our food and nutrition security challenges.

As a participant in the game, I was encouraged by the commitment of each of the teams. There were unforeseen partnerships that transcended initial protectionist instincts among country leaders. Multilateral institutions stepped in to meet the emergency needs of countries facing food crises. And, the private sector was willing to invest where needed in vulnerable countries and regions in agriculture research and development and infrastructure.

The positive impacts of the collaborations and multi-sectoral approaches implemented during the exercise served as a reminder that global food and nutrition security cannot be solved in a vacuum. From rapid population growth and migration to cities, to limited access to water resources and arable land, to increasing greenhouse gas emissions, to food price disruptions, each of these influences can result in a downward spiral for our global food supply chain.

For these reasons, I'm equally encouraged by the climate change talks that took place in Paris during the United Nations 21st Conference of the Parties. Our warming planet will remain one of the primary threats to sustaining our society. It will take the commitment of the over 190 countries that met in Paris to execute the new climate change agreement aimed at addressing the drivers of global warming.

It's my hope that the steps taken in Paris will strengthen the collective action needed to address each of our food and nutrition security challenges. Because as evidenced by our food security exercise, achieving global food and nutrition security is not a game we can afford to lose.

Senator Daschle is a former United States Senate Majority Leader and Founder and CEO of The Daschle Group. Senator Daschle is also a member of the DuPont Advisory Committee on Agricultural Innovation & Productivity and Chairman of the Center for American Progress Board.