top of page

Food Security and Health Effects

What is Food Security?

Food security is a state where everyone, at all times, has dependable access to enough safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and preferences for an active and healthy life. Daniel Silverstein, food security advisor to the United States Agency for International
Development, states there are seven factors that are essential to food security. Food needs to be available, accessible, affordable, acceptable, nutritious, safe and of good quality.


The environmental phenomenon associated with climate change have many and far-reaching impacts on the food security. Plant health and agriculture are adversely affected as well as animal reproduction and growth, fisheries and aquaculture, food trade and distribution, and consumer behavior. The effects of climate change, such as drought, extreme heat and flooding can disrupt food production and distribution, ultimately contributing to food insecurity.

Related News

April 3, 2023

A look at the cost of climate change on human health

U of A Health and Sciences

January 4, 2024


Good Food Finder

September 19, 2023


Good Food Finder

Learn More

Food Systems and Climate  Change

How does climate change affect food chains?

Climate change's impact on food chains is a complex and interconnected web, affecting every stage from production to consumption. Here's a breakdown of the key ways it disrupts this delicate system:

1. Disruption of natural cycles:

Temperature and precipitation: Rising temperatures stress crops, while altered rainfall patterns (intense droughts, floods) damage or drown them. This reduces yields and destabilizes food production.

Pollination: Extreme weather and habitat loss hinder insect populations crucial for     pollination, impacting fruit and vegetable production.

Ocean acidification: Warming oceans disrupt marine ecosystems, affecting the abundance and distribution of fish and shellfish.

2. Threats to food quality and safety:

Heat stress: Heat accelerates the growth of certain harmful bacteria and toxins in food, increasing the risk of foodborne illness.

Water contamination: Droughts and floods can contaminate water sources used for irrigation and agricultural processing, leading to unsafe food products.

Pests and diseases: Warmer temperatures create favorable conditions for pests and diseases that attack crops, leading to losses and reducing food safety.

3. Loss of biodiversity and ecological resilience:

Habitat loss: Rising sea levels and extreme weather events destroy natural habitats, leading to the loss of plant and animal species vital for maintaining ecosystem health and pest control.

Reduced nutrient availability: Soil erosion and decreased organic matter due to extreme weather and changes in agricultural practices affect soil fertility, impacting crop yields and nutrient content.

Disruption of food webs: Changes in the abundance and distribution of different species in food webs can lead to imbalances and cascade effects throughout the ecosystem, impacting food security for both humans and wildlife.

4. Socioeconomic consequences:

Increased food insecurity: Decreased food production and access to safe and nutritious food lead to higher food prices and shortages, disproportionately impacting vulnerable populations.

Livelihood loss: Farmers and communities dependent on agriculture face economic hardship due to decreased yields and disrupted food supply chains.

Migration and conflict: Food insecurity and competition for resources can lead to social unrest and displacement, further exacerbating global food security challenges.

What are harmful strategies humans use to keep food chains running?

It's important to remember that the goal of any food chain is not simply "keeping it going" at any cost. In fact, many human strategies to maintain food supplies can unintentionally harm the environment and the long-term viability of the entire system.

Here are some examples of harmful strategies:

1. Intensive Agriculture:

  • Monoculture: Relying on vast fields of a single crop creates ideal conditions for pests and

diseases, requiring heavy applications of pesticides and herbicides. This harms beneficial
insects and pollinator populations, disrupts biodiversity, and pollutes soil and water

  • Excessive water use: Large-scale irrigation can deplete freshwater resources, especially

in arid regions, leading to environmental degradation and competition for water usage.

  • Animal Factory Farming: Confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) generate

immense amounts of waste, polluting water and air with ammonia and other
contaminants. Their reliance on antibiotics to prevent disease in crowded conditions
contributes to antibiotic resistance in bacteria.

2. Exploitative Fishing Practices:

  • Overfishing: This depletes fish stocks below sustainable levels, disrupting entire food

webs and threatening the viability of entire marine ecosystems. By catch, the
unintentional capture of unwanted species, further harms biodiversity. According to the

United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the world's authority on
fisheries, 34.2% of fisheries are overfished.

  • Destructive fishing gear: Bottom trawling and other unsustainable fishing methods

damage delicate seabed habitats, impacting ecosystems and reducing long-term fish

3. Other unsustainable practices:

  • Habitat destruction: Deforestation and development encroach on natural habitats, leading

to species loss and disrupting the vital ecological services provided by healthy

  • Climate change: Industrial agriculture and other human activities contribute to

greenhouse gas emissions, fueling climate change, which in turn negatively impacts food
chains around the globe.

It is important to note that these are just examples, and the severity of the harm depends
on specific practices and local contexts. However, they highlight the need for adopting
more sustainable and responsible food production and consumption practices that
consider the entire food chain and prioritize long-term ecosystem health and human well-

Moving forward, we need to focus on:

  • Diversifying agricultural practices: Utilizing crop rotation, polycultures, and organic

farming methods can help reduce reliance on harmful chemicals and promote healthier

  • Home Gardening can help mitigate food insecurity caused by climate change. Research

has shown that many developing countries use home gardening to increase availability of
food and better nutrition through food diversity. Home gardening can also enhance rural
employment through additional or off-season production. In addition, there are many
environmental benefits from recycling water and waste nutrients, controlling shade, dust,
and erosion.

  • Investing in sustainable fishing practices: Adopting quotas, implementing selective
    fishing gear, and protecting marine protected areas are crucial for ensuring long-term

fisheries sustainability.

  • Protecting biodiversity: Conserving natural habitats and promoting practices that support

biodiversity are essential for maintaining healthy food webs and the ecosystem services
they provide.

  • Reducing overall consumption: Shifting towards plant-based diets and reducing food

waste can lessen the overall pressure on food production systems.
By acknowledging the harmful impacts of some current food chain practices and
embracing sustainable alternatives, we can strive to build a more resilient and equitable
food system for the future.

Arizona's Triple Threat: Climate Change, the Colorado River, and Food Security

Arizona faces a complex and interconnected web of challenges threatening its food security: climate change, the dwindling Colorado River, and their combined impact on agriculture.

Climate Change:

  • Rising temperatures: Projected to increase by 3-5°F by 2100, impacting crop yields and water demand. For major Arizona crops, according to an Arizona State University study in 2017, yields could drop more than 12 percent per 1 degree Celsius. It also could require increased irrigation of about 2 percent per degree, according to the study. Disruptions would be felt locally and across the Southwest, including California, Nevada, and Texas, affecting food supply chains to several major U.S. cities, the research shows.

  • Droughts: Becoming more frequent and severe, reducing water availability for agriculture and public use.

  • Extreme weather events: Wildfires, floods, and dust storms are projected to increase in frequency and intensity, damaging crops and disrupting food distribution.

Colorado River:

  • Decreased water availability: Declining water levels due to climate change, upstream

demand, and inefficient water management threaten Arizona's vital water source.
Currently, the Colorado river supplies 36% of Arizona’s water supply. Arizona
agriculture accounts for 72% of Arizona’s total water usage.

  • Water restrictions: Arizona has already faced mandatory water restrictions, and further

cuts are anticipated, impacting irrigation for farms, and increasing water costs

  • Salinization: As water levels decline, the concentration of salt in the remaining water

increases, making it less suitable for agriculture and urban use.


Food Supply:

  • Reduced crop production: Water scarcity and heat stress directly impact the yield of major crops like alfalfa, wheat, and lettuce, threatening Arizona's agricultural sector and pushing food prices higher.

  • Loss of agricultural jobs: Farmers face immense challenges adapting to water shortages and changing conditions, potentially leading to job losses and economic hardship in rural communities.

  • Food insecurity: Reduced food production and increased costs could impact vulnerable populations in Arizona, leading to food insecurity and hunger

Solutions and Adaptations:

  • Adaptation measures can help to reduce negative impacts of climate change on the food system and ecosystems. These adaptions are multifaceted. It is imperative that we invest in sustainable agriculture, promoting resilient farming and equitable access to resources and invest in water conservation. We need to strengthen social safety nets which will provide support to vulnerable communities and those facing food insecurity. It is vital to educate people about the adversity of climate change and to foster collaboration locally, nationally, and internationally to address these global challenges.

bottom of page