Researcher explores how to make global food supply more resilient


Credit: Unsplash / CC0 Public Domain

As the world becomes more globalized, one of the ways states have relied on each other is through a more intricate and interconnected food supply chain. Food produced in one country is often consumed in another country – with technological advances allowing food to be transported between countries that are increasingly distant from each other.

This interconnectedness has its advantages. For example, if the United States imports food from multiple countries, and one of those countries abruptly stops exporting food to the United States, there are still other countries that can be relied on to provide food. But as the global coronavirus pandemic COVID-19 is completely clear, it also leaves the food supply chain – all the steps involved in bringing food from farms to the tables of people around the world – exposed to potential shocks in the system.

A new study published in Nature Food led by Kyle Davis of the University of Delaware, he studied how to ensure that food supply chains can still function within these types of environmental shocks and highlighted key areas that future research should focus on. The study was co-authored by Shauna Downs, an assistant professor at Rutgers University School of Public Health, and Jessica A. Gephart, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Science at American University.

Davis said the motivation behind this work was to understand current knowledge about environmental disturbances in food supply chains and to explore evidence that disruptions in one step of the food supply chain affect subsequent stages. The steps in the global food supply chain are described in the paper as production, storage, processing, distribution and trade, retail and food consumption.

“Does the disruption in food production go through different steps and ultimately affect distribution and trade, all the way to consumers?” asked Davis, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Spatial Sciences at UD College of Earth, Ocean and Environment and the Department of Plant and Land Sciences at UD College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, who is also a resident faculty member in UD’s Institute of Data Science. “If there is a shock to agriculture on the other side of the world, will you see the effects in your trade?”

The environmental disturbances covered in this paper include events such as floods, droughts, and extreme heat, as well as other phenomena such as natural hazards, pests, diseases, algal blooms, and coral bleaching.

Davis said the job was particularly timely – given the unprecedented effects the COVID-19 pandemic had on the entire food supply chain – and stressed the importance of understanding how global food supply chains function properly under stress.

“COVID-19 has affected all steps in the supply chain at the same time, from the lack of seasonal crop workers to meat processing plants that are temporarily shut down as workers get sick, to the accumulation of behavior and running in grocery stores,” Davis said. “We’ve also seen that a lot of people have lost their jobs, and as a result, they may no longer be able to buy certain foods.”

The researchers focused on understanding how temperature and precipitation affect base crops in the production step in the supply chain, Davis said, but how this affects the rest of the steps in the food supply chain has not been thoroughly investigated. Therefore, we do not have a good understanding of how a range of disorders on various food products ultimately affect consumption, food safety and nutrition.

To address these knowledge gaps, researchers have identified key areas for future research: 1) understanding the shape of the supply chain, meaning its relative number of farmers, distributors, retailers and consumers to identify possible vulnerabilities; 2) assess how simultaneous shocks – such as drought in two different places – affect the entire supply chain; and 3) quantify the ability of substitutions in supply chains, such as replacing corn flour with flour if wheat is lacking

Finally, Davis said this work could help policymakers and businesses make food systems more capable of anticipating and absorbing unprecedented shocks.

“As climate change and other sudden global events like pandemics have a greater impact on food systems,” Davis said, “we will need to continue to build resilience in our food supply chain so that we can absorb a disruption that may be greater than what we have seen in the past. , but we still maintain the function of the supply chain – delivering food from the field to the fork. ”

Researchers test the resilience of the food supply chain in the Pacific Ocean during the COVID-19 pandemic

More information:
Kyle Frankel Davis et al. According to the resilience of the food supply chain to environmental shocks, Nature Food (2020). DOI: 10.1038 / s43016-020-00196-3

Provided by the University of Delaware

Citation: Researcher explores how to make global food supply more resilient (2020, December 22) downloaded December 23, 2020 from

This document is protected by copyright. Except for any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without written permission. The content is available for informational purposes only.