Hong Kong must prepare for the inevitable impact of climate change on its food security

Asmita Aarshi says the city needs to develop a better agriculture policy that nurtures local farming, given its reliance on food imports, particularly from mainland China – one of the nations most at risk from global warming

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 January, 2016, 7:31am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 January, 2016, 7:30am

Climate change has an incontrovertible impact on our food production and distribution system. A new study in the journal Nature has found that climate-change-driven droughts and heat waves have reduced harvests by between 9 per cent and 10 per cent globally. The study, spanning 177 countries, compared the effect of 2,800 weather disasters between 1964 and 2007. Contrary to popular belief, developed nations in North America, Europe and Australia were at greater risk.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation recently reported that more than 800 million people are chronically undernourished due to food insecurity, with climate change being a major contributing factor. Encouragingly, the Paris climate change agreement acknowledged the need to safeguard our food security as well as the “particularly vulnerable food production systems”.

READ MORE: World must keep food security in focus as population grows, says Paris Summit

According to the World Health Organisation, between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause some 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, heat stress, and other diseases. China was listed among the 12 nations most at risk from climate change, with flooding, storms and sea-level rise being the major threats.

More than 90 per cent of our food is imported, a large proportion from the mainland. How could that affect our food security? Environmental calamities elsewhere could potentially disrupt food distribution cycles, making indigenous food security a priority. For Hong Kong, shortages would lead to price rises, with the poor hit hardest. Hong Kong’s climate change report listed food security as a major issue, but provided little in the way of solutions.

READ MORE: Climate change and food security are key to global stability, says US Secretary of State John Kerry

Currently, 68 square km is allotted to agricultural activities – less that 6 per cent of the total land in Hong Kong. Thus, we need to invest in climate change adaptability, starting with food security. The government should ensure agricultural land is preserved and used, to promote local food production. A cross-departmental working group should be established to develop the new agricultural policy, the Town Planning Ordinance reformed to ensure all agricultural land is reserved only for cultivation, and legislation enhanced to protect farmland habitats. Meanwhile, long term, total farmland area should be increased. Local organisations and farm projects, particularly organic farming, need to be encouraged, while smaller-scale urban community farming projects also have huge potential.

Hong Kong needs a groundbreaking agriculture policy to address food security in a sustainable manner.

Asmita Aarshi is a project officer at Friends of the Earth (Hong Kong)