Climate change, extreme weather & conflict exacerbate global food crisis

Climate change, extreme weather & conflict exacerbate global food crisis

  • Global food insecurity has risen substantially since pre-pandemic times, exacerbated by extreme weather, climate change, war and conflict.
  • What the U.N. World Food Program calls “a hunger crisis of unprecedented proportions” plays out differently around the world.
  • In this story, three of Mongabay’s Y. Eva Tan Conservation Reporting Fellows detail the local situation in their region – from rising inflation and flooding in Nigeria to diminished local food production in Suriname and the environmental and socioeconomic effects of commercial food production in Brazil.
  • “If we do not redouble and better target our efforts, our goal of ending hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030 will remain out of reach,” write the authors of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) 2023 report on global food security and nutrition.

In the past year, international agencies worldwide have continued to sound an alarm over surges in food insecurity that are plunging millions of people into extreme hunger, malnutrition and threats to their overall health. The U.N.’s World Food Program (WFP) calls it “a hunger crisis of unprecedented proportions.”

This worrying trend has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, climate shocks and conflicts including the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine and the crisis in the Middle East.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) 2023 report on global food security and nutrition — released in July, months before the conflict in Gaza — some 735 million people faced hunger in 2022, an increase of 122 million people compared with 2019 pre-pandemic levels. The Caribbean, Western Asia and all subregions of Africa experienced the most alarming increases in these hunger levels. Worldwide, more than 3.1 billion people could not afford a healthy diet, according to the report. That’s 42% of the world’s population, and a significant increase over pre-COVID levels.

Since the Russia-Ukraine crisis began in February 2022, many countries that had relied substantially on Ukrainian grains for years have since borne the brunt of food price inflation due to significant supply shortfalls. Russia is a major exporter of wheat, and Ukraine is a significant producer of corn; prices for both crops spiked with the Russian invasion, and the destruction of ports sent further shocks throughout global markets. The war prompted other countries producing large amounts of staple foods to either restrict or ban their exports to satisfy domestic demands.

Compounding all of this, extreme weather events, such as heat waves, droughts and floods, are also negatively affecting food production globally. By far, 2023 was the hottest year on record for Planet Earth. Plus, 2023 saw the return of El Niño, the ocean climate pattern characterized by a rise in sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific that tends to shift weather worldwide, often causing floods, droughts and storms that disrupt agriculture and fishing sectors and lead to higher prices for food.

Wheat harvest in Ukraine in 1991.
Wheat harvest in Ukraine in 1991. Image by Peter Turnley/Corbis/VCG via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

This comes on the heels of devastating floods in 2022 in countries such as Pakistan and Nigeria, among others, that led to significant losses of staple crops. Likewise, record-breaking heat waves recorded in southern Europe severely damaged summer crops and dairy products.

Globally, as the impacts of climate change become increasingly evident, food security continues to erode on all fronts: availability, access, utilization and stability. With rising temperatures and projected levels of atmospheric CO2 in the upcoming years, we can expect more frequent extreme weather events, diminished nutritional value in staple foods, smaller harvests and an uptick in food prices.

All of this poses a heightened threat to global food security, especially for the world’s most vulnerable populations. Despite contributing the least to greenhouse gas emissions, Global South countries, already grappling with food insecurity, bear the burden of these changes. In contrast, countries in the Global North shoulder the responsibility for 92% of excess global CO2 emissions.

However, each Global South country will navigate this crisis uniquely.

The following article, reported collectively by Mongabay fellows, delves into the complexities of three Global South nations, offering a comparative inquiry of their distinct experiences with this ongoing global food insecurity crisis. In Nigeria, floods wreak havoc on agrarian communities; Suriname faces the challenge of low food production; and Brazil contends with the stark contrast between its extensive food production and the inequitable distribution of wealth.

The nuances within each country’s experience illustrate how this critical global issue — feeding the planet — requires solutions tailored to community needs at the local level.


During the 2022 planting season, between August and October, Nigeria witnessed one of its worst floods in a decade. According to Nigerian authorities, more than 600 people died and more than 1.4 million people were displaced. Although the fatalities recorded in 2023 were far fewer than in the previous year, the crisis continued.

The back-to-back impacts of these floods present new challenges for farmers, who have barely been able to recover from the shocks of 2022.

In particular, agrarian communities farming major staples such as rice, maize and cowpeas were the worst hit, and the impact on local food security is evident on the country’s state of food sovereignty.

While many Nigerians (farmers and business owners ) affected by the 2022 floods are still struggling, they simultaneously have to contend with skyward inflationary pressures and lingering hardships orchestrated by the removal of fuel subsidies by President Bola Tinubu, elected in 2023. On May 29, during his inauguration and his first address to Nigerians as president, Tinubu announced the change. He explained that the funds would be channeled toward the development of other basic amenities and infrastructure across the country.

Tinubu’s announcement led to a significant spike in the price of fuel nationwide and, in turn, an astronomical jump in transportation costs. This development has caused financial distress for many Nigerians who are now having to pay more for goods and services amid dwindling income.

In July 2023, the government consequently declared an immediate state of emergency centered on food insecurity in an effort to ameliorate the diminished food supply chain.

The government’s declaration further underscored predictions by international organizations that more than 25 million Nigerians could face acute hunger at the peak of the lean season as the Nigerian Meteorological Agency warned of further flooding.

According to Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria’s inflation rate in January had risen to 29.9% over the previous year. For food, it was even worse: 35.4%.

Food market in Nigeria.
Rice farmers in Nasarawa state, in north-central Nigeria, bagging harvested rice. Image by Abdulkareem Mojeed, courtesy of Premium Times.

Effects on farmers & markets

In the midst of this, the 2023 planting season started with mixed feelings for many Nigerian farmers. Aside from the existential threats of insecurity disrupting food production across rural settlements of major food producing states, in order to keep food production afloat, farmers have had to contend with the rising costs of farm inputs due to inflation and fluctuating weather patterns.

Nigeria has two distinct seasons — rainy (April through October) and dry (November through March). Most crops are planted during the rainy season when there is typically an abundance of water from rainfall. Although many farmers in the northern part of the country, which is characterized by little rainfall, use irrigation to counteract low water supply.

But the rising costs of farm products and transportation have exacerbated the constraints trailing food availability, accessibility and affordability.

“Rising inflation affected farming in a lot of ways. As expected since the devaluation of the naira, the cost of farming inputs has skyrocketed,” says Abubakar Sadiq, who grows maize and other grains in Kaduna state.

The farmer told Mongabay that in the 2023 season, most farmers planted their crops but could not afford to purchase adequate inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides.

Based on this, Sadiq said many of their crops were left unattended, resulting in low output. As a farmer who used to grow at least 100 bags of 100 kilograms (220 pounds) each of maize, 250 bags of rice and 10 bags of cowpeas in previous years, he could only cultivate 30, 50 and 12 bags, respectively, of the aforementioned food crops in 2023 due to the high costs of production.

Most farmers, he said, “have to cut down on the amount of land they are used to cultivating; they have to cultivate what they can take care of,” he said.

For his part, Esonu Udeala, who farms orange-fleshed sweet potatoes along Kubwa Road in Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja, described the suffering he is facing. “It’s been terrible. Transport has gone up. It now takes me a minimum of 6,170 naira [$4 for 10 liters or 2.6 gallons of fuel] to go to my farm in Uke, Nasarawa state. This week, I spent 25,000 naira [$16.50] fueling my car,” the farmer said.

He lamented that while input costs had increased, the cost of farm labor went up from 2,000 naira ($1.32) to 3,000 naira ($1.98) and that with feeding, it would take 3,700 naira ($2.44) to hire a laborer.

“The effect is that farm products have to sell at higher prices,” the farmer said, adding that as people’s purchasing power has drastically been reduced, sales are slow. Udeala explained that not many farmers are able to farm as much as they would have wanted this year, due to inflation.

“Even me, I’m looking for financial support. If I get assistance of about 5 million naira [$3,300], I will secure 2 hectares [4.9 acres] in a fenced farm where I can install a mini-irrigation facility and do dry season farming,” he said.

Farmers in Nigeria.
Women farmers threshing rice harvested locally in Adamawa state, in northeastern Nigeria. Image by Abdulkareem Mojeed, courtesy of Premium Times.

Ongoing efforts

The declaration of a state of emergency by the government is seen as part of an aggressive push to reduce hunger, boost agricultural productivity and reduce the high prices of major staple foods in Nigeria.

In a statement announcing the declaration, the government also made public some of its short, medium and long-term strategies toward addressing the challenges of food affordability and accessibility.

Some of the specific steps to be taken by the government in implementing the state of emergency include the release of fertilizers and grains to farmers and households and protecting “farms and the farmers so that farmers can return to the farmlands without fear of attacks.”

To implement this, the federal government announced a 5 billion naira ($3.3 million) “palliative” payment for each state of the federation, including the Federal Capital Territory, to cushion the impact of the removal of the petrol subsidies. The impact of this policy is yet to be felt.

Reacting to the government’s promises to farmers, Udeala said, “Stories never yield results.”

“The farming season for most root crops is gradually running out. Any intervention that doesn’t get to the real farmers this month will not be impactful,” the farmer told Mongabay in an interview.

He said the government had failed on other promises and queried to whom the government planned to give its support. “Who are they giving the support? Political farmer association leaders? At the end, nothing is achieved except deceptive showcases,” Udeala said.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Environment and other relevant agencies have assured Nigerians that efforts are underway to ensure the impact of overflowing water is properly mitigated.

A farmer in Nigeria.
A farmer stands in his maize field damaged by flooding in Adamawa state, in northeastern Nigeria in 2022. Image by Abdulkareem Mojeed, courtesy of Premium Times.


Just as in Nigeria, climate change also poses big threats to farmers in Suriname.

Yet Suriname has immense opportunities to meet domestic food needs and even emerge as a significant food supplier in the region. However, despite the fertile soil and favorable climatic conditions, more food is being imported than produced.

According to agricultural development economist Iwan Poerschke, only 40% of the food consumed in Suriname is cultivated domestically, with 60% being imported. One of the primary causes for this disparity is the lack of a clear vision and investments in the agricultural sector from the political sphere, Poerschke said.

According to him, the country’s current agricultural policy overly emphasizes small-scale production, while thinking and acting on a larger scale is imperative to meet the growing demand. Suriname aims to increase its agricultural production due to two main reasons. It is not driven by population growth, as the growth rate is low. The primary reason is a significant decrease in production. “Agricultural areas are diminishing, leading to an increase in demand. The second reason is the government’s ambition to stimulate exports and become the food hub of the Caribbean region,” Poerschke explained.

At present, fewer than 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres, just under the size of Hong Kong) are used for agriculture, while there are 16 million hectares (39.5 million acres) of land, of which 3-4 million hectares (7.4-9.9 million acres) are guaranteed to be suitable for agriculture. Forests and swamps cover much of the remaining unused land, according to Poerschke. Part of this land is in the coastal strip, where agriculture predominantly occurs, covering an area of 1.5-2 million hectares (3.7-4.9 million acres). However, due to climate change, a portion of this coastal area is expected to revert to nature. Another part lies in the southern region of the country, but it lacks infrastructure, as these areas remain undeveloped.

In reality, the cultivation of many crops is declining, partially due to mismanagement, neglect, underutilization of available opportunities and insufficient sustainable agricultural development in the past 20-30 years. Additionally, urban expansion has made some lands too expensive for agriculture, as they are repurposed for housing, reducing available areas for cultivation. Poerschke explained that this has led to higher prices in the local market. Not only in rice — Suriname’s largest staple food — but similar trends can be observed in vegetables, fruits and fish. These products are largely exported, making them more expensive for the local population.

Cropland area in Suriname -- Graph
This graphic shows Suriname’s cropland areas (in hectares) and major crop production in recent years. Image by Andrés Alegría/Mongabay.

Climate change and price spikes

The impact of climate change poses an additional challenge for the agricultural sector in Suriname. Rising sea levels and temperature changes can inundate large parts of the coastal area, necessitating a revision of agricultural practices. “Over 90% of our agriculture is located in the coastal area due to the fertile clay soils that require minimal inputs in terms of fertilizers, etc. In the south, there are loamy soils that are not as fertile, so we need to invest much more,” explained Poerschke.

In 2022, unexpected heavy rains in the dry season caused widespread flooding, affecting the lives of many farmers, such as John Sital, who grows vegetables in the northwestern part of the country. He struggled to save his crops, but as the floodwaters continued to rise, he lost his hard-earned harvest. To compensate for the loss, Sital had to increase the prices of his vegetables by almost two to three times. This was the case for many sellers in the market. Sital said there was no other option. “The government won’t do anything for me. I have to figure out how to pay my debts and how to earn back the lost money myself.”

In 2023, farmers faced challenges to their crops due to extreme heat during the dry season, beginning in mid-August through November. The meteorological service issued warnings of temperatures reaching up to 40° Celsius (104° Fahrenheit) and predicted a drought of 3-4 months — which was, indeed, the case.

As a result of the severe drought, vegetables were more expensive in the market than usual. Farmers struggled to finance daily water usage due to high diesel costs. Some crops were no longer being cultivated because of cracks in the clay soil, leading to higher prices, depending on location and seller. Buying vegetables from a large-scale commercial farmer and local vendors who grow the crops themselves is usually cheaper, whereas vegetables become more expensive if bought from a retailer. Even so, in the past few years, pepper has increased from 15-50 Surinamese dollars ($0.41-1.37) to 20-70 Surinamese dollars ($0.55-1.92) per bunch, eggplants from 25-50 Surinamese dollars ($0.69-1.37) to 40-75 Surinamese dollars ($1.10-2.06) per bunch, and cabbage from 50-70 Surinamese dollars ($1.37-1.92) to 60-90 Surinamese dollars ($1.65-2.47) per kilogram.

Agriculture, Livestock, and Fisheries Minister Prahlad Sewdien talked to the press about the significance of farmers implementing strategies to mitigate the effects of climate change. He said it was crucial for farmers to prepare for both dry and rainy spells, as well as unforeseen events. The minister emphasized the need for measures to adjust to shifting weather conditions. Talks are in progress concerning insurance options for crops.

Currently, the government allocates only 3% of its budget to agriculture, with 95% of that being spent on wages and only 5% remaining for investments. This significantly limits the growth of the agricultural sector.

“The focus on rice production has hindered the development of other crops. There is a need for a wider range of crops to diversify local food production and reduce dependence on imports,” according to Poerschke.

He said he believes more of the budget should be made available for investments in the agricultural sector to stimulate innovations and large-scale production. Additionally, research institutes should be obligated to collaborate, allowing costs to be shared and expertise to be maximally utilized.

In terms of environmental impacts that come with large-scale production, Poerschke said there is an increasing global interest in organic and ecological farming. However, Suriname lacks in-depth knowledge of these methods. To adopt such practices, more knowledge needs to be acquired, and choices must be made, as these methods come with associated costs.

Farmers at a rice regeneration plot in Brokopondo, Suriname.
Farmers at a rice regeneration plot in Brokopondo, Suriname. Image by Luis Salazar/Crop Trust via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).
A food market in Paramaribo, Suriname.
A food market in Paramaribo, Suriname. Image by M M via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0).


In contrast to Suriname, Brazil is one of the world’s leading food producers. It is the fourth-largest producer of grains and the largest exporter of soybeans, sugar, coffee and beef. And yet, despite this enormous production, many Brazilians still lack access to essential foods, and the recent effects of climate change and erratic weather patterns exacerbate the problem for those most vulnerable.

Currently, Brazil produces 313.8 million tons of grains, and the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock anticipates a 24.1% increase in production over the next decade. Soybeans account for nearly half of the production — 154.8 million tons — covering an area of 39 million hectares, larger than the territory of Germany.

For this reason, Brazilian agribusiness promotes itself as a sector driving the country’s economy while tackling food insecurity globally.

At first glance, these figures may surely convey an image of abundance — but they mask a harsh contradiction in the Brazilian food system.

Between late 2021 and early 2022, 33 million Brazilians experienced hunger, or severe food insecurity, which included not only a lack of food but also low-quality food consumption, according to data from the Brazilian Research Network on Food and Nutrition Sovereignty and Security. During the same period, 58.7% of Brazilian households faced some degree of food insecurity.

In recent years, with the intensification of climate disturbances, the coronavirus pandemic, high food inflation and the dismantling of public policies under the administration of former President Jair Bolsonaro, overall food insecurity increased across the country.

In Brazil, food insecurity is socially produced and results from a structural inequality that is reflected in the country’s geography. Therefore, the northern and northeastern regions have the highest number of households facing food insecurity. Likewise, hunger is more prevalent in rural areas compared with urban centers.

Despite its rhetoric, agribusiness primarily produces commodities for the external market and relies substantially on governmental subsidies and tax waivers.

Meanwhile, small-scale family farming — though more vulnerable to environmental challenges, less reliant on pesticides and occupying a smaller land footprint — is crucial in providing fresh and nutritious foods to households across Brazil.

Soybean agriculture in Bahia, Brazil.
Soybean agriculture in Bahia, Brazil. Image by Oton Barros (DSR/OBT/INPE) via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

The environmental cost of agricultural expansion

Today, the southern region of Brazil is experiencing above-average rainfall, while in the north, the Amazon is going through a historic drought, reinforced by El Niño.

It is well known that environmental disturbances threaten food security. However, the Brazilian food system itself is responsible for deepening the problem.

According to a study by the Climate Observatory, Brazil’s food system accounted for 73.7% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2021 (1.8 billion tons) — especially the land use change sector.

A notable portion of these emissions comes from the northern region, where the Amazon Rainforest is being cleared to make way for livestock expansion. Currently, the Amazon houses the largest pasture area in the country, totaling 57 million hectares (140 million acres), and four out of the five largest cattle herds in Brazil are found in municipalities in the region.

According to the study, “If Brazilian beef were a country, it would be the world’s seventh-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, surpassing Japan.”

Since President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva took office in 2023, deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest has been decreasing. However, the same cannot be said in the neighboring biome, the Cerrado, the world’s most biodiverse savanna, which is being converted for agriculture at an alarming rate. In a 2023 correspondence published in Nature, researchers argued that the Cerrado was serving as a sacrifice zone for the country’s development and urged for more protective measures.

Clearing of Amazon forest for pasture or soy.
Clearing of Amazon forest for pasture or soy. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

The human cost of pesticides

Brazil’s distinction as the leading soybean exporter is accompanied by its status as one of the largest consumers of pesticides, particularly of highly hazardous ones — a result from the large-scale monoculture farming model, which inherently relies on the intensive use of agrochemicals for its reproduction.

The widespread use of these pesticides has given rise to serious public health concerns. From 2010 to 2019, an average of 15 cases of pesticide poisoning were reported every day, with Indigenous communities experiencing the greatest impact.

Glyphosate, classified as a probable carcinogen, is Brazil’s best-selling pesticide. The acceptable limit for its residues in drinking water is 5,000 times higher than that of the European Union.

While the EU may restrict the use of many of these pesticides within its own territories, it continues to develop and sell them to Brazil and other Mercosur countries. According to a study, “in 2018/2019, the EU exported to Mercosur nearly 7 million kilos [15.4 million lbs] of pesticides whose use is prohibited within the EU’s own territories.”

Conversely, Mercosur exported more than 21 billion euros ($22.5 billion) worth of agricultural, livestock and wood products to the EU in 2018. This asymmetrical relationship between the two trade blocs results from a longstanding colonial model.

In regions where indiscriminate use of pesticides for soybean production is prevalent, scientists have observed an increase in childhood leukemia deaths as well as a rise in cases of neurological diseases.

Many of these instances are linked to the consumption of contaminated water. In 2017, about 92% of Brazil’s tap water tests revealed traces of agrochemical residues.

A tractor sprays pesticides on soybean crops in Mato Grosso, a state in the Brazilian Amazon. Image by Bruno Kelly/Greenpeace.
A tractor sprays pesticides on soybean crops in Mato Grosso, a state in the Brazilian Amazon. Image by Bruno Kelly/Greenpeace.

Fostering sustainable food systems

In 2023, after President Lula took office, his administration introduced a program called “Brazil Without Hunger,” aiming to improve the population’s access to proper and healthy food and eradicate severe food insecurity by 2030. To achieve this goal, Lula plans to revive initiatives from his previous administration, such as the National Council for Food Security, previously dissolved by Bolsonaro. Additionally, there is a focus on strengthening agroecological-based family farming — an increasingly recognized climate solution.

Lula’s promise might offer hope, yet it clashes with the looming expansion of agribusiness, which accompanies biodiversity loss, public health issues, and human rights violations. Ultimately, indiscriminate expansion with such high human and environmental costs could backfire, leading to a self-inflicted collapse.


All of this — from climate change and extreme weather to the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, increasing food and fuel prices, the environmental degradation of large-scale agribusiness and a world of rising inequality — feeds the ongoing global crisis, which the World Food Program describes as “a storm of staggering proportions.” Whether in Nigeria, Suriname, Brazil or beyond, people and governments face the same dilemma: How can a country feed its people sufficiently and nutritiously without harming its environment?

As the authors of the 2023 FAO report on global food security write, the combined shocks of conflict, climate variability and extremes, economic contractions and inequality pose an enormous challenge to our food systems. This is our “new normal,” according to the report. “There is no question these threats will continue.”

Global hunger today remains far higher than it was in pre-pandemic times. This is coupled with rising food and energy prices, along with escalating conflicts. Many of the potential solutions lie at the local government level, the authors of the FAO report write. Local leaders will need to create and enact local policies that address local needs.

“If we do not redouble and better target our efforts,” the authors write, “our goal of ending hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030 will remain out of reach.”

Banner image: Farmers in a maize field in Nigeria. Image by CGIAR System Organization via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Indigenous peoples undersupported on frontline of hotter, drier, fiery world


Food & Agriculture Organization. (2023). The state of food security and nutrition in the World(sofi) 2023. Retrieved from

Chaves, M. E., Mataveli, G., Zu Ermgassen, E., De A. Aragão, R. B., Adami, M., & Sanches, I. D. (2023). Reverse the Cerrado’s neglect. Nature Sustainability, 6(9), 1028-1029. doi:10.1038/s41893-023-01182-w

Skidmore, M. E., Sims, K. M., & Gibbs, H. K. (2023). Agricultural intensification and childhood cancer in Brazil. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 120(45). doi:10.1073/pnas.2306003120

Panis, C., Candiotto, L. Z., Gaboardi, S. C., Gurzenda, S., Cruz, J., Castro, M., & Lemos, B. (2022). Widespread pesticide contamination of drinking water and impact on cancer risk in Brazil. Environment International, 165, 107321. doi:10.1016/j.envint.2022.107321

Terasaki Hart, D. E., Yeo, S., Almaraz, M., Beillouin, D., Cardinael, R., Garcia, E., … Cook-Patton, S. C. (2023). Priority science can accelerate agroforestry as a natural climate solution. Nature Climate Change, 13(11), 1179-1190. doi:10.1038/s41558-023-01810-5

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