Rising stakes: Building a resilient global food system in the face of climate change

The impact of climate change on the global food system cannot be understated. With global crops and harvests under threat from rising temperatures, sea levels and other changes, alongside a growing population and rising affluence, food producers must do all they can to safeguard and fortifying the nutritional needs of the global population.

The task at hand

The conclusion of the recent 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) has yet again stressed the urgency of the climate crisis on our environment. The global food system is particularly vulnerable as crops and harvests face threats from the changing climate. Asia, specifically, might face greater challenges with longer and heavier monsoon seasons and rising sea levels threatening low-lying cities like Bangkok and Manila.1-2

Already, climate change has resulted in a 1% decrease of the top 10 global crops harvested each year3 – though this might seem insignificant, this difference can in fact meet the nutritional needs of 50 million people.4 Rice, a staple product for the Asian palate, is similarly at risk: each degree of temperature increase will result in a 10% fall of rice yield.2 Farmers in the region thus contend with harvesting crops in a more volatile climate and a growing population.

Moreover, a rising middle-income class in Asia is bound to shift consumer patterns, with a higher demand for more nutritious and healthier foods. There is also a growing interest in innovation plant-based and cultured meat alternatives.

With these sweeping changes, the private sector, with its capability and responsibility to provide financial investment and resources, plays an important role in developing and improving global food security.

Prashant Pradhan, director general of Nutrition APAC at DSM, shared: “As demand for alternative proteins and more sustainably produced food grow across the Asia Pacific, members of the private sector, like DSM, are uniquely positioned to offer food solutions that are healthy for people and the planet at the same time.

“At DSM, we believe that by scaling up innovations in alternative proteins while prioritising the sustainable production of key animal proteins like dairy, eggs, meat, and fish, we will be better placed to fulfil the nutritional needs off a growing global population while doing so in an environmentally sustainable manner.”

The role of smallholders is not to be underestimated too; 450 million smallholders across Asia Pacific produces 80% of the food consumed in the region.5 By prioritising the health and welfare of these smallholders and empowering them with climate-friendly farming practices and solutions, they will be better placed to provide accessible and healthy nutrition while keeping within the planet’s boundaries, Prashant added.

Cooperation across sectors

An important factor will also be the cooperation between the private and public sector. The recent UN Food System Summit (UNFSS) demonstrated a synergised effort across the two to construct a more resilient food system. Prashant suggests that an area for collaboration between the public and private sectors involves improving food systems to be more climate resilient, and increasing global access to healthy and nutritious food.

“The multi-stakeholder UN Food Systems Summit presents the world an opportunity to rally together to rectify pressing systemic issues in our food systems,” revealed Prashant. By leveraging DSM’s expertise in bioscience-based innovations, extensive partnerships, and advocacy activities, the company aims to deliver change to ensure accessible, affordable, healthy nutrition and healthy livelihoods within planetary boundaries.

“DSM has been working with the World Food Programme (WFP) to create cost-effective and sustainable, nutritious food solutions to combat global poverty.6 In 2017, DSM’s partnership with WFP improved the nutrition of over 39.4 million individuals through the combined use of fortified staples and the creation of micronutrient powders for home-fortification,” he commented.

Moreover, the creation of the Bright Science & Technology Innovation Hub in Singapore can equip start-ups with the resources needed to tackle future nutritional, health and sustainability challenges. CRUST Group, which upcycles surplus bread to create beer14, is one of such start-ups; DSM aided the company’s R&D process to creating a beverage that was both sustainably produced and tailored to fit local taste profiles.

DSM is also among the first companies in the consumer ingredient sector globally to release a set of quantifiable and measurable commitments aimed at rectifying the societal and environmental challenges linked to our current food systems. Together with their business partners, they aim to improve Health for People, Health for Planet, and create Healthy Livelihoods through a variety of initiatives by the year 2030.

“We have already started work on most of our commitments and have created science-based solutions to help achieve these goals,” Prashant said. DSM’s ampli-D, for example, brings vitamin D levels up to optimal range within weeks instead on months; they are also working on food fortification through two methods: micronutrient powders and staple food fortification. Another innovation is Bovaer, a feed additive, which has been proven in trials to reduce methane emission levels by around 30%.


1 https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/sustainability/our-insights/climate-risk-and-response-in-asia

2 https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Environment/Climate-Change/Asia-s-climate-crisis/Global-heating-The-threat-to-Asia

3 https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0217148

4 https://theconversation.com/climate-change-is-affecting-crop-yields-and-reducing-global-food-supplies-118897

5 https://www.eco-business.com/news/how-can-asias-smallholder-farmers-endure-both-climate-change-and-covid-19/

6 https://www.wfp.org/dsm

This article was first published in the December 2021/January 2022 issue of Food & Beverage Asia.