A novel study has attempted to understand and predict the impact of climate change on the price of staple foods. Ahmed et al. (2009) established that extreme climate events places huge pressure on the price of staple food; these staple foods are essential to poor households in developing countries and form a significant portion of their expenditure. The research provides an understanding of which countries and group are more vulnerable to poverty directly linked to extreme climate events. Staple food, e.g. rice, wheat … is a significant source of the expenditure for a typical poor family living in a developing country. This large dependence is worrying since fluctuations in staple food price are bound to have a significant impact on poverty. This vulnerability of poor households to changing food prices motivates the need to understand the link between climate fluctuations, food prices and poverty.

Recent climate studies showed that hot, wet and dry extremes are becoming more and more frequent. There is direct evidence that such changes in climate patterns are already occurring. Crop damages resulting from this climate volatility will increase; the resulting reduction in crop production will put stress on food prices, which will shoot up.

The paper ‘Climate volatility deepens poverty vulnerability in developing countries’ suggests that wage earners in urban areas are hit the hardest when the price of staple food goes up. This category is extremely exposed to food prices increase: since food form a large portion of their expenditure, rising prices push them below the poverty threshold for consumption. This is a worrying pattern since rural populations are expected to decrease by more than one third between 2010 and 2050. Rural food producers are less hardly hit by rising food prices; they are partially insulated from these effects since they benefit from the higher selling prices.

The report recommends sub-Saharan countries to invest in measures mitigating extreme climate effects, e.g. irrigation upgrading in Tanzania. These measures aim at increasing agricultural productivity, thereby buffering the impact of climate volatility. However the authors warn that these investments must also be accompanied by the removal of barriers to both credit and information.

S.A. Ahmed, N.S. Diffenbaugh and T.W. Hertel, Climate volatility deepens poverty vulnerability in developing countries. Environ. Res. Lett. 4 (2009) 034004 (8p)