Climate Change and Hunger in the United States

Climate Change and Hunger in the United States

Hunger, a seemingly distant issue in a nation overflowing with supermarkets, is a harsh reality for millions of Americans. While the overall picture of hunger in the USA has improved in recent decades, climate change is emerging as a significant threat, jeopardizing food security and pushing more towards food insecurity. This blog post will delve into the complex relationship between climate change and hunger in the United States, using the latest data and expert insights.

Hunger in the US

According to the 2022 report by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service, Over 87% of US households were food secure in 2022. However, the remaining 12.8% (roughly 17 million households) faced food insecurity. This means they struggled to consistently afford enough food for everyone in the household.

Food insecurity is a growing concern. In 2022, it was significantly higher compared to 2021 (10.2%) and 2020 (10.5%).

The situation is even more serious for households experiencing very low food security. In 2022, 5.1% of US households (around 6.8 million) fell into this category. This represents a significant increase from previous years (3.8% in 2021 and 3.9% in 2020). In these households, limited resources forced some members to reduce their food intake and disrupt their normal eating patterns.

The impact is not evenly distributed. Children, elderly individuals, and low-income households are disproportionately affected. Feeding America, a national network of food banks, reported that in 2022, one in six children in the US faced hunger. This disparity highlights the urgent need for targeted solutions alongside broader climate-resilient food systems.

Climate Change and its Impact on US Agriculture

Climate change doesn't create hunger on its own, but it acts as a threat multiplier, exacerbating existing vulnerabilities.

Extreme Weather Events: Rising temperatures, along with changes in precipitation patterns, lead to more frequent and intense droughts, floods, and heatwaves. The USDA projects a 10% increase in agricultural land susceptible to drought by 2050. These events disrupt agricultural production, damage crops, and destroy infrastructure critical for food transportation, as witnessed in the devastating 2023 floods in Libya that hampered relief efforts.

Water Scarcity: The US Geological Survey (USGS) highlights that irrigation is a significant water user in agriculture. In 2010, irrigation withdrawals accounted for 38% of all freshwater withdrawals in the US. This number is even higher in western states, where irrigation use can reach up to 80% of total withdrawals. With a growing population, improving water use efficiency in agriculture is essential to meet future food demands without placing additional strain on freshwater resources.

Pests and Diseases:In a study focusing on maize, the leading U.S. crop, researchers predicted a significant rise in insect damage by 2050. This potential loss, nearly 20 million tons annually, reflects a projected 36% increase due to climate change.

To understand this threat, the researchers examined the current impact of insects on major crops like rice, maize, and wheat. They then factored in climate projections, crop yield data, insect metabolism, and population growth to estimate future damage.

Soil Degradation: A new study published in Earth's Future by researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst reveals a troubling trend. Over the past 160 years, agricultural land in the Midwest has lost topsoil at an alarming rate – nearly twice what the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) considers sustainable.

The study's findings challenge the USDA's current erosion estimates, which are three to eight times lower than the actual figures. The culprit behind this rapid topsoil loss? Plowing, according to the study, rather than natural wind and water erosion.

Using historical land-use data and advanced computer models, the researchers reconstructed historical erosion rates across the Midwest. Their analysis suggests an average topsoil loss of 1.9 millimeters per year. This translates to a staggering 57.6 billion metric tons of topsoil vanished since farming began in the region, despite conservation efforts implemented after the Dust Bowl disaster of the 1930s.

The Ripple Effect: Food Prices and Supply Chain Disruptions

Climate-induced disruptions to agriculture have a domino effect. Reduced crop yields and increased spoilage due to extreme weather events lead to food price hikes. Food prices rose in 2023, but at a slower pace than in 2022. This slowdown was due to easing pressure on the economy, supply chains, and wholesale food prices. Grocery prices increased by 5.0%, while restaurant prices rose by 7.1%. All food categories saw price increases except for pork.. This disproportionately impacts low-income households, forcing them to make difficult choices between food and other necessities.

Furthermore, disruptions to transportation infrastructure due to extreme weather events can hinder the movement of food supplies, leading to localized shortages and price spikes in vulnerable areas.

Food Price Inflation: When crops fail due to extreme weather events or reduced productivity, the overall food supply dwindles. This basic principle of supply and demand drives food prices upwards, making nutritious food less affordable for low-income households already struggling with food insecurity.

Disruptions in the Food Supply Chain: Climate change disrupts transportation networks, making it difficult to move food from areas of production to areas of consumption. This can lead to localised food shortages and price spikes, particularly in regions heavily reliant on imported food.

Nutritional Deficiencies: Climate change can affect the quality and diversity of available food. Certain crops might be more vulnerable to extreme weather or pests, leading to a decline in the availability of essential nutrients. This can have a detrimental impact on public health, particularly for vulnerable populations like children and pregnant women.

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Regional Disparities:

The impacts of climate change on hunger are not uniform across the US. Certain regions are more susceptible due to pre-existing vulnerabilities and geographical factors.

  1. California's Central Valley: Although California passed strict laws almost ten years ago to limit excessive groundwater pumping by farms, a new study suggests that thousands of wells used for drinking water in the Central Valley could be depleted by 2040, when the regulations are fully implemented.

    Researchers at the Public Policy Institute of California predict a 20% drop in agricultural water supplies by 2040. This could force farmers to abandon significant areas of farmland in the valley.

  2. The Southwest: Rising temperatures and declining water levels in the Colorado River basin threaten agricultural production in Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Colorado.The limited water in the Southwest heavily shapes its agriculture. Almost all (over 92%) of the cropland relies on irrigation, and farming uses up most of the region's water (79%). As the climate gets hotter and drier, cities are increasingly drawing water away from agriculture, impacting both farms and surrounding communities (source:USDA). This water shortage may force major changes, such as giving up irrigated farming in some areas of the Southwest and Pacific Islands.

  3. Coastal Communities: Sea level rise and more frequent storms pose a significant threat to coastal agriculture, particularly in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. Saltwater intrusion can contaminate freshwater sources used for irrigation, rendering farmland unusable.

 Building Resilience: 

Combating climate-induced hunger requires a multi-pronged approach that addresses both mitigation and adaptation strategies.

Mitigation: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is crucial for long-term climate stabilization. This involves transitioning to cleaner energy sources, promoting sustainable agricultural practices, and investing in carbon capture technologies.

Developing drought-resistant crops: Research into and adoption of drought-resistant crop varieties can significantly improve agricultural productivity in drier regions. The USDA's Agricultural Research Service is actively involved in developing such crops, with promising results for corn, soybeans, and other staple foods.

Improving water management practices: Implementing water-efficient irrigation systems like drip irrigation can significantly reduce water consumption in agriculture. Additionally, exploring alternative water sources like treated wastewater can help alleviate pressure on freshwater resources.

Strengthening infrastructure: Investing in infrastructure upgrades to withstand extreme weather events can minimize disruptions to food transportation and distribution networks. This includes strengthening roads, bridges, and communication systems.

Supporting local food systems: Encouraging and supporting local and regional food production systems can enhance community resilience. This reduces reliance on long-distance transportation networks vulnerable to disruptions and fosters a more sustainable food system.

also read: Why is it Important to Engage Communities in Preparedness Efforts?

Policy and Advocacy

Investing in Climate-Smart Agriculture: Increased federal funding for research and development of climate-resilient agricultural practices is critical. This includes supporting programs that help farmers adopt sustainable water management practices and develop drought-resistant crops.

Strengthening Food Assistance Programs: Expanding access to food assistance programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is essential to ensure that low-income households have access to affordable, nutritious food, especially during periods of climate-induced food price hikes.

Building Public Awareness: Raising public awareness about the connection between climate change and hunger is crucial. Educational campaigns can encourage individuals to adopt sustainable practices and support policies that promote climate-resilient food systems.

also read: Safecastle Stands in Solidarity with Red Cross Month: Supporting and Saving Lives


Climate change poses a significant threat to food security in the United States. However, it's not an insurmountable challenge. By acknowledging the risks, implementing effective mitigation and adaptation strategies, and fostering collaboration across government, businesses, and communities, we can build a more resilient food system and ensure all Americans have access to safe, nutritious food.

also read: How Many Community Lifelines are there?

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