Food Security “Chokepoints”

Photo by PercyGermany/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Article by Monishaa Suresh

Three main crops – maize, wheat, and rice – account for almost 60% of global food intake and a fourth crop, soybean, is the world’s largest source of animal feed. The global food transport system utilizes enough of these four crops to feed about 2.8 billion people. As the population increases and international demand for food increases, there is increased pressure on the “chokepoints” of international trade.

“Chokepoints” are critical junctures on transport routes through which exceptional volumes of trade pass. Three main types of such chokepoints are considered critical to global food security: “maritime straits along shipping lanes; coastal infrastructure in major crop-exporting regions; and inland transport infrastructure in major exporting regions.”[1] The effects of climate change are evident in various aspects of our lives, and the latest area is food security. Chatham Housie, a U.K.-based think tank, released a report on the effects of climate change on ‘chokepoints.’

The report identifies three main potential disruptive hazards to these chokepoints: hazards arising from weather and climate events such as storms and general weather-related wear and tear; security and conflict hazards caused by war, crime, and terrorism; and institutional hazards arising from decisions made by the authorities.[2] Climate change affects all three of these potential hazards and will result in unexpected and unplanned temperature changes as well as an increased frequency of extreme weather events. Rising sea levels resulting in the displacement of populations can increase potential for crime and instability, which in turn may force governments to impose higher import and export regulations and controls. The effects of climate change are not just a future danger as some of these chokepoints have already been affected. Droughts in the Panama Canal, floods affecting travel roads in Brazil, and sandstorms in the Suez Canal are all examples of extreme weather events that are only going to intensify as the effects of climate change magnify.[3]

The report doesn’t stop at just identifying the dangers posed by climate change – it also suggests five areas of action for action:

  1. Integrate chokepoint analysis into mainstream risk management and security planning.
  2. Invest in infrastructure to ensure future food security.
  3. Enhance confidence and predictability in global trade.
  4. Develop emergency supply-sharing arrangements and smarter strategic storage.
  5. Build the evidence base around chokepoint risk.

Apart from the effects of climate change on the chokepoints, changing weather could also result in harvest failures around the world, doubling the potential damage to food security. For example, if a major chokepoint is closed during a harvest failure elsewhere in the world, the damage is compounded. Overall, the report calls for investments everywhere in “climate-resilient” infrastructure and to take precautionary measures to prepare in the event of an international food security crisis.


[1] Bailey, Rob and Wellesley, Laura “Chokepoints and Vulnerabilities in Global Food Trade” Chatham House (June 2017)

[2] Bailey, Rob and Wellesley, Laura “Chokepoints and Vulnerabilities in Global Food Trade” Chatham House (June 2017)

[3] Serhan, Yasmeen “Vulnerable ‘Chokepoints’ Threaten Global Food Security, Experts Warn” The Atlantic (June 27, 2017)

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