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Food - Factors affecting food supply

Factors affecting food supply

There are many factors which can affect whether a country has a food surplus or a food deficit. In many LICs there is a large portion of the population who live in rural areas and who suffer from undernourishment.  In most HICs undernourishment is much lower and in many cases limited to few people in society.  According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO);

• About 795 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world, or one in nine, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2014-2016.
• Almost all the hungry people, 780 million, live in developing countries, representing 12.9 percent, or one in eight, of the population of LICs.


What affects the amount of food available?


Having the right climate is essential for crop growth and having good conditions for rearing animals. Temperature is critical for plant growth as all crops have a minimum temperature in which they will grow and a minimum growing season.  In Britain, wheat and Barley will only grow when the average temperature is above 6°C. You also need a decent amount of rainfall - few crops can grow where there is less than 250mm of rainfall a year (the classification of a desert) and grasses will predominate above these figure.  Trees and fruits require greater amounts.   In many LICs droughts are suffered which can result in food shortages.  In the Horn of Africa in countries such as Ethiopia and Somalia there have been many droughts that can last for years (such as between 2011 and 2012).  Drought can also result in desertification.  Other climate factors include our changing and warming climate and natural hazards, such as floods and tropical storms which can damage crops (you can find more on these in other sections of this book). 

Wheat crops


Technology has been used for centuries to make farming easier and more productive.  HICs can afford to invest in combined harvesters, irrigations systems for watering and road networks to improve communications. investment in technology can also make different forms of crop or pastoral farming possible in areas where they previously were not.  The Green Revolution has transformed agriculture in certain parts of the world and is tied in with technological innovation. In many LICs they cannot afford these things and this limits the productivity of their agriculture. Richer nations also have access to improvements in transport and storage of food, and Transnational corporations process food making it more freely available.

Crop spraying, an example of the use of technology

Pests and disease

There are many pests that can affect a crop and reduce the amount a farmer gets to eat or sell at the end of the harvest.  Mice and rats can eat crops, as can locusts and slugs.  Animals can be affected by diseases such as foot and mouth and cattle can have their lungs affected by bovine pleuropneumonia. Many HICs can combat these problems using medicines via vets for their animals or using pesticides and insecticides on their crops.  These interventions are expensive and often out of the reach of LICs.  HICs are even using natural pest remedies to stop insects devouring crops.

Water stress

Water stress has a huge impact on food production. Water stress occurs when the demand for water exceeds the available amount during a certain period or when poor quality restricts its use. Without water people do not have a way of watering their crops and, therefore, to provide food for the fast growing population. Some countries have sufficient rainfall year round for their crops.  Irrigation systems can be used in drier areas or during drier periods to allow for the watering of crops.  These can lead to a doubling of crop yields.  Many LICs struggle to afford these systems.  Other issues include floods which contaminate water supplies and (ironically) put agriculture under water stress, and climate change which is changing the amount of rainfall and when it falls.

Figure 24 - UN poster on the risks of water stress


Conflict and wars affect food supply in many ways and can often lead to hunger. For example;

• Many of the farm workers leave their land to join the fighting, this leaves the land untended.
• Many farmers and their families are forced to flee the areas and become refugees
• Food can become a weapon, as armed forces are taken by soldiers and destroyed or stolen
• Soldiers can deliberately pollute water supplies to affect the local population
• Crops can also be burnt and destroyed in battle.

This has been the case in many places over the past decades including in parts of Syria and Sudan. 

 People wait in line to check in to a food distribution in UN House, a UN base on the outskirts of Juba, 2014. Photo taken by Crystal Wells/Concern Worldwide.


People who have little money or possessions are said to be living in poverty.  They often do not have enough money to buy food and this makes them physically weaker and less productive in their work.  It also makes them more susceptible to suffering from disease and ill health. They also cannot afford many of the things that improve food supply such as seeds, tools and fertilisers.

Many of these factors can interlink and act together to severely limit food supply for people.

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