By Evonne Yiu, United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS)
Japan’s potato chip fans recently went on a panicked buying spree as the country’s snack food companies were forced to partially halt production of the favorite crisps. But while this episode of food scarcity is not a food crisis, its cause — an unprecedented series of typhoons that destroyed domestic potato crops — is an attention-grabbing indicator of the need to improve food system resilience in the face of increasing climate change.
In August 2016, Hokkaido, the nation’s northernmost island prefecture, was lashed by four typhoons. The resulting floods drastically reduced agricultural harvests, including the autumn harvest of a particular variety of potato used to make chips. Although potato chip production is slowly recovering with the help of other potato sources, this incident highlights one example of precarious risk management in Japan’s agricultural supply chains.
Historically, Hokkaido has rarely experienced typhoons, but this is changing with new weather patterns including higher average temperatures, longer summer days, more rain and less snowfall. Because Hokkaido is home to nearly one fourth of Japan’s arable land and is the country’s leading producer of major agricultural products — including wheat, soybeans and potatoes — the prefecture exemplifies how the impacts of climate change could have profound consequences for domestic crop security.