Tag Archives: food security

What ‘no deal’ BREXIT means for food

It is about time more people realised that food does not appear on our plates by magic. There has been little mention that 30% of UK food comes from the EU, 2.5 millions lorries a year bringing 5m tonnes.

Add to that the effect climate change is already having on food security and then factor in the amount of agricultural land lost to house building and vanity projects like HS2 and it is plain to see that politics is involved.

The truth is we need to prioritise the growing of food and go back to something like a war time attitude where every last square metre of land is cultivated.

The Food Programme –  “What does a no-deal Brexit mean for our food?”


Food shortages?

Yesterday the Daily Express ran a headline saying that supplies of food and fuel were running out due to the bad weather. Well they are now as that sort of scaremongering will provoke people into panic buying.

What the situation does prove is that the food supplies in this country rely of vast number of lorries delivering to supermarkets every few hours. If the roads are impassable then supplies dry up in a matter of days.

Over the last few years there has been report after report warning that food supplies in the UK are perilous. Reliance on just a few very large companies to provide our food has inevitable consequences when things go wrong but successive governments have done nothing to improve food security.

So, we get what we deserve; a food supply system that is driven by price and perceived ‘convenience’. The fact that supermarkets often charge more for fresh produce than local markets is ignored in favour of the lure of myriad ‘bargains’ and special offers.

There are ways to reduce reliance on a few multinational companies to provide our food; it just needs a little bit of effort to become more independent and far more resilient.

Urban food growing in Cuba

Cuba has long been seen as an inspiration for anybody interested in changing the way we grow and distribute food. This film shows Monty Don (ex BBC gardening presenter) getting very enthusiastic about what he finds on a visit to some organic growers. Who wouldn’t be inspired!

He is right; we could do the same here. I know we don’t have the weather or the same urgent need to grow food to avoid strvation but please let some of Monty’s enthusiasm rub off on you. Great music!

More land given to growing food in Brighton

Congratulations are due to Brighton and Hove council for allowing the use of council land to grow food.

The move is part of a campaign aimed at increasing the amount of local produce that is grown and eaten.

Cabinet chairwoman Mary Mears said: “I’m pleased to see progress on sustainability, particularly on growing local food on council land.

It is good to see at least one council taking food security seriously and responding to the demand from local, people to grow their mown food. Many other councils in the UK could do the same and release vacant land for allotments and community gardens.

Now that one prestigious council have shown the way what is stopping others from doing the same?

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Supermarkets at root of vegetable supply problem

The recent cold weather has proved two things: 1) at the first sign of  food shortages people panic and clear supermarkets shelves. 2) The supermarket supply chain is so precarious it cannot cope with even a few days of bad weather.

A recent article in The Guardian detailed some of the problems faced by producers. Not only was it difficult to harvest vegetables it was hard to get them delivered. Growers used to harvest in the autumn and store things like carrots until they were needed. Now they leave them in the ground covered with straw and lift as demanded by the supermarkets and get them to a distribution centre.

About 80% of all supermarket supplies of carrots now come from just 10 major packers in East Anglia, Scotland and the north of England. At this time of year, more than half the carrots the UK eats have to make their way from north-east Scotland, where the fields over the past fortnight have been frozen, to centralised distribution depots and back out again to stores.

Milk collections from farms were also hit by the bad weather with some farmers having to dump milk while local supermarkets had run out or were rationing customers. Milk is particularly vulnerable as Huw Bowles, director of the organic co-operative OMSCO said

“Forty years ago milk was processed closer to where it was produced and delivered back to the same area.”  The drive to make industry logistics as economically efficient as possible has also removed any slack. OMSCO has cut the cost of collection by 30% in recent years with these efficiencies but at the price of less resilience. “There are no spare vehicles any more. If the driving speeds are reduced by just 10mph on a nine-hour shift because of snow, they just can’t get round the whole collection; the whole route is affected…”

The total reliance on just in time, JIT, deliveries to stores from a few massive depots is bound to make the supply chain less resilient than it was. Even the smallest glitch in the delivery system will cause distribution problems and stores will quickly run out of supplies.

What does that tell us about supply chain resilience and food security in the UK?

Land grabbing tensions as countries combat food insecurity

More evidence is emerging of countries looking to grab land to grow food. According to a recent report Saudi Arabia is buying land in Ethiopia to grow wheat:

The concern is that wealthy countries use land in developing countries to provide a quick fix for their problems. There is considerable doubt that the ‘donor’ countries receive anything other than short term financial gains. What is worse is that such arrangements could worsen food security in the donor country.

The most likely outcome of such agreements will be a loss of essential farmland without benefit to the local population.

The biggest argument against such arrangements is that grain is available on the open market without the need to grab land:

Countries that need to import food can buy from farmers in other countries at fair prices and do not need to deal with multinational agribusiness or engage in foreign farmland grabs. Farmer’s organizations in Africa have been demanding fair and better access to markets for decades.

The growing number of rich countries rushing to find land to satisfy their needs will mean more exploitation of poorer countries. What is particularly galling is the fact that the intensive agricultural practices that have caused the problems are being exported to unsuspecting partners.

Much of the area in Saudi Arabia once used to grow wheat has reverted to dessert due to over exploitation of the aquifers. If the same agricultural practices are used in Ethiopia the legacy will be land that is unfit to grow food. Surely the short term gains are not worth the long term risks?

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Landgrab City – an urban farm in Shenzhen

“As part of the Shenzhen & Hong Kong bi-city Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture, Joseph Grima, Jeffrey Johnson and José Esparza have created a farm in the middle of an urban square in Shenzhen.”
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(Click on an image to enlarge, navigate using << or >> then click the image to close.)

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It looked like an interesting project and you can see more photographs of the harvest here.

Following on from the previous post about growing food in Clitheroe perhaps the town council should think about twinning with Shenzhen. Seriously, food security is a worldwide issue and one that needs to be addressed through a spirit of sharing and cooperation.

The Guardian is running an online poll for the rest of the day – Should councils grow vegetables instead of flowers?
When I looked the results were yes –  82% and no – 18%  but it now seems the flower lobby is making its mark.

Who will grow your food?

This is the first in a series about food and farming by Sharon Astyk, the original article can found here.

Astyk asks the crucial question; with aging farmers, pressure on land and farming seen as only fit for the village idiots who will grow your food?

The critics, and there are lots of them, say that farmers are responsible for many of the problems in the countryside. They are accused of the systematic destruction of hedgerows, polluting water and ignoring wildlife. While there might be an element of truth in such jibes what is ignored is that the countryside is still the place where food is grown.

Farming has undergone enormous changes in the last 70 years. Food was politicised after the shortages of the 1940s and successive governments wanted to show that things were better under the post-war regimes. That meant continuing the modernisation which started with increasing mechanisation and the greater use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. The result was the move to modern factory farming.

Traditionalists lamented the loss of the old agriculture with horse drawn ploughs and hay making on long summer days. The image of a rural idyll is engrained in the collective consciousness and is exploited by many companies especially to sell food.

With increasing urbanisation the vast majority of people have little or no contact with farms or farmers apart from a day out in ‘the country’. People have lost track of where food comes from and who grows it. The role of farmer as food producer has also been obscured by the seemingly endless supplies on over stocked supermarket shelves.

The biggest issue that is being totally ignored is that the average of farmers in the UK is near 60 and few young people want to take up agriculture as a career. Why should they when farmers are at best ignored and at worst reviled? Why should anybody go into a job that can often involve long hours outside in all weathers for so little financial return and even less recognition?

As farmers retire skills are lost and our ability to feed ourselves is diminished. Sharon Astyk says that it will take time to train new farmers and far from being low status manual work it is a skilled profession that deserves a higher status.

The article goes on to calculate how many people will be needed to continue farming America. What bothers me is that the whole situation is not taken seriously enough in the US or the UK. We still rely on farmers to feed us whatever we think of current agricultural practices and however we see the countryside. It is no use looking to mythical scientific fixes to magic food out of nowhere. Neither will all the urban food growing projects feed the population. I am not arguing against any sort of sustainable initiative to increase food production but I am saying that agriculture has to be the main source of food.

What we need is the maximum utilisation of the land we have and the farmers to produce the food. Farming needs to be taken seriously and the job made more attractive, that is, we have to value farmers as crucial to our wellbeing.

In an election year farming and food security should be central issues in any political manifesto. My bet is they will hardly feature and when they do there will be just more of the same old rhetoric of the past; lots of words but no real action.

UK food security threatened by climate change

Soaring food prices could leave UK consumers paying almost £6.50 for a loaf of bread and more than £18 for a pint of beer by 2030 unless urgent action is taken to avert dangerous climate change.

A Friends of the Earth study has suggested food supplies and prices will become radically unstable for basics like bread, rice and pasta in the next two decades, leaving millions hungry in the UK.

The report by Ray Hammond, who studies how future trends will affect society and business and is a visiting lecturer at Oxford University’s Institute for the Future of Humanity, warned food prices could rise well above inflation by 2030. He cited global food production, as “already precarious – and climate change threatens to tip it into disaster”.

The study found:

  • Yields of staple crops are predicted to fall as global temperatures rise.
  • There will be extra pressure on land and water with climate change seeing more droughts, floods and extreme weather events.

Under normal inflation, an 800g loaf of white bread which currently costs 72p would rise to £1.44. But climate change will see this rise to £6.48. litre of corn oil would rise from £1.99 to £17.91, a kilogram of basmati rice would increase from £1.69 in today’s prices to £15.21 by 2030, and 500g of cornflakes would shoot up from 78p to £7.20. Even beer would increase, with a pint of Pilsner lager rising from £2.05 to £18.45.

The findings are based on research on previous price hikes recorded by the World Bank and projections by the International Food Policy Research Institute.

The study comes after a map of the impacts of a 4C rise in global temperatures published by the Government warned rice yields could drop by up to 30% in China, India and Bangladesh and maize and wheat yields could fall by up to 40% in Africa, the Americas and Asia.

Friends of the Earth head of climate, Mike Childs said:

The root causes of the food crisis must also be tackled. We need urgent political action to create fair global food supplies and make farming planet-friendly – from field to fork our food currently creates up to half of all greenhouse gas emissions. […] This vision of life in 2030 shows that life with climate change won’t be pretty, it’ll be pricey – the cost of simple foods like bread and rice will rocket and millions more people will go hungry here in the UK alone.

Is a 12 point plan enough to save the world?

Greenpeace have published a 12 point plan to save the world from climate change but is that enough? The plan focuses on reducing energy and moving to a zero carbon power sector but mentions nothing about food. Are we to assume that this is included in the plan somewhere? Or do some issues get drowned out by the focus on energy?

You could argue that reducing the energy used to produce food is all part of the equation but it will require some massive changes to produce zero carbon food. While I fully support the need to reduce emissions from the power sector I also feel that feeding people should be an absolutely crucial part of any plan to move to a post oil, post carbon world.

The Greenpeace 12 point plan.

Zero carbon. Guarantee that emissions from the UK power sector will be near zero by 2030, as recommended by the UK government’s Committee on Climate Change.

Cut coal. Immediately rule out all emissions from new coal-fired power stations, preventing any new unabated or partially abated coal plants.

Cut emissions 42% by 2020. Commit Britain to meeting the bolder emissions target recommended by the Committee on Climate Change.

Insulate Britain. Drastically cut energy wastage by retrofitting all existing buildings and ensuring all new buildings meet zero-emission standards.

Fair financing. Commit to help pay for low carbon development in developing countries, to stop deforestation and to protect the world’s poorest people from the impacts of climate change.

Repower Britain. Commit to ensuring that at least 15% of the UK’s total energy (including heat, electricity and transport) comes from renewables by 2020.

Rewire Britain. Ensure that the electricity grid is upgraded to harness wind power and build smart local grids to improve communities’ ability to generate their own clean energy.

Curb aviation. Stop all airport expansion, including Heathrow’s proposed third runway.

Invest in Britain. Properly fund reseach and development, develop new training programmes and support the manufacturing supply chain to help Britain compete in the global low carbon economy.

Bank on green. Set up a green infrastructure bank that would lend to major low carbon projects and harness the expertise of the financial sector.

Issue green bonds. Give investors and savers a secure new way to help fund green projects through government backed bonds.

Reform taxation. Refocus taxation onto pollution so that it can support new green industries and drive down emissions while strengthening the UK’s finances.

My 13 th point would be:

Reform agriculture and the food industry to: 1) move to a zero carbon food system and 2) secure the food supply in a time of increasing demand and world wide threats to food supplies.

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