By Jen Dickie
This week, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation are hosting the ‘Committee on World Food Security’ in Rome. This follows an announcement last Wednesday from the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) stating that the UK suffered its worst wheat harvest since the 1980s, blaming the combined forces of a spring drought followed by the wettest summer in 100 years (Met Office). Describing this year’s weather as “a rollcoaster for British farmers that most now just want to forget”, Fiona Harvey and Rebecca Smithers from The Guardian describe both the difficulties farmers face after a disastrous growing season, and in a related article, how this has impacted on British consumers by not only increasing our shopping bills but by changing our shopping habits. In response to a 32% rise in food prices in the UK since 2007, they report how ethical provenance has dropped down the consumer’s list of considerations when food shopping; instead, affordability is now the key priority.
It is not only the UK that is suffering; in The Observer this weekend, John Vidal highlighted the rising concerns over food security and the potential onset of a global food crisis due to failing harvests across the world. Quoting experts such as Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Research Centre in Washington, and Abdolreza Abbassian, a senior economist with the UN Food and agriculture Organisation, Vidal stresses the complex interplay among concurrent global issues such as climate change, increasing consumption and decreasing production of food, population growth, water shortages and rising food prices.
In a recent article for The Geographical Journal, Tim Lang and David Barling acknowledge the complex nature of the concept of food security, arguing that even the term ‘food security’ is interpreted and used in different ways. They argue that “Much of the food security discourse still is about governments, farmers and the hungry” whereas more coherent policy frameworks are needed that address the development and understanding of a food system that “is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable”.
Whilst policymakers meet this week to discuss how to keep global food prices in check, earlier this month the UN reported that one in eight people in the world are starving or under-nourished. A global food crisis has not yet been declared, however, Lester Brown warns us that “As food prices climb, the worldwide competition for control of land and water resources is intensifying… Food is the new oil, land is the new gold”. This is food for thought!
Tim Lang and David Barling, 2012, Food security and food sustainability: reformulating the debate, The Geographical Journal, DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00480.x
Weather-beaten UK farmers lament a dismal year for food production, The Guardian, 12 October 2012
Food prices: ‘Bread, coffee and fresh fruit have become a bit of a luxury’, The Guardian, 12 October 2012
A mixed harvest, but wheat well down, The NFU website, 10th October 2012
UN warns of looming worldwide food crisis in 2013, The Observer, 13th October 2012
Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity, Earth Policy Institute Press Release