The future of food and farming doesn’t belong to chickens.

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I’ve just been eating F.Cooke‘s pie and mash in Hoxton, London.

Jo, the owner, and I got to talking (pretty easy with Jo, he’s a friendly guy) and in no time he was pulling out plastic crates to highlight the abundant waste he has to deal with every day, and how painfully frustrating he finds it being part of such a system. (I did gently ask if he’d consider swapping his polystyrene take-away trays for biodegradable ones - it’s interesting how throwing away ‘bad’ hurts more than buying / creating it in the first place - so if you do go in there, give him a nudge of support?)

He then talked about how he craved for someone, anyone, to come along with a bold vision and stop dancing around on the edges of the green issues and just get on and fix it. “If you and I, Ed, can see all this, and see obvious ways of doing it, and all the jobs it’d make, why can’t they? Why don’t they DO anything?”

I think they’re chicken. They already know - in their own reports - that things are bad:

Although there has been marked volatility in food prices over the last two years, the food system continues to provide plentiful and affordable food for the majority of the world’s population. Yet it is failing in two major ways which demand decisive action:

  • Hunger remains widespread. 925 million people experience hunger: they lack access to sufficient of the major macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and protein). Perhaps another billion are thought to suffer from ‘hidden hunger’, in which important micronutrients (such as vitamins and minerals) are missing from their diet, with consequent risks of physical and mental impairment. In contrast, a billion people are substantially over-consuming, spawning a new public health epidemic involving chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Much of the responsibility for these three billion people having suboptimal diets lies within the global food system.
  • Many systems of food production are unsustainable. Without change, the global food system will continue to degrade the environment and compromise the world’s capacity to produce food in the future, as well as contributing to climate change and the destruction of biodiversity. There are widespread problems with soil loss due to erosion, loss of soil fertility, salination and other forms of degradation; rates of water extraction for irrigation are exceeding rates of replenishment in many places; over-fishing is a widespread concern; and there is heavy reliance on fossil fuel-derived energy for synthesis of nitrogen fertilisers and pesticides. In addition, food production systems frequently emit significant quantities of greenhouse gases and release other pollutants that accumulate in the environment.

From UK Govt Foresight report: The Future of Food and Farming

And the same reports go on to say what to do to improve the situation, too (edited highlights):

In view of the current failings in the food system and the considerable challenges ahead, this Report argues for decisive action that needs to take place now.

The response of the many different actors involved will affect the quality of life of everyone now living, and will have major repercussions for future generations.

Much can be achieved immediately with current technologies and knowledge given sufficient will and investment. But coping with future challenges will require more radical changes to the food system and investment in research to provide new solutions to novel problems.

Policy in other sectors outside the food system also needs to be developed in much closer conjunction with that for food.These areas include energy, water supply, land use, the sea, ecosystem services and biodiversity.

  1. Action has to occur on all of the following four fronts simultaneously:
    1. More food must be produced sustainably through the spread and implementation of existing knowledge, technology and best practice, and by investment in new science and innovation and the social infrastructure that enables food producers to benefit from all of these.
    2. Demand for the most resource-intensive types of food must be contained.
    3. Waste in all areas of the food system must be minimised.
    4. The political and economic governance of the food system must be improved to increase food system productivity and sustainability. The solution is not just to produce more food, or change diets, or eliminate waste. The potential threats are so great that they cannot be met by making changes piecemeal to parts of the food system. It is essential that policy-makers address all areas at the same time.
  2. Addressing climate change and achieving sustainability in the global food system need to be recognised as dual imperatives. Nothing less is required than a redesign of the whole food system to bring sustainability to the fore. The food system makes extensive use of non-renewable resources and consumes many renewable resources at rates far exceeding replenishment without investing in their eventual replacement. It releases greenhouse gases, nitrates and other contaminants into the environment. Directly, and indirectly through land conversion, it contributes to the destruction of biodiversity. Unless the footprint of the food system on the environment is reduced, the capacity of the earth to produce food for humankind will be compromised with grave implications for future food security.
  3. It is necessary to revitalise moves to end hunger. Greater priority should be given to rural development and agriculture as a driver of broad-based income growth, and more incentives provided to the agricultural sector to address issues such as malnutrition and gender inequalities. It is also important to reduce subsidies and trade barriers that disadvantage low-income countries. Ending hunger requires a well-functioning global food system that is sensitive to the needs of low-income countries, although it also requires concerted actions that come from within low-income countries.

If you have such evidence on your desk, and you fail to act, you’re a chicken. The future does not belong to chickens.

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Author: Ed

Ed is the founder of Sustaination. He believes that a better world is possibly, desirable, and necessary, and gets rather frustrated by people who aren't prepared to give it a try.

One Comment

  1. Pingback: MPs conclude: “Our food system is failing.” So let’s fix that. | Sustaination

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