Tag Archives: jeremy-harding

Seven Threats to a Sustainable ‘Food Future’

In a hugely cap­tiv­at­ing and com­pre­hens­ive look at the food sup­ply chain in Bri­tain, Jeremy Hard­ing provides a look at “the future of food and its supply”–including food eth­ics, food secur­ity and the dire need for a sus­tain­able future.

Hard­ing’s case is the most cogent I’ve read and it offers much more than a con­dem­na­tion of our cur­rent, unsus­tain­able habits: the art­icle focuses on what Hard­ing dubs the “sev­en big stories”–the sev­en fun­da­ment­al “loom­ing threats” we must keep in mind when plan­ning for a sus­tain­able, effi­cient and secure ‘food future’.

  1. Pop­u­la­tion growth: The expec­ted large-scale urb­an­isa­tion of the future “poses big ques­tions about land use (hous­ing v. farm­ing) and the pro­duc­tion of food by a minor­ity for a major­ity as the gap between the two gets wider”.
  2. ‘The nutri­tion trans­ition’: As we move fur­ther away from a diet based on grains, pulses and legumes and toward one of meat and dairy (the trans­ition from maize feed­ing us to maize feed­ing the anim­als) means that “glob­al pro­duc­tion of food – all food – will have to increase by 50 per cent over the next 20 years to cater for two bil­lion extra people and cope with the rising demand for meat”.
  3. Energy: “The indus­tri­al pro­duc­tion of food is sure to become more expens­ive as fuel costs rise. It takes 160 litres of oil to pro­duce a tonne of maize in the US; nat­ur­al gas accounts for at least three-quar­ters of the cost of mak­ing nitro­gen fer­til­iser; freight, too, depends on fuel”.
  4. Land: “The amount of the world’s land giv­en over to agri­cul­ture con­tin­ues to grow, but in per cap­ita terms it’s shrink­ing. As with oil, it’s pos­sible to envis­age ‘peak food’ (the point of max­im­um pro­duc­tion, fol­lowed by decline), ‘peak phos­phor­us’ [and] ‘peak land’: the point at which the total area of the world’s most pro­duct­ive land begins to dimin­ish (soil exhaus­tion, cli­mate change) and mar­gin­al land comes up for reas­sess­ment”.
  5. Water: “World­wide, one in three people face water short­ages and by 2030 the ratio will have nar­rowed. […] Much of our fruit and veg comes from water-scarce coun­tries and […] lack of water closes down food pro­duc­tion and live­li­hoods”.
  6. Cli­mate change: “Extreme weath­er events will […] jeop­ard­ise agri­cul­ture and the move­ment of food from one place to anoth­er”.
  7. Agri­cul­tur­al work­ers: More than half of the world’s 1.1 bil­lion agri­cul­tur­al work­ers” own neither land nor machinery and live in a state of semi-slavery. The con­di­tions of this new glob­al under­class are at last a mat­ter of con­cern: world­wide food pro­duc­tion is set on a down­turn as their wretched­ness weak­ens their capa­city to pro­duce and earn, driv­ing more people inex­or­ably towards the cit­ies.

I sup­pose you could call these the food equi­val­ent of Jared Dia­mond’s twelve prob­lems of soci­et­al sus­tain­ab­il­ity.