How we can strengthen local food security?
‘In 1984, the UK produced 80% of its food: by 2018 this was only 60%’
Alan Heeks explores the upsides and downsides of climate change for Dorset’s food economy
Food security means having reliable access to enough good quality, affordable food. Coronavirus has shown us how shaky global supply chains can be; most glaringly for medical equipment, but also for food basics.
For years, experts have said that Britain’s food security is poor. Coronavirus makes it worse because many producers in Britain, and countries we import from, depend on seasonal workers and migrants to get their crops to market. Already these producers are warning of serious shortages because their usual workforce are in lockdown.
There is quite a risk of further pandemics, and continuing threats to food production. By now, you may be desperate for some good news: it’s in the next paragraph! First, I need to add that one of the biggest expected impacts of climate change globally in the coming years and decades is reducing food supplies (see the Jem Bendell link later in this feature).
CLIMATE CHANGE HAS UPSIDES FOR THE UK
Whereas Mediterranean countries can expect ongoing droughts and a permanent reduction to food output, in the UK the outlook is more promising. The recent pattern of milder, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers is likely to continue and intensify. The upside is that this weather pattern can support good levels of food production with adaptive cultivation practices.
I’ve been interested in food and farming since I set up an organic farm and education centre in West Dorset in 1990 (magdalenfarm.org.uk). In recent years, my work on resilience to climate change highlighted food security as a major threat, so I commissioned some research to explore what positive steps we can take to adapt to this threat, especially in Dorset and SouthWest England.
The report Growing through climate change, has just been published. It’s available free of charge from futurescanning.org and covers four main topics: • Which locally grown and imported foods are most at risk in the future from climate change?
What adaptive cultivation practices could help, for anyone from an allotment holder to a large-scale farmer?
How vulnerable crops, or substitutes, could be grown in South-West England
Case studies from our region, and suggestions on next steps
FOOD HABITS WILL CHANGE: BUT FROM CHOICE OR NECESSITY?
One lesson we can learn from coronavirus is that if the UK, US and other governments had taken the pandemic threat more seriously when it first emerged, we could have been better prepared. Maybe the UK Government will now consider the issue of food security, but let’s not depend on it. We can take the initiative locally.
Food security means having the means for feeding your populations from your own country, rather than importing. Britain has relatively good land and climate for food production, but our food security has been steadily dropping. In 1984, the UK produced 80% of its food: by 2018 this was only 60%. The key reason is that successive governments have favoured a cheap food policy, opening our markets to the cheapest suppliers around the world, instead of protecting and supporting domestic producers (EU rules created some exceptions to this, but that’s disappearing with Brexit).
In order to start the shift away from global to local on the home front you need to make some changes to your diet.
Here are some examples that you could try:
• Reduce your consumption
of red meat: a lot of grain is