Nine billion people? Get into farming!

October 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

I am pleased that the BBC’s Farming Today is looking at the issue of how to feed nine billion people.

Although the programme is rightly looking at technological innovations to improve efficiency and effectiveness, to my mind this is rather a political and social not technological question.

My reason is that we do not now feed seven billion people fairly or effectively. The stunning statistic, that there as many obese as there are undernourished people in the world, demonstrates the failure of ourselves as an international community.

And in the UK, we treat food production as a matter of national rather than international interest. This is because in the main this country does not experience problems with food production and supply. So politicians are more concerned to ensure continuity of supply than address the wider – global – conditions that affect that production and security.

So when there are nine rather than seven billion people, to my mind the problem will be similar but more acute. Food insecurity, such as was experienced three years ago with a rise in oil prices, will be much more evident. Changes in climate will mean more weather extremes – hotter, colder, and especially more flooding and more droughts. Banning of food exports will be much more routine, forcing every country to produce more locally. Countries like ours will be under greater pressure from international migration. Pressure will increase as to how every inch of UK soil is used: which will be seen as more important – housing, food production, areas of natural beauty, retail parks…?

So that’s my prediction – unless feeding us all becomes seen as a matter of international cooperation, and led by equity rather than market forces.

One thing is for certain: it has never been a better time to get into farming. The amount of investment that will be needed by governments, and the entwinement contribution of food production to national security, will make food production one of the most significant industries in the UK.

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