Global food security: Shifting through the crap, crud and crucial

paulbradshaw_amsterdamPaul Bradshaw asked me to advise a postgrad journalism student with his chosen topic, global food security. Getting my head round that was a great exercise in shifting through the crap, the crud and the crucial.

The crucial: Stuff from Achim Dobermann et al at the Warwick Climate Change Forum 2015, from the Warwick GRP Food programme (incl John Ingram and Molly Jahn’s stuff here) — plus info in What it takes to feed the city (pp 15-26).

I felt it’d be useful to make a few other points in the light of what the student had already produced. The list below was off-the-top-of-my -head . . . nonetheless, here it is:

  • Cities are not places to grow food; they grow minds.
  • Feeding city populations is highly efficient.
    Of course cities aren’t self-sufficient in food — never have been, never will! And yes, of course, they’re vulnerable to breakdowns in the food supply network, whether tanker driver strike or warfare. History is full of stories of siege! But cities are super-efficient in terms of delivery of the ‘nexus’ needed to support life: i.e. food, water, energy.
  • How self-sufficient should the UK be as a nation?
    That’s a moot point. A Really Bad Idea for any nation to be totally self-sufficient, for all sorts of reasons, some of which are given in the scenarios report Currently, we around 60% self-sufficient, which is probably about where it should be given the density of our population and the soils, climate etc here. That it is as high as 60% is due to our hugely efficient production and distribution systems.
  • Obesity is a red herring in these arguments, by the way. Emotive, sure.
    But obesity at a mass level in the modern world is caused by diets with foods with high density calorific value; i.e. fats, sugars and some other carbohydrates . . . cheap and easy to produce. And obesity has a big impact on mortality rates . . .
  • Talking of population, it’s worth realising that we’re well past peak-birth.
    (For an informative and entertaining account of this, see the Hans Rosling’s TED talk Religions and babies.)

    • We’re living in a time of enormous demographic shift. We don’t see it, not the kind of thing humans do notice. That’s why statistics are important.
    • The global population began to increase rapidly in 1851 — industrialisation in Europe being the cause.
    • That acceleration began to slow down in 1971. Yup, as long ago as that.
    • And in the last 20 or so years, acceleration has dramatically dropped. In absolute numbers, too, it’s declined dramatically in many countries, including the UK.
    • Immigration is therefore very important to us. (Why we have the current rhetoric about immigration, I do not know. It will change. And soon.)
    • The problem European countries will face, indeed are beginning to face, is too few people of working age.
  • For a readable account of these issues and some of the stats, read Danny Dorling’s 10 Billion — he has a tendency to cite newspaper articles instead of original papers, but then he’s a man in a hurry . . . ! A really Good Bloke. A National Treasure and Rummager in Statistics.



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