Copyright (c) 2011 Alison Withers
An emergency meeting this week of farmers, retailers and the government has been prompted by growing concerns about the lack of rain and its effects on this year’s UK crop yields.
It is calculated that up to 85% of the UK’s cereal crops have been affected, with around 20% of winter wheat and barley crops severely hit but vegetable growers are also concerned. The worst affected areas of the country have been East Anglia and Lincolnshire and there is a knock-on effect to livestock farmers who are finding it increasingly hard to get adequate supplies of grain to feed their animals.
The G20 group of governments also has food high on its agenda when it next meets on June 22 amid concern about growing hunger around the world. This has been attributed to a combination of steadily rising prices for basics caused by commodity price speculation, a pattern of extreme weather conditions affecting farming yields and fierce competition for available land between biofuels and food production.
The charity Oxfam recently highlighted the problem and has launched its biggest campaign yet to focus attention before the G20 summit. It predicts that world food prices could double in the next 20 years because of population growth and climate change. The campaign, called Grow, urges governments to make changes in key areas that are all linked to access to and the cost of food. These include regulating commodity markets to tackle excessive speculation, ending biofuels mandates and subsidies, investing in the 500 million small-scale food producers in poor countries who feed nearly one-third of humanity and taking a strong lead in the fight against climate change and its impacts on global food production. The charity is also urging governments to work internationally to regulate foreigners’ acquisition of land and water in developing countries.
Oxfam has argued that the global food system as we know it is fundamentally broken when the facts of people going hungry are put side by side with the amount of food being wasted. It wants to see reform that creates a fairer and more sustainable food system.
With predictions that world food production will have to be increased by 70% by 2050 to meet the needs of the projected population growth and the most recent reports on global warming painting a dire picture of the effects on climate change there has never been more pressure to farm more sustainably to protect and nourish the available farmland.
Some action to protect the land and the environment is being taken, for example the EU initiative to deregulate the older generation of synthetic, nitrogen based fertilisers and remove them from the market.
There is replacement technology being developed that is more environmentally friendly, in the form of a new generation of low-chem agricultural products. They take the form of biopesticides, biofungicides and yield enhancers that harness the power of natural substances that are often locality specific and leave no residue in the crops. The result is the healthier, more natural food increasingly being demanded by consumers.
Far more attention and urgency needs to be paid by governments to getting these products licensed and available at affordable prices backed up by a robust distribution and training system that makes them available to the small-scale farmers upon whom so many people depend for their food.
These farmers are generally based in the world’s poorer countries and rarely see an adequate return on their labour, often farming at little more than subsistence level and at the mercy of volatile weather conditions and often on land that may be of poorer quality and at risk of steady depletion of nutrients.
There is a steadily diminishing amount of land available on which to grow food and expand yield to the extent that will be needed. It would be sensible therefore to support small farmers and help them to protect their land’s quality and to get more production out of it with less waste.
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