The UK Food Crisis - How Do We Grow More of What We Eat

The UK Food Crisis: How Do We Grow More of What We Eat?

At the time of writing, two months have passed since Scotland’s voters chose to elect 1,227 local councillors to represent their community interests for the next five years.

How will the newly elected councils address the challenges of a rising cost of living that is outpacing wages?

We’re having a look at how a perfect storm of BREXIT, COVID, and the war in Ukraine is impacting on the UK’s food security as we try to figure out one thing; how do we grow more of what we eat? 

Our focus on food security is because along with housing, heat & transportation, it is something urgent that governments must address now, not later, because later will be too late. 

Fall and winters food is being planted now; the future of the cost and availability of food throughout the world this fall and winter is being determined now.  

As farmers plant or do not, we will reap.

What is Food Security?

According to Wikipedia, food security is the measure of availability of food and individuals’ ability to access it.

The Cross-Government Programme on Food Security Research in the UK defines food security as, “Food security occurs when all people are able to access enough safe and nutritious food to meet their requirements for a healthy life, in ways the planet can sustain into the future.”

According to their research, climate change and high income earners are putting substantial pressures on food production. 

Climate change elevates CO2 which reduces the nutritional content of grains, tubers, and legumes, affecting key nutrients such as Zinc and Iron.

As the wealth of high income earners continues to increase, they tend eat more and demand more food that is resource intensive to produce, particularly meat and dairy.

Where Does Our Food Come From?

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Currently, in the UK, only 54% of the food we eat is produced in the UK. [source]

The UK imports 46% of the food it consumes which is made up of £48 billion of food, feed, and drink (FFD).

39% of which comes from four EU countries; Germany, Netherlands, France, and Ireland. £21.4 billion of UK food is exported.

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What was the point of a dramatic exit from the EU when our food supply depends on imports?

In post-BREXIT UK, this farmer may be forced to grow crops for brewing beer, rather than growing organic food to eat because the UK Government is yet to figure out how best to help farmers transition out from the EU common market.

Meanwhile, according to recent government reports, local food banks and pantries are stretched beyond their resources as they attempt to help feed hungry families.

Since the invasion of Ukraine, food supplies are under enormous strain as the war continues to disrupt global agricultural exports from Russia and Ukraine, two major exporters of grains that account for 24% of total wheat exports by trade value. [source]

And since the UK is relying on imports from EU countries which are pressed to make up for the loss of wheat from Ukraine, we’re being hit where it hurts; skyhigh food prices and a cost of living that is outpacing wages.

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A Growing List of Key Producers are Limiting Exports. 

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, over 20 countries around the world have imposed restrictions on food exports as they try to secure their own food supply and protect inputs for their farmers.

While there are consequences including the exacerbation of hunger and income losses for producers in export-restricting countries, it leaves import-reliant countries like the UK extremely vulnerable; especially when the UK Government is still trying to negotiate a post-BREXIT trade deal almost three years after leaving the EU without a plan for what happens next.

Can someone interrupt the posh party at Downing Street to inform whomever may actually be there that the UK desperately needs a fully functional government that is capable of being fully present and fully engaged with the actual daily business and urgent needs of its people?

With restrictions already on Ukrainian exports following the outbreak of the conflict, the Food and Agriculture Organization‘s (FAO) food price index rose 58.5%.

The FAO tracks international prices of the most globally traded food commodities and in 2022, its recorded the highest rise since records began in 1990.

As of April 2022, we’ve seen the prices for sugar, meat, dairy, cereals, and oils skyrocket beyond measure. [source]

The impact of recent export bans has also rippled into the energy market.

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UK Farmers are Struggling to Grow Crops Due to Rising Costs of Fertilizer.

We can’t eat what we don’t grow.

Farmers are trying to plant what we need, but they’re not getting all of the help they need.

Winter will be here sooner than we think, and with skyhigh fertiliser prices prompting farmers to reduce their planned harvests in the UK, Europe, and America, a looming hunger catastrophe may be unavoidable.

Other EU countries could, in less severe circumstances, get out of such a problem by producing more to make up for the lack of exports from Ukraine and Russia, however, the fertilizer crisis is a major threat to their ability to produce extra food because fertilizer is key to killing pests that attack crops and keeping crop yeilds high enough to meet global human consumption demand.

Russia and China exported 28% of the world’s fertilisers in terms of trade value from 2016 to 2020. [source]

Analyists at Royal Bank of Canada estimate that around one fifth of global shipping containers are stuck in ports; a result of congestion fuelled by COVID lockdowns in China along with western sactions on Russia.[source

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Who is Most at Risk?

Those living in poverty and in countries dependent on food imports are most at risk of suffering from the food inflation crisis.[source]

We are already hearing about people reducing meals and the amount of calories they consume.

According to Organisation for Economic Co-operation Development (OECD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, those who are forced to spend a greater portion of their income on food are at risk of being pushed further into poverty to stave off hunger.

The table below shows us that low-income families are spending as much as 48.8% of their household bills on food, while those who earn the most are paying much less.[source]

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What now?

We’re at a critical juncture; the next 120 days may end up deciding what voices and influences shape key factors that will likely define the rest of this decade.

THIS is WHY politics matters, and why simply checking out of it leaves us subject to and often victim of those who stay in it to win it. 

Politics is the work of having and maintaining a viable, sustainable, and fully functional civilized society, an inclusive democracy, and a government of, for, and by the PEOPLE. 

It’s the more peaceful alternative to what it has long replaced, namely war after war.

How Can We Act Collectively Now and Make a Positive Impact?

The UK needs to grow more of what it eats here in the UK. 

Depending so heavily on foreign sources for its essential food needs undermines national food security.

What is it going to take to get this idea back into the national consciousness and conversation. Empty shelves or aisles in the supermarkets? Closed restaurants because they cannot afford or cannot get the food supplies? Sky high prices for food?

We need to be planting and planning today for what we will need to eat tomorrow.

Time is wasting. It’s time for action.

Growing some of your own veggies and herbs is a way of reconnecting to the land, reconnecting to local growers and farmers, reconnecting to being able to feed yourself and your family, and reconnecting to the power that comes from knowing that you can rely on your community as your most powerful and essential resource.

The universe is never farther from your view of it than a grain of sand beneath your feet, if you can but open yourself to see it and connect to it.

Everything is connected…everything.

Keep on keeping on.

Helpful Resources

These helpful links will take you to resources that provide an opportunity to learn more about UK food security: