EconomyEnergyEnvironmentExport-led growthFoodImport substitutionLocal economiesLocalisationPoliticsRegional economiesTransitionWater

Achieving food security by relocalisation and building up the resilience of our agricultural resources – three voices

At a meeting of Hadlow College’s Rural Focus Group, their Sustainability Champion, Dr Howard Lee, noted that DEFRA is committed to food security in principle but not to food self-sufficiency.

The strategic contradiction is that succeeding governments have preferred to promote the export of agricultural and horticultural commodities.

Coventry University’s Dr Julia Wright recommends building up the resilience of our natural agricultural resource base

In the Fresh Produce Journal she says that the droughts and the floods we have experienced this year have been “exacerbated by the way we manage the hydrological cycle on farms and across landscapes”. Drawing on extensive drylands experience in Australia she advocates setting up appropriate-scale water-storage mechanisms, building more fertile soils with a greater soil-water retention capacity and introducing soil cultivation techniques that enable retention of groundwater. Read more in another article.

The ‘grow local, eat local’ message – Russ Grayson

Some years ago, Russ Grayson, in the Energy Bulletin, reported that the most visible manifestation of ongoing food relocalisation is the growing number of farmers’ markets that now dot our towns and suburbs:

“Farmers’ market organisers have promoted the “eat local” message ever since the markets started in this country, over a decade ago. The food in question is known as either “local” or “regional”. The terms are interchangeable but refer to food produced within relatively close proximity to the towns or cities where it is eaten.

“Eating local has always had the economic incentive of supporting local growers and food processors consequently boosting regional economies. This is one reason that people in rural towns like the idea and encourage farmers’ markets.

“Not all of our food can be produced locally, of course – climate prevents this – and staples such as grains are usually imported from further afield.

“The argument of the food relocalisers is that food that can be produced in a region should be substituted for imports from overseas”

The fact ‘food miles’ don’t always guarantee the lowest energy use has led thoughtful proponents, like local food pioneer Helena Norberg-Hodge, to say that the issue is the transportation of “like foods” that could be grown in the regions into which they are imported – as did another who thinks ‘ahead of her time’ – Caroline Lucas, with LWM’s co-founder Colin Hines, in STOPPING THE GREAT FOOD SWAP – RELOCALISING EUROPE’S FOOD SUPPLY.

Years ago the Telegraph reported research at the University of Essex and City University revealing that buying locally produced food would save the UK £2.1 billion in environmental and congestion costs. The report’s authors, Professor Jules Pretty and Professor Tim Lang, called for supermarkets to put food miles on product labels, so customers can make informed choices. To read more about the impact of internationally traded food moved by sea go to Grayson’s article.

Attempting to move the local food issue away from those relating to climate change, nutrition and good farming

Grayson remembers Australia’s Federal Agriculture Minister,Tony Burke, making “a poor attempt to reframe the local food issue to move it away from the global warming, human nutrition and Australian farming elements that lie at its core”. Local food advocates were also accused of “protectionism”, influencing consumers, so creating “a consumer-driven barrier to trade”.

Developing new markets and increasing farm viability

Russ Grayson concludes: “For farmers within reasonably close proximity to towns and cities, the growing preference for local food represents new markets and farm viability, especially for the smaller farmer and especially for the organic farmer whose sector is the fastest growing. This is true for the Sydney region market gardeners who supply the city with 90% of its fresh vegetables and almost 100% of its Asian vegetables and who, with the associated marketing and distribution sectors of the local food industry, generate an estimated $4.5 billion annually (Sydney Basin Industry Details, Gillespie, P, Mason, David NSW Agriculture, Orange 2003) . . .”#