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NFU opinion: How to feed the world - the 11bn person question

PUBLISHED: 06:00 26 May 2014

Former NFU Essex County Chairman Robert Stacey

Former NFU Essex County Chairman Robert Stacey

Archant

It’s another day, just like any other, writes former NFU Essex county chairman Robert Stacey

You’ve woken up and switched on the light, washed with the hot water that’s expected from the tap, had breakfast (most of which has been brought the previous day from a supermarket) then off to work, quite likely in your car, perhaps via the petrol station to fill up en route.

It’s the sort of morning that happens to millions of people all around the world, the sort of morning that is normal and taken for granted, but for how long?

Recent events, not only here but all around the world, should be starting to ring alarm bells. A changing climate is triggering more extreme weather events.

Combined with an increasing world population, volatile commodity prices and political unrest, as well as ever increasing bureaucracy imposed not only on farming but all walks of life, this slowly threatens our ability to maintain what we consider to be a normal life.

The United Nations predicts that the world population will rise to between nine and 11 billion people during the second half of this century and that unless there is a substantial reduction in global greenhouse gasses our ability to feed this growing population will pose probably the greatest challenge mankind has ever faced.

Now I don’t wish to sound like a messenger of doom as I am sure that man’s ingenuity will enable us to meet that challenge, but to do so we may well have to adapt and change the way we live.

Our two greatest needs are for energy and food. Right up until the 1980s the UK was self-sufficient in energy, as we had vast quantities of coal, oil and natural gas, but now we rely on ever-increasing imports. These include liquefied gas from the Middle East as well as electricity generated abroad using Russian gas, hardly a secure supply judging by recent events.

But it is food, and whether we can produce enough, that should be of major concern. In the UK our ability to feed our own population from home-grown food is reducing every year due to more extreme weather events, an increasing population and less agricultural land available due to development and environmental restrictions. It is estimated that the date when we would run out of food if we only consumed home-grown produce is 14 August.

Now of course that’s not going to happen due to imports but I do wonder if it is sensible to be so reliant on imported food. Only a small squeeze on the global supply chain, such as drought, which a few years ago caused a massive rise in food prices, or political unrest, as in North Africa or the Ukraine, can easily threaten that chain.

So when you wake and start your ‘normal’ day just spend a few moments and imagine what it would be like if the light failed to shine, the water was stone cold, the shop shelves were empty and there was no fuel at the garage.

Please don’t take it all for granted as our modern way of living may well impact on the very survival of our children and grandchildren.

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