Richard Cornish meets the man known as the Al Gore of food security.
HE LOOKS more like a genial uncle than a harbinger of doom, but the UK Soil Association's Patrick Holden visited Australia recently to deliver a sobering message. . . . Sometimes referred to as the Al Gore of food security, Holden warned that if the west doesn't focus on shoring up food security it could leave itself open to a food crisis.
"Think of the global credit crises," he says. "Well, in 10 to 15 years we could see something similar happen with food, a sort of global food crunch. This would have far worse consequences than this financial crises ... In just a few generations we have burned almost all our reserves of fossil fuel and pumped the gas into the atmosphere."
Holden refers to the fact that almost all the food in the Western world is grown using oil. Tractors and harvesters run on diesel, chemical pesticides are made from oil; fertilisers are either made directly from oil or mined from rapidly diminishing mineral reserves.
He also describes a global food production and distribution system that uses oil to transport food not only around the world but within national borders.
"We rely so much on oil for our food that if something were to disrupt that supply, such as a political incident like we saw recently when Russia cut off gas supplies to Europe this winter, terrorism or war, then our food stocks would run out.
"We must also consider that we have reached peak oil production and it's just going to get more expensive from now on."
A report by the Soil Association refers to the 2000 fuel protest that brought London to within three days of running out of food. The first head of the Blair government Countryside Agency, Lord Cameron of Dillington, came back with a chilling report: "The nation is just nine meals from anarchy."
Holden wants governments around the world to tackle what he calls an "emergency in the wings".
"I look around Sydney and it's obvious. The city has engulfed so much arable land, its farming land and now the food has to come from so much further away. It's the same for all Australian cities."
He says governments should consider putting plans in place to achieve sustainable agriculture that doesn't rely on oil and chemical fertilisers, and to grow staples close to where people live.
He points to organic farming not just as a way of farming sustainably, but also of sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. "Our practice of using nitrogen fertilisers is oxidising our soils," he says.
"The nitrogen burns the carbon and this goes up into the atmosphere as CO2."
When asked if his claims might just be a way of scaring people onto the organic bandwagon, he says: "I am not apocalyptic. But yes, I want to see more people farming organically. What is at stake is our health and the future of the next generation."
Holden sees a need for a bottom-up movement where people put pressure on governments to address food security. . . .
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Nine (missed) meals away from anarchy
This is why things like turning lawns into gardens and raising hens in urban areas matter. A lot.