Food security and farming: reviewing the Government’s Food Strategy from this angle

Environmental care, coloured pieces and hand

Self-sufficiency within the UK’s food supply is considered a key indicator for food security. Defra’s December 2021 report on food security stated that in 2020 the UK was around 75% self-sufficient in foodstuffs that can be produced domestically. Actual consumption of UK-produced food was closer to 54%, as a part of UK production is exported. This has been broadly stable for the last 20 years. It should be noted that the headline statistic hides a very wide range of self-sufficiency levels from 100% of lamb, milk and oats, down to 16% of fresh fruit.

At this point, it is useful to note that the United Nations define:

  • Food Security as a situation where “all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life”. 
  • Food Self-Sufficiency as generally taken to mean “the extent to which a country can satisfy its food needs from its own domestic production”.

allmanhall have already published our response regarding the wisdom (or lack thereof) on the aspects of the Food Strategy in the context of dietetics and public health. You can read that piece by clicking here. It is also our view that there is still significant thought required to address the acute challenges to supply chain resilience when it comes to farm producers, too. There are gaps to be answered and risks to be addressed…

There are currently 9 main risks to the UK food production supply chain. These are:

  1. High fertiliser costs which impact on short term cashflow, and are likely to lead to lower application rates, lower yields and profitability, even with the higher market price. There is a risk to availability in future years if fertiliser production costs are so high that no farmers are willing to purchase given uncertainty of grain prices. Replacing manufactured nitrogen by organic manures is not considered a practical or economic alternative for most in the short-term.
  2. Rising costs of livestock feed, which increases costs across all livestock sectors but are not always reflected in farmgate prices.
  3. The high fuel and energy costs for buildings, field work, drying, harvesting and transport.
  4. Labour availability, including most acutely seasonal labour. This limits productive capacity in the sectors with the lowest self-sufficiency.
  5. Ecosystems degradation leading to poor soil quality, decline in pollinators etc, all of which has an impact on productivity.
  6. Availability of spare parts for machinery.
  7. The lack of local abattoirs to service specialist markets.
  8. As we saw during the first lockdown, availability of packaging.
  9. Availability of transport (HGV drivers).

Security and Sustainability - is a balance achievable?

The above needs to be augmented with the very sensible and necessary drive towards Sustainable Farming practices. These include payments for habitat creation, non-food cropping etc. When doing so, it seems that the reality of conditions of farming are not currently conducive to also helping improve food security through increased domestic self-sufficiency. This conflict needs to be addressed through the Government Food Strategy. It’s a complex beast and while we’re ready to be proved wrong regarding this conflict, we hope to see further evolutions of the Food Strategy to ensure a balanced approach to the risks and challenges becomes both practical and viable.

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