Food Security

January 17th, 2008 by Rosie

Not so long ago, 100 years at most, communities knew that it was prudent to have enough food stored away to last until the next harvest. Today this sensible practise has been abandoned for the modern ‘just-in-time’ food economy where we see the shelves in our shops replenished hourly from the daily shipments that arrive in the island. In England it is estimated that there is enough food in the country at any one time to feed the population for about 54 days. In Guernsey the shops would be empty in less than one week.

Harvesting maize or corn in St Peter Port Guernsey on 31 October 2007 (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

In 2008 Guernsey no longer has any farm shops that sell local produce. Local growers have declined in number to a mere handful. The five major Guernsey food retailers dominate the local food industry and import nearly all their fresh food. Some arrives from Jersey and England but the vast majority comes from further afield. Food storage in the island is limited to the Co-op’s one warehouse off Bulwer Avenue. All other warehouses are in England.

This reliance on cheap imported food leaves us dangerously exposed and vulnerable to food shortages. While Guernsey could never be totally self-sufficient in terms of food supply, we could certainly be doing a lot more to improve our food security.

Importing nearly all our food adds to our island’s carbon footprint. The urgent and moral need to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions because of climate change is predicted to receive another huge impetus due to the forecast imminent arrival of Peak Oil, the moment when the global supply of oil cannot meet increasing demand.

This squeeze on oil supplies is going to have a big impact on the price of food as almost all food production is heavily reliant on oil for both production and transportation. Added to this is the increase in worldwide demand for wheat and corn for a growing human population. The demand on corn is further exacerbated by the growth of the biofuel industry and also by the need to feed the increasing quantities of cattle and poultry as people, throughout the world, increase their consumption of meat and dairy produce. Expensive oil and increased food demand are made worse when these crops are at the mercy of changing weather patterns causing droughts and floods which result in lower yields. Global demand is simply outstripping supply.

Rising demand for staple agricultural products at a time when output is increasingly under pressure from the changing climate and increased production costs is not a recipe for geopolitical stability. It is certainly time for communities such as ours to increase the amount of food we grow ourselves if only to afford us some “crisis insurance”.

On the positive side, our newly revived local Farmers Market enjoys increased support and our wonderful tradition of ‘Hedge Veg’ provides an outlet for small growers to sell their surplus produce. These activities provide a small base from which to grow.

A selection of Guernsey Organic Growers vegetables on display at the Sausmarez Manor farmers' market (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

Food security and maintaining the ability to feed our community is too important to be left to the vagaries of market forces. We need to develop a program of education in our schools that teaches, both practically and theoretically, the importance of growing and consuming local food so that we can keep alive all the accumulated knowledge of growing food in this island environment. We should provide incentives and subsidies for local food producers. And we should study the Transition Town model for ideas on how to reinvigorate the culture of local food production.

Revitalising local food production would increase the supply of higher quality and fresher produce, which would benefit our nutrition and improve our health. It would reduce food miles and therefore our CO2 emissions. It would help to profitably maintain our rural farm land and enhance our internal economy. And most importantly, would reduce our vulnerability to the global food shortages and price increases. These measures are simple to implement and would be life enhancing for all of us in every aspect.

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