Global food shortages will be an inevitable consequence of climate change and resource depletion unless we make fundamental changes to the way we farm, process, distribute and eat our food over the next 20 years.
That’s the stark message behind a new report from the Soil Association which outlines what it believes should be a blueprint for a more sustainable approach to food and farming – published to coincide with a major international conference on the future of food hosted by the Soil Association on 12 November at the Conway Hall, London.
The report, Food Futures: Strategies for resilient food and farming, calls for a new cross-Governmental food strategy, and includes a series of recommendations for building resilience into our food systems including:
• Raising the target for greenhouse gas cuts in agriculture from 6% to at least 20% by 2020, in line with other sectors;
• Increasing farm payments to those farmers who maximise carbon storage in the soil – and making the minimisation of soil carbon losses a condition of the Common Agricultural Policy subsidy payments;
• Increasing research and development funding for sustainable farming from 11% to at least 50%;
• Promoting healthy diets linked to the outputs of a more sustainable food system – i.e. less meat and much more seasonal and organic vegetables, fruit, wholegrains and starchy carbohydrates (with red meat and dairy reared on grass preferable to intensive pork and poultry reared on grain);
• Supporting public sector caterers to increase the amount of unprocessed, locally-sourced and organic food they serve; and
• Encouraging local authorities to re-introduce ‘growing belts’ and market gardens close to urban centres – and create more allotments to encourage family and community ‘grow your own’ initiatives.
Based on a meeting of leading soil scientists convened by the Soil Association earlier this year, the report states that organic farming will increase soil carbon wherever it is practised – adding carbon rich organic matter to agricultural soils rather than relying on artificial fertiliser.
The Soil Association’s Policy Director, Peter Melchett, said:
“We’ve got to make fundamental changes to food and farming if we’re going to meet the Government-agreed climate target of a cut in greenhouse gas emissions of 80% by 2050 and reduce the £6 billion burden on the NHS from diet-related illness.
“We need a joined-up strategy that links changes in diet to changes in our food systems. We can’t make plans for what people might eat in future in a different box to how that food is produced.”
The report, Food Futures: Strategies for resilient food and farming, is launched on the same day the Soil Association hosts a major international conference, The Future of Food: Addressing the Global Food Challenge. Speakers include US author Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation author & co-producer of the forthcoming film, Food, Inc.) Professor Robert Watson (Chief Scientist, DEFRA), Vandana Shiva and Sophia Twareg of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
The conference follows last year’s IAASTD (International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development) report by 400 scientists and signed by 60 governments including the UK which concluded that agro-ecological farming – exemplified by organic systems – represents the best prospect for feeding the world.