Our food supply is now more dependent on globally traded grains than at any time in our history. This makes it inherently unstable and vulnerable to the kind of catastrophic meltdown that threatened the banking industry. First, there’s the danger of extreme weather events, worsening as a result of climate change. Grains are at risk both from heavy rainfall and from drought, and this year’s rain-drenched harvest was saved only by a fine spell in September.
Then there’s the reliance of wheat farmers on oil.
This matters in New Zealand, as well as Britain, because grains are a staple food here and in many other western countries – and most of the grain we eat in New Zealand is now imported, despite it growing very well here.
In the early days of the second world war, prime minister Winston Churchill called on Britain’s farmers to boost our supply of home-grown food. Today, they would be unable to respond even if they wanted to. First they would have to negotiate prices for fertilisers and pesticides, then await shipments of oil.
Harvey discusses the impact that the global trading system, and in particular subsidies that favour large corporate farms have driven sustainable pasture farming off the land.
The interesting thing is that more sustainable pasture farming could be one of the most important solutions to climate change. But sadly it is not on the agenda for many politicians who still don’t see the dangers inherent in our current food production system:
The Royal Society has estimated that better management of the world’s farmlands could capture as much carbon as is accumulated in the atmosphere each year. A US group, Carbon Farmers of America estimates that returning the US prairies to the soil organic matter levels of the original prairie grassland would return global carbon dioxide counts to pre-industrial levels.