Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Preview 2014 - Land use and food production

It is good to make some predictions for the year ahead, and then to track them and see how you do!

Some of course are frivolous (as they should be)!

Others are more serious however, and whilst I may not wish them to come true, they are nonetheless well evidenced.

Some of this evidence is captured in the articles linked to below and to save time rewriting what has already been done. I wanted to start by taking a look at food production and land use in the year ahead and the impacts of population growth and climate change.

Taking the two  articles above as an exemplification, my first prediction for 2014 is that we will start to see spiralling pressure on land use as nutrient prices become higher, water shortages start to bite, pollutant load and degradation start to combine.

These pressures will impact the industry, consumers and the communities in which the produce is grown. They will manifest in higher prices to both producers and to the consumer. It is also likely that as costs rise and prices start to spiral, a squeeze will be placed on supplies, many of whom already receive a very poor and socially unjust price for their produce. 

The expanding middle class in India, China and other BRIC’s will be the major driver of these problems, however the consequences will be felt in poorer countries, where land and water grabs are likely to become more common as suppliers try to satisfy growing demand. This could result in a social backlash in countries with a strong democracy and will result in feuds and conflict, in those which are less stable (South Sudan being a current and relevant case in point).

Pollutant load from mineral extraction is also becoming more prevalent as the easiest wins in terms of extraction are mined out and exhausted. From here on in, the winning of raw materials will become more energy intensive, more remote (which multiplies the risk in transport) and more polluting. These pressures will again be reflected in prices for raw materials and will increase public opposition to these operations. 

As case in point is the extraction of tar sands in Alberta, Canada, extraction and processing has created a 7 300 mile halo (could I have used a worse term!) of Mercury pollution around the whole area! More information can be found here:

Here in the UK, it is important to look at both how we can reduce our impact and what the threats might be to our own land. One of the stark facts from the Chinese example is that good regulation is essential and that also, it is obvious that the clean up costs far outweigh the burden of regulation,, including putting land out of production for some time. 

A huge quantity of waste is sent to land for recovery in almost every country, including here, thus it is essential to maintain vigilance as pressures (mainly economic in the case of the UK) , start to mount! PAS standards for compost and AD are in place, it is important that these are strictly observed to maintain soil quality, to ensure benefit from the recovery of recovered wastes.

So in summary, the main predictions are that prices for meat and dairy products will be driven up steadily and it is also probable that there will be a number of new food scares and scandals this year! We can reduce our impact by cutting back our consumption of meat and dairy products, we could also buy a lot more seasonal produce, grown locally and organically.

On a more frivolous note; I'm going to steer well clear of  Noodles for a bit!!!

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