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TIM ALDRED Food supplies and sustainability

If the world is to be fed …

In 40 years’ time the earth will no longer be able to sustain its projected population. The only chance to feed the billion who then face starvation would be for the billion overeaters in the developed world to cut back significantly on their consumption


overnments are getting worried about food. Food-price hikes were a key trigger for ousting the former Tunisian President – reportedly

prompting other Middle Eastern countries to halt planned price rises. When in 2008 food prices rocketed around the world, it forced the United Nations World Food Programme to issue its largest-ever appeal, and brought food security, after decades of neglect, on to the top table at the G8 Summit in Japan that year. Our continued failure to prevent hunger for more than a billion people worldwide is one of our most fundamental moral chal- lenges. By contrast, a billion people are harming their own health – and, along the way, the planet – through overeating. To quote Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate: “Hunger still reaps enormous numbers of victims among those who, like Lazarus, are not permitted to take their place at the rich man’s table.” The United Kingdom Government’s

Foresight report, “The Future of Food and Farming: Challenges and Choices for Global

Silence in the City

Laurence Freeman OSB: The Great Chasm: Spirituality in a Time of Austerity

Westminster Cathedral Hall, Ambrosden Avenue, London SW1.

Saturday 19 February 2011 10am-4pm

(doors open 9.30am)

£20 donation; refeshments provided but please bring a packed lunch. 020 7252 2453 or 020 7231 6278

6 | THE TABLET | 29 January 2011

Sustainability”, published this week, was one product of the 2008 wake-up call. Two years in the making, this is no lightweight piece: the executive summary alone runs to 40 pages; there are around 100 supporting documents, prepared by eight pages worth of A-list con- tributors. It will inform government policy for years to come. The UK report scans the horizon up to 40 years ahead. It predicts a global population levelling out at around 9 billion, an increas- ingly erratic climate and pressure on natural resources making it harder to grow crops. Action is needed now if we are to be ready. “The global food system is consuming the world’s natural resources at an unsustainable rate; failing the very poorest, with almost one billion of the least advantaged and most vul- nerable people still suffering from hunger and malnutrition,” say the Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, and the International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, in a hard-hitting preface. The language, if academic, is startling: we read of “a major threat that requires a strategic reappraisal of how the world is fed”. Without action, the world will be unable to feed its cit- izens, and that dealing with it requires serious structural change. Some current trends do not look particularly altruistic. For example, cash-rich but land- poor countries such as South Korea and the United Arab Emirates are leasing vast tracts of prime agricultural land in countries such as Sudan, in part for investment, and in part to ensure that in a future global food shortage, they’d still have access to essential commodi- ties. If the spectre of poor countries exporting large quantities of food to rich ones in the middle of a future world food crisis makes you go queasy, then you’re not alone. The challenges raised in this latest report are tough. Take for example: “Demand for the most resource-intensive types of food must be contained.” In other words, collectively we must curb our appetite for meat, especially for animals fed on grain, and protect fragile fish stocks. We also have to stop over-exploit- ing natural resources such as groundwater. When Kent asparagus is out of season (and sometimes when it isn’t) the UK imports large

amounts from Peru. It is a key export industry for Peru, but is steadily sucking the ground- water dry in the semi-desert Ica region. The Catholic development charity Progressio’s recent research report on this issue, “Drop by Drop”, published in October 2010, showed that if abstraction rates aren’t addressed, a third of a million people will be without water within decades – and without viable agricultural land, or a viable export industry. It is a chilling example of what Benedict XVI meant when he said in a speech in 2007: “We have to respect the inner laws of Creation, of this earth; we have to learn these laws and obey them if we want to survive.” But Progressio’s research team found that solutions were not straightforward: local peo- ple in Peru called for big reductions in the rate of withdrawal of water by asparagus grow- ers, but also urged us not to call for a boycott of supermarkets selling their produce in the UK, recognising the damage that such a knee- jerk response would do to the livelihoods of the farm workers. Instead, action should focus on increasing the say that the local population has over decisions made on water resources. Food is becoming harder to grow. In recent decades the weather in many parts of the world has changed and become far more erratic. A Peruvian alpaca farmer, Humberto Lizana, told Progressio supporters in a webchat last month that, with average tem- peratures rising, crops in Peru now need to

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