By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
We’re on the eve of the U.S. Labor Day, traditionally the day beyond which one was never supposed to wear white, and we moved from enjoying summer’s bounty into the finish of the typical western food harvest season.
I was just talking to my mother, the avid home vegetable and flower gardener, and learned that my musings about food security are having some effect. She’s following her bumper summer harvest of tomatoes, zucchini, broccoli, spinach, and other assorted vegetables up, by planting for the first time an autumn vegetable garden – brussels sprouts, cabbage, spinach, and other assorted things. I’ll report back over the next couple of months on how this experiment works out.
This is as good a time as any to invite the commentariat to share their latest reports on their 2020 harvest so far. As well as to pass along any plans anyone may have for autumn planting (and for all you veteran gardener’s Mom is eager to take on board any advice or suggestions for her autumn North Carolina vegetable garden).
She also had some success with the blueberry bushes I sent her – not so much with fruit produced this year, although she did get enough berries to supplement some breakfasts. But the plants have settled in nicely, and she expects to reap a decent harvest next growing season.
I also pass along a plea that we all plant something from a Guardian opinion piece on farming, Enough with ‘local’ and ‘organic’. We’ll begin to eat well when we farm well:
As a first step, I would urge everyone to try to grow something of their own to eat, at least once. Of course, not everyone is lucky enough to own a field, or even a garden, but just growing something like a packet of lettuce on a windowsill can help to appreciate the beauty, the challenge and the sheer miracle of growing food. It helps us to start to think about the soil, about the life we’re nurturing, about the elemental processes that sustain us all.
As you do so, you might start to think of the British countryside as your garden. You wouldn’t walk into it and expect to eat something from it that you couldn’t actually grow, or something out of season, or something that trashed your garden. Instead, you would look at what was available in each season and try to eat accordingly.
Beyond this, if you can, get your food direct from a farmer with a sustainable farming system and environmental values (quite a lot of them can be found on social media and, yes, they often home deliver). Or try being a nuisance and ask more questions in shops and restaurants about where the food came from. If it doesn’t have an origin, a story you can understand, don’t buy it. And then be noisy. Demand changes to our laws that raise our standards and encourage progressive change on farms via environmental schemes. Above all, right now we should all raise our voices against the proposed US trade deal that would drive things to be much, much worse.
The focus of the Guardian article is sustainable agriculture, and not food security. But the remedy is the same. And yes, dear commentariat, I am aware that the herb garden I cultivate when I am parked anywhere for a long period is not going to keep me from starving. But it does help me meet my some of my alimentary needs and also puts me in touch with the agricultural cycle. For those who stay put longer, their ambition can exceed a basic herb garden.
Never have I so much not wanted my musings to come true as I am with my worries that COVID-19 will eventually threaten the food security of much of the world.
FAO Meetings and Warm Fuzzies
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) 35th session of the Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific (APRC 35), finished successfully last week in Bhutan,as reported by Geo, FAO discusses food security, nutrition challenges amid virus crisis:
Representing Pakistan at the Ministerial Session of the Regional Conference, Federal Minister for National Food Security & Research, Syed Fakhar Imam said, “During these difficult times of COVID-19 and locust invasion, we are trying to sustain particularly those people living below the poverty line.”
Food security news at the moment is more optimistic than the general dire world situation, due to COVID-19, might suggest. The accounts I saw of the meetings were fulll of warm fuzzy reports, and let us hope that food security remains intact, for much of the world, despite widespread concern. This is one situation where I would prefer to be painted as an alarmist, and not have my concerns over food security come to pass, although there are worrying whisperings. From Geo:
On the third day of the FAO Regional Conference for Asia-Pacific, the FAO Director-General QU Dongyu, government ministers as well as civil society and private sector representatives voiced concern over COVID-19’s impacts on the food security and livelihoods of millions of people, and urged for greater action to overcome the food and agriculture challenges facing the region.
I must say the buzzwords reported made me very uneasy: although I admit there are no reports of starvation or even shortages. According to this report by Scoop World, Asia-Pacific Countries Pledged Bold And Innovative Action For Food Security And Livelihoods:
Innovation, solidarity, coherence and strong partnership among and within countries of Asia and the Pacific are required for the region to rebound from the damage caused by COVID-19 and the ongoing effects of chronic undernourishment.
That was a call made by more than 40 member countries of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations concluding a four-day regional conference. About 750 participants, including representatives of the private sector and civil society, pledged to work to transform food systems, making them more sustainable, productive and resilient, and to feed a hungry world in a way that is profitable for farmers yet produces healthy food that is accessible to all.
“To transform food systems for sustainable healthy diets we must have coherence, partnerships and solidarity to reduce the costs of production,” FAO Director-General QU Dongyu said on the final day of the35th Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific, hosted by the Government of Bhutan.
“Big data, a digital economy and mobile technology will help producers achieve that.” Today, mobile technology is leading innovation “and a smartphone in the hands of a smallholder farmer is his new farming tool,” the Director-General added.
Chinese Food Shortages?
More serious than the FAO meeting reports is the news currently coming out of China, as reported by Farmers Guardian, China may face food shortage,
Does this suggest Chinese food shortages may be imminent?
Or is is this just more China bashing?
If you’ve been paying attention to Links, you know that China has faced a swine flu virus, which has killed many of its pigs. Plus one is aware of its ongoing trade spats with the U.S., many of which concern U.S. food exports. China has also recently suffered widespread flooding. And of course, COVIV-19 seems to have originated there. Taking these things together, no one would be unduly surprised if food shortages were soon to be on the domestic agenda.
Over to the Farmers Guardian report:
The Chinese government has launched the ‘clean plate’ campaign, which was targeting wasteful diners and the livestreaming of extreme eaters.
The message from the government has come at a time when the country faces not only the coronavirus pandemic, but tensions with the US, a major trading partner.
General Secretary Xi Jinping called the phenomenon of food waste ‘shocking and distressing’ and signalled a clampdown on popular videos of binge eating on social media.
The warning seems to have come with a sense of urgency, sparking speculation as to the motives behind it.
Diners at restaurants were also urged to order less to waste less, with reports of restaurants placing electronic scales at the entrance for customers to weigh themselves before ordering.
But the campaign has raised speculation China could be facing a food shortage, although state media outlets were quick to try and stop the panic of imminent food shortages, reporting that China had recently seen consecutive bumper grain harvests and record high grain output.
As living standards have raised, so has consumption. Obesity levels have soared and China was estimated to waste enough food in a year to feed a country the size of South Korea.
But with the pandemic already cutting consumption levels, China’s options to quell any shortages domestically were limited.
Subsidising production could fall foul of World Trading Organisation rules which could heighten tensions with the US.
This would mean China, already the world’s largest importer of food, would need to look to increase imports to meet demand.
This could then have a ripple effect on prices all around the globe.
The Indian press has been quick to jump in and predict a possible crisis – and even the reputable Economic Times, a pink paper that would like to see itself as India’s FT has recently joined. This alarmism may be part of the current anti-China climate arising from the recent border disputes. And also because, unlike duding past crisis, COVID-19 has yet to see widespread starvation in India. I’d like to think that A.K. Sen is correct and that contemporary democratic India may manage to dodge famine – whereas colonial India under the Raj was not so lucky.
Can the same be said for concetmporary China? It’s perhaps too soon to tell – and China may be swept up in larger, world COVID-19 food security trends.
According to the Economic Times. With rising population and declining arable land, China may be staring at a major food crisis:
The mismatch between agricultural (grain) supply and demand in China, is high. China has struggled to feed its 1.4 billion people, amidst recurrent natural calamities (floods, draughts), shrinking arable land, severe water shortages, depleting workforce, etc. China estimates that by 2030, when its population is expected to reach 1.5 billion, it will need to produce an additional 100 million tons of food grains each year.
As per China’s Ministry of Emergency Management, this year rain-triggered floods and draught earlier, have threatened China’s Three Gorges Dam, disrupted rice, wheat and other crops production in South China, and in the Yangtze River basin. Floods have affected 54.8 million people, causing economic loss of US$ 20.8 billion….
China’s real threat to food security comes more from food wastage than epidemic or floods. Per capita food waste in China is 93 grams per person per meal, with a waste rate of 11.7 percent. According to a survey data, Chinese consumers wasted roughly 17 to 18 million tons of food each year from 2013 to 2015, enough to feed 30 to 50 million individuals annually.
Outside China, the pandemic had an impact on global grain production and trade. Vietnam and India have suspended rice exports and other countries have also done so subsequently. Further as per, China’s Commerce Ministry in June 2020, Brazil, Canada, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Russia and other key producers of wheat, soybean and rice have cut their exports, including to China, to first replenish their own stocks. And this is indeed hurting China the most, as being the world’s largest food importer.
The coronavirus, locust swarms and severe floods across much of China’s key farming areas are all putting pressure on supplies. At the same time, worsening security disputes with key import sources such as the U.S. and Australia have raised new questions about the nation’s long-term food security.
Am I calling a food shortage in China? No, it’s too soon for that. Nor do I have any special knowledge of the Chinese situation, nor any first-hand observations. The last time I visited the mainland was 2008 (and Hong Kong in January).
But a Chinese food shortage is certainly something that one needs to keep an eye out for – alongside the looming food security issues that COVID-19 has spawned and that will no doubt persist until the pandemic crisis is over or at least under competent management by many countries in the world.