Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Preparing for a global food shortage?

A friend of mine passed me a copy of the Sunday Times magazine supplement this weekend, pointing out an interesting article by John-Paul Flintoff, who happened to be writing about several issues that are extremely relevant to the London Vegetable Garden. Whereas I’ve previously examined the concept of growing your own produce as a money-saving ‘credit crunch’ alternative, Flintoff argues that global food shortages could mean we’re all going to have to get proactive with our plots – and soon.

Whilst this feature isn’t meant to paint an apocalyptic picture of doom and gloom, it does raise some extremely interesting points. For example, did you know that 40% of the food we eat is imported, including 95% of our fruit and the wheat in our bread? This is an unbelievably shocking statistic, especially when you consider that in 1900, agricultural employment was at 40% - paltry compared to Britain’s 2% today.

If I were an economist (those that know me will note I usually am after a few pints), I’d start arguing the case that during a recession and rising UK unemployment, surely the Government should start decreasing the amount of produce it imports and start creating more agricultural jobs? Financial politics aside, it’s seems extremely clear, that modern governments just aren’t concerned about self-sufficiency.

This belief is shared with Professor Tim Lang of City University, London, who draws upon a recent report from the Cabinet Office, stating that “existing patterns of food production are not fit for a low-carbon, more resource-constrained future” – a damning indictment indeed. So if our ‘elected representatives’ are failing to deal with this, apparently very real, issue, perhaps we as communities and individuals should be tackling this situation at a much more ‘grassroots’ (forgive the intentional pun) level?

Flintoff talks about ‘Transition Towns’ as a collective answer to a shared problem. Several towns are now planning ahead and striving to become more self-sufficient. Initiatives such as shared-space growing, sourcing local produce and fruit tree mapping are all schemes that are being met with considerable success. But where does that leave us in terms of our individual responsibilities?

Faced by the very real possibility of future food shortages, more and more of us are re-learning to do something that most of us have forgotten, despite the fact that we’ve been farming for 600 generations. What is this? Simply, how to grow our own food. The London Vegetable Garden may not produce enough radishes to sell to local shops, and it may not keep hunger at bay should a global food shortage kick in, but I’m getting back to my agricultural roots and trying to highlight just how much can be achieved if all of us chip in and do our bit.

(The original article can be viewed on the Times Online website by clicking here.)


  1. I am 78, and grew up in wartime Britain, where we were urged to dig up any available space to grow food. And we did. My Gran was the Gaffer, my Dad the digger, and us kids the labour force, ie mainly me, being the eldest! The inititive needs to start with each individual Council, to allocate what space they can for Allotments, and to encourage people with maybe free seed starters, I am disabled, as well as aged,but still grow everything I can, in Containers.

  2. Thanks for the comment! Allocating more allotments is definitely a good idea - current waiting lists on London allotment lists are at obscene levels. Unfortunately, councils are appalling at listening to their constituents or spending our tax money wisely. Therefore, we have to take action as communities. In Mr Flintoff's article, he talks about approaching local care homes or people with large spaces of land and using it to grow local produce for the community, which I think is a great idea! If we all had your energy and wartime spirit, we'd be a lot better off!

  3. I read that article and found it really depressing. Apparently even Stroud, a TT, wouldn't be able to produce all the food it would need.

    Trouble is, we're an island and the population is growing. The land available for food production isn't going to get any larger. But I agree, the Gov needs to start doing something now, even if it seems too late.

  4. I think that if we start things on a local level, hopefully it'll 'plant the seeds' so to speak of things at a bigger level. Local councils should free up wasteland for allotments, etc. If towns started making more space available and more people started to grow their own vegetables, we'd be making huge progress, even if in today's modern world, we won't ever be 100% self-sufficient.

  5. Controlling your own food source makes sense. I know we in the states are also growing our own food. It is a lost skill that is back in vogue.

    Nice post

  6. I must stay that just now with the economic crisis and increase of people starving in my country I start also facing this problem.
    What can we do if there is a food shortage ? and I started to think that maybe we all could grow something.
    The fact is, if we try to plant and grow some plants that we can use for we definitely are contributing for the increasing of food supply.



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