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Science, People & Politics

Science, People & Politics. First volume (1-3), Volume iii, issue 4, July-August 2008.

A Call for an International Road Map
for National Food Securities

Take war and the supply of food in the immediate aftermath of natural disasters out of the equation and ask how in other circumstances the world's governments can ensure that their people have access to adequate, nutritious and good quality food on a routine and reliable basis in a way compatible with minimising harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

Well before 2050, according to a July 2008 report, entitled food matters and issued by the strategy unit of the UK Cabinet Office, those people will add up to between 8 and 11 billion. All of them needing to be fed, says the report, by farming methods that are light on the resources they use and which have a minimal impact on the balance of greenhouse gases burdening the atmosphere.

A road map would be a useful way of getting from today's situation to this "resource-light", low-carbon food economy. It could even form part of the recommendations due soon from the UN Secretary-General's group looking at the millennium development goals (for 2015) for Africa.

To construct the road map mapmakers, perhaps nominees of the UN Security Council, could do worse than to commission a series of reports similar to Food Matters. Geared to UK need and resources and societal and cultural norms and mores, Food Matters looks at ways in which the UK's food economy interacts with the world's - directly and indirectly - and with trade and related issues, such as fuel supplies and climate change. If every country had a report such as Food Matters produced annually or biannually then when trouble, such as drought, failed crops or disrupted supply lines brewed beyond or within national boundaries governments would have some idea of where to turn and they would know when trouble is brewing that might negatively affect their trade or national security, or even offer mutually beneficial trading arrangements. International bodies or agencies and charities would get a little extra warning of where resources might be needed or, better still, how to stop trouble turning into suffering.

From the many national reports more detailed understanding of cross-cutting international issues related to food production and availability would emerge. They might not be expected issues. The reports could provide evidence to support already known anecdotal issues or to disprove them.

Each report would need to disregard the politics or political structure of the country producing the data. Rather than disapprove of collectivization or expropriation of land the aim would be to say this is the size of the farms, this is their soil and this their yield or herd size. These are their fertilizer producers. This is the percentage of their food imports. This is the percentage of household budget spent on food. This is the length of their supply chains and their usual suppliers. This is the uncultivated land, these are the traditional staples. With basics like these regional suppliers might spot new markets. There would be fall-out also. It would be clearer where new roads need to be built and where regional purchasing power and distribution needed to be negotiated and implemented. The roadmap would not help with the current East African food crisis in northern eastern Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia but it might contribute to minimising the impact of future such crises.
Helen Gavaghan.

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