Food Self Sufficiency in Europe

The only continent on earth whose natives are self sufficient in food is Antarctica. Everyone else depends on, well, everyone else, especially for food. Thanks to the much maligned European Union policies on agriculture, Europe as a whole is now nearer self sufficiency than anyone else, and, bizarrely, even nearer than Canada. This year, a debate is going on about the future of the CAP.

The discussion could not be timelier. As this serious website points out, approaching nine billion people could be fed by the resources of the world, but only if justice trumped profit. That is to say, a global commonwealth of small farmers, allotments, and commercial food infrastructure trumps the contrast of subsistence and monopolistic overkill every time. This is a world where one billion starve and one and a half billion are obese. How on earth can that be right?

The debate is also timely for another reason. It always seemed to me that climate change was a 'red herring'. Rapid urbanisation, the destruction of species and habitats in the ecosystem, and peak oil always struck me as much more important than an essentially bourgeois psychodrama masquerading as global warming. That obsession, with its hockey sticks and hustlers in white coats, reminded me of nothing more than the equivalent rubbish in the capital markets, like Value at Risk and the Black-Scholes-Merton equation. Global warming was a creature of the boom, and like the boom it is gone, drifting away on the wind.

Peak oil is now palpably near. We're facing another major economic landslide in the second half of this year as a consequence, and worse harvests (because of scarcer and more expensive fertilisers) and a long, slow, strain on food resources as Asia dumps the dollar into commodity purchases. This will, essentially, buy up the food, debase the dollar even more, and drive up food prices separately.

I write 'will'; with sinkholes appearing across the world, presumably because of the draining of water tables by uncontrolled urbanisation, there is perhaps a qualification to my prophecies.

There has never been a better time to reconsider our priorities. A state in some ways is a machine to produce and to store food. The aetiolated, acidulous liberal experiment of the past thirty years, in which we were nothing more than a chance aggomeration of individuals with no loyalty to the farmers or the real countryside, is flailing and dying. So, soon, will be the indulgence in global food programmes and the sweet arrogance of 'international aid', when we realise that the best food programme is self help and intelligent markets for distribution.

As I keep writing, though--aren't you glad that we are debating from a position of plenty?


Toni said…
Peak oil, even though debated hugely by the oil companies and the environmental lobby is very real. The oil companies have extracted all the stuff thats easy to get at and have since invested so much in deep sea drilling, (the North Sea was the primary testing ground for this), that they have to exploit it. BP have shown us that just knowing how to extract it isn't always enough. I know plenty of oil workers and the general consensus is that BP was one of the best managed and professional oil companies. The oil age will be over one day, despite new finds occuring on a seemingly daily basis. The extraction of shale oil is a good reason why. The oil in those fields that needs superheated at extreme temperatures are the conventional oil fields of the future - but we can't wait for that.

As far as food goes, on the news wires the other day Russia announced it expects to overtake America as the leading producer of grain in the very near future. Russia returning to its role as the breadbasket of europe is nothing new, but I doubt it will last, like Indonesia and its continual aim to be self sufficient in rice, something always seems to get in the way.

I am also a little leery of the global warming phenomena. After all this planet went through similar things before humans were around and certainly before industrialisation. Peak Oil doesn't concern me as I am sure the technology exists to replace oil in most uses, Victorians probably fretted over the day the whales were extinct. I am concerned about the destruction of the rain forests. I have been to tropical rain forests in the Amazon, West Africa and South East Indonesia. The Sumatran rain forest is supposed to be the oldest in the world and despite all the protection orders and fair trade agreements is being ripped up at an astonishing rate for palm plantations. This is the main problem, There is little profit in protecting the rain forest but this carbon emissions tax, it is perfect a market can be made from it. Already Australia, Singapore, London and Chicargo are desperate to host the carbon futures trading market - essentially trading fresh air. I remember someone telling me a story of when some inventor demonstrated the first electric light and the then prime-minister said, "yes, but of what use is it" he replied "oh, nothing now sir - but I can assure you in the future you will be able to tax people for using it".
Martin Meenagh said…
I'm with Norman Stone on Russia--a great, if shaky power without the Ukraine (which was the real breadbasket) and a superpower with it. Russia, like many states, is not having enough children. Others are. I wouldn't like to be Russia's Mongolian and Manchurian borders in a few years' time.

I also note the peak oil argument, which is not that there will be an interminable oil decline, but that the era of cheap and easily extracted oil is over.

That to me means the end of cheap food, 'globalisation 2.0' and a turn into regionalisation, and a fall in credit markets.

I couldn't agree more about the rain forests, and about the carbon trading scam.

Thanks for the comment, hope all is well today.
Martin Meenagh said…
For those interested in the above exchange, there's a neat if slightly stale link on how much Russia is investing in its own land here;
Toni said…
Hadn't heard the Norman Stone quote before but it is very true. I like Ukranians far more than Russians despite their vaunted culture, (Chekov, Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky etc), I personally have never met a Russian I would trust with a dime. As far as I know my only non-Scottish relative was from Minsk and Belorussians were treated like dogs by the Russkis.

You are right to predict the increase in food prices. Hugh Hendry, who I personally think is a genius, is a fund manager who has been talking about the same thing for some time now. He has a fund which contains a lot of investments in food producers and has been bullish on potash for ages.

I also question the whole GM food thing, as far as I can see a natural crop that is replaced by a GM variant means the farmer is dependant on the supply of the chemicals/fertiliser from the biochemicals company. So a natural process of planting and growing has been hijacked and charged. Stop paying for the chemicals and your crop dies, not because of a drought or plague of locusts but because you are a bad customer or your credit rating is poor.
Martin Meenagh said…
Exactly--or because Cargill or ADM or monsanto or some corporate type decides to end a product line or squeeze marginal revenue. People need to grow things; and if they can't, they don't need aid, they need a picture of their president and a gun.