Monday, December 12, 2011

Scarcity starts to bite

Norway has a shortage of butter, newsmedia report. Do we see the end of cornucopia? Will scarcity become part of everyday life in the future? 
"A radical change in food consumption and production in Europe is unavoidable to meet the challenges of scarcities and to make the European agro-food system more resilient in times of increasing instability and surprise. "
Is one of many conclusions of a recent report commissioned and endorsed by the European Union’s Standing Committee on Agricultural Research (SCAR), an advisory committee comprised of representatives of all 27 EU member states plus 10 additional European countries, which is headed by the European Commission

Main messages of the report are:

1. The increasing scarcity of natural resources and destabilization of environmental systems represents a real threat not only to future food supplies, but also to global stability and prosperity, as it can aggravate poverty, disturb international trade, finance and investment, and destabilise governments. Price volatility, access restrictions and the interconnectedness of global commodity markets, as well as the increasing vulnerability of food production systems to climate change and loss of agrobiodiversity, will make food even more inaccessible for the poor in the future.

2. Many of today´s food production systems compromise the capacity of Earth to produce food in the future. Globally, and in many regions including Europe, food production is exceeding environmental limits or is close to doing so. Nitrogen synthesis exceeds the planetary boundary by factor of four and phosphorus use has reached the planetary boundary. Land use change and land degradation, and the dependence on fossil energy contribute about one- fourth of Greenhouse Gas emissions. Agriculture, including fisheries, is the single largest driver of biodiversity loss. Regionally, water extracted by irrigation exceeds the replenishment of the resource.

3. Drastic change is needed in regard to both food demand and supply. In an era of scarcity, the imperative is to address production and consumption jointly in order to introduce the necessary feedbacks among them and to decouple food production from resource use. Efficiency and resilience are the new priorities over production levels. This transition cannot be met by following the common narrative of increasing productivity. The narrative of “sufficiency” opens opportunities for transition into sustainable and equitable food systems by a systemic approach that deals with the complex interactions of the challenges founded on a better understanding of socio-ecological systems.

4. The average Western diet with high intakes of meat, fat and sugar is a risk for individual health, social systems and the environmental life support systems. Obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, osteoarthritis, and cancer are wide-spread diet-related diseases. The promotion of a healthy diet also reduces the environmental footprint of food consumption in Europe and globally.

5. Coherence between food, energy, environmental and health policies and across all levels of governance are prerequisites for a timely transition to sustainable and equitable food systems. A new quality of governance is needed at local, national and global level, with a substantial contribution by the State and civil society. Research should strongly support this improvement, and the role of social sciences may be crucial.

6. Diversity and coordination are key for increased efficiency and resilience of the future agro-food systems. It is a fact and a strength that food consumption and production systems are diverse. This diversity has to be maintained, or diversification be fostered, between different regions and farming systems. Diversity in research directions will keep all options open for reacting to surprises.

7. Research, innovation and agricultural knowledge systems must be fundamentally reorganized. To speed up transitions, tightly and actively integrate 1) multiple disciplines from ecology, economy, agronomy, social science, 2) research, innovation and 131 communication, 3) farmers, food retail, technology, industry and agricultural research, and organise research and innovation as learning processes.

8. Make Europe the world leader in efficiency and resilience research of food consumption and production. Ensure a strong role of public research, in particular to guarantee a better understanding of the underlying processes of ecosystem services and the interactions among the scarcities. The continuation of cooperative thematic research in environmental topics and food production and consumption is as critical as the maintenance and further development of European research infrastructures in these areas.

9. Sufficiency-oriented research, innovation and communication must become the priority. Explore new opportunities and ecological approaches to boost research and innovation on efficiency in resource use in agricultural production, including new farming systems that balance the three dimensions of sustainability, and food processing, including cascading uses and waste reduction. Address consumer behaviour and supply chain strategies (including information and communication) in favour of healthy sustainable diets that save food and feed resources and can help curb the increase in global food demand.

10. A radical change in food consumption and production in Europe is unavoidable to meet the challenges of scarcities and to make the European agro-food system more resilient in times of increasing instability and surprise. Europe has already taken up the climate change challenge in industry and is intending to make new energy technologies a win-win-win strategy for market, labour and human welfare. Now the agro-food sector has an opportunity to positively take the challenge and be the first to win the world market for how to sustainably produce healthy food in a world of scarcities and uncertainty.

The report point outs the far-reaching effect of energy scarcity on food production: 
Oil scarcity may affect the food system in two ways: (1) shocks, that are a sudden deviation from normality; and (2) stresses, which are a continuous trend of intensification of the problem. Shocks would strike most where the system is most oil dependent: for example, the British system is very efficient, but heavily dependent on long distance sourcing, and a crisis in the energy sector may put food access of the Britons in danger. In countries with less efficient power distribution, the damage and chaos resulting from a black out could be much worse. Stresses could manifest themselves in a trend of rising prices, and if unattended, could bring to forms of adaptation which might be far from
efficient. Among the possible effects of stresses on agriculture related to oil prices there could be:
· Increase of costs of production, bringing a reduction of fertilizer and pesticide use, especially by resource poor farmers, and therefore a reduction of yields and / or impoverishment of soils (Jaggard et al., 2009).
· Increasing profitability of energy production from agriculture, that would generate problems for land use competition and consequently to further rise in food prices
· Reduction of consumption and changing dietary patterns, that may lead to an increase in

I would add the affect of reduced global competition which would follow as a result of increased energy prices. This reduced competition pressure would increase food prices for the benefit of farmers and local production.These kinds of effects are the ones that really will shape the world when energy is getting more and more costly. And the effects are not necessarily bad. All in all, increasing energy prices are likely to be a blow to the industrial agriculture model, but not necessarily bad as it will make better methods, such as organic more competitive. The changing dietary pattern following energy scarcity is also more likely positive rather than negative.
The report is written by: Annette Freibauer (chair), Erik Mathijs (rapporteur), Gianluca Brunori, Zoya Damianova, Elie Faroult, Joan Girona i Gomis, Lance O´Brien, Sébastien Treyer 

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