Posted by: graemelaidlaw | February 28, 2010


Our lectures this week were all about food. The lectures covered food security,  and the energy required to produce, and transport food, and whether we have the ability to feed to rapidly growing global population.  It is shocking to hear how utterly dependent on oil the entire agricultural system in ‘developed’ countries is, not just to move farm machinery, but the pesticides and chemicals which are used so widely are also all oil-based.  Despite all the technological advances and the green revolution it appears that our agriculatural systems are much less energy efficient than less developed countries.  It is such a luxury to have fresh fruit and vegetables regardless whether they are actually in season or not, but you have to wonder for how long this will be able to happen.   I had a look at at UK government paper on food security and one points it makes is that there is enough food presently to food the global population, but bad distribution, political instability and poor governance mean that 850 million people are under-nourished, while  2 billion people are overweight. 2 billion! But how do you feed a global population that is growing by 6 million people every month, while also taking climate change and other environmental factors into consideration, especially when people in India and China for example are starting to move from their traditional vegetarian diet towards a more western diet with more meat and dairy. When biofuels are thrown into the equation things get even worse, apparently 27% of the USA’s 2008/9 maize harvest was used for ethanol production.  As seems to be the case with several topics covered in this course it seems that each country needs to get their own house in order.  Ireland seems to be doing pretty well in terms of self sufficiency, and produces much more meat than the country needs.  The Department of the Agriculture states that ‘Ireland is self sufficient in beef (820%), pigmeat (163%), sheepmeat (303%), poultrymeat (101%), butter (1054%), cheese (354%) and milk powder (1088%). In the case of cereals, Ireland’s level of self-sufficiency is 90%’.  I’m not sure how it does with fruit and vegetables however. How will the Irish agricultural sector cope with rising fuel prices and more expensive agro-chemicals?  The issue is being looked at by the government–on-the–menu-1441723.html.  Cuba is an inspiring example of what can happen.  With the collpase of the Soviet Union Cuba almost overnight lost its supply of 50% of its oil, crippling the agricultural and transport industries.  Food was scarce so people started to grow their own, turning almost every available space over to food production, all without oil based pesticides.  It is very inspiring.  I don’t think Ireland really has the climate to be able to do what Cuba did, but we could certainly grow more vegetables in our gardens.  There does seem to be a shift towards growing your own food, with requests for allotments going throught the roof, it is a bit daft if your allotment is  twenty km away though!  Bit of exercise and good healthy food may help there to be a few less  processed food-munching fatties.


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