Horizon blog: Food security remains at the forefront

Monday, 12 December 2022

At the beginning of the year, we published an article in response to the UK government report on food security in the UK. Since then, it has become an increasingly important topic across governments, industry, and the public, with threats to food security coming from the impacts of the Russia-Ukraine war and the cost of living crisis.

Food security is now a regular agenda item at industry and government events. During November, members of our team attended the National Farm Management conference, and the theme was Agriculture's Defining Decade: Balancing Food and Environmental Security. Also, Will Jackson recently gave evidence at the EFRA Select Committee on food security. Food security was also a topic for discussion at COP27 in Egypt, where it was recognised that both climate change and food security are important issues that need addressing and often have similar solutions. It is evident that food security is a key issue that is being discussed across many levels, but what is the current situation, and how can we prevent this from worsening?

Image of staff member Jess Corsair

Jess Corsair

Senior Economist

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Food security issues are global, with over 150 million people faced with severe food insecurity and with the impacts of climate change and the cost of living crisis, it is predicted to worsen. Currently, 7.7% of the UK population is food insecure, and at the end of October 2022, food and beverage was 16.2%, with particularly sharp rises in dairy products, pasta and oil. As food prices rise, alongside climbing interest rates and increasing energy bills, consumers have to make tough decisions on where and how they spend their money. At the other end of the supply chain, farmers are tackling rising input costs and energy prices, labour shortages, policy changes and the effects of climate change producing some extreme weather events which are having financial impacts and affecting production levels. There are pressures at both ends of the supply chain, both financially and environmentally, and it is important that we don’t lose sight of the environmental impacts when we find solutions to food insecurity and the other way around.

A key headline from the National Farm Management conference was that just 8% of farmers produce 57% of food from 33% of land (quoted from Will Gemmill of Ceres Rural), which demonstrates the importance of a small number of farming businesses to producing over half of the food we eat. It also demonstrates the pressure on the limited amount of land in producing food which could have potential environmental impacts. Environmental security was something brought up in the opening session with Minette Batters, Tim Lang and Lord Deben, who all recognised that there was a balance that needed to be met between food and environmental security, and often the issues are very similar and have multi-criteria challenges with multi-layered solutions. On a similar note, at the recent AHDB Grain Market Outlook conference, Pete Falloon from the Met Office spoke about how climate change will impact food security through both production of food and trade on a global market. It is evident that the two issues are intertwined and need tackling together. These issues cannot be solved independently, and both issues can threaten each other. Although there are immediate threats of the conflicts and cost of living crisis, climate change remains one of the biggest threats to food security in the long term.

Going forward, it is important to consider both food and environmental security equally due to the interrelated nature of the two issues. We need to consider solutions that tackle both problems and ensure a plentiful food supply in the future without negative impacts on the environment. With an array of new technologies in food production and changes in domestic policy and private markets, there is potential for a huge change in the industry to increase food production in an environmentally sustainable way. As farmers navigate a changing industry, AHDB will continue to provide insight into policy changes and environmental markets to help farmers make informed decisions to continue and increase food production whilst improving sustainability.