Thursday, 22 April 2010
The wider implications of Iceland's volcanic eruption
The volcanic eruption in Iceland has caused travel chaos over the past week. The unprecedented disruption to flights has left many thousands of Welsh holiday makers stranded abroad, unable to return to their homes and jobs. Now, amid recrimination and blame, the restrictions on flights have been lifted. Lessons need to be learned, but its worth thinking about the wider implications of the flight ban.
The Guardian reported this week that farmers in Kenya had to throw away 50 to 60 tonnes of broccoli, sugar snap peas, runner beans and other fruit and vegetables because of the flights that would normally transport them to the UK were grounded. That huge amount of food was ditched by last Friday alone, at the beginning of the six-day period of disruption. Imagine the many hundreds of tonnes of food that will have been lost in Kenya by the time flights are running as normal.
As regular readers of this blog will know, I have raised concerns about future food security before. We do not grow enough of our own food and therefore rely on too many imports. It is wrong, from an environmental perspective, for Scotland to export potato seeds to Egypt, so that farmers can grow them there and then import the finished, grown product back to Scotland. Similarly, why do we buy large amounts of New Zealand lamb when we have fantastic, world-renowned lamb on our doorstep here in Wales?
The UK's reliance on food imports leaves these islands vulnerable and susceptible to a food crisis sometime in the future, which has been predicted by many with terrifying consequences. The notion and implications of peak oil have to be taken seriously.
Food prices are closely linked to fuel prices. The number of air and road miles most of our food has undertaken before it has reached the supermarket shelves means the price largely reflects fuel costs. With petrol prices looking likely to only increase in the coming years, it is crucial that food price-hikes and shortages are planned and prepared for.
People will need food growing skills we have lost from past generations. There are plenty of people keen and willing to learn and try food growing, and the growth in demand for allotments in recent years shows this. But provision does not meet this demand, as the Assembly's Environment and Sustainability Committee heard yesterday. Government at all levels must do all that can be done to provide greater access to allotments, as well as think about other ways in which we can plan to avoid a worse case peak-oil scenario.