Food shortages look set to be a continuing theme in 2023, as a combination of bad weather and transport problems in Africa and Europe has resulted in dwindling stocks of fresh produce.
Empty supermarket shelves have made an unwelcome return, although issues with the food supply chain have been ongoing since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
The latest shortage, which has affected fruit and veg supplies including tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and potatoes, has seen supermarkets rationing items, with retailers warning the problem will last for weeks.
This latest shortage has been caused by a colder, wetter climate in Spain and Morocco – and even cancelled ferries – all of which have affected the volume of fruit reaching Britain. Although not so according to Save British Farming chair Liz Webster, who cites this as “absolute nonsense”, pointing the finger at Brexit, and a “disastrous Conservative government that has no interest in food production, farming or even food supply.”
Whatever the reasons, what is becoming clearer is that food shortages are now in danger of becoming part of the norm, and what we’re seeing to date may just be the tip of the iceberg. A “perfect storm” has been gathering for the past three years – Covid, Brexit, climate change, geopolitical events, soaring energy costs, labour shortages, you name it – resulting in continual disruption. While all are valid factors, it’s a repeated narrative that is growing wearisome, because we still need to adequately address the problem concerning our food supply chain with a long-term solution, one which will increase our food security. Before the war in Ukraine, in October 2021 industry leaders were warning of soaring energy and labour costs threatening the UK’s food security. Now, with China-Taiwan tensions rising, this has further, potentially far worse, ramifications for the supply chain as a whole.
The long and the short of it is, we have found a solution, in indoor farming. But it needs to be implemented and rolled out for us to leverage anywhere near the level of benefit it promises. As food costs continue to soar, the call to improve agricultural practices has been growing more urgent. This is particularly true as we face an exploding global population, expected to reach 8.6 billion in 2030 and 9.8 billion in 2050. According to one strategist, agriculture tech, or Agtech, will be key to feeding this rapidly growing number of earthly inhabitants. Only last week, the NFU warned that the “clock is ticking” for the government to protect homegrown food supply. Yet it needs to also boost, not just protect, to ensure the UK’s reliance on imports is dramatically reduced and we avert a long-term food crisis.
This can only be done by harnessing the innovation found in AgTech, the possibilities of which are endless – less energy, reduced waste and more efficiency to name a few. If we assert that the future of agriculture is looking connected and greener than ever, then this needs to be backed up by more investment and commitment by the government and the industry at large to make it happen. In terms of the future of our food, sustainable is obtainable, but only if we act now.