Chris Elliott is a Professor and Pro-VC at Queens University Belfast. He’s also the founder of the Institute for Global Food Security, and led the Government’s Elliott Review into the integrity and assurance of the food network after the horsemeat scandal.
He started his talk to us by taking stock, looking at the global food supply system and the challenges to its integrity.
From the time I start talking, he said, then when I stop, there’ll be a thousand more people. There are already roughly 7.5 billion. Ofd these, there are 1 billion suffering malnutrition, 2 billion over-nourished, and 2 billion from hidden hunger, when you have sufficient calories but are missing vital micronutrients.
That is because the industry has been about producing quantity rather than providing nutrients.
Water and climate change
So 5 billion have a problem currently with food supply. By the time we get to 2030 in my view it will be worse. Our biggest problem is water. 1/3 of the globe is water insufficient. At the moment the strategy is simply to drill more and deeper wells.
By 2030-50 it will be two thirds of the world. There are already major plans to divert rivers to divert flow. this is all about security.
There is also climate change. We are seeing catastrophic weather events. It takes 10 years to grow a banana tree, so one event can have a 10 year impact on food.
Making a living
How can we have a food supply system that doesn’t allow people to make a good living out of it. There is also a problem with child labour – 20 per cent of our food could be estimated to involve child labour.
Chris does much of his work in China. He says that one of the biggest problems we have is democracy, which means planners don’t make long-term decisions. China is completely different, he says. He says he can see the impact of that.
President Xi – in one in three policy speeches – talks about food. This is very different from the West. Often he is talking about food safety – this is because the country has a very broken food system.
Why would a country of 1.2 billion worry about it? There are now 65 million who are middle class, who don’t want to eat food from China. When there is loss in trust it weakens stability – and the biggest issue comes from the supply system for food.
China can’t produce the food it needs for its population, and the food it produces is unbelievably bad thanks to pollution.
China’s food troubles has an impact – with research suggest that exposure to heavy metals is affecting children’s IQ. China is now investing 200 billion USD in the silk trail, to secure their mineral, energy, food and water supply for the next 200 years. Their biggest investment is in Africa – the investment is to connect up their investment in Africa. Chris finishes by saying that food security and supply now is all about logistics and business.
In questions we hear:
- We hear that 1/3 of the land we use to grow food we currently in the future will be used for dealing with carbon capture to mitigate climate change
- We hear that India has less of an issue with China with pollution but is likely to experience significant problems with climate change.