All posts by Andrew Brightwell

Professor Chris Elliott: 2030-2050

Chris Elliott

Chris Ellliott

Chris Elliott is the Professor of Food Safety and founder of the Institute for Global Food Security. He starts by taking stock, looking at the global food supply system and the challenges to its integrity.

From the time I start talking then stop there’ll be a thousand more people. There are roughly 7.5 billion. 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 to in 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 – 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.

Further points

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.



The 6-to-12-year horizon: farming

There is the need to challenge the mindset of farmers. They are into the cyclical processes. The better farmers challenge themselves to improve.

This is partly about consolidation – farmer will see greater and greater consolidation, as better ones swallow up those who don’t change.

Farmer has got to think about longer horizons – like water, there’s more that the industry needs to do save water. But farmers operate on short horizons – and it’s about forcing them to think in the longer term.


Farmers want a secure outlet for their raw material – more than 5 years but 10 to 12, to 15.  We hear from another participant, who says they don’t deal with farmers, going instead to the open market.


We hear that the biggest issue is that farmers’ children don’t want to go back and work on the farm. There needs to be the opportunity for people to train at agricultural colleges. These institutions though are falling away. (This is partly about perception.)

Education and sustainability in farming

One suggestion is an apprenticeship scheme but agreement there needs to be new routes for young people to get into farming. This is also about the collapse of technical qualifications – with the change to university education.

Brexit, consumer mistrust and consolidation

Risk from Brexit

One risk in the 3-5 year horizon is from Brexit. This includes a concern over food standards and regulations and therefore food safety. One participant mentions that this might lead to a collapse in consumer confidence, which could be significant for the business – potentially prompted by the removal of standards from the EU and concern over practices used elsewhere, such as chlorinated chicken.


But one participant says this could be an opportunity: We are focusing on our standards, making sure they are recognised as the highest possible – we see it as a massive opportunity rather than a risk. It will allow us to demonstrate how good we are, and take advantage of that.

A changing market

We hear that taking advantage of opportunities is vital and much of this is about having a strong balance sheet – to drive forward and innovate.

We hear that if businesses do struggle, as a result of the change that too can be an opportunity for others: We are not actively looking – one participant says – but if some businesses are struggling we will look to consolidate and you can quickly take advantage and build a stronger business from that.

We hear that a number of businesses are up for sale. And that there are already significant changes happening to the market.

There is a concern that this is consolidation can be difficult for innovation, but again other participants think this is arguable. Some see it as quite a good driver for innovation, because larger businesses can take risks and invest, thanks to consolidation.



Horizon: 3-5 Years – Parveen Mehta

Parveen will speak about 3 areas:

  • Marketplace
  • Consumer trends,
  • Food security and supplier base.


Parveen Mehta of Minor Weir & Willis is now speaking to us. He joined in 81, graduating with a physics degree.

At the time, it specialised in importing fresh produce for the AfriCaribbean community. At that time, there were seven employees.

They are now a 300 million pound business – involved in growing around the world, specialising in the servicing the food retail sector. He says business margins are between 0-2per cent. “You have to do a lot of running to get to where you are.”

The changing business

Following the recession, there have been big changes – these are now being accelerated by Brexit. This includes consolidation in the business, which is now happening at a faster rate. It’s forcing businesses to strip costs out of the supply chain and allowed new entrants in the market – such as Aldi and Lidl “Until two or three years ago they were not on the horizon. They are appealing to demographics and will carry on growing.”

With lower cost supply chains and more sensitivity to the market they are making significant inroads to the traditional retailers market share.

The impacts of consolidation in the business include:

  • There are also significant skill shortages in the business
  • Fewer, larger and leaner relationships with our partners. If you are to survive you have to add value, he says.
  • Survivors in this market will have strong balance sheets – because risks are being passed down the supply chain.
  • Shorter supply chains: unless you add value you’re going to be driven out.
  • It will also drive innovation.
  • Going to create new markets.
  • We are also becoming a grower, he says. “The business is capital intensive. And has its risks.”
  • You’re going to see whole-grow deals. Once we only built size-12 mangoes. Now, increasingly we’ll be buying the whole of the crop.


Parveen will talk briefly about Brexit and what it will do to the business.


Over night there has been a 10 per cent change in costs – which was a shock. Lookng forward it will be difficult, particularly labour.

“Even this week I’m losing people, because the exchange rate doesn’t work for them.”

Finally, sustainability: we are competing for the same resources as other parts of the world, which creates competition.

We are also concerned by political risks – such as food terrorism. “If you want to survive you have to reinvent yourself.”

Birmingham Food Futures

people in a meeting room event horizon scanning

Tonight’s Horizon Scanning Event

Tonight’s event is to horizon scan Birmingham’s food future – the first of a series of events. It will look at the future challenges, risks and opportunities that exist around Birmingham’s food and drink sector.

What’s happening tonight?

We’ll be discussing three horizon timeframes, with input from three speakers:

  • 3-5 years: 2021-2024 – with Parveen Mehta, Operations Director of Minor, Weir and Willis, introducing this timeframe.
  • 6-12 years: 2024-2030 – with Dr Helen Ferrier, head of policy at the National Farmers’ Union. For background read this blog post, ‘To 2030: Shaping the Future of Global Food Systems
  • And 2030-2050, with input from Chris Elliott,Prof of Food Safety, founder of the Institute for Global Food Security.  For background read this blog post on ‘To 2050: City Deals’. And this post, ‘To 2050: Climate Change agreement’.

These horizon mapping timeframes each have a board – where ideas (on post it notes) will go. Participants in tonight’s event will also be able to write on paper table cloths – and tonight’s conversations will be recorded.

We’ll be covering the speeches and the discussions on the blog and publishing posts on specific conversations and themes throughout the evening.

How to keep track of the Birmingham Food Futures event

You can follow everything here on the blog – and with tweets on #foodfutures – and on our Twitter account @bhamfoodcouncil.


Nutrition and public health

Food poverty, food insecurity

Food safety and integrity

Urban food growing

Food and the city economy

Global food security

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