Beyond Fed Up: Six Hard Trends that Lead to Food System Breakdown

Link to full article PDF

Below is a 2 page summary of Prof. Bendell’s paper

  1. Modern Societies hitting the biophysical limits of food production

    1. Rate of growth is falling from 2.1% annually in the 1990s to 1.4% in the 2010s.
    2. Agricultural land contracting globally.
    3. Biophysical status of 38% of Earth’s land surface is declining.
    4. For the UK, steady growth in crop yields is over with similar results in the Global North.
  2. Modern Societies are destroying and poisoning the biosphere their agriculture relies on
    1. Since 1900, humans have cleared more forest than they did in the previous 9,000 years
    2. Loss of pollinators causing 3% – 5% reduction in fruit, vegetable and nut production.
    3. Agriculture accounts for 90% of human freshwater use.
    4. Industrial fishing has led to the collapse or total exploitation of 90% of the world’s marine fisheries.
    5. 5,000 of the 140,000 novel chemicals and pesticides developed since 1950 are in wide use.
    6. The bottom of the Mariana Trench has PCB levels 50 times higher than the most polluted rivers in China.
  3. Current Food Production relies on declining fossil fuels
    1. In 2021, many farmers paid twice what the paid in 2020 for fertilizer reducing their usage resulting in reduced production and increased prices.
  4. Climate chaos is constraining food production at an increasing pace
    1. Since 1970, there has been a five-fold increase in extreme weather events.
    2. Yields of staple crops are falling in every region of the world as a direct consequence of climate change.
    3. Yields of some grains can increase under higher temperatures and CO2 levels but the quality of grain can decline with lower protein and mineral content.
  5. Demand for food is growing rapidly and cannot be easily reduced
    1. Animal-based protein consumption has increased worldwide from 61 grams to 80 grams daily.
    2. Meat and dairy contribute 20% of global calories but use 70% of agricultural land, 40% of arable land and produce 2/3 of food related GHG emissions.
    3. The daily diet in China has gone from 1,427 kcal in 1961 to 3,375 in 2019.
  6. The globalized food system prioritizes efficiency and profit over resilience and equity, compounding the hazard of food system collapse
    1. Contemporary food system is complex and “just-in-time”
    2. Pablo Servigne recommended more localization and diversification with higher efficiency and conservation.
    3. These priorities have been found to be non-viable in the current commercial economy.

The foundations are breaking together

  1. We are hitting the biophysical limits of food production and could hit ‘peak food’ within one generation;
  2. Our current food production systems are actively destroying the very resource base upon which they rely, so that the Earth’s capacity to produce food is going down, not up;
  3. The majority of our food production and all its storage and distribution is critically dependent upon fossil fuels, not only making our food supply vulnerable to price and supply instability, but also presenting us with an impossible choice between food security and reducing greenhouse gas emissions;
  4. Climate change is already negatively impacting our food supply and will do so with increasing intensity as the Earth continues to warm and weather destabilises, further eroding our ability to produce food;
  5. Despite these limits, we are locked into a trajectory of increasing food demand that cannot easily be reversed;
  6. The prioritisation of economic efficiency and profit in world trade has undermined food sovereignty and the resilience of food production at multiple scales, making both production and distribution highly vulnerable to disruptive shocks.

Actions

  • First, importing countries need to increase domestic production of basic foods, including, through irrigation, the use of greenhouses as well as urban and community-based agriculture.
  • Second, importing countries need to geographically diversify sources of food imports rather than rely on whatever is cheapest or habit.
  • Third, all countries need to diversify the range of species involved in their domestic agriculture, with a focus on a wider range of resilience to weather stress, and this be done with a holistic agroecological approach, recognising the threat from collapsing biodiversity.
  • Fourth, governments need to re-instate the sovereign management of grain reserves and prepare for requisition of private grain reserves in crisis situations.
  • Fifth, a treaty and systems may be needed to help keep the international food trade going despite any future financial or economic collapse.
  • Sixth, national contingency plans may be needed to prepare for food rationing so that any rapid and major price rises are not allowed to lead to malnutrition and civil unrest.
  • Seventh, in the absence of significant new forms of government action on food security, local governments need to act, including through partnerships with companies that can manage food distribution.
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