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Monday, 23 February 2009

Food loonies and an area the size of Wales

1. Defra's latest figures show that 51% of all the food we eat is imported. Certain lunatic elements in the UK are suggesting that we replace this 51% by growing our own.

2. Say an adult male requires 2,400 calories a day. Especially if he spends it grubbing in the dirt with a stick. We need to replace (2,400 x 51%) x 365.25 calories a year; 447,066 calories a year.

3. 1kg of potato contains 790 calories. Each of us would therefore need to grow 447,066 / 790 kg of spuds a year; 566kg of potatoes a year. Potato yields are say 8 tons / acre, or 8128kg / acre.

4. Each person in the UK would therefore need a bit less than a tenth of an acre. Multiplied by 60m people this comes to an additional 5.8m acres under cultivation. That's about 23,600 sq km.

5. Wales is 20,764 sq km in area.

Right. Carry on.


Blue Eyes said...

I would be interested to know by how much the population would have to be reduced in order to be food self-sufficient. Nominate the Guardianistas to be the first to get thrown overboard.

hatfield girl said...

Just from memory, I don't think the UK has been self sufficient in food production since the early 18th century (but there's all that definitions stuff to sort through before being definitive).

JuliaM said...

"Nominate the Guardianistas to be the first to get thrown overboard."

We could just cut out the middleman and eat them...

Anonymous said...

So we plough Wales under and convert it to potato cultivation.

Not really seeing a downside here.

Bill Quango MP said...

In 1860, 80% of food consumed was still produced in the UK but by the 1870s after a series of bad harvests and the arrival of imports from the prairies, farm gate prices fell dramatically and the great agricultural depression ensued. Lasting for nearly thirty years significant rural depopulation resulted ... By 1900 the majority of food and raw materials were imported.

Anonymous said...

"So we plough Wales under and convert it to potato cultivation.

Not really seeing a downside here."

Quite right!

I can think of no better use for the place.

There may however be a sheep issue

Anonymous said...

>There may however be a sheep issue<

Send the sheep to Aberdeen. I'm sure they'll be glad of the new addition to the harem.

Bill Quango MP said...

We have form on this you know. It was called Ireland.
Only the damned potato blight ruined the self sufficient feeding experiment.
That and the endless prairies of America supplying grain to the UK, allowing a wholesale move from the countryside to the towns around 1850 that allowed the manpower for the factories of the industrial revolution.

Jim said...

I'm not sure it's as insurmountable as people think:

1) Much land is growing low calorific yeild foods, like meat. Replacing with beans or grains allow much more food value from a given area of land.

2) There are A LOT of pointless, dull, mowing-chore generating lawns across the UK that a) are nearly a desert as far as biodiversity, b) owned by people who don't use them for anything other than mowing them, c) represent prime growing land for many crops/trees. A "dig for victory" style civic movement can make a huge difference.

3) A strange cultural momentum that says food must be largely grain based. A properly managed walnut forest, for example, provides more protein and wildlife than most crops. Growing talapia fish using aquaponics is another extremely efficient source of protein.

4) Then there's the fat people - big sweaty mounds of them all over the place. Surely a few hundred calories per head can be diverted from the fatties to those working the land?

5) Cuba: they probably have the most productive, integrated and effective food production systems in the world. They were forced to go organic/decarbonise when their oil stopped coming from the former USSR. We have a LOT to learn from their practices.

6) carparks, rooftops, driveways, railway embankments, roadsides, business parks - all can have food grown in them if required.

OTOH, perhaps we're fucked:

1) soil grades for many areas of industrially, chemically farmed land is bad - the land is essentially a sponge for the petroleum products we spray onto it.

2) as oil supply decline over the next few decades, the current model of farming, processing and distribution starts becoming untenable. That means - unless we start using more people rather than machines/chemicals (see cuba example) - a fall in food output.

3) the UK and global population keeps growing... Perhaps migrants in the UK will leave, dunno.

4) climate change is expanding deserts, changing local food production environments and raising the seas. Some effects are positive, many are strongly negative.

I could keep going but just want to make the point that food and security are really the biggest issues we've been ignoring over the past decades. It's politically and socially very divisive if it starts to go pear-shaped on us. People will NOT forgive leaders that fail to act on these basics.

Isn't there a saying that, "We're 3 square meals from revolution?"

Rugfish said...

I think the calculations could be revised a little if people just stopped eating tatties and grew sunflowers instead. Surely, there's sufficient nutrition in sunflower seeds to feed us all, and we could start a new sunflower chain of sunflower restaurants and retail outlets and just smash everything else up.

We could live in communes in big tents together like in the old days and stick flowers in our hair.

Surely the world would be a better place.

We'd have acres and acres of bright sunflowers littering our lovely lands and we could frolic and play with our loved ones and remember the old days together when we ate tatties and meat from France and other places.

Besides, catching whales would be really difficult using sunflowers as bait.

Maybe we should just keep importing stuff eh? How about having a democratic vote on it. Do we want to live or die would be the questions, just to keep it simple.

expat in New York said...

Jim said:

"5) Cuba: they probably have the most productive, integrated and effective food production systems in the world. They were forced to go organic/decarbonise when their oil stopped coming from the former USSR. We have a LOT to learn from their practices."

Ah, Cuba! The workers' paradise, where according to the United Nations' World Food Programme:

"Cuba, with a population of a little over 11 million people, imports about 80% of its domestic food requirements"


"The main public health problem is anaemia, with a prevalence in the east of 56,7% among children under the age of 24 months and 20,1% amongst those between the ages of 2 and 5. There are a number of reasons for this, the main ones being: i) inadequate food intake..."

Jim said...

@ Expat:

Thank you for the link - though I wonder how old that report is. Even a few years can make a big difference. Besides, I didn't say Cuba has it all sorted, just that we can learn a lot from them and their organic urban farming systems.

See this good summary:

Remember they were always a poor country, then they had the plug pulled after the fall of the USSR, then had to put in place these systems or face mass starvation. They're incredibly productive and resilient. Do they solve all issues? Of course not. Could they be applied here? Of course.

@ People who say we can't or shouldn't become self-sufficient in food, or nearly so. You miss a huge and very important point:

If we rely on imports from other countries for too much of our food then we are vulnerable to any changes within the global food production system AS WELL AS our own domestic one. There are many factors like increasing biofuel production, climate change, population growth, famine, freak weather, oil price rises/shortages, droughts etc that will push up prices and decrease security of food within a globalised market place. Last year's rise in grain prices demonstates this

It boils down to sustainablilty; Since we're not responsible for ~50% of our food, we can't be sure it will actually be there or affordable when we need it. One day it won't, and that day is coming closer.

Can we find an area the size of Wales to cultivate? Of course not, that's retarded. Do we need to? No, because there are lots of alternatives and potential across the UK. But we are storing up a big problem for the (possibly near) future because for decades we've not really been concerned with arguably one of the core purposes of civilisation: food security.

OK, I'm spent.

it's either banned or compulsory said...

Why can't I see 'EU' on that pie chart ?