Food Security - the coming agenda
My mother, having survived the second war, was a great food-storer. Our pantry was a room something like 6' x 8' racked with shelves and bins groaning under the weight not just of tins and packets but rows of jars of home-made pickles, jams and preserves. Potatoes came in huge brown sacks, and the hens dutifully laid enough eggs to keep the egg-trays filled. In the autumn the crisp strong scent of stacks of apples (also filling the sheds) always heralded the nearness of Christmas. I suppose we could have lived for several months on the contents of that pantry.
Few homes these days have more than minimal food stocks. The supermarkets give the impression of cornucopia only by continuous shelf-filling; in reality, they carry little reserve stock and a day without deliveries would see many of their shelves bare.
There's no reason to panic, of course, but a number of factors are coming together that will make food security in the UK of greater importance.
We are still reliant on imports for between 40% - 50% of our food; the UK has not been self-sufficient in food production since the eighteenth century. We are therefore reliant on there being food available on the international markets, on a currency strong enough to purchase food, and on a secure system of global transportation by sea.
Food security is inextricably linked to energy security. We are only just starting to realise, now that North Sea oil is finishing, how vulnerable we are to world energy markets. The French, with a self-sufficiency of nuclear power, face fewer challenges.
After decades in which world food production has outstripped population growth and the price of food in the UK has fallen substantially in real terms, the pendulum is starting to swing back. A significant switch of the world's agricultural land from food crops to biofuel crops has already caused a crisis in Mexico over the price of tortilla flour.
And of course the increase we are seeing in extreme climate events across the world. Together with the vulnerability of national flocks to an increased risk of bird flu, and the national herds to foot and mouth and the like.
China's increasing prosperity has meant a massive increase in animal protein consumption; animals need feed, grain - and demand for wheat and maize is keen. Many of you will recall how Reagan used wheat as a weapon to win the Cold War; I doubt that Russia's new form of 'democracy' has improved her agricultural productivity very greatly, but gas-wealth allows her to buy on the international markets.
Those haunting images of mass-starvation in Africa that we saw in the '60s and '70s may not be too far away again. Our own food prices will see some significant increases by Christmas.
I shall be starting to increase my personal food stocks. Lidl and Aldi. Nothing dramatic. But all the signs are pointing to a bit of circumspection.