Guest essay by Eric Worrall
A LSE study expresses concern that if the UK keeps importing food from an increasingly diverse range of sources any climate upset could cause prices to rise and availability to suffer.
United Kingdom’s fruit and vegetable supply is increasingly dependent on imports from climate-vulnerable producing countries
The contribution of domestic production to total fruit and vegetable supply in the UK decreased from 42% in 1987 to 22% in 2013. The impact of this changing pattern of UK fruit and vegetable imports from countries with different vulnerabilities to projected climate change on the resilience of the UK food system is currently unknown. Here, we used the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) bilateral trade database over a period of 27 years to estimate changes in fruit and vegetable supply in the UK and the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative (ND-GAIN) climate vulnerability categories to assess the climate vulnerability of countries supplying fruit and vegetables to the UK. The diversity of fruit and vegetable supply has increased. In 1987, 21 crops constituted the top 80% of all fruit and vegetables supplied to the UK; in 2013, it was 34 crops. The contribution of tropical fruits has rapidly increased while that of more traditional vegetables, such as cabbages and carrots, has declined. The proportion of fruit and vegetables supplied to the UK market from climate-vulnerable countries increased from 20% in 1987 to 32% in 2013. Sensitivity analyses using climatic and freshwater availability indicators supported these findings. Increased reliance on fruit and vegetable imports from climate-vulnerable countries could negatively affect the availability, price and consumption of fruit and vegetables in the UK, affecting dietary intake and health, particularly of older people and low-income households. Inter-sectoral actions across agriculture, health, environment and trade are critical in both the UK and countries that export to the UK to increase the resilience of the food system and support population health.Read more: https://www.nature.com/articles/s43016-020-00179-4
I remember food shopping in Britain. When I couldn’t buy strawberries I bought bananas or apples. Or maybe Kiwifruit. It wasn’t the end of the world that I couldn’t buy strawberries that week.
A long time ago when I studied a unit of economics I was taught that a multitude of independent supply chains for essential products is good, because if anything disrupts one of the supply chains, there are plenty of other options to fall back on. But I guess economic thinking seems to have moved on from this view.