Tomorrow marks the start of Time for Creation, a period stretching from 1 September to the feast of St Francis on 4 October, which churches across Europe have in recent years earmarked as a time of “prayer for the protection of Creation and the promotion of sustainable lifestyles that reverse our contribution to climate change”. The focus of this year’s Time for Creation is food.
As the Bishop of London explains in his promotional podcast, which can be found on the CofE website, our relationship with food matters.
It is scandalous that the world produces enough to feed all seven billion of its inhabitants, but nearly a billion people still go without. In 1981 Amatrya Sen noted that access to food is just as important as how much food is produced when he wrote in his essay Poverty and Famines that “starvation is the characteristic of some people not having enough to eat. It is not the characteristic of there not being enough to eat.”
In recent years, however, the supply and demand fundamentals for food have become progressively tighter. Demand is rising because of a growing population and because a larger and more affluent global middle class is switching to more resource-intensive Western diets.
Production has however been struggling to keep pace. The productivity and efficiency gains of the Green Revolution are falling, while competition for land and water increasing so constraining supply growth yet further.
This imbalance has contributed to food price inflation and volatility. The problem has been compounded by the fact that just as our food supply chains have become more globalised and efficient, they have also become more brittle and less resilient.
The lack of elasticity in the chain means that even the smallest shock in either supply or demand can lead to significant price changes with devastating consequences for human security. Under such fragile conditions governments can often be motivated by short-term considerations so compounding the complexity of the problem.
There is much that can be done to relieve this pressure.
Developing countries can reduce the levels of vulnerability to hunger by developing robust social protection systems, supporting employment creation measures, taking steps to adapt to climate change and by integrating disaster risk reduction into their national development strategies. The experience of Vietnam, which has gone from being a food deficit country to a major food exporter, also shows what can be achieved when agricultural development centres on small-scale food producers.
There is much though that we can do here in the West, in our own communities and households to reduce the current demand for food, crops and land. Reducing the proportion of food that goes to waste would help as would nudging measures to encouraging the global middle class to adopt more resource efficient diets. We surely need to rethink policies that support bio-fuels – especially the more inefficient ones. Using our development budget to investing further in areas like girls education, women’s empowerment, access to reproductive health services might also help to stabilise population growth.
For my own part, I’ve decided to use this Time for Creation both to reduce the amount of food that I waste – not least through smaller servings and by writing a shopping list before I venture into the local supermarket – and by moving away from a diet rich in meat, dairy products and processed foods – all of which, lets face it, are pretty resource intensive in terms of grain use, energy intensity, water use and greenhouse gas emissions.
These measures will not mean that the food I might have wasted will suddenly find its way to poor and hungry people. But, it might help to reduce the demand for food – no small thing given how tight the global supply-demand chain is at the moment.
If you want to learn more about Time for Creation then do check out the CTBI website. They have some good material to help churcehs and individuals think through the issue.
If you are intending to mark this year’s Time for Creation then do let me know what you are doing.