Monday, 10 August 2009

Is food political?

Could Hunger become a factor in the election?

Back in the 80's when I was at University doing an agricultural degree at Reading, we dwelt for a time on human motivations as proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper 'A Theory of Human Motivation'. You can read all about it for yourself here

In short, Maslow suggested that people have ever more complex needs and motivations but in order to become personally fulfilled, people need to progressively conquer in turn 'Physiological needs' then 'Shelter & Safety needs', 'Social needs', 'Esteem' and finally the rather grandly-termed 'Self-Actualization' or fulfilment.

So what's this got to do with politics?

Politics is all about appealing to peoples' self-esteem and desires for fulfilment... but people are only listening to these grand ideals when they feel safe and secure at home within a stable social structure.

The recession and unemployment has made people focus on the the lower-level but more fundamentally important needs. Like not being hungry.

I'm not suggesting that the shelves at Tescobury's are going to be empty any time soon but the Government doesn't seem to be recognising that people are more open to messages about basic needs than they were. They haven't twigged that luxury 'eye catching initiatives' such as elevating Sir Alan Sugar to the peerage or promoting more 'equalities' are simply missing the point.

And that's why I think that Shadow Agriculture Minister Nick Herbert is onto something when identifies that we've become more dependent on food imports in the last decade. He's tapping into a subliminal sense that we haven't placed sufficient strategic importance on ensuring that we can feed ourselves. Yes, he's making a political point, but he's also addressing a more fundamental viceral need embedded in the human psyche. The need to be able to provide for ourselves.

He reports that since 1997

* The UK’s self-sufficiency in indigenous food has fallen from 82% in 1998 to 73% in 2008;
* The UK trade gap in food, feed and drink has widened by 52% in real terms between 1998 and 2007 to £15.2 billion;
* Over 36,000 hectares of planted land for vegetables has been lost under Labour, falling from 153,000 when they took office to 116,000 in 2008;
* Over the same period, the area of land for producing fresh fruit has fallen from 36,000 hectares to 28,000 hectares;
* The number of dairy cows has fallen from 2,453,000 to 1,909,000;
* The number of beef cows has fallen from 1,911,000 to 1,670,000;
* The number of pigs has fallen from 7,834,000 to 4,714,000;
* The sheep and lamb flock has fallen from 43,983,000 to 33,131,000;
* The number of poultry kept has fallen from 169,901,000 to 166,200,000;
* The area of land for cereals has fallen from 3,358,000 to 3,274,000."

Arguably, it's the role of Goverment to put food in the belly and keep the lights on at home. Yet as I look forward to the grand challenges ahead, food security and energy security seem to have been totally overlooked. Or Fudged. And people are starting to notice this basic failure of Governance brutally exposed by the different economic situation.

This post isn't some sort of special pleading for the farmers or the oil barons, but I do observe that Labour's lack of attention to basic human needs characterised by its abandonment of the countryside and its failure to plan ahead for the time that our North Sea reserves are depleted is about to come back and bite it.

Well, we've all got to eat.


Anonymous said...

In a similar vein, another story posted this evening:

Richard Nabavi said...

You're quite right about energy security and food security being important issues which haven't been given sufficient attention. The most urgent is of course energy security: because Labour have done nothing about planning our electricity supply, we are now almost inevitably going to hit a crisis in around four-five years time. The only way of avoiding this will be by keeping old highly-polluting coal-fired power gereration going, but that will require a special derogation from the EU.

It is a complete mess, caused entirely by Blair refusing to face up to the problem four or five years ago.

As for agriculture, the Rural Payments Agency is one of the front-runners in the competition for Most Incompetent Government Agency Ever. It's hardly surprising that agriculture is in a bad way, beset with idiotic micro-regulation, a hostile government, and incompetent government administration.

Richardr said...

Does it matter?

But in terms of the stats, the so called self sufficiency looks at production against consumption, and the main reasons that the ratio has fallen are:

1 - decreased exports due to foot and mouth and BSE and similar

2 - the high pound in the past decade.

So what. We are now mainly tarding wih Europe, where the supply is not in doubt. Why worry about food as opposed to any other goods?

Rob Ford said...

This is econmically illiterate. We've become "dependent" on food imports because producing food is a low value added, labour intensive activity which it makes much better sense to leave to people on lower wages than our farmers.

The fall in production would, and should, be much greater were it not for the ludicrous subsidies we already pay our farmers thanks to the EU's CAP nonsense.

Food nationalism of this kind only ends up hurting consumers through higher prices and poor farmers in the third world when trade barriers are erected under the guise of "food security". Britain hasn't taken arguments like this seriously since Peel repealed the corn laws. Free trade is, always has, and always will be, the best way to ensure plentiful, low priced food for British citizens. If you want to stop Britons going hungry, lobby the EU to scrap CAP tarriffs so we can import more, not less.