New food price data shows climate impact

FFCC comments on ECIU report: "A transition to agroecology can enhance food security for households"

21st October 2022

Dr Jim Scown, Farming Transition Co-Lead at the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, has responded to ECIU's new evidence showing the impact of climate shocks on food prices.

Dr Scown said, "ECIU's report sets out how geopolitical and climate shocks, such as the rising costs of energy caused by the war in Ukraine and the extreme heat and now drought in the UK, are coming together to increase the price of food for people at the checkout.

"It is a powerful reminder of the fragility of a global food system reliant on fossil fuels."

In a media briefing this week, Dr Scown explained that the impacts of energy costs and climate change also affect farmers, who are on the frontline of these challenges.

"The war in Ukraine is driving up the price of energy and fertiliser exports from Russia and many farmers have taken the decision to use less than they might have because of the rising costs."

At the same time, he indicated, extreme weather events in the UK, caused by fossil-fuel driven global heating, are putting greater pressure on farmers' ability to produce food than ever before. With yields set to drop in many sectors due to the ongoing drought, there is renewed pressure on farm business incomes.

"Add to this the policy uncertainty that farmers face, and the challenges are really stacking up", he added.

The solution to these challenges can be found in a transition to an agroecological food system - and an increasing body of evidence is lining up behind this pathway. The Sustainable Food Trust’s Feeding Britain report, WWF’s Land of Plenty research, and FFCC's Farming for Change modelling show that, with the right support, farmers can be a huge part of the solution to climate change, nature restoration, health and food security.

"An agroecological food system, built on fair and regenerative farming practices that allow farmers to produce plentiful, healthy food in climate and nature-positive ways, can enhance food security for households and the nation while supporting landscapes and communities adapt to climate change," said Dr Scown.

Critically, this shift would see less need for synthetic fertiliser and for commodities to be shipped over long distances, reducing the whole system's reliance on fossil fuels.

"This is why the Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMs) is so important," Dr Scown emphasised. "It is a set of schemes and incentives that rewards farmers for producing food in ways that reduce emissions, capture carbon, and help to restore habitats and ecosystems for nature."

"It is frustrating that progress on ELMs has been slow, but it is essential that government does not dilute or row back on the scheme. In fact, we need more resources, more ambition, to make the scheme more accessible and attractive to farmers. It's the cornerstone of a transition to a future in which healthy food is affordable and available to everyone, and where the costs of unhealthy, ultra-processed foods - to our health and the environment - are fully accounted for."

In addition to ELMs, Dr Scown stressed, farmers and food businesses need policies that incentivise fair and sustainable food production, and markets designed to channel private sector investment into businesses adopting these practices. Investment in regional infrastructure like local abattoirs is critical, as well as a retail sector that commits to selling healthy and affordable food, grown close to home and in harmony with nature, wherever possible.

"Look at the National Food Strategy. Look at the salt and sugar reformulation tax. Taxing those ultra-processed food high in salt and sugar that are so damaging for people's health could create revenue to get fresh, sustainably grown fruit and vegetables to those on the lowest incomes. These are kinds of policies that can ensure a food secure future for households and the nation," he said.

"The war in Ukraine has made these questions more urgent," Dr Scown concluded. "Our responsibilities as an importer of commodities combined with the cost-of-living crisis have amplified calls to increase the proportion of our food that is grown domestically."

"The critical thing is not to produce more at all costs, but to recognise that food security – in the UK and abroad – is completely dependent on a transition to a food and farming system that reduces reliance on fossil fuels and does not offshore environmental impacts, but restores nature and ensures that fresh, healthy, affordable food is produced much closer to where people live. That is genuine food security - and it's what an agroecological system would deliver."