Food Security/Insecurity 101
Part Three: Further (Food) Fragilities.

By Ken Ross

Let’s start with a little ‘re-cap’.

In part 1 of this series on food security/insecurity, we looked at the UN definition of ‘Food Security’, and in part two, we examined the basics of our food energy story. From that we have established:

1        Globally we seem to produce sufficient food on the planet for every person to have an
adequate share, and the UN suggests that food share, should be safe, nutritious and accessible to all.

2        Almost globally, over the last 200 years or so, we have shifted from a food production
system in which less energy was expended to extract the food energy taken out, to one which on average, requires an input of energy ten times greater than the yield of food energy taken out of the system. The use of cheap fossil fuel (yes, I keep saying ‘cheap’ – work it out in human labour costs) has enabled us to arrive in this bizarre space.

3        Aotearoa/NZ is one of the ‘lucky countries’ of the planet, in that it is a net exporter of
food – it produces more food than it consumes. We know from general experience that ‘export’ involves a great deal of vegetable and fruit product, dairy produce, animal meats and fish and shellfish – all good, basic food materials. We also know we are importing basic foods such as grains and flours, nuts and pulses, plus sugar, coffee, tea etc., that we don’t grow at all, or in
sufficient quantities for our needs. We also know this trade in ‘food’ involves the movement of ‘non-food, food stuffs’ (alcohol, confectionary and chocolate, biscuits, soft drinks etc.) items but
don’t know if that contributes to the measure of ‘food secure’, the designation conferred on Aotearoa/NZ, or whether those ‘dubious food items’ are outside the accepted definitions (whatever they are) and measured quantities, of “safe and nutritious food”. Given the way we play the game, I suspect not.

We have already experienced, during the Global Covid 19 response, how the doors to our island
nation can slam shut, and the movement of people and goods can suddenly be severely restricted. Given our 2020 experience, it would be wise to expect it could happen again, should an even worse viral or bacterial threat arise, or even a serious war breakout, or a major financial collapse occur. Should it happen again in the relatively near future, with the Ukraine and Gaza conflicts as a backdrop, an imperialist Putin and most likely, a basically insane Trump at the head of powerful nations, and an elbowing China actively seeking footholds, the globe is going to be a hugely unsettled place.

Smugly, we are a ‘food secure’ nation, and technically, we could probably survive (but not without major difficulty), supply chain collapse, but for one irritating fact. Our ability to grow and move that food is highly dependent, to an excruciating degree, on fossil fuels. While we do produce some of our fossil fuel needs, we don’t produce nearly enough of the fuel needed by the agriculture and food industry, and we have run our only refinery into the ground. If things go pear-shaped beyond our shores, we are at the far end of very long supply chains when it comes to fossil fuels.

A year ago, I retired from a near 18-year stint in Local Government, which also included more than 12 years involvement with Civil Defence. During that working period, I became aware that there was a very real lack of integrated information in the region I was living and working in, of
the food that was produced in the region, at the ‘what, where, who and how’ level. Conversations with people within the region indicated that the information that was collected and held, was done for the purposes of economic recording and trade purposes, and not tilted
toward the purpose of feeding local people. Conversations with people from other regions indicated our situation wasn’t unique. Given our supermarkets only hold approximately 3 days supply of food (ever heard the phrase “9 meals to anarchy”?), and the warehouses that supply them, hold approximately 1 weeks supplies of most common food items (if you have the fuel reserves to move it), you get the feeling of the precarity of ‘just-in-time’ supply – which, of course, brings us back to those dreaded ‘fossil fuels’.

Now, here’s where it gets personal. I’m not trying to scare the daylights out of people (yeah, right), but I am very interested in stimulating serious conversation and constructive actions in the place where you live. If you are reading this material, you most likely have a connection to DANZ (and hopefully its aims), and also hopefully, have a serious interest in community resilience. My passion for community resilience and sustainable development has had more than a 30-year run. I am well aware that in Aotearoa/NZ, we are far better off than most other corners of the planet, but also aware, that if we want to improve on the precarious situation (I believe) we are in, we need a lot more information than we have at present, firstly to deal with emergencies as they arise, and secondly, to handle the transitions we need to make, from mad, to sane and just systems.

So, whose job is it to be compiling that information? Maybe, you could try asking your Local Authority (City or District Council) that question. However, you might get more joy from your regional Council because they tend to be the regional coordinators of Civil Defence planning and activity. You might get something positive from Government Ministries, such as Health or Primary Industries, or even from the newly appointed (and obviously keen to get runs on the board) Associate Ministers for Agriculture, Andrew Hoggard, Mark Patterson or Nicola Grigg. Go on, ask some questions. Scare the daylights out of yourself. You really don’t need me to do it.