Thursday, 2 August 2007

Organic farmers face ruin as rich nations agonise over food miles

The Times of London reports today that the Soil Association, which certifies about 80% of organic produce in the UK, has threatened to remove the organic certification from Kenyan produce because of the concern over, "food miles."

Times Online

"As she proudly surveys a plantation of avocado trees and bananas, surrounded by pools of fresh cow manure, Jane Kimani cuts an unlikely figure as an ecological villain.

Like other farmers in this village, about 15 miles (25km) outside Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, she lives in a modest dwelling of brick walls and a corrugated-iron roof only yards from cow sheds, a new apiary and vegetable plots. She does not own a car and uses little electricity.

She farms organically without knowing it, simply because, like many people in a country where two thirds of the population live on less than 50p a day, she could not afford fertilisers and chemical sprays. Her carbon footprint is insignificant."

It is estimated that 150,000 people are dependent for their livelihood on the production of organic food in Kenya. If the Soil Association withdraws its organic certification, the industry could collapse.

" Su Kahumbu, 43, who pioneered the organic-food industry in Kenya, fears that a collapse in the export market could kill off the domestic market as producers move back to conventional farming. She says that it flies in the face of Gordon Brown’s renewed pledge to eliminate poverty in Africa. “It could signal a return to aid when we have fought to set up this business and want simply the right to trade,” she said."

The UK's major supermarkets have been developing great concern for global warming, have you noticed? In March 2007, representatives from Tesco met in London with Kenya's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, HE Joseph Muchemi, and a delegation from Kenya led by Matanda Wabuyele, Chief Executive of the Export Promotion Council and Jane Ngige, Chief Executive of the Kenya Flower Council. It was reported that the meeting was called to address concerns that Tesco intended to reduce the quantity of produce that it imports from Kenya. After another meeting on the issue, this time in Nairobi, representatives of Tesco, said they were merely considering the issues!

Report from Fresh

Good old M&S, though, is not considering reducing imports from Kenya, but is focussing on developing greater use of methods of transport other than air freight.

M&S Food Miles From Kenya

We are aware there have been recent discussions in Kenya about the issue of food miles. As part of our wider commitment to make M&S a carbon neutral business, we are looking at ways of reducing our use of air freight. However, I want to emphasise that we aim to do this by using alternative modes of transport, like shipping, and not by reducing our trade with developing countries."

Thinking about the UK's history of trade with food producers in African countries, what has been our relationship with them? Well, Mr Colonial Brit looked at the land and discovered it was a potential gold mine, persuaded owners of small tracts of land to sell out and therefore produce huge farms, capable of mass production of food for export. Of course, the huge chemical companies did quite well out of this; to force ever greater production from the land, non-organic fertilisers and pesticides were needed.

Then came the turnaround. Mr Brit-at-home, with more money at his disposal, and concern for his health and the environment, decided to go organic and noticed the remaining small farmers in countries like Kenya. And Mr Brit-at-home. decided to encourage those small farmers to band together, keep producing the food organically and sell it to him. And just to show how compassionate he was Mr Brit-at-home called for fair trade. Aaaaaah bless! Now, however, Mr Brit-at-home has a concern for global warming and has looked at those pesky Africans and decided that they are using up too much of the earth's resources. Yet, as reported by the BBC,

"IIED research has found that if consumers were to boycott fresh produce air freighted from Africa, UK's total emissions would be reduced by less than 0.1%." (UK's International Institute for Environment and Development)

While the Soil Association is pointing the finger and potentially robbing thousands of Kenyans of their livelihood, maybe they should be starting a little closer to home with their concern. How many of us now order our food shopping online and have it delivered to the door? And what about all those Tesco, ASDA and Sainsbury's trucks I see in the queues of traffic every morning as I inch along at a snail's pace, taking over an hour to drive 19 miles to work?

I shall end this post with a quote from the above-mentioned BBC article about a farmer in Kenya and a few facts and figures from the Times Online.

"Mr Mauthike, 32, like so many of the two million Kenyans who rely on the western world to import their flowers, fruit and vegetables for their livelihoods, has never heard of a carbon footprint either.

He points to the simple gravitational water irrigation system that flows through his smallholding, admitting he has never been in a plane, rarely travels by bus and uses nothing but his hands to grow, fertilise and harvest his top quality green beans, which then appear on a supermarket shelf in Europe.

Yet he and his fellow Kenyan farmers, whose lifelong carbon emissions are negligible compared with their counterparts in the West, are fast becoming the victims of a green campaign that could threaten their livelihoods."

According to World Bank figures, a Briton emits an average 9.4 tonnes of CO2 compared with an African’s 0.3 tonnes.

Food and fuel

£1.6 billion value of retail sales of organic products in Britain in 2005, up 30 per cent on 2004

10.5% the increase in the area of land under organic cultivation — up from 7,711 hectares in 2005 to 8,522 hectares in 2006

50% of organic produce sold in Britain is imported

140% increase in the carbon footprint of air freighted food to Britain since 1992

9.4 tonnes is average amount of CO2 emitted by each Briton a year — 30 times more than the average Kenyan

Sources: The Soil Association; World Bank; Defra