We must create a food system for need not greed

With debate ranging from trade and nutrition, to the conversations forming around food and the upcoming United Nations (UN) Food Summit, panellists at the recent Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) Bitesize webinar looked at how we can enable a food system based on production for need, rather than greed.

The series of webinars run during the pandemic, have focused on themes from the OFC’s 75-year history. This Bitesize adopted the 1974 Conference theme, ‘The World, Its Food and My Farm’, and the debate highlighted that many of the concerns facing farmers in the ‘70’s aren’t far removed from the worries of farmers today.

“During the 1970s, farmers were concerned about falling profits, upcoming trade deals, and about potential food shortages – these concerns are not dissimilar from the conversations we are having now,” said Barbara Bray, OFC Director and webinar chair.

“But what has actually changed since then? The UK is the world’s fifth richest nation, we have approximately one in five people living in poverty, more frequent droughts and flooding, and as we enter a recession with rises in unemployment, maybe we can look back on the 1970’s for some of their wisdom.”

Robynne Anderson, President and CEO of Emerging Ag Inc; Terri Sarch, UK Ambassador to the UN Food and Agriculture Agencies in Rome; and, Caroline Drummond, Chief Executive of Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF), joined the webinar and discussed the importance of managing issues of hunger and malnutrition, and how farmers can play a part in crafting a sustainable food system.

“Up until 2015, around the world we had been making progress with the number of hungry and malnourished people decreasing year-on-year,” said Terri Sarch. “But, since 2016, the number of people who don’t get enough to eat has risen each year.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has shown how much we depend on each other for our health, for our economic system, as well as for our food systems with a particular focus on how we produce food and the supply chains that bring it into our homes.

“UN assessments suggest that Covid-19 could add 83 – 132 million people to the total number of undernourished by 2020.”

With hundreds joining the conversation online, many were taken aback by the sheer number of people expected to experience hunger due to the pandemic and queried whether we could afford to ‘de-intensify’ food production in the UK when facing a world shortage.

Caroline Drummond said: “To me, it’s like an old watch where the cogs are operating and, somehow, they’re not aligned to the moment. As a farming sector, what we do need to do is make sure that we are optimising the capability of our land. But, the challenge is market demand and, as much as we would love to produce nutritionally enhanced food, actually there isn’t a premium,  there isn’t a market, and there aren’t the varieties to support the capability of that as well.”

With the UN hosting Food System Summits all over the world in 2021, Terri Sarch encouraged people to get involved in the conversation.

“We must all work together to transform the way the world produces, consumes and thinks about food,” she said. “There will be Food System Summits hosted all over the world and my message is to look out for them and to join in.”

How to register for the next webinar:

The 2021 OFC will be hosted as a digital one-day conference on 7 January 2021 and will celebrate its 75th anniversary since the first conference was held in 1936, with the only cessations occurring during the Second World War years. The next #OFCBitesize Webinar will debate the ‘The Paradox of Plenty’ on Thursday 1 October 12.00 – 13.00 and those wishing to register can do so here.  


The recorded debate is available to watch on the OFC website here.