Governments rethinking locally grown concept

The debate ensuing in Britain is also taking place a world away in the former British dominion of Australia.

It centers on one central question: As farmers face the critical challenges of producing more food with fewer inputs — and in the midst of what most in the world scientific community perceive as global climate change — has the time come to rethink the way food is produced and distributed?

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Some prominent leading voices in both countries think so. And the solution may involve re-establishing what was once considered a critical link between cities and outlying farms — locally grown produce and markets.

For now, with between 60 to 65 percent of its food produced domestically, British policymakers perceive their country as adequately food secure. But with the challenges of reduced supplies of water, petroleum and fertilizer looming in the foreseeable future, some experts say the time has come for a radical overhaul of the British farm production system.

For the first time in decades, a government minister called for more domestic farming for reasons other than preserving the landscape and providing enhanced wildlife habitats. Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference earlier this year, Hilary Benn, said that consumers, rather than retailers, should lead the way by buying greener food.

This, in turn, would create an incentive among food businesses, supermarkets and manufacturers to provide more locally grown food, which would bring the added advantage of a reduced environmental footprint.

As an added measure to increase locally grown food, the government plans to develop a "meanwhile" lease for landowners and voluntary groups wishing to set up temporary allotments on land awaiting development — a measure policymakers hope will foster community spirit and skills as well as enhanced mental and physical health. A multi-departmental strategy report known as Food 2030 also supports farmers markets as a way to promote consumption of local produce.

Meanwhile, some Australian experts and public advocacy groups are exploring similar approaches.

"Over the next few decades, the way people obtain their food, water and energy will undergo major evolution," says Chris Ryan, director of the Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab, who is exploring alternative ways to deal with resource scarcity and environmental change.

"One pathway we can see is people no longer relying on industrial production units hundreds of thousands of kilometers, or even continents, away. Instead, they will source a greater proportion of essential resources, goods and services from within their 'neighborhood," he says.

Ryan says this portends a significant shift of the people's role within the economy — "one of passive consumption to a more active engagement in production and exchange of economic and social capital."

TAGS: Legislative
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