Saturday, 11 July 2009

The extent of localisation possible

Local Food is a really important area to focus on for many reasons - resilience, health, wildlife, landscape, local economy, climate change and much more besides. As little as perhaps 75 years ago, the vast majority of food required by local populations up and down the UK would have been provided close to home. The only exceptions to this rule would have been major cities, which would have acquired food from a regional or perhaps national basis.
But before today's era of international travel and transport, imported food would have consisted largely of goods like bananas, spices, tea, coffee and cocoa. Today imported food can be anything from beef to vegetables and fruit to milk and thousands of items in between. In this mad world, where for example the UK exports about as much dairy products to the Netherlands as it imports from the same country, our food is entirely linked to cheap oil.

The question therefore remains, in the light of dwindling oil availability and a need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% as soon as practically possible, could we largely feed ourselves from our local area? Transition Town Totnes have just completed a seminal piece of work, titled "Can Totnes and district feed itself?" A detailed study, this has been carried out in a very professional manner and comes to some interesting and enlightening conclusions.

In a nutshell, the answer is "yes", Totnes could (largely) feed itself, BUT it would require some major changes in diet - mostly by eating less meat and dairy and ensuring that arable land was producing cereals for human rather than animal consumption.

From a back-of-the-envelope calculation, Scilly would fall in to a similar situation to Totnes...the tricky bit is that economically Scilly is 85% dependent on 120,000 or so visitors per year. Feeding these people as well as the local population shifts the goal posts considerably.

This will be the subject of future Transition Scilly work. In the meantime you can download the full Totnes report here.

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