To ease your site search, article categories are at bottom of page.

August 05, 2008

Is it preferable to eat an air-freighted organic apple or a local, non-organic apple?

by Lucy Siegle

Organic versus air miles; supporting fairtrade or staying local? Getting our five a day is getting complicated.

Fruit and vegetables have long been a fertile green subject, as demonstrated by the classic ethical conundrum: 'Is it preferable to eat an air-freighted organic apple or a local, non-organic apple?'

The answer is complex, thanks partly to the dual issues of a global food crisis and the credit crunch. In the UK we have famously underestimated the outsourcing of our food growing - more than 90 per cent of the fruit and almost 40 per cent of the vegetables we eat are now imported. This country has not been self-sufficient in terms of food for nearly two decades.

The traditional green response has been to champion local, seasonal fruit and veg. Yet DIFD (Department for International Development) aims to make more use of Africa as a giant bread basket (or fruit bowl), with a £2m fund 'to connect African suppliers with the UK supermarket shelf'.

Given that our demand for pineapples rose by 24 per cent last year, there is a practical advantage. But the scheme also hints at the 'ethical' opportunity to help African farmers out of poverty. Seven out of 10 Africans depend on agriculture for their livelihoods; UK shoppers spend £1m a day on fruit and veg from Africa, and agriculture provides 30 per cent of Africa's GDP. But investment is badly needed; as ex-Nigerian president turned farmer Olusegun Obasanjo puts it: 'Unless somebody is growing cocaine, no farmer can recoup loans invested in agriculture with our high interest rates.'

World food security is at its lowest since records began in 1960. Measured by grain inventories, there is just enough grain in reserve to last for 50 days. Africa has a part to play to provide more food, but this needs to go to its own citizens, given that 30 per cent of the population is malnourished and more than 200m people are chronically hungry. Producing food for export is cited by many as a reverse Robin Hood.

Perhaps we rich consumers won't be too worried until global conditions affect the pineapple inventory - and climate scientists warn that food production in Africa will plummet due to water stress by 2020. For example, each Kenya green bean contains four litres of 'embedded water.'

It's not enough to impose a thoughtless 'agricultural revolution' on Africa: it will greedily soak up more water and produce huge emissions and pollution through fertilisers. Instead, any scheme must prove that African producers are being given the opportunity to focus on processed, value-added goods for export (this is where the value is, as demonstrated by The international Slow Food movement ( works with producers in Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Senegal and Sierra Leone to link food production to biodiversity conservation and keep the focus on strengthening local markets first. These are the schemes more likely to allow us to eat our way out of trouble.

The Guardian

Article Categories

AGRA agribusiness agrochemicals agroforestry aid Algeria aloe vera Angola aquaculture banana barley beans beef bees Benin biodiesel biodiversity biof biofuel biosafety biotechnology Botswana Brazil Burkina Faso Burundi CAADP Cameroon capacity building cashew cassava cattle Central African Republic cereals certification CGIAR Chad China CIMMYT climate change cocoa coffee COMESA commercial farming Congo Republic conservation agriculture cotton cow pea dairy desertification development disease diversification DRCongo drought ECOWAS Egypt Equatorial Guinea Ethiopia EU EUREPGAP events/meetings expo exports fa fair trade FAO fertilizer finance fisheries floods flowers food security fruit Gabon Gambia gender issues Ghana GM crops grain green revolution groundnuts Guinea Bissau Guinea Conakry HIV/AIDS honey hoodia horticulture hydroponics ICIPE ICRAF ICRISAT IFAD IITA imports India infrastructure innovation inputs investment irrigation Ivory Coast jatropha kenaf keny Kenya khat land deals land management land reform Lesotho Liberia Libya livestock macadamia Madagascar maiz maize Malawi Mali mango marijuana markets Mauritania Mauritius mechanization millet Morocco Mozambique mushroom Namibia NEPAD Niger Nigeria organic agriculture palm oil pastoralism pea pest control pesticides pineapple plantain policy issues potato poultry processing productivity Project pyrethrum rai rain reforestation research rice rivers rubber Rwanda SADC Sao Tome and Principe seed seeds Senegal sesame Seychelles shea butter Sierra Leone sisal soil erosion soil fertility Somalia sorghum South Africa South Sudan Southern Africa spices standards subsidies Sudan sugar sugar cane sustainable farming Swaziland sweet potato Tanzania tariffs tea tef tobacco Togo tomato trade training Tunisia Uganda UNCTAD urban farming value addition value-addition vanilla vegetables water management weeds West Africa wheat World Bank WTO yam Zambia Zanzibar zero tillage Zimbabwe

  © 2007 Africa News Network design by

Back to TOP