Saturday, 18 May 2013

Food and Oil

This week, we take a look at the relationship between food and oil.
(Image from

Agriculture depends on fossil fuels. This may seem obvious – of course the global exchanges of foodstuffs today require products to travel petrol-gulping distances in planes, lorries and trucks – but less transparent is the fact that modern intensive farming has its foundations in oil-based fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides. 

With this dependency in mind, farmers are now under pressure to convert fields that once grew crops for food into areas designed solely to produce biofuels (such as ethanol and diesel, made from rapeseed, sugarcane or corn). 

The effect of this is that food prices are on the rise; raising oil prices and the diversion of land for biofuels are converging to pump up prices at a time when many countries are at risk from food shortages and riots. Alarmingly, new studies suggest that food insecurity was a large motivating factor in the uprisings of the Arab spring; in 2011, food and water shortages struck across the Middle East, hand-in-hand with rapidly rising bread prices. 

One response to this issue has grown in the form of ‘Transition’ initiatives across Britain and internationally. Transition groups look at local and sustainable food production that can help communities cope with the changes brought about by the end of cheap oil.
By Action 21 volunteer Lenya Paikkou