Fruit, vegetables, cocoa, coffee, tea are all things we take for granted on UK supermarket shelves but how many shoppers know that they originated in Africa or were made from African produce?
UK shoppers spend about 1 million every day on food products from Africa, including some Fairtrade items.
The focus on climate change and on food miles, however, has created misunderstanding about the sustainability of food from African and highlighted how little we know about how the resulting changed shopping habits have impacted on developing countries.
Almost 75% of Africans relay totally on agriculture for their livings and severl million of them rely partly on selling produce to the UK to enable many of them to escape poverty.
Most UK consumers support the idea of making their shopping choices reduce poverty. However, they also worry about other issues such as price, food safety, the environment and animal welfare.
Now, to add to the pressure comes a new report this month (July 2010) saying that climate change threatens to undo years of work to tackle poverty in developing countries.
Forum for the Future’s study emphasised the need for strong action in poor countries to tackle climate change but in tandem with efforts to boost economic development and it said international aid’s efforts to tackle poverty should factor in climate change and measures to help poor countries adapt to its effects.
It wants them to avoid promoting high-carbon development and to help developing nations deal with the impact of climate change and seize new opportunities created by global movement to a more low-carbon economy.
The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) supported the Forum’s latest report and also has its own initiative, FRICH Food Retail Industry Challenge to support the development of trade in food from Africa to the UK.
No in its third round of bidding the Challenge asks food supply and distribution business with their supply chain partners to test and develop innovative business models to bring new and higher volumes of food products from Africa to UK while improving the livelihoods of African producers.
So far it has funded seven challenges. They include Bettys & Taylors of Harrogate, seller of a famous Yorkshire Tea, which is working with Rwanda’s tea authority, tea factory owners, the Rainforest Alliance and the farmers who supply the factories to develop a sustainable supply of quality tea for their famous Yorkshire Tea brand. Rwanda tea is now on UK supermarket shelves as a Yorkshire Gold ‘seasons pick’
The Co-operative has long supported Fairtrade and is working with tea supplier Finlay Beverages, the Cooperative College UK and Africa Now to deliver the benefits of both Fairtrade and the co-operative business model for sustainable livelihoods for 8,000 small-scale tea farmers in Kericho, South-West Kenya.
Waitrose has been helping growers to adapt their cultivation and production processes to meet the environmental requirements of the LEAF Marque standard as a way of spreading the message of sustainable agricultural practices across Africa. The LEAF Marque guarantee for UK fresh grown produce has been used by Waitrose for the past three years and the company has now committed to helping all its suppliers to use environmentally responsible practices.
The third Challenge Fund bidding round invites UK companies to offer projects that will promote trade to some of the poorest countries north of South Africa and south of the Sahara
Its aims are enhancing productivity and adding value to any sector of the supply chain from the start in food production, through processing, storage, to compliance, financing or procurement
It also aims to extend the benefits of export supply chains to producers currently unable to meet market requirements or insufficiently established as export growers to be able to attract commercial investment in their operations.
Its third focus is expanding UK consumer demand for African produce in the face of concerns about food miles, environmental conservation, labour standards and food safety.
Search around a bit and it’s possible to find any number of inventive pieces providing some solutions to the complex puzzle of climate change, environment and food scarcity.
They can be small and local – such as the Indian village treadle-powered irrigation system that has stabilised and improved cultivation there – or slightly larger like the FRICH Challenge focusing on a particular world region.
Or they can be potentially far-reaching – like the Biopesticides Developers’ invention of promising new low-chem agricultural products such as biofungicides and yield enhancers to play their part in helping combat climate change and pests while increasing yield sustainably to help farmers, both small and larger.
It would be nice if all these disparate elements were co-ordinated to work in tandem to making access to food and a reasonable income fairer around the world alongside a significant global impact on preserving the environment.