What’s the climate got to do with the price of bread?
Let’s take a look:
Our national food basket has taken a heavy knock as drought continues to starve South Africa of desperately needed rainfall. Most South Africans see it as a once-off event but it’s actually showing us our very real, very near future if we do nothing to turn the tide on climate change. We’re already seeing it.
Our shopping carts are starting to tell a story. Our country is heavily reliant on staples like maize and wheat for the production of bread, pap, flour, rice, red meat, poultry, eggs and milk.
Last year we felt a 30% fall in maize production – something incredibly damaging for South Africa’s ability to feed itself. This means we’ve had to import some of our maize from other countries like Zambia and Mexico (pushing up prices on the shelves) but Zambia, too, saw a 21% decline in production in 2014.
It’s not just the staples suffering from reduced maize production. It’s also used in animal feed such as dairy cow and cattle fodder, so as the cost of feed rises, so, too, does the cost of meat and dairy products.
As extreme weather grows in frequency, the more expensive it becomes to put food on the shelves.
The hotter and wetter it gets, the higher the risk of pests and diseases. If farming practices aren’t tightly controlled, this may lead to more damaging production methods - like increased use of pesticides and fertilisers - which could pollute natural resources as well as add to the cost of production.
Farmers also have to invest in climate adaptation practices like hail nets, additional weather prediction technology, diversifying their crop production and taking out expensive insurance. All of this results in an increase in production . Retailers can only absorb the increase in cost for so much until they pass this on to either the consumer or to the farmer.
Most food wastage happens before it even reaches our shelves. The changing climate is resulting in increasing food waste.
“Unpretty” appearances on fruit and vegetables escort perfectly fine and nutritious food to the bin.
This is because we, as consumers, find spots and perceived flaws as a sign of a sub-standard product. This obviously leads to less food making it to our stores – less food “suitable” for sale means more cost. So don’t be petty about pretty fruit.
At the same time, a 2015 WWF report found that only 1% of South Africa’s land has the right climate and soil combination needed for rain-fed crops and only 3% has truly fertile soil. Also 20% of South Africa’s commercial farms produce 80% of our food.
All these issues end up emptying our pockets as consumers. If there is limited supply then retailers have to pay more and charge more for that item. Conversely, if there is a lot of produce then the price charged will be less.
At the moment, climate change feels like running a race with no clearly defined path, rules or finish line. We all know we need to go in a certain direction but the guidelines are foggy and bogged down by jargon.
That’s what makes the current climate talks in Marakesh, Morocco so interesting. The outcome will chart the way forward.
In the meantime, remember the three C’s: Cook from scratch; Cook at home; Cook with friends.