A renaissance in local food for local communities is coming and the UK will need a huge increase in the agricultural workforce to deliver it.
Speaking at the Soil Association Conference in Cardiff, on 26 January, American author Richard Heinberg said the peak oil theory where production plateaus and prices sky rocket could force dramatic changes on UK and world farming.
Dr Heinberg, an expert on the economies of oil, suggested that the increase seen in the agricultural workforce of Cuba, which has been starved of oil by American sanctions, could act as a model for the UK.
Based on this model he estimated that in 20-30 years a 16-fold increase in the UK agricultural workforce, or between 8m--10m people would have to be involved in farming and associated industries.
Dr Heinberg offered his solution to too much dependency on fossil fuels, growing populations and climate change.
He said there would need to be a significant shift to moving people back into rural areas producing food for local people.
“Urbanisation has carried an enormous cultural and social cost – it’s been the death of many rural communities. We need to revive rural communities so they become attractive to people who wish to farm.”
Dr Heinberg wrote the book The Party’s Over; Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies.
He called for policies to assist a return to local food production such as land reform, education about farming, loans and incentives and stabilised and higher food prices.
Conference delegates were told that this was not a fanciful idea. Oakland, California, has a goal to grow 30% of its food locally within a 50-mile city limit by 2020.
Dr Heinberg urged the Soil Association to work with others to promote food security and energy policies to remove dependency on fossil fuels.