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Scotland, food insecurity and food biodiversity

Food is about more than what we eat: our relationship with food and the processes that bring it from farm to plate are deeply connected to our relationship with nature.

You may have heard that the UN's annual climate conference COP26 is in Glasgow in November, but did you know that the UN's conference on biodiversity was held in China between 11th-15th October?

Biodiversity - the variety of species on Earth - not only ensures healthy ecosystems, but allows for the development of medicines, reduces the occurrence of infectious diseases and underpins food security.

We talk about 'food insecurity' a lot here at Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts, so a definition might be useful: "food insecurity is the inability to consistently afford, access and utilise the food needed to maintain good health and wellbeing".

So, what links biodiversity and food security? And why does it matter?

It is estimated that about 100,000 species of insects, as well as birds and mammals, pollinate more than two-thirds of food plants and are responsible for 35 percent of the world’s crop production.

Yet worldwide biodiversity is in 'crisis' due to unprecedented rates of destruction: up to 1 million species are threatened with extinction, while current rates of global species extinction are between 1,000-10,000 times higher than the 'normal' background rate. This mass extinction is also being accelerated by current industrial practices that sit at the heart of our globalised food chains.

Industrialised agriculture contributes to around 30% of total greenhouse gas emissions globally, and the rise of monocultures - growing only one crop in an area instead of variety - to meet rising demand for certain crops, has led to greater food insecurity as single varieties of a fruit or vegetable can be wiped out by a single pest or fungus.

This increasingly low level of biodiversity in the global agricultural system - both in terms of monocultures and factory farms - is accelerating climate change, which in turn threatens the resilience of our food systems with more extreme weather events, salination in soil and increased rates of flooding.

The UK has an average of only 53% of its biodiversity left, while Scotland itself has lost 25% of its wildlife, considerably lower than the 90% of 'biodiversity intactness' experts consider the 'safe limit' to avoid an "ecological recession".

This means that our domestic food security is at risk: and no more acutely has this been demonstrated than current food shortages across the UK, where the precariousness of our reliance on long transnational supply chains and inability to self-sustain with domestic produce has been laid bare.

As Professor Eduardo Brondizio - former co-chair of the The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services - argues: “A pattern that emerges is one of global interconnectivity … with resource extraction and production often occurring in one part of the world to satisfy the needs of distant consumers in other regions."

There are alternative futures and options available to us, and two concepts with potential to increase resilience and harmony with nature in our food systems - and also central to our mission at EKFH - are food sovereignty and agroecology...but more on those over the next couple of weeks!

So, what's being done for biodiversity in Scotland? And what can we do?

Scotland is making good steps towards tackling nature loss, including:

- Designating 37% of its seas as Protected Areas.

- Restoring over 25,000 hectares of peatland with a further commitment of £250 million to restore 250,000 hectares by 2030

- Giving over 100 schools in disadvantaged areas access to quality greenspace for outdoor learning, which has been shown to have profound benefits for both physical and mental wellbeing.

Yet there is still significant work to be done to lower the main drivers of biodiversity loss in Scotland, and the government acknowledged this in its ‘Post-2020 Statement of Intent’ for biodiversity, with aims to “extend the area protected for nature in Scotland to at least 30% of our land area by 2030” by working closely with stakeholders to create locally-driven projects like Cairngorm Connect. The government is expected to release a report on biodiversity strategy to 2030 and beyond next year.

Beyond pushing local representatives to support biodiversity-enhancing policies like those described above, here are some ways we can all help to achieve this crucial goal in our day-to-day lives:

- Go out and experience some of Scotland's fantastic nature and tell a friend! Experiencing and reconnecting with the natural world really helps to understand just how important it is.

- Buy and grow biodiversity-friendly food: this means buying seasonal and local rather than an overreliance on food from across the world being in the supermarket 365 days a year.

- Make Space for Nature - NatureScot's great 10 point list has plenty of big and small ideas for ways you can help to care for nature in your local areas.

A healthy relationship with food relies on a healthy relationship with nature - why not start rebuilding that relationship today?


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