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Should Birmingham have a food security strategy?

Should Birmingham have a food security strategy?

🕔02.Oct 2012

I’ve long argued the usefulness of having food as core to the strategic decision-making in the city.

As we’ve discovered through the New Optimists Forum scenario planning project on food futures for Birmingham in 2050, it’s a subject that enables our minds to think more coherently on the whole shebang of what it takes to run a city, and what it takes for citizens to have happy, productive and fulfilling lives.

Thus it may have come as a surprise when I argued at the Birmingham Sustainability Forum on Feeding the City recently that the City Council should not have a food security (supply) strategy.

Food security is a matter for governments and intergovernmental organisations. So plans and decisions about food security and food supply are taken at a different level, and rightly so.

That’s not to say there shouldn’t be transparency about food security; for the most part there is, and there should be.

Nor does it mean that a local authority shouldn’t have emergency plans in varying degrees of detail should there be food shortages or, indeed, other potential catastrophes such as a pandemic, energy outage, strife or even outright war. They do have such plans (I hope!), appropriately enough with the help and guidance of national government.

So what should Birmingham City Council do?

We have a history for producing strategies, reports, recommendations, the Full Works. Some are even very sensible . . . but all too often for the want of doing!

So what I’d argue for is a Birmingham Food Council pdq, independent from the City Council yet supported by it, with something along these lines for its remit:

  1. Public health: Diet and its impact on health and wellbeing.
    Obesity is already a major public health issue and looks set to increase; it needs to be addressed, and quickly. (See Linda Hindle’s presentation to the Birmingham Sustainability Forum to get a grasp of the size of the issue facing us.)
  2. Eating as social glue: Celebrating and promoting people who can spread the word about on how to prepare nutritious, tasty meals — and how meals affect not just our bodies but also our minds, intellectually, socially and emotionally.
    (Now wouldn’t it be just brilliant if Birmingham became known as the place where all our kids ate well!)
  3. Global food security: We’re not at the agriculture/producer end of the food supply chain, but we could be an exemplar of how a city could make a very significant contribution to global food security by eating less, buying less and wasting less.
  4. The social and civic benefits of urban food growing: Although providing only a tiny fraction of 1% of what we need, encouraging the growing of food in an urban environment is a Good Idea, as it has huge social, health and civic benefits on individuals, communities, neighbourhoods — and makes the city look great.
  5. Economics & business: It’s a huge industry, worth £70bn/year in the UK, employing over 0.5M people, the largest industry in the manufacturing sector . . . and Birmingham could have a bigger share of all of this, not least because of our location in the country.
  6. Information and data: Dissemination of evidence-based information about food, plus seeking to have as much open data as possible about food and food supplies.

Note: Social media reporting on the Birmingham Sustainability Forum, most by the wonderful Gavin Wray of Podnosh, is here.

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