Food security — provenance to price

Here is a real challenge to global food security

Afterbefore has a list of the 10 big things we must have to achieve global food security to 2050 and beyond

Here is a closer logic look at one of them

Everyone knowing more about the food they eat, from provenance to price.

In the supermarket, all the fresh, wholesome produce is around the edges. This is not an accident. Items are carefully arranged so that you have to walk past all the not so wholesome stuff and, naturally, grab a few items and drop them into the trolley.

Most consumers know that manufacturers pay retailers for the prime locations on supermarket shelves and the prestigious position next to the checkout. Fewer know that retailers benefit from this system most if the layout of their stores exposes us to more products. It makes for more prime locations.

When you finally arrive at the wholesome section and see a net of fine, firm onions for $1 a kilo, what do you think? Bargain, I’ll have me some of them. Into the trolley they go.

A little further along is the milk. You have to pause given the bewildering array of options. How many varieties of cow are there? That’s it, plain full cream milk at $1.25 a litre. Another bargain.

And so it’s back to the checkout via the isle that seems to have only one variety of soda.

There is a queue because the self-serve machines are down. You have time to muse, as you are not quite close enough to browse at the only place left where magazines are sold.

You look down at your trolley. A dollar for half a dozen onions does seem cheap. A cup of takeaway coffee comes in at $3.50 after all, over $4.50 in the city. The farmer would need to sell over 4,000 onions a week just to pay himself the minimum wage. Except that a dollar is not the farm gate price and his wage is only part of the cost of production. Oh my, he must grow a lot of onions.

Surprisingly you don’t think to apply the same logic to the milk.

The reality is that we take our food for granted. We have little idea about where it comes from, how it is grown, processed and sold, or who does these things. We buy on price because our wallets are close to us but we rarely think about the value chain or where profit sits or where externalities reside.

This lack of awareness is a major challenge for global food security. It is too easy for resources to be squandered when they lack value.

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