Continent Caught in the Tough ‘Food Miles’ War With UK
Business Daily (Nairobi)
6 November 2007
Posted to the web 6 November 2007
By Zeddy Sambu
Every day, a cargo plane leaves the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi with Kenya’s agricultural produce destined for the European market. But it lands in Europe as a surging air-miles debate continues threatening to curtail growth in the agriculture sector.
Mr Joseph Muchemi, the Kenyan high commissioner in London, is sitting right at the centre of the storm and is fighting back.
“As an exporting country, we feel that air freight has been unfairly picked out as being the prime contributor to carbon emissions and that the concept of ‘food miles’ as indicative of environmental sustainability is misleading,” Mr Muchemi said in a statement sent to Business Daily.
The air miles debate – introduced early this year – has now broadened to include the spectrum of energy use and framing methods, with local players term as crude, the efforts by the European Union to introduce new standards.
Fresh campaigns aim to shift attention from the much hyped climate change debate to the contribution of trade in fresh produce making the fight against poverty and economic welfare of growers in the developing world.
Besides , African growers are facing the commercial standards threat set by individual EU member countries and supermarket chains.
The food miles concept, researchers say, needs reform, to include social and economic development aspects.
While UK researchers have disagreed with retailers’ design of a new aeroplane label on exports, on Friday, the debate, took a new twist to include farming methods dashing Kenyan hopes on the fight against climate change and boost of revenue from one of Kenya’s leading foreign exchange earner.
The Soil Association, Britain’s largest organic food association, said it will continue to put its stamp of approval on products sent by air, but only if the food sales help poor farmers.
The official certifier of over 70 per cent of organic produce sold in Britain, the lobby appeared keen to cut down on airfreight with intention to see a total ban in the future.
Air freighted organic produce, it said , must, henceforth, adhere to stricter ‘ethical’ policies in order to be accredited and sold in the key market that absorbs 65 per cent of Kenya’s fresh fruits, vegetables and flower exports. Previously, the environmental lobby debated refusing to certify products shipped by air freight because of high carbon emissions from planes.
But the group says details of the proposal would be open to discussion throughout 2008 and would become effective January 2009.
“Our aim is to minimise air freight by encouraging alternatives, such other forms of shipping, and creating local organic markets,” Anna Bradley, chairwoman of the Soil Association Standards Board, told reporters in London last week. “We recognise that building alternative markets that offer the same social and economic benefits as organic exports take time,” she said.
Experts are warning that more restrictive practices will damage its organic export market, which is growing in demand in the UK. Although developing markets such as Kenya use less carbon intensive farming methods, analysts say collapse of the horticulture sector could see the country lose Sh114 billion in trade and investment.
Environmental organisations like Greenpeace, which earlier said it was concerned about the large carbon footprint created by food shipped via air freight, had been involved in consultations over the new standards, Bradley said. Nearly 95 per cent of Kenya’s exports to the UK are sent by ship, which is far less intensive in terms of carbon emissions.
Campaigns unveiled in July by Kenyan flower exporters in the height of the climate change battle, introduced the ‘Grown Under the Sun’ label to counter the campaign fronted by UK traders and environmental lobbyists.
“All environmental and social aspects need to be analysed, and trade-offs assessed. Singular comparisons do not necessarily help us to generate good policy,” said Jane Ngige, the Kenya Flower Council’s chief executive.
The local horticultural industry and its exports to the UK currently supports around one million Kenyans and generates at least Â£100 million per year to play a key role in its economy.
New research findings by the International Institute for Environment Development (IIED) show that developing markets such as Kenya actually use far less carbon-intensive farming methods, and so the broader picture looks very different.
It estimates that air-freighting from sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 0.1 per cent of the UK’s total carbon emissions while around 65 per cent of emissions relating to food are caused by transportation within Britain.
Gareth Thomas, the UK Minister for Trade and Development, last week, noted that driving around six miles to a supermarket to buy some Kenyan green beans, emits the same amount of carbon as air-freighting that pack of green beans.
“If you consider that the majority of Kenyan fresh produce is freighted in the hold of passenger aircraft, then the emissions relating to that pack of green beans is even less,” said Mr Thomas.
IIED says before targeting developing countries such as Kenya whose emissions per capita are 0.9 tonnes as opposed to Europe’s 22 tonnes per capita, the UK needs to prioritise addressing domestic road transport and energy use first, then aviation.
Estimates of doubling of air travel in the next 20 years, coupled with high carbon emissions, and the exacerbating effect of “radiative forcing”, make aviation cuts, a necessary part of the solution and realise targets under Kyoto Protocol.
The Kyoto Protocol recognises the need for equity and economic development for developing countries in the transition to a low-carbon future. The UK’s carbon footprint is largely domestically generated, the IIED report notes. But the main share of increased flights appears to be passenger traffic. In the UK, passenger flights account for 90 per cent of emissions from air transport, and international freight for five per cent.
“There is no firm evidence that UK if consumers are not eating imported produce, fewer planes would fly today or in future. Indeed, an annual expansion of six per cent in air traffic in all sectors air freight imports, passenger volumes, and dedicated freight,” says the London-based IIED.
Only 1.5 per cent of imported produce arrive in air transport but that portion produces 50 per cent of all emissions from fruit and vegetable transportation.
Currently, average carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions globally stands at 3.6 tonnes globally, the UK (9.2 tonnes) and Africa, one tonne.
“African figures are skewed towards oil-rich countries, and only two countries exceed the global average. Many African countries are feeling the force of climate change impacts, the root cause of which was produced in developed countries” IIED’s James McGregor and Bill Vorley, authors of the ‘Fair Miles? The Concept of “food miles” Through a Sustainable Development Lens’, say.
They want the ‘Food miles’ campaign to be replaced by the new concept of ‘fair miles.’
The earlier concept, it says, is blind to social and economic benefits associated with trade in food, especially from developing countries, while previous inclusion of sub-Saharan Africa in these high-value markets has been a success story.
UK consumers spend over Â£1 million (about Sh137 million) at retail every day on produce from Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, that supplies 40 per cent of air freighted imports, and is now growing despite the threats. Trade, it notes, is dependent on the UK consumer, and also on air-freight, bringing climate change impacts of this trade into the development equation.
The new findings show that it is only through the sale of fresh produce that UK consumers will interact with rural Africa. Poor African countries rely on the UK market to support their domestic industry. By not buying the produce, UK, researchers say, will be guarding against an insignificant less-than 0.1 per cent in CO2 emissions.
“Economic development for the poorest in a low carbon future means expanding emissions for some,” says the report in part. It adds that over one million livelihoods in Africa are supported by UK consumption of imported fresh fruits and vegetables.
On the contrary, ‘Food miles’ presents an argument to buy commodities which have travelled the shortest distance from farm to table, and to discriminate against long-haul transportation, especially air-freighted goods.
The long-distance transport of food is associated with additional emissions due to increased transportation coupled with greater packaging, as well as a disconnection between the public and local farming.
It is estimated that annually, the UK “imports” 189 million cubic metre of African water as a result of the import of green beans, which is enough to provide 10 million Kenyans with drinking water.
An estimated Â£200 million is injected into rural economies in Africa through trade with the UK alone. Africa is a relatively efficient “investment” by the UK in allocating its carbon emissions to support livelihoods when compared to the efficiency of the remaining 99.9 per cent that is supporting 60 million UK residents.
Unlike many western farming methods, machinery is rarely used and Kenya’s indigenous geothermal energy provides a sustainable way to maintain humidity on flower farms. This year, the world’s largest commercial project using solar panels for providing energy for farms was launched in Kenya.
Water recycling systems on farms encourage plant growth and supports biodiversity.
Similar studies have been conducted with refrigerators on ships that use more energy keeping the produce fresh over longer periods of time than a short journey by aeroplane.
The UK has always encouraged trade relationships with Kenya and the countries have been major trading partners for generations.
While the Kenyan economy and development is greatly enriched by high-value organic exports to the UK, Kenya is also leading the way in the East African Community in trading closer to home and will continue to build upon this local trade.
It is well reported that a one per cent increase in Africa’s share of global trade would deliver seven times more than the continent receives in aid. This is a figure to bear in mind when African trade is put under threat.
There are clear socio-economic benefits of organic farming in Kenya and it would be beneficial to nurture Kenyan organic farming.
“British farmers currently have access to, among other things, subsidised diesel fuel for machinery which perhaps does send out the right message about emissions and climate change,” says KFC