Food, supply lines and (lack of) autarky in the modern West

in Deep Dives4 months ago

image.png

A few months ago I started at a new job in a distribution warehouse. This facility deals mostly with fruit and vegetables, which are sold throughout the entirety of the Netherlands. That part is not that remarkable, admittedly. What is remarkable, is where a lot of these (types of) food are coming from.

It seems like the entire world converges there: bananas mostly come from Colombia, many oranges and lemons are from the South African Cape, ginger from China, green beans from Kenya, and it's possible to go on for a while. Of course, a lot is produced domestically as well (many vegetables, potatoes, milk etc.) or comes from neighbouring countries, but the eating habits of the Dutch in the 21st century seem to reach far beyond what is domestically possible. And my point of contention is: how stable is this current system from a logistical perspective?

The Netherlands is in quite a paradoxical position regarding food: it ranks number 6 of the world when it comes to the value of its food exports, competing with far larger and more populous countries. It makes the most of its limited size by making efficient use of it through greenhouses and a high-tech agricultural sector.

The downside to this high-tech agricultural sector is specialization. Milk is exported in massive amounts, yet the country is not nearly self-sufficient in the production of grain, a large part of many a Dutchman's diet. The climate in the country is very suitable for grain production, yet the Dutch get their daily bread from outside the country. It is a recurring theme across many forms of produce: globalisation as a process has created dependencies that do not necessarily have to be there.

And there is another simple truth: supply lines can be disrupted, and the longer the supply line, the more easily it is disrupted. For a startling example, take the Indian container ship that blocked the Suez canal for a few days in March. This disruption caused immediate traffic delays and shortages for countries that take the existence of these supply lines for granted. If the Suez Canal can't be used, ships have to take a detour around the entirety of Africa, the old Cape Sea Route.

If an accident can do this type of damage and disruption, how does actual conflict impact it all? Global instability never is that far away, even though war is a distant memory in Western Europe: when your food depedency reaches to other continents, you include many caveats and parameters that you do not control at all.

In short, my view is that the Dutch, and countries overall, should strive for more autarky/self-sufficiency in their food supply, to counteract possible instability and uncertainty in this world. This might be considered a somewhat pessimistic view of the world, but I think being prepared is better than getting caught unawares by world events. Many in the West have no notion of hunger (many are getting dangerously fat), but a reading of history shows that it's never far away, and abundance can change into shortage in an instant. Especially if your diet staples have to come from half a world away. Let me know what you think about this issue, or how the situation is in your country. I'm always interested in your views, concurring or in opposition. Until the next one,

Pieternijmijer

(Top image from here)

Sort:  

Unfortunately, this is a problem fir mist developed countries; nevermind western ones.

This is one reason more and more country's peoples want nationalism. Globalism has created too much reliance on global food markets and competition that leads their politicians to bargain away valuable resources... Like food🤪😄

There’s a lot to be said for gardening, to produce at least some of your food rather than being entirely dependent on supply chains. And to have a well-stocked pantry — not really practical for fresh produce, but very practical for shelf-stable foods.

The vast majority of people only have a few days of food on hand. What could possibly go wrong?