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Future Proof Kilkenny

On 5th September I attended a workshop called “The Future of Food” at the Terra Madre food conference in Waterford. Facilitated by Colin Sage from University College Cork, the subject was, of course, about how we might feed ourselves without cheap oil and gas. I consider myself up to speed on Peak Oil, but this workshop really brought home to me the seriousness of the issue in relation to food supply. Make no mistake about it, food security will be the biggest challenge as we shift away from fossil fuels.

Consider the following points:

  • 90% of the food we eat is imported.
  • Our food is delivered “Just in time” with 3-4 days supply on the supermarket shelves at anyone time.
  • Fertiliser is manufactured from natural gas. Herbicides and Pesticides are manufactured from crude oil.
  • When you add up the energy input that goes into mechanised agriculture we use 10 times the amount of energy to produce our food than we get back in return.
  • In the US, to replace the energy used to produce enough food for 1 person for 1 day with human energy would require 3 weeks of hard labour.

In summary, fossil fuels have become embedded in our food supply system. As oil and gas deplete the prices will rise and without proper timely action there could be shortages.

During the workshop we had a teleconference with Patrick Holden of the UK Soil Association. Patrick is an excellent communicator on Peak Oil and conveys the urgency of the situation together with a passion for local organic food. He is also involved in Transition Town Lampeter.

Beginning with the statement “We are coming to the end of a 100 year chapter in the history of agriculture” Patrick went on to speak about Transition Farming. Here are the key points from his presentation:

  • A secure food system is the foundation for a civil society.
  • Farming today is totally dependant on an umbilical supply of cheap energy and fossil fuel based fertilisers.
  • Because of Peak Oil, every farm will need to go organic within 15 years – it wont be a matter of choice.
  • Every farm should set a timetable to make this transition.
  • Farming systems need to become resilient both in growing and selling – i.e. local food for local consumption.
  • We need to wisely use the energy we have now to build resilient food systems for the future.
  • Anybody who understands the Peak Oil issue must become a communicator.
  • We are at the beginning of a journey where we have’nt even seen the first mile post.

The workshop finished with agreement on a text that was presented to Ministers Seargent and Gildernew at the plenary session. The text began “We call on the Government to officially acknowledge Peak Oil and that it is directly related to national food security”. You can read all of it here.


Patrick Holden’s “Back to the Land” program produced for BBC Wales:

Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Dale Allen’s “Eating Fossil Fuels” is an excellent book on how peak oil will impact our food supply:

2 Comments to “Terra Madre 2008”

  1. […] You can review a presentation that Patrick Holden, Director of the Soil Association, made by video-conference at the recent Terra Madre conference in Waterford, here. […]

  2. […] heard Colin speak at last year’s Terra Madre conference where he gave an excellent workshop on how peak oil will affect our food supply and why we urgently […]

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