Food supply and consumption in the UK has changed incredibly since World War 2. The UK’s population has risen, the large supermarkets have grown and diets have changed. Prior to WW2, much of the food consumed in the UK would have been home grown and seasonal with some exotic exceptions. Fruit and vegetables would have been grown and sold according to the seasons, with products like strawberries only available in summer and winter vegetables like Brussels Sprouts later in the year. People used preservation methods such as canning, bottling, making jams etc. to preserve food for use out of season.
Today this has changed. The UK population is used to having non seasonal produce all year round and we consume far more exotic produce which cannot be produced in the UK due to our climate. There are issues with this. This food has to be transported by ship or plane many thousands of miles, creating problems with food miles. Even food that can be grown in the UK, such as onions or apples, are now grown in other countries where the cost of production is cheaper. Often this production is in countries such as Kenya, LICs or NEEs where labour costs and environmental legislation is weaker so farmers can produce more cheaply.
Kenya – an example of a producer of no seasonal produce
The demand for non-seasonal and high value products in the UK has had an impact on poorer countries such as Kenya. Do they use productive farmland to feed their own people or to boost their economies by growing commercial crops for trade with richer, Western nations.
In 2009, at the same time as the Kenyan government was reporting food shortages in some areas, large quantities of food were being loaded on to planes and sent by air from Kenya to fill the supermarket shelves in the UK. More than 75% of the population work in agriculture, which contribute almost 25% to the national production. Horticultural produce and tea are the major items of export for Kenya.
Figure 6 - Greenhouses around Lake Naivasha In Kenya - By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
According to the Royal Geographical Society – “Many of the farms based in Kenya that have contracts with UK companies are high-tech, commercial businesses that have to produce food to very high standards. They employ large numbers of labourers. However, they sometimes pay relatively low wages and they have been accused of environmental damage through water pollution and overuse of irrigation. Those farmers producing for the local Kenyan market, rather than for overseas, struggle to produce sufficient food as a result of their small farms, a lack of technology and unreliable rainfall.”
Kenya food facts;
1. Kenya prepares 350 tonnes of vegetables and cut flowers each night ready to be sold next day in UK supermarkets.
2. Leguminous vegetables (peas, beans, mange tout) constitute the largest proportion of Kenyan imports to the UK. Due to their high perishability and value, leguminous vegetables tend to be imported by air freight.
3. In 1988, the UK imported around 3,800 tonnes of legumes from Kenya. By 2005, this had increased to around 25,000 tonnes.
4. In 2005, the UK also imported 18,650 tonnes of cut flowers from Kenya with a value of around £52m. Due to the high unit value and highly perishable nature of the products, virtually all of the African trade in cut flowers are imported by air freight - they need to be in UK supermarkets within 24 to 48 hours of picking in Kenya.
5. Horticulture (growing fruit, flowers and vegetables) employs about 70,000 Kenyans directly, and another 20,000 in ancillary industries, for example transport. Add in their dependents and it may support as many as 500,000 people.
6. Horticulture is Kenya's second biggest earner of foreign exchange after tea, having leapt up from fourth place since 2001.