The pandemic’s food crisis sparks a green revolution

A report in Britain shows how nimble innovation can help a country rethink food security after a period of log-jams and panic.

Britain's Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, visit a distribution center in Bristol July 9 to thank staff who have kept food supplies moving throughout the coronavirus crisis.

As global crises go, the pandemic has had its fair share of teachable moments. One was the sudden shortage of food. Starting in March, the pipeline of food delivery from farms to stores broke down, creating shopper panic and hoarding. Lockdowns kept people at home wondering how to feed themselves. To its credit, Britain has begun to use the crisis to rethink its entire food system. According to an official report this week, the new vulnerability in food has opened “an unplanned window of opportunity ... to learn something.”

The report is only the first of several to come, but it explains why a national food strategy is now necessary: “Our food system has just endured its biggest stress test since the Second World War. As COVID-19 swept through the UK, the entire machinery of supply and distribution had to be recalibrated, fast.”

The British food industry was able to innovate solutions around the logjams and lockdowns. Yet, according to the report’s author, Henry Dimbleby, people must think more deeply about the “big, existential risks” to food security beyond the pandemic, such as climate change and Britain’s exit from the European Union.

The report calls for a “new green revolution” to create sustainable agriculture, even to reevaluate humanity’s relationship with nature. That revolution, according to the report, ranges from using robots for picking crops to building high-rise greenhouses powered by solar panels in cities.

Britain’s nimble response helps set a precedent for poorer countries still struggling with COVID-19. The World Food Program predicts more than 135 million people could be in severe hunger this year. And global poverty is expected to rise for the first time in more than 20 years.

Beyond specific solutions, Britain’s greatest contribution may be its spirit of innovation, which is never in short supply. The pandemic has forced many industries such as health and education to improvise solutions. But the crisis can also bring a lasting reinvention of core human activities.

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