The video of my talk to the 2017 Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery is now available on YouTube at

complete with questions, comments and the occasional joke. Pity I kept mispronouncing TAnzania as TanzAnia; maybe a side-effect of speaking to such a distinguished foodie audience? But apart from that, this really is an important issue, with an important message: that maintaining diversity in our agriculture and food supply is essential to ameliorating the effects of global warming.

Here’s a brief extract:

[A recent] report [of the World Economic Forum] looks at our behaviour as a complex, interconnected, consumption-driven society, and comes to some strong conclusions – specifically, that our consumption must become more resource-efficient and less resource-intensive, and also that the increasing connectivity of the modern world is incompatible with long-term global food security.

The report demonstrates that our main hope for the future is encapsulated in the phrase “local is the new global”. What is needed is to encourage local farmers and local communities to produce local products, preserving and promoting diversity, individuality, and sound local ecological practice – themes that are dear to the hearts of many symposiasts. But why should these themes be so important for ameliorating the problems posed by global warming?

Why do we need diversity?

The simple answer is that diversity is a key factor in promoting resilience and adaptability, both of which are essential elements in dealing with sudden and dramatic change in any complex system. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization makes the point with respect to climate change in its recent report “How to manage biodiversity for food and agriculture”. “In particular” say the authors of the report “[biodiversity] increases resilience of agro-ecosystems and is as such a means for risk reduction and adaptation to climate change.”

The experimental evidence that underpins this statement is overwhelming. It is summed up in a recent seminal review by Miguel Altieri and Clara Nicholls from the University of California at Berkeley, who show that “Observations of agricultural performance after extreme climatic events in the last two decades have revealed that resilience to climate disasters is closely linked to the level of on-farm biodiversity.”

This conclusion is at odds with the way in which intensive agricultural practices have been developed over the last few decades.”

IMAGE: Van Gogh “Wheatfield with Crows”

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