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Could we run out of food?

Sweden is dependent on imports to cover the population’s food needs.
The provision of food constitutes a complex system in which the availability of food can be rapidly affected when something unforeseen happens.
“We need to increase domestic food production to be able to cope in the event of crises and war,” says Klara Båth, Head of the Agriculture and Food department at RISE.

Carrots, sugar, cereals. According to The Federation of Swedish Farmers (LRF), that is the full list of foodstuffs for which Sweden is self-sufficient. In fact, our capacity to supply food has fallen from around 75% in the early 1990s to 50% at present. While the population has increased, food production has essentially stood still. 
“Not only are we dependent on imports of raw materials for food production, but also on imports of, for example, machine parts, fertilisers and other input materials,” says Båth. “Disruptions to our imports would also disrupt our capacity and security of supply.” 

Disruptions not only from serious crises

Our dependence on imports does not only make us vulnerable in the event of serious crises; food supply can also be affected by unexpected minor events that cause disruption to energy supply or logistics.
“We need to increase our domestic food production,” stresses Båth. “In normal times, it also provides conditions for increased exports. If we have greater export capacity in normal times, we will be able to utilise those goods in times of crisis and in the event of war, which in turn will give us better opportunities for good provision.” 

And the conditions already exist. 
“We have great potential to increase the capacity of our food production, both primary and secondary,” says Båth. “We have large areas of unused land in Sweden that could be suitable for cultivation and animal husbandry. Today, agriculture is mostly confined to the southern parts of the country, but there is potential to grow further north as well. The greatest amount of unused land is in Norrland and Svealand. But agriculture itself is not enough, we need to convert raw materials into food we can eat.” 

We have great potential to increase the capacity of our food production, both primary and secondary

Flexibility strengthens supply

Another element in strengthening the country’s supply is to increase the adaptability and flexibility of food companies in terms of access to raw materials and goods. 
“One example may be that there is suddenly no supply of olive oil,” says Båth. “Then you would perhaps use rapeseed oil instead, which we can produce in Sweden and have good access to. So it is important for us to strengthen the ability of companies to quickly adapt.” 

If a serious crisis befalls us, we will in all likelihood run out of some foods. At the same time, however, there are usually alternative raw materials and supply could be improved through food companies adapting their production. 
“Although supermarket shelves would probably be empty, I imagine there would be food to eat,” suggests Båth. “The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that companies have the ability to adapt their production when conditions change. Someone who makes potato chips today can instead bake bread, which is probably more relevant in a crisis.” 

Self-sufficiency better for the environment

Increased self-sufficiency in terms of food supply is also better for the environment. 
 “Food supply is linked to staying power and sustainability from an environmental perspective,” says Båth. 

Increasing the production of legumes, for which Sweden has good conditions for cultivation, is one such example. 
“We could grow a lot more of this today,” says Båth. “It is a good source of protein and increasing the amount of green on our plates is good for the climate, although keeping grazing animals also strengthens security of supply while contributing to biodiversity.” 

RISE drives innovation in several areas

RISE works extensively on a number of issues related to domestic food security. In addition to helping food companies strengthen their capacity for sustainable, flexible and secure food production that is better able to cope with transition and recovery in times of crisis, RISE also works with the development of products and resource-smart and eco-friendly manufacturing techniques to strengthen the competitiveness and innovation of industry in areas such as attractive green products. 
“It’s about creating good and healthy products from these types of raw materials in order to support the industry’s capacity to meet the challenges resulting from increased demand for ‘green alternatives’,” says Båth. 

RISE has several projects focusing on safe and secure food supply, along with research projects focusing on a sustainable food chain. Today, for example, there are considerable food resources that we barely exploit and which, moreover, do not burden the environment. 
“Berries are such a resource,” says Båth. “How could we use them in a new way? It is a large, natural resource and better use of it would of course benefit us in a crisis.” 

Industry understanding and technical knowledge

One major advantage possessed by RISE is that the organisation has both industry understanding and technical knowledge, as well as a capacity for implementation together with industry, societal stakeholders, and universities. Among other things, RISE can support contingency planning to safeguard drinking water and food security in the event of a crisis. 
"We can help with knowledge about how water quality is measured and how industry can save water, and we can provide expertise on how to build mobile water treatment plants,” says Båth. 

An important lesson in contingency planning is that it is impossible to prepare for all different types of crises because they can be so different.  
“For this reason, it is precisely the ability to adapt and recover that you have to work with by taking advantage of the innovative business climate we have in Sweden,” concludes Klara Båth.
 

Published: 2021-09-13
Klara Båth

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Klara Båth

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