Saturday 27 April 2024

The Global Food System (GFS) is failing in 2024

The Global Food System (GFS) is failing under market forces.

Part one

A guest submission from Peter Dawe,  Apr 24

The years 2021 through to 2024 have seen radical problems in the food sector. While the system was not working well before 2021, it did more or less grow enough food for the world’s population.

Due to Covid, the Russian Ukraine war, other communal violence and climate issues (uncommonly poor growing weather across the globe, if you do not subscribe to climate change!) the Global Food System has been set off-balance.  As a result, (I contend) the global food system has stopped working, and is in danger of failing to feed a significant part of the global population in 2024 onwards.

Note: The Global Food System is a very complex system that interfaces with all other aspects of global society. This paper of necessity simplifies that system. 

Farmers, on every continent are protesting. While they may seem to be protesting about divergent local issues, they are all discontent because they are making significant losses on growing food. The catalyst for the problems is a consequence of the Ukraine War. This cause a number of major problems. 

The export of cereals and food oils across the Black Sea was disrupted, cause a massive spike in the price of cereals and food oils on the global market. 

The disruption of minerals from Russia to Europe causing a massive reduction in the production of fertiliser, and a consequent massive spike in its price and availability.

While in most market economies these matters are adjusted for through the “Market”, the problem with the food production is that there is a minimum 12-month lag, due to the seasons. So we have a particular sequence of events.

The spike in cereal prices enriched those who had stock of cereals, typically the grain merchants.

Due to the spike in cereal price, The Meat, Egg and Dairy sector were immediately affected, however, the merchants, supermarkets etc. refused to change the prices they paid for their produce (supported by politicians who did not want “inflation”) This resulted in immediate major financial losses for the sector.

The spike in fertiliser prices meant that many farmers could not buy enough fertiliser, as they did not have enough working capital. Those farmers that did have enough ended up with high input costs to their next year's production.

Due to the massive world-wide increase in the cost of energy, People budgeted, by reducing the amount of meat they consumed. (Global meat consumption went down by whole percentage points).

At the same time, because meat and dairy producers were reducing their stock animals, there was a glut in meat availability, lowering the price farmers got for their meat.

For poor countries that have large imports of energy, food and fertiliser, their free hard currency was used up during the price spikes. Resulting in their inability to buy in the subsequent years.

Moving on the following year and more problems!

With a massive reduction in the production of meat, eggs and dairy, the demand for feed cereals plummeted, resulting in a price crash, feed wheat is now at £160 tonne, with production cost at over £200 per tonne, i.e. A typical cereal farmer is losing £40 a tonne on their 2023 crop.

The cost of living issues are still with the people, so meat consumption has not yet fully recovered.

The current consequences 

Poor countries are still experiencing high food costs, due to local shortages, due to their hard currency shortage. (Much of Africa, parts of Asia, Central America and some Oceana countries. 

With poor countries unable to buy food, the global market is depressed.

So farmers have not started re-stocking. (In the US, the number of calves is lower than any year in the last 100 years!).

The price of fertiliser is showing no sign of going back to pre-2021 prices, so many farmers are reducing their sowing areas and reducing inputs, with a significant lowering of global cereal production.

If and when the meat industry restocks, this will REDUCE the availability of meat.

Special events in Europe

The environmental lobby has persuaded our politicians that paying for environmental services, rather than food is a good idea. So many farmers faced with loss making food production are taking the tax-payers money and have become “park keepers”.

Using land for “Energy”, be it solar farms or energy crops (Bio diesel, AD plants, wood chip…) is now a better and low risk alternative to food crops

The societal norm of anyone “getting their hands dirty” being of low status, means farmers cannot recruit workers. 

The push-back against low-wage migrant labour has made that way of recruitment more difficult

Many farmers are near or passed retirement age, so are looking for retirement exits.

Specifically in the UK

Solar Farms are a very attractive alternate use of land

“Sustainable Farm Initiative” is now also an attractive low risk alternative use of land

“Development Rights” allowing redundant farm buildings to be repurposed for non-farming use means that farming infrastructure  is being destroyed.

Regulation on farms has become so onerous, 50% of a farmer's time is “in the office”

Regulation of food production has resulted in very restricted options for selling. Leading to a power imbalance between producers and processors, which the processors have abused.

The consequences

Globally, food insecurity is now very high in many poor countries

Globally, people are losing their options for high quality food

In the UK, food production is likely to reduce by up to 20% in 2024!

Up to 10% of currently farmed land is being permanently taken out of production (Possibly 50% in Wales)

While farm owners will enjoy some return on their land. Tenants, farmworkers and those involved in food production and processing are likely to see some 20% redundancies.

UK GDP will fall by 3% due to loss of farm and farm related incomes.

(Percentages are my personal informed estimates - PD)

Part 2. April 25th 2024 (work in progress)

The Global Food System (GFS) is failing under market forces. Part 2

Governments fall if they fail to feed their population, thus every government has food security as one of their main pillars. An exception is where an oppressive despotic regime may be able to hold on to power through violence alone. For most of the world, the provision of food is now dominated by global rather than national issues. Whilst much of the needed calorific food is typically grown within a nation, there are a number of countries that are either large importers or large exporters of calories. Regardless of where production is, they are all subject to the global market in fertilisers and pesticides. 

This paper includes my observations on the current workings of the Global Food System.

Fertiliser and pesticide 

Fertiliser and pesticide production is concentrated into a few hands. The three main fertiliser chemicals are water soluble compounds of Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphate (NKP). Nitrogen is made from Hydrogen produced from natural gas in a few massive chemical plants across the world. Because Nitrogen is seen as a strategic resource, most major countries have a plant. However, Potassium and Phosphate are based on mined mineral-rich deposits which are scarce and localised, resulting in a few nations/corporations having a strategic stranglehold. 

It is increasingly the case that these important resources are being withheld from poorer countries as they are a poor credit risk. Thus lowering their productivity, driving them ever poorer. Even in the wealthier countries, ability to buy can determine where these are deployed. When farmers have suffered losses due to weather or other problems, they may be unable to finance the cash flow needed between use and harvest.

Global trade in food

Before global markets, local produce was consumed by local consumers at the local price. Global trade of food and fertiliser has been captured by multinational corporations. These corporations, with their singular goal of self-interest, are now managing the GFS to their corporate advantage. “Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Bunge, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus, collectively known as the ABCD traders, share a significant presence in a range of agricultural basic commodities, both fertiliser and food. Controlling, for example, as much as 90 per cent of the global grain trade. These corporations move commodities around the globe. 

As a result, when farmers' crops fail, the corporations move food into the area, thus farmers never enjoy shortage premiums. However, when there is a bumper crop, the price falls and the corporations move the surplus to shortage areas. If this trade ensured that farmers enjoyed a reasonable return on the work, this system would be one that could be applauded. Unfortunately, these corporations are taking all the value in the GFS. Farming, worldwide, is loss making, with many farmers needing to get money from second jobs, diaspora remittances, or government hand-outs.

The effectiveness of these corporations' extortion is such that when governments put money into farming, they arbitrage these payments away from the farmer into their coffers. (Demonstrated when the New Zealand government stopped putting money into farms, after a short adjustment period, the financial performance of farms did not change.)

National Food Trade

While high value foods can be transported using planes, trains and lorries to rich markets, there are some foods that are difficult to transport due to their short shelf-life. In many parts of the world, food distribution is controlled by another small number of processors and retailers. Here it is they who oppress the farmers and growers. Using their control of the consumer market to impose onerous contracts on the farmers. 


Rural migration

There is now a global shortage of agricultural workers. Even countries with high unemployment cannot provide the labour needed on farms, as the farmers cannot pay them enough, relative to the “benefits” enjoyed by people living in towns and cities. There is a massive migration from rural to urban. In the past this was just the “surplus” sons and daughters, now it is all of the children and often even the parents.

Even farm managers and owners are giving up, and there are few young people entering the profession due to the poor pay, hard working conditions and the uncertainty.

Land that can be farmed using high levels of mechanisation can still be viable. Interestingly this is the land which is being bought by private equity and other absentee landlords for long term investment. Land and crops that are difficult to mechanise are now being abandoned. Small rice paddy, fruit and some vegetables farms are being abandoned, as are farms where the fields are too small.

With so little value being retained by the farmers, and most of the economic activity done away from the local economy with multinational corporations ( Machines, Oil, PKN, processing ) the rural economy is also in free-fall. Meaning that shops and other infrastructure are closing or being neglected, further destroying reasons to remain.

Fertilisers and pesticides

Food affordability 

With all of the value being captured by a few corporations, the general population has little money to buy food. While urban areas are supported by governments, rural areas are neglected, but eventually governments are overwhelmed by the cost of feeding their population. When this happens, countries typically become ungovernable, as seen already in a number of countries, with more looking likely to succumb in the coming years.

Once a country becomes ungovernable, productivity drops further, however, ironically, the economics of growing one's own food becomes viable, as the multi-nationals cannot or will not operate in such conditions.

Currently the global loss of production is being covered by the exploitation of newly cleared land in S America, Africa and other tropical forests and jungle around the world, and by deploying technology to improve yields.

Monopoly abuse

As we have seen in history, when there is a food shortage, the price goes up massively. As an essential, people will even sell the children for their next meal when they are starving (Afghanistan). With the Global food system, (and national food systems) under the control of a few corporations and organisations. They can extort very high profits by creating a shortage. This has repeatedly happened in the global markets when there have been “shocks” of wheat and rice shortages. It is in the interests of the GFS corporations to ensure there is never quite enough food. To this end, they have persuaded governments to use crops for energy, to mop-up any surplus that might reduce their profits. Be that Bio-ethanol, Bio Diesel or anaerobic digesters producing methane. 

 The Actors

Growers - Farmers, Harvesters, fishermen…

Traders - Storage, shippers, arbitrageurs 

Processors - Millers, Oil crushers, abattoirs, butchers, crops-to-energy


Governments, and of course 


The main commodities

Cereals Human and animal feed


Sugar - cane and beet

Pulses - beans and peas…

Roots - Potatoes, Sweet potatoes, swede…

Nuts - almond, peanut, cashew…

Plantains - bananas…

Veg oil, Palm, Olive, Rape, Corn…

Vegetables - Onions, brassicas…

Fruit - Including juices

Dairy - Milk butter, cheese…


Meat - Chicken, pig, beef, lamb,

Fish - Wild, farmed

Fibres - Cotton, flax, wool


Fertiliser, NKP









Water * (Subject of a third paper)

Monday 22 April 2024

Advertising is the root of much evil

Freeview is broken ... 

20apr24 0v3

I have been watching the reruns of the excellent BBC Spooks MI5 drama that kicked off in 2002, and ran for some 85 episodes. As contemporary drama goes, it is still as good as it gets, and not hopelessly woke.    

Add on the Freeview Drama Channel over the past month, it runs for 80 mins per episode. 60 mins of content padded with 20 mins of commercials. That's 25% of the audience's leisure time. This is not "free". At minimum wage, that's £2.50 an episode.

But worse is the way the constant advert interruptions destroy the watchability of a show like Spooks, which was not designed for multiple five-minute ad breaks. Thankfully, watching using the BBC iPlayer does not waste time with commercials, although the UI is slow and clunky, compared to a decent PVR. Which really matters with shows like Spooks, where you may want to pause and replay sections for maximum value. 

Now, if you record off-air to a PVR, you can skip the commercial breaks fairly accurately as they are almost exactly five minute - which is handy since many PVR >>FF functions include a minute skip; don't feel guilty, because you've already paid for the series through your TV licence fee.

Now check out these sites that describe the problems of Freeview, whose remaining UHF spectrum is now being prepared to be sold off eventually - all broadcast bandwidth is in danger of being sold for mobile communications and data. Which is a topic for another rant in due course.

Then here's a review of the problems at

It's clear that the government and Ofcom have been disingenuous since 2000 when encouraging people to waste money on buying digital TV kit and services that they know can never work reliably in the long term. I found a 2002 email to Patricia Hewitt who was then DTI minister, telling her why it wouldn't work and suggesting a practical alternative that was ignored, of course.

Senior staff at Freeview and Ofcom (DCMS) should be well aware of the potential aggravation lurking in this problem, but nobody wants to say anything on the record about anything, and certainly not accept any sort of responsibility! 

These days it's not difficult to sell the idea that politicians, experts and civil servants have been misleading the people. Although in the great scheme of the endlessly unfolding litany of public malfeasance, being just a bit nerdy and technical, this is a harder sell than any.

A £5bn class action to get some of that spectrum cash paid to the victims would be a wonderful dowry for the next government. 

However, IPTV should now be a massive earner for UK innovation as the UK had a world leading position in IPTV since 1997, with Amino of Cambridge, now rebranded as Aferian... it's been a wild ride after an enthusiastic 2004 IPO raised a substantial fighting fund that valued the business at £61m. But the past couple of years have been commercially disastrous, as the market capitalization fell to £14m. I suspect because they stuck with their historic penchant for hardware too long before accepting the future was software players incorporating smart payment solutions using cloud servers from infrastructure specialists.

The way the UK TV and media industry has failed to transition from UHF broadcast to the streaming future is criminally negligent, with ITV making a right pig's ear of several failed attempts with ONTv and ITV digital, and the BBC having several stabs at iPlayer, before ending up with something workable. The government in the shape of the DCMS (and BBC/C4) has played the UK's hand quite poorly - while Netflix, Amazon and AppleTV defined the genre that could so easily have  leveraged the UK's once legendary prowess in the creative arts, and written the next chapter of the BBC's story that began back in the 1920s. 

I wrote a brief summary of the state of UK broadcastuing in a post from April 2022 when the Ukraine invasion exposed the parlous state of the UK's global reach when the BBC struggled to reach into homes of Russians with objective reports about the invasion.  

In addition to the Amino/Aferian general IPTV platforms, there is another excellent online solution from Perception.TV.  This has the option for smart advertising (IncenTV) and granular pay per view functionality over the open internet - outside a telco/service provider network.

IncenTV is about getting a grip on the advertising market that is used to pay for so-called "free content", and making it less annoying and more rewarding.

I have been studying this market - tech and business models - since the last century, hoping to work out a better way of monetizing content than stealing viewers' valuable leisure time - and selling it to advertisers as part of a massive spyware operation.

The core issue for me is the excessive advertising on all digital tv channels - UHF and satellite - amounting to 15 or 20 minutes an hour of wasted viewer time. This is time that is stolen from viewers and sold to advertisers. And in the case of content originally created for BBC television, it has already been bought and paid for by the licence player!

How about WE get paid to watch TV?

And a lot of the better content from the golden age of TV in the 70s 80s and 90s appears to be orphaned in terms of rights ownership which has been commandeered as windfall benefit by broadcasters who then  smother it in commercials that's no viewer wants to waste their time with. It's highly unlikely that the surviving performers in those TV shows are getting any sort of residual value, where the companies involved have long since ceased to exist.

I have had Freeview TV in the shape of the YouView implementation for the past 12 years, using a set top box personal video recorder provided by Humax and then Huawei by TalkTalk. I was actually involved in the early development of the system when invited by my old boss Alan Sugar to become involved in the testing process, after he was engaged to sort out the development mess which was delaying the completion and roll out of YouView around 2012.

In the course of that work I discovered a shortcoming of the Freeview platform - it's inability to sort out multiple transmitters in areas where signal levels were likely to fluctuate due to topographical and atmospheric conditions. 

In essence, the system is confused and does not know which of several transmitters the receiver can "see"  (with signal levels ranging from marginal to solid) to lock onto and use. In the case of commercial broadcasting, this is a problem since regional advertising inserts different commercials that require the location of the receiver to be identified in order to be tuned to the correct local transmitter.

To cut a long strory short, where this is not clearly defined in fringe areas, it will  affect reception and can make a mess of attempts to record TV series when one or more of the episodes is subject to poor reception as a result of confusing the receiver with multiple signals - which may be unpredcitanbly affected by transient atmospheric conditions.

I have wasted many hours attempting to get answers about fixes from the main broadcasters to no effect, as the buck is passed between the broadcasters and platform operators with nobody accepting any responsibility - including Ofcom and the BBC. Almost certainly because they know it is technically impossible and therefore pointless to make promises that they know cannot be kept - although they are not candid enough to come out and admit the scope of the problem. This is a genuiine conspiracy, not a theory!

I can only conclude that "they" know there is no cure, and the only answer was to say nothing and hope that those effected viewers would simply give up and go away, or be satisfied with the compromise of online delivery that will waste viewer time with tedious interrupt commercials.

This view is confirmed by "Informal advice" from ofcom (a senior tech manager, too fearful for his civil service pension to want to be identified). I was advised not to waste my time, but use an online option for reception - and stream it over the internet, because thereis no way make the band4 UHF service reliable in many areas of the country. As explained here...

The terms and conditions of the go-to web community for UK TV aficionados is the digitalspy.con forum - which provides a deep insight into the way the industry farms it's audiences and exploits personal data that it sells to advertisers

Online delivery versus off air recording to a PVR means the adverts are not skipable/avoidable. The way in which commercial streaming services specifically prevent commercial breaks being skipped feels like punishment.

The use of any sort of remote for morew than just zapping between channels is a compromise. It doesn't replace a proper keyboard, but has improved over time Speech recogntion helps, but is still not yet quite sotred.  Use of smartphone app is another bundle of compromises,

I tried to find my way around with the Amazon fire streaming device (an HDMI dongle) to explore the Rugby World Cup on ITV/X - for which I can pay a reasonable monthly ransom to rescue my time. But to find any action and then nip around navigating through the content - like I can simply - with the PVR wa s a nightmare. I just want to scream as every opportunity to insert a commercial has been taken and the whole program stumbles and lurches along ...and becomes unwatchable.

The Perception.TV platform has a comprehenive EPG and useful timeline markers that let users skip about through the dross and create "user generated" highlights for content - but not avilable in the UK yet. 

Searching without the keyframe clues is frustrating. Ofcom should do something useful for once, an lay down guidelines/rules about the way programs now waste viewer time with the imposition of tedious frameworks for marketing and advertising - not information and entertainment delivery.  There should always be an option to pay a ransom to release viewers' wasted time.

Plus there is now over an hour of waffle and commercials from the scheduled start of the prog to any action, with a sporting event like F1 these days. Grrrr....

The social aspects of TV "shared" watching are not being developed as far as I can see - Gogglebox has proved there is a demand. So let's work at it...

Meanwhile the universal hatred of interrupt advertising is not being addressed. So users conducting a "hosted session" should be able to choose commercials they think will appeal to their "following" and share IncenTV rewards. A "host" that did not relay ads imposing woke social engineering values, or distorted representations of demographics, will be popular in Essex...

So what about the headline reference to evil? Well, advert revenue is money, and the weaponisation of advertiser patronage by activists eager to pounce on any content ;provider that offends a woke and EDI agenda, can be pure evil.  

This is an idea I shall develop in due course. 

Work in Progress
(C) WSP 2024