Covid-19 is a reminder of how vulnerable our food system is. Supermarket shelves are empty. Twelve years earlier, the financial crash exposed the dangers of a finance system built on a web of interdependencies – many poorly understood. The effects of 2008 are still being felt today.
It was this fear of a systemic crash in our food system that drove Professor Richard Tiffin, then Director of the Centre for Food Security, to co-found Agrimetrics.
“I wanted us to understand the hidden risks that could spark a catastrophic chain of events,” explains Professor Tiffin. “Our food system is incredibly interdependent, but ironically it’s also incredibly disconnected. We have no idea of the long-term consequences of events like Covid-19. To avoid collapse, we need to understand these connections.”
1950’s China is an example of why this is so important. The Four Pests Campaign sought to eliminate rats, flies, mosquitoes and sparrows. Unfortunately, though sparrows are an agricultural pest, they also prey on a greater pest: locusts. The ensuing ecological imbalance fuelled the Great Chinese Famine, which killed 45 million people.
The Arab Spring is a more recent example. Drought and wildfires decimated crops in Eastern Europe. Putin halted exports and World grain prices increased by 40%. Food shortages sparked revolution. Half a million lives have been lost in Syria alone. The refugee crisis has had a lasting effect on Europe. “These are extreme examples, but it’s easy to see how understanding the connections would have helped us limited the damage of these crises, or avoid them all together.” This was one motivation behind the UK Government’s decision to provide initial funding for Agrimetrics, who boast Microsoft as a strategic partner.