You are what you eat - Importing and exporting food (case study Kenya)
- An increasingly large percentage of the food that we eat in the UK is grown in poorer, developing countries
- An increasing number of people in poorer, developing countries struggle to find enough food to eat
- What are the positive and negative implications of growing food for MEDC's in LEDC's?
- Why does the UK import food from around the world, and notably Africa?
- What are supply chains and what are their impact?
Many less economically developed countries face an increasingly difficult moral dilemma - whether to use productive farmland to feed their own people or whether to use this land to boost their economies by growing commercial crops for trade with richer, Western nations.
In 2009, at the same time as the Kenyan government was reporting food shortages in some areas, large quantities of food were being loaded on to planes and sent by air from Kenya to fill the supermarket shelves in the UK.
Kenya has strong particularly strong trade links with the Britain. As a former British colony, the UK has traditionally been Kenya's most important trading partner since its independence in 1963 and English is the language of business and commerce. (Please refer to the powerpoint below for more information about the British Empire). In 2008, UK imports of goods from Kenya were worth £316m and imports of services were 142m. The UK is also the largest foreign investor in Kenya.
Farms based in Kenya that have contracts with UK companies are high-tech, commercial businesses that have to produce food to very high standards. They employ large numbers of labourers. However they sometimes pay relatively low wages and they have been accused of environmental damage through water pollution and overuse of irrigation. Those farmers producing for the local Kenyan market, rather than for overseas, struggle to produce sufficient food as a result of their small farms, a lack of technology and unreliable rainfall.
Kenya sends out about 350 tonnes of vegetables and cut flowers each night ready to be sold next day in UK supermarkets. Leguminous vegetables (peas, beans, mange tout) constitute the largest proportion of Kenyan imports to the UK and this sector has shown strong growth. In 1988, the UK imported around 3,800 tonnes of legumes from Kenya. By 2005, this had increased to around 25,000 tonnes. Due to their high perishability and value, leguminous vegetables tend to be imported by air freight. Some people are concerned about the high carbon footprint of these vegetables. However, whilst green beans from Kenya are transported by air, over 90% of the fruit and vegetables imported from African countries is not air-freighted. Bananas are by far the single largest export to the UK from Cameroon and the Ivory Coast, while oranges make up the largest proportion of produce from Morocco and Egypt. Since they are storable and not so easily damaged, such fruits tend to be transported by sea.
In 2005, the UK also imported 18,650 tonnes of cut flowers from Kenya. These had a declared value of around £52m. Due to the high unit value and highly perishable nature of the products, virtually all of the African trade in cut flowers are imported by air freight - they need to be in UK supermarkets within 24 to 48 hours of picking in Kenya.
Horticulture (growing fruit, flowers and vegetables) employs about 70,000 Kenyans directly, and another 20,000 in ancillary industries, for example transport. Add in their dependents and it may support as many as 500,000 people. Horticulture is Kenya's second biggest earner of foreign exchange after tea, having leapt up from fourth place since 2001.
Read this article which highlights the fact that the UK is currently dependent on other countries for many of the fruit and vegetables that we eat.
In pairs come up with answers to the questions: Why does the UK import fruit and vegetables from other countries? and what are the benefits and disadvantages of importing food into the UK from across the globe?.
This article about the Icelandic volcano and our global food supplies may also help.
Although the UK imports farm products from a wide range of countries around the world, an increasing amount of fruit, vegetables and flowers are being imported from poorer, developing countries, particularly in Africa. Whilst students may understand that certain crops cannot be naturally grown in the UK, they will need to develop a much wider understanding of some complex issues if they are to understand why we import crops such as green beans from Kenya when they grow very well in the UK.
Why does Kenya have strong links with the UK?
Use the British Empire powerpoint to look at the scale of the British Empire and which countries were taken over as colonies (note: some colonies retain their original names on the map). A second map shows the dates at which colonies in Africa gained their independence.
Make a list of reasons that explain why most former colonies in Africa try to trade with the countries that used to rule them?
Watch the short video clip Kenyan beans and think about the green bean supply chain, that is to say all the different people involved in the production and consumption of the green beans. Then use the documents KGB-who is interested? and Kenya fruit and veg data to write a short article to explain how each person or organisation would feel if Kenya stopped growing green beans for UK Customers. To get started it may be helpful to use the space provided in the KGB-who is interested? document.
Growing beans in Kenya for UK customers - good or bad?
In the video clip George Alagiah makes the comment that he "wishes these things were clear cut, but they are not" as he struggles to make a decision about whether growing beans in Kenya for UK customers is a good thing or a bad thing. Discuss in pairs what you now think. You may find it useful to make a list of both the advantages and disadvantages of this system for both Kenya and the UK. Share your ideas with the rest of the class. You might want to take a vote.