2022 was a year of dry weather and drought which greatly affected crop yield across the world with it falling by as much as 40% in certain areas. The consequences of this fall are now being felt thousands of miles away as supermarkets in the UK are experiencing empty shelves, specifically in the fresh food aisles.
Supermarkets are reporting a general lack of fresh produce with shops such as Morrisons, Aldi, Asda and Tesco placing restrictions on the number of fresh produce customers can purchase. Retailers have predicted these shortages could last for a number of weeks and we should expect more supermarkets to introduce rationing.
But what are the reasons for these bare shelves?
- Morocco’s Weather
Morocco is known for its delicious and diverse cuisine that features a wide array of fresh fruit and vegetables. UK retailers have been increasing the amount of fresh produce they import from Morocco since 2001. In fact, Morocco is one of the UK's largest suppliers of fresh produce, particularly during the winter months when domestic production is limited due to the cold climate. Last year Britain imported £156 million worth of tomatoes from Morocco and £69 million worth of raspberries.
Morocco's proximity to Europe, combined with its arable land and fertile soil, makes it an ideal location for growing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Some of the most common types of produce imported from Morocco include tomatoes, raspberries, peppers, cucumbers, melons, and citrus fruits.
The UK imports a lot of their fresh food, particularly tomatoes, from Morocco during the winter when Southern Morocco began offering cheaper produce. This has left the British supply chain more exposed to the challenging weather seen throughout Morocco. In recent years, Morocco has faced several weather-related challenges, including heavy rainfall and flash floods in 2021 and the most severe drought seen in the country for four decades in 2022. This month Morocco was faced with unusually cold weather and unprecedented snow and overcast skies. These events have had significant impacts on the country's agricultural sector preventing fruit and veg ripening.
- The Spanish Snap
While Morocco is proving itself to be a dominant force in the food industry Spain remains the UK’s biggest supplier providing 10% of our fruit and veg supply. A cold snap in Spain with temperatures falling as low as 18 degrees in some areas has meant that harvest targets have not been met. Almeria in Southern Spain is often known as the ‘garden of Eruope'. In this garden, a plethora of fruit and veg are grown under large plastic tents which can be seen from space.
- Energy prices
Alongside the winter crops in Morocco and Spain, the UK usually grows tomatoes and cucumbers in the greenhouses of the Lea Valley on the Essex-Hertfordshire border. The Lea Valley has a long history of vegetable growing, thanks to its fertile soil, mild climate, and proximity to London's markets. The area has been used for market gardening since the 17th century, and it continues to be a vital source of fresh produce for the capital.
However, this year half of the greenhouses in this area are empty. This is because the local farmers cannot afford to run the gas boilers used to heat them due to the energy crisis. The energy crisis has been building over the past year as increased demand during the post-covid reopening of economies coincided with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which put pressure on gas supplies in Europe. Britain has not been able to pick up the slack from the European countries.
- The supply chain
Britain also suffers more than mainland Europe due to the disruption from Spain and Morocco because they have to travel a further distance. The journey from Morocco to Britain involves two sea crossings. The produce are shipped to Spain and then they begin a 4 day trip to the UK. Overall the trip takes 5-6 days. Due to the inclement weather in January and February there were cancellations and disruptions on the ferries. This caused a delay in the goods and a disruption in the supply chain.
3 out of these 4 reasons are a result of one single thing: Climate Change.
The extreme changes in weather overseas are a direct result of the increased concentration of greenhouse gases. The warming of the planet is causing changes in the Earth's climate system, including changes in atmospheric circulation, ocean currents, and precipitation patterns. As a result, extreme weather events are becoming more frequent, intense, and longer-lasting. For example, heatwaves are becoming more frequent and intense, leading to droughts which lead to water shortages and crop failures.
The impacts of extreme weather events caused by climate change are significant, and they affect people, ecosystems, and economies around the world. If we want to restock our shelves we need to address these impacts. There is a need for urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to the changing climate, and build resilience in communities and ecosystems. This requires global cooperation and the implementation of effective policies and measures to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change.