The Future of Self-Sufficiency for Britain

By Zenith Shah, President of the Finance, Accounting & Banking Society at Sheffield Hallam University

A ‘no-deal’ Brexit governed by a broken parliament approaching in the middle of a pandemic creates the perfect storm for the UK. However, could the silver lining be found by investing in the ability of the UK to become more self-sufficient?

Boris Johnson recently announced the government’s 10-point plan for a net-zero emission country by 2050, which has been criticised as insufficient, according to climate experts. Ending the sale of diesel and petrol vehicles by 2030 is the most effective and disruptive implementation. With the plan to turn the UK into ‘the Saudi Arabia of wind,’ and innovation being the pioneer of automation, costs of maintaining wind power are forecasted to decline. This suggests that the green industrial revolution will demand skilled labour, such as engineers, data scientists, mathematicians and much more. The generation for hard labour could (unfortunately?) be left behind. With technological advancements, the innovation of rooftop farms and the demand for skilled labour; agricultural could potentially be a lucrative industry once again.

The population of the UK has more than doubled over the last 140 years. Capacity on this small island has stayed constant, which poses an issue on the self-sufficiency of food. With a constant demand surplus of housing, urban cities are expanding over British farms. Over the last 30 years, our production of food to supply ratio has declined by 10% with the lowest being at 59%. Therefore, we are largely dependent on imports, with nearly one-third of the food we consume coming from the EU, exposing our vulnerability of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit. The gross value-added contribution of the agriculture industry in the UK is only 0.53% and crop production grew around 1%, which is below the industry average. The innovation of aeroponic systems, allowing farmers to vertically grow crops without the need for the soil on rooftops of buildings across cities may be the solution to an evergrowing problem.

The services sector accounts for three-quarters of Britain's GDP with a net trade surplus of 105.47 Billion GBP. We have seen a strong shift in remote working due to the COVID pandemic, with Delloite closing 4 of their offices and a study conducted by CBI/PWC showing a majority of 133 financial institutions admitting that 90% of their workforce can perform their job from home. As Brexit places pressure on the possibility of food shortages / overpriced food in the UK, with companies in our largest sector looking to close stores, investing in the agriculture industry could lessen the negative trade balance we endure from the EU.

Rooftop farming is said to be the perfect solution to solve the equation of decreasing space with an increasing population. Forward-thinking farmers are challenging the conventional outlook on the farming industry by utilising disruptive technology and robotics to create farms on top of buildings in densely populated and urban cities. The global rooftop farming industry was worth 1.72 billion GBP in 2018 and it is predicted to rise to 9.84 billion GBP by 2026, displaying a 472% increase. The vastly growing industry is currently lead by the US and Japan, however, countries around the world are joining the trend. The 4th financial hub of the world, Singapore is a space-starved city. With innovation and creativity, we have witnessed the fast emergence of rooftop farms, bringing nature into a concrete jungle. The health benefits must be noted from the localisation of farms, meaning fresher products to consumers. Paris has joined the party, with the worlds largest rooftop farm starting to bear fruit, with a soil-free approach through an aeroponic system, using less space and resources adapted by vertical farming. As well as the ability to take advantage of drones and robotics.

A few companies such as ZinCo, have taken the initiative to develop rooftop farms in London. However, the agriculture industry is still experiencing a lack of growth due to 33% of the workforce being over 65 and only 3% below the age of 35. Overall the industry makes up only 1.5% of the total workforce in the UK. With new technology such as drones, robotics and automation, this may counteract the workforce limitations and create a fresh perspective on the farming industry. The link between technology and farming, as well as innovative construction, may bring in a younger, skilled and driven workforce that could enhance the rooftop farming industry and make Britain self-sufficient.

Sources: attachment_data/file/884101/agricaccounts-tiffstatsnotice-07may20i.pdf

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