Campaign seeks to rebalance debate and highlight importance of airfreight to African farmers

At least five million people in Africa who benefit from the trade of airfreighted fresh produce to UK and European supermarkets are at risk from calls to reduce carbon emissions by limiting flown food and flowers.

That’s according to research conducted by Fairmiles and the University of Exeter, which was presented during a stakeholder roundtable organised by the campaign group Fairmiles to discuss how to take a fair approach to net zero without stopping vital market access for developing world producers.

Fairmiles is made up a of organisations representing fresh produce businesses, academia and the international development sector. Its aim is to establish a just and equitable strategy, consistent with the principles of climate justice, to ensure the airfreight sector reaches net zero without stopping vital market access for developing world producers.

Founding partners in Fairmiles include ODI, the University of Northampton, the University of Exeter, COLEAD, Beanstalk.Global and Blue Skies.

The research highlighted that airfreight helps communities to thrive in global supply chains, enabling inward investment and inclusive economic development.

It also revealed:

  • Very few emissions come from Africa, or airfreighting fresh produce. Africa comprises 18 per cent of the world’s population but only 3 per cent of emissions. The transport of food is 1.56 per cent of total global emissions, and of this, just 0.16 per cent of food travels by air.
  • Fresh produce is transported in commercial belly holds. Airfreighted fresh produce on UK and European retailers’ shelves is enabled by UK and European travellers in commercial airlines. This provides capacity for airfreight. Africa’s passenger traffic is expected to double by 2035. Increasing airfreight can therefore help Africa to reduce the trade deficit.
  • Reducing airfreight won’t reduce flights. If the industry stops importing fresh fruit and vegetables from Africa, it will have limited impact on flights that are driven by passenger numbers.
  • African imports far exceed exports. Africa has been a net importer of food for the last three decades. Nigeria imports 10 times more than it exports. UK and European exports dominate trade.

Simon Derrick, head of sustainability at fruit manufacturer Blue Skies and a founding member of the Fairmiles consortium, said: “It is clear that airfreighted fresh produce from developing countries provides a vital trade link that lifts millions of people out of poverty. Stopping this trade will do more harm than good, so it is in all our interests to achieve net zero in a way that protects and not penalises vulnerable communities”.