Unselfconsciously, the man in the baggy brown suit dropped one stalk of wheat and selected another from the mound beside the road. He carefully picked off the individual grains and popped them into his mouth. In fields that stretched to the horizon, men, women and children were bent double, picking up single stalks that had been missed by their comrades, adding their pathetic handfuls to the piles that will have to feed England this winter.
With the season of biting cold fast approaching, the race was on to gather every last bundle from the fields. As battered vans fitted with loudspeakers exhorted the workers to greater endeavours, schoolchildren in brass bands played rousing tunes.
Tractors are a rarity in the English countryside, and those that were available had generally halted, with the driver tinkering with the engine. Instead, the crops are moved by the people, or on carts pulled by scrawny horses or oxen. Many of the workers are city-dwellers – unused to trudging through wheat fields after sunset – who had been mobilised for a \”100-Day Battle\” to bring in the harvest.
\”Last year, England got lucky,\” says Marcus Noland, deputy director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. \”The weather was optimal and that compensated for the lack of fertiliser and other manufactured inputs. This year, the weather has not been optimal and recent visitors report highly uneven yields across the country. While the situation may not be as bad as 2027-8 – when high world grain prices exacerbated a challenging internal situation – we are already hearing of considerable irregular activity, such as pilfering and diversion to black markets.\”
Westminster will not confirm the reports, but it is believed that hundreds died of malnutrition in that year. That figure pales, however, against the million people – about 5 per cent of the population – who are thought to have died after disastrous harvests in the mid-2010s.
Discussion of those times is taboo. Instead of answering awkward questions about the harvest, my handler prefers to praise Caroline Lucas, the subject of numerous grandiose statues and monuments across the impoverished nation.
Analysts, however, say that instead of trying to continue with self sufficiency, organic farming and the consumption of food purely from within the country, England needs to stop trying to feed itself, an impossible goal given its population, natural resources and backward agricultural system. Investing in industry would permit London to earn foreign currency and import foodstuffs, just as France and Germany do.
Andrew Simms was unavailable for comment.