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[NAIROBI] There is growing concern that carbon dioxide emitted when transporting food over long distances contributes significantly to global warming.

But researchers at the UK-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) have urged British policymakers and consumers not to undermine the trade in fresh fruits and vegetables flown from sub-Saharan Africa in efforts to reduce these 'food miles'.

They argued at a meeting last week (16 January) that the impact of air freighting vegetables from Africa is small compared to Britain's overall emissions.

Food miles campaigns could undermine the social and economic development of African countries and be 'disastrous' for many poor African farmers, they warned.

Bill Vorley, a senior researcher at IIED said, "Climate change is going to affect the poor in Africa harder than anyone else. These are the people who have done least to cause the problem. They shouldn't be made to pay the cost of fixing it too."

He noted that more than one million Africans depend on exporting fruit and vegetables to the United Kingdom for their livelihoods.

Climate change researcher David Wasawo at the University of Nairobi, told SciDev.Net that for most countries in Africa, food miles are the least of their climate change worries.

He called for more research into the impact of climate change on Africa, not Africa's impact on climate change.

According to James MacGregor of IIED's Sustainable Markets Group, the link between climate change and food miles should be weighed against other sources of fossil fuel pollution.

"In the UK, domestic food miles on roads and customers driving to shops are the main contributors to carbon dioxide emissions," says MacGregor.

He argues that people in the developed world should instead focus their behaviour change on the 99.9 per cent of their emissions that come from things like energy use and leisure flights.