Berlin protesters criticise government prioritisation of large-scale farming as damaging to health and the environment








In January, organisers said that an estimated 35,000 protesters, backed by a procession of farm tractors, marched in Berlin for environmental protection and against the industrial agriculture lobby.

Police put the number of demonstrators at over 12,000.

While the Grüne Woche (Green Week) international agricultural fair was taking place in the German capital, the protesters criticised government policy which prioritised large-scale farming, deemed damaging to health and the environment, to the detriment of small farmers and bio-growers.

The Conservative Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner has received “an unequivocal message” from the street, said Saskia Richartz, spokeswoman for the protest organisers.






More than 100 organisations took part in the colourful march, with 171 tractors descending on Berlin from several parts of the country. The ministerial quarter around Brandenburg Gate remained partially blocked for several hours before the protest broke up peacefully.

“We can’t feed the whole world if we reduce industrial agricultural production,” the agriculture minister commented, while admitting that the sector needs to be “more efficient and respectful of the environment”.






Shadow minister advocates seasonal food and a Britain 80% self-sufficient in food

David Drew, the UK shadow minister for environment, food, rural affairs and waste spoke to’s Samuel White.

MP David Drew is probably the only politician who has expressed the importance of food security – the basic need for food – writing: “If you ignore this you ignore one of the most basic building blocks of how any country looks after its people”. His article is summarised below. For the full text go to

He believes that, after Brexit, the UK should develop a food policy focused on consumer health and self-sufficiency, while ensuring public money gets to the farmers who need it

It would determine who produces your food, what they produce, who it’s for, what you sell it for, whether it is what people should be eating and whether they get enough of it – it’s not just about what you eat but about hygiene and fitness and diet.

The shadow minister asks if an independent UK can design a farming system that is both economically and environmentally sustainable – or will there always be this tension between the economy and the environment?

Many advocate much bigger farming units. But David Drew’s view is that mega-farms are not acceptable because the environmental price is too high. For example, if a dairy herd of 1,500 cows gets a disease outbreak, it is just not containable. He likes a variety of smaller farms and wants more people on the land to provide more jobs in the rural economy – not necessarily in farming itself but in all the associated trades and suppliers.

There are parts of the farming estate that are important for the environment – such as hill farming –  but just won’t survive without subsidies. So the question there is do we pay them to manage the farms? Do we pay them to manage the countryside? Do we say, ‘we aren’t paying you and the countryside can look after itself’ and we re-wild these areas? These are all quite logical but difficult questions that have to be asked.

He is a big fan of stewardship schemes but a lot of the money under the CAP greening pillar currently goes to people who don’t need it: if they’re good farmers they should be taking environmental action anyway. The crunch point on the economy versus environment question is going to be how we pay for environmental schemes and stewardship.


The UK is a big importer of food. Will this new food policy aim to make Britain more food independent?

The food chain is a very important issue. Supermarkets only carry two days’ worth of supply at any one time, which effectively means we are only ever three days away from anarchy. So short-term food security has to be where we want to get to, but that shouldn’t come at the cost of having a longer-term strategy for producing more of our own food.

Supermarkets are still too powerful, so one thing we will look at is the power of the grocery industry regulator. The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) told Dr Drew that farmers are now more in favour of longer-term contracts for stability and he comments, “[T]hat could play into the drive for greater self-sufficiency because we would know more precisely where demand and supply are”.

One of the things he is pushing for within the Labour Party is to make Britain 80% self-sufficient. He asks:

“Why should we worry about exports?

“Why don’t we just concentrate on becoming more food secure?

And adds; “It may sometimes mean we have less choice but that’s why we need a food policy that promotes what is seasonal and appropriate to our diet, rather than pushing, say, mange-tout over carrots. We are already 100% self-sufficient in carrots, by the way”.

David Drew is the Labour MP for Stroud, in southwest England





French scientists: “A higher frequency of organic food consumption is associated with a reduced risk of cancer”. Not so says thinktank.

A reader has drawn attention to an e-mail received from the Center for Food Safety about a French study that had followed (nearly) 70,000 adults for five years, most of them women. It found that “the most frequent consumers of organic food had 25% fewer cancers over the course of their lives than those who never ate organic food. Those who ate the most organic fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat, and other organic foods had a particularly steep drop in the incidence of lymphomas, and a significant reduction in postmenopausal breast cancers.”

If the findings are confirmed, promoting organic food consumption in the general population could be a promising preventive strategy against cancer” – the summarised conclusion and recommendation of the study which was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA, October 2018).

Frank Hu, who heads the Harvard University Nutrition Department, will agree with the need for further research, having written in the same JAMA issue “Organic food intake is notoriously difficult to assess, and its self-reporting is very prone to confusion through positive health behaviors and socioeconomic factors” – fair comment.

Incredibly stupid’ and ‘biologically impossible’ is the far from fair or disinterested response of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH)

ACSH is a thinktank on record as having received funding from many industries, including ExxonMobil, Chevron, Coca-Cola, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Procter & Gamble, Syngenta, 3M, McDonald’s, Bayer Cropscience  and Altria.

The thinktank describes the findings of the French scientists from the Sorbonne’s Research Center Epidemiology and Statistics, National Institute of Health and Medical Research, National Institute of Agronomic Research, Research Team in Nutritional Epidemiology, Bobigny, Department of Public Health, Avicenne Hospital, Bobigny and the Centre for Cardiovascular Research and Nutrition, Aix Marseille University, as ‘incredibly stupid’ and ‘biologically impossible’.

In a New York Times report, Dr Julia Baudry, lead author of the French study, said that the magnitude of protection surprised the study authors. “We did expect to find a reduction, but the extent of the reduction is quite important”. She noted the study does not prove an organic diet causes a reduction in cancers, but strongly suggests “that an organic-based diet could contribute to reducing cancer risk.”

The French study was entirely paid for by public and government funds.




When will British farmers appear on the ‘economic radar screen’ of their country?

Devinder Sharma notes that in India, the only time farmers appear on the economic radar screen of the country is when elections are around the corner (Ground Reality).

Not so in UK. Whereas 43% are employed in Indian agriculture, British farmers and employees registered to vote are only 1% of the country’s population according to the World Bank’s interesting list and so are not regarded as a ‘vote bank’, despite their vital role.

The Government of India is honouring their commitment keeping minimum support prices at one and a half times the cost of production for 13 food crops and cotton (listed here). As this excludes fruit, many vegetables and dairy produce, Sharma notes that only 6% farmers get the benefit of these procurement prices.

The only parallel price policy in UK is operated by most large supermarkets, which have a system of aligned contracts ensuring price stability, but only for a minority of milk producers.

The Grocer states that just 30% of milk is produced by farmers on supermarket aligned liquid milk contracts and the IPA newsletter describes the current differential in price as ‘staggering’: “For example, the November AMPE (Actual Milk Price Equivalent) was 31.5ppl and the November Muller non-aligned standard liquid litre price was 20.94ppl (plus 2.623ppl retail supplement) making 23.56p”. 

Sharma’s vital but rhetorical question is: “Who will bear the loss a farmer incurs in selling his produce at a lower price in the market?”

 If selling food at below cost of production plus continues, this banner’s legend will be fulfilled.

In both countries, as he says, “Little effort has been made to understand the economic design that hardly leaves any policy space for farmers”. An honourable exception in Northern Ireland is the ongoing campaign by Farmers for Action, outlined here in 2016. Sharma continues:

“Farmers need to seek details from political party leaders on how their party, if elected, will be able to find adequate resources for what they promise for agriculture”.

No promises to British farmers ever hit the UK headlines before elections; they have been disregarded to date – though there are signs that post Brexit apprehensions are causing some re-evaluation.

Ed: the international prices quoted in commodity markets should be irrelevant to food grown in this country and bought by British residents; a farmer should never be forced to sell food – which is all-important – below cost of production plus.



Climate-smart agriculture in Africa – two approaches

maize-cutting at St Matthias Mulumba

Inspired by Pope Francis’ concern for those who suffer from MISSIO Invest develops hyper-local solutions to the global issues of food insecurity and unsustainable farming practices.

The MISSIO Agriculture Initiative is dedicated to generating both measurable social impact and strong financial returns for the conscientious investor by providing farm managers resources and training to carry out their work.

It identifies undeveloped church-owned land that can be transformed into ecological solutions to food insecurity through an investment of funds and technical assistance. Local entrepreneurs – priests, sisters and lay people – develop self-sustaining businesses, providing food security to surrounding communities and developing locally owned, sustainable, and environmentally responsible agri-business.

Joelle Birge of MISSIO Invest (New York) reports that just over two years ago, the Missio Invest Social Impact Fund gave St Matthias Mulumba Senior Seminary in western Kenya a small loan of $38,000 to upgrade its equipment and modernise farming practices on its 14-hectare maize and livestock farm. Through targeted investment in infrastructure, equipment and materials, along with strategic planting and feeding practices, the seminary has:

  • quadrupled milk and pork production,
  • nearly doubled maize production
  • reduced firewood consumption by 40 per cent.
  • conversion of maize cobs into animal feed using chaff-cutting and hay-grinding machines
  • a biogas digester provides clean cooking fuel and organic fertiliser for crops.
  • a fitted self-control water system (drinking fountain for pigs) facilitates efficient water use
  • in the maize fields, aligning planting with the start of the rainy season has yielded a more abundant harvest.

The seminary even stores its dried maize kernels in hermetic bags, which eliminates the need for chemical preservatives, while also extending shelf life into the dry season, when food supply is lowest.

Joelle ends: “St Matthias is one of many such farms in Africa that could reap great benefits from small, strategic investment in equipment and infrastructure. Investing in African agriculture is becoming less prohibitively risky than once thought. Although the investors are few, the harvest is plentiful”.

Evan Girvetz, a senior scientist with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (known as CIAT, Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical) writes about others investing in Climate-Smart Agriculture, helping farmers to adapt to changing weather patterns. while reducing emissions and boosting food security.

He commends:

  • F3 Life operating in east Africa, which provides credit to farmers at lower interest rates, if they use climate-smart agriculture to protect them from climate related risks — the more climate smart they are, the better the terms of the loan. See video (above):
  • The Senegalese National Meteorological Agency, funded by the United States Agency for International Development, which produces seasonal forecasts, 10-day forecasts, daily forecasts and instant forecasts for extreme events. They are helping farmers to adjust their agricultural management to respond to weather forecasts. Farmers can avoid losing their seedlings due to early planting in a season where lower than average rainfall was projected and can plant crops with lower water requirements.
  • Biogas digesters in Tanzania have helped farmers to reduce firewood and charcoal use, providing an effective fertiliser and insect repellent. Farmers have been able to generate up to six times their usual income from boosted output since the introduction of biogas.
  • Rabobank and UN Environment have launched a new $1bn facility to finance sustainable agriculture using a combination of public and private funding. The facility will provide grants, de-risking instruments and credit for sustainable agricultural production.

Girvetz reports that such private sector-led effort to promote investment in African agriculture through climate-smart agriculture can help to lower interest rates and insurance premiums, provide safer economic returns and produce a more consistent supply of food.





The UK Organic Congress 2018


This is a unique event organised jointly by leading organic organisations, including the Organic Research Centre, Landworkers’ Alliance, Organic Arable, Organic Farmers & Growers, Organic Growers Alliance, Organic Trade Board, Soil Association and Whole Health Agriculture.

Thu, 15 Nov 2018, 09:00

Fri, 16 Nov 2018, 17:00 GMT 

Who should come?

The Congress is aimed at all involved in or interested in the business of organic food and farming, including:

  • farmers, growers and land managers,
  • food businesses in organic supply chains, including input suppliers, retailers and caterers,
  • professionals that engage with the sector, including consultants, land agents, bank managers and researchers,
  • government agency officials and policy-makers,
  • farming, environmental and food NGOs who work with producers and food businesses
  • and many more!

The Congress is not only for those already engaged – if you are exploring organic as an option for your future business, then this event is also for you – all are welcome!

Venue: Dunchurch Park Hotel (Rugby Road, Dunchurch, Rugby CV22 6QW) just outside Rugby, with free parking and good train connections to London, Birmingham and beyond.

Going for Growth

The UK organic food market is growing fast, at 6-7% annually, as part of a global movement for change in what we eat and how it’s produced. But we trail our European neighbours, many achieving over 20% growth and food market shares of 10%. Big opportunities exist for producers to convert to organic production, supported by a food industry responsive to consumer demand, delivering environmental as well as economic gains.

Transforming UK Organic Food and Farming

Reaffirming the potential of organic food and farming in the UK needs fresh approaches to ensure core organic principles and the expectations of citizens can be delivered. Enhancing the environmental and other public benefits of organic production while ensuring fair incomes for farmers and affordable prices for consumers is critical. As we contemplate leaving the EU, what transformations should we be seeking to make the UK an organic world leader again?

A New Vision

Underpinning organic food and farming are some big ideas about how to make a better world. The organic approach cares about things that affect us all – health, welfare, the environment, fairness, quality and sustainability. Communicating this needs a focus on real benefits, while building bridges with others. The Congress will feature a new, positive vision for the contribution that organic can make to UK food and farming, including an aspiration to be up there with the best in terms of production and market shares.

Making Change Happen

The organic sector is well placed to take a lead in the future development of UK food and farming. Organic food standards, the dynamic organic market, Food for Life, the OTB Promotion Campaigns, Innovative Farmers and the Agricology on-line information hub have shown what can be achieved collectively. The Congress will highlight the new industry-led organic action plan in England and similar initiatives in other parts of the UK in making real change happen.







Swiss farmers’ union backs food sovereignty referendum demanding fair prices, which cover the costs of production

In Britain and Switzerland, small farms are closing and larger farms are taking their place. Deregulation is benefiting middlemen and retailers but not farmers themselves. They say producers are no longer getting a fair wage and neither farmers nor consumers have benefited from the changes of the last two decades.

As imports of cheaper food rise, many people are feeling that Switzerland’s high food standards are under threat. Concerned consumers, Greens, Socialists and around 70 organizations including Slow Food Switzerland are looking for ways to ensure the sector can survive.

On September 23rd, Swiss voters will cast their ballots on two referendums on the future of the food industry. The food sovereignty initiative calls for a far more radical overhaul of the agricultural sector, with a new focus on small, family farms. The most far-reaching proposals include

  • a ban on gene technology,
  • measures to boost the number of people working in agriculture,
  • the setting of fair prices for all agricultural products
  • and higher duties and quotas for imported foodstuffs.
  • Imports of products that don’t meet Swiss standards could be banned.

Supporters of the food sovereignty initiative – a group that includes the Greens, the Socialists and around 70 other organizations including Slow Food Switzerland – say current agricultural policies are killing off the Swiss agricultural sector.

The initiative “For Food Sovereignty”, was launched by a committee set up at the instigation of the Swiss agricultural union Uniterre. It proposes measures to promote local, diversified, sustainable agriculture without genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The state should guarantee good working conditions and decent wages for people working in this sector.

Food sovereignty demands fair prices, which cover the costs of production and make it possible to get out of debt.

In Switzerland, the amount spent on a litre of milk does not allow farm families to bear all the production costs and even less the hidden costs. Only one fifth of the price pays for the work of the producers, while the rest ends up in the pockets of the big retailers. Food sovereignty can provide farmers with a fair and dignified income.

Local agriculture should be protected by levying tariffs on certain products or even banning certain imports. Food produced should meet the social and environmental expectations of the population.

Food sovereignty concerns the entire agricultural production chain: from the field to the plate and from the fork to the fork. In Switzerland, local contract farming (similar to our box schemes or community supported agriculture) is boosting the local economy by enabling job creation and the development of local products. It guarantees transparency throughout the production chain and reduces CO2 emissions caused by long-distance transport.

Smaller agricultural estates, with fewer machines and buildings, greater diversification, and a recovery of part of the food chain, will put people back on farms rather than robotizing them. In 2012 a study found that 18% of young people from urban and farming backgrounds wanted to take over a farm but access to land is limited due to speculation, competition and direct government payments based on the size of the farm rather than the number of active people.

Those opposing the proposal point out that protectionist measures would break international agreements and voice concerns about higher prices for goods because the proposal calls for elevated duties on foodstuffs that don’t meet Swiss standards. However the budget spent on food for a person living in Switzerland is actually one of the lowest in the world, between 8 and 15%, calculated according to family income. 


See a virtual tour: – pages can be translated.