Category Archives: Agricultural land

“‘Soft’ food imperialism — using others’ land and labour rather than one’s own.”

Last year Ben Webster, Environment Editor of the Times, wrote about Britain becoming reliant on imported fruit and vegetables. The original link no longer works and the environment section no longer exists but the source is recorded here.

Britain’s dependence on imports is leaving it vulnerable to foreign production that could be devastated by droughts and heatwaves resulting from climate change.

Webster lists a number of concerns voiced in a study co-authored by Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University:

  • thousands of orchards and farms dedicated to horticulture have been lost;
  • only a third of apples and one in six pears and plums eaten in Britain are grown here;
  • since 1990, production of cauliflowers has fallen two thirds,
  • almost halved for lettuce,
  • and dropped by a quarter for tomatoes and mushrooms.

Lang is urging the government to reverse the decline in horticulture to guarantee supplies of fruit and vegetables needed for a balanced diet.

  • The total land area dedicated to fruit and vegetable production fell by 27% between 1985 and 2014.
  • Only 5,300 hectares grow dessert apple trees, down from 12,800 in 1986.
  • Plum trees have declined even faster, with only 750 hectares, compared with 2,400 in 1986.

Professor Lang said supermarkets were partly responsible because they had squeezed British growers and switched to foreign companies

European fresh food products now underpin UK access to fresh food; huge amounts of fruit and vegetables are imported. Some of them could be grown here. Why does the UK import apples or pears, for example, which could be grown sustainably here?

Neo-liberals prefer the metrics of economic efficiency, free trade and markets. From a public health or environmental perspective, however, such metrics can be part of the problem – leading to damaging intensification.

Professor Lang said: “We have been genuinely shocked by the mismatch of UK supply and demand in horticulture. Our report points out weak links in the chain: low wages, reliance on migrant labour, a suspicion of low returns to growers, a waste of land and resources. The vast importation of produce which could be grown here suggests that UK policy is tacitly a kind of ‘soft’ food imperialism — using others’ land and labour rather than one’s own.”

A Brexit or Bremain paper by Professor Lang and his colleagues may be downloaded here: http://www.campaignforrealfarming.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Food-and-Brexit-briefing-paper.pdf

 

 

 

 

Paul Sousek: farming sustainably

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A York reader writes, “I thought you might like this video from ‘The Future of Farming: Exploring Climate Smart Agriculture ‘ by University of Reading on FutureLearn – one of the more positive parts of my course i thought you would enjoy.”

In this video Paul Sousek, owner of Cottage Farm, speaks about farming sustainably.

The course is calledChallenges of sustainable farming: Discover Climate Smart Agriculture and how it could be applied to farming’.

The first video gives an overview of the course https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/climate-smart-agriculture 

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The editor values the memories of help given by Librarian John Creasey and Sadie Ward (Institute of Agricultural History, University of Reading) when preparing AN OVERVIEW OF INFORMATION ABOUT ALTERNATIVE PRACTICE IN BRITAIN, COLLECTED FROM APRILTO OCTOBER 1996, commissioned by the Centre for Holistic Studies, Mumbai

 

 

 

Progressive Protectionism, Colin Hines – summary relating to food security

colin2-book-coverLocalised and secure labour intensive production would return a sense of hope for the future and economic security for the majority.

Decentralised infrastructure projects would focus on a decades long, multi skilled programme of energy refits of millions of dwellings, a shift to localised renewable energy and food production and building efficient local transport and flood defence systems.

In a sustainable system, would not each country aim to produce its own staple food? Surpluses and exotics could be exported, speculation in food by unproductive middlemen would be outlawed and vitally important food producers encouraged at every turn.

At present the UK can only feed around 60% of its population of 65 million, let alone the 8 million more projected in the next 15 years. In 2014 the UK supplied just over half (54%) of its food supply. The EU was by far the next largest supplier at 27%. It is clear that we depend on Europe to keep ourselves fed. The distribution of UK imports from Europe has changed relatively little over the last 15 years.

The UK’s food vulnerability could worsen for a number of reasons. The global availability of the food supplies that the UK at present imports could be dramatically reduced, due to rapidly rising global demand, particularly from Asia; or increased domestic demand from food exporting countries; or if we are unable to afford whatever the global prices might become.

These threats can be reduced, but are unlikely to be totally avoidable, even were the UK to increase enormously its present levels of food production, significantly cut food wastage and dramatically change its eating habits, eating far less meat.

Pressures on the UK’s food security are here to stay. As a big importer of food we can’t escape the threats posed by its future price and availability, caused by the increasing global population and rising affluence of sections of the world. As a food trading nation, Britain relies on food imports to feed itself and adequate exports of food and other goods and services to pay for these.

If exports reduced, reliance on global borrowing or tax increases would increase to cover the gap. This assumes that there will be adequate surplus food on the global market to meet our import needs.

food-miles-to-britain

Click for clearer picture – source: http://www.coolgeography.co.uk/A-level/AQA/Year%2012/Food%20supply/Changes%20in%20food%20supply/Food%20Miles%20Britain.png

The highest proportion of food and drink waste in the food chain occurred in households with 7 million tonnes being thrown away in the UK in 2012. Manufacturing contributed the second largest proportion of waste, at 26% (3.9 million tonnes), followed by hospitality with 6% (0.92 million tonnes).

A 2007 study ‘Can Britain feed itself?’ by Simon Fairlie estimated that it could, but that the dietary changes would be significant including far less meat consumption, feeding livestock upon food wastes and residues; returning human sewage to productive land; dispersal of animals on mixed farms and smallholdings, local slaughter and food distribution; managing animals to ensure optimum recuperation of manure; and selecting and managing livestock, especially dairy cows, to be nitrogen providers.

Colin adds that in the absence of supplies of imported rock phosphate, phosphorus rather than nitrogen might become the main constraint upon crop yields, in which case we would have to ensure rigorous recycling of animal manures, human sewage and slaughterhouse wastes. These measures demand more human labour, and more even dispersal of both livestock and humans around the country.

elm-farm

In a paper on the subject, Lawrence Woodward of the Organic Research Centre (Elm Farm, above) says:

“What are the technical problems involved in (feeding the world) organically? There are no really significant ones in the developed world. Of course there is room for improvement – for example weed control techniques could be better, progress can still be made on certain disease problems such as finding more blight resistant potato varieties – but there are no technical obstacles that would prevent organic farming producing enough food in the developed world. Just as long as it is not expected to maintain the chicken at 36p per pound type of diet.

“The obstacles to organic farming are economic and are governed by policy. Where this is sympathetic as in Germany and Denmark, a significantly large switch from conventional to organic production can occur without major difficulty.

“In resource poor countries organic farming, with its emphasis on biological Nitrogen supply, on maintenance and enhancement of organic matter, and on soil and water protection, is arguably the most appropriate farming system and the most sensible approach to feeding people”.

(Colin continues) I am a huge fan of most of the work of Global Justice Now. Their proposals are that foreign aid should be used to build up decent welfare states, sustainable public transport systems, environmentally friendly energy access for all. It should also support small-scale farmers producing healthy food primarily for themselves and local communities, and to help cooperatives and small business to produce for local and regional markets.[77]

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreement on Agriculture would be changed under the World Localisation Organisation (WLO):

wto-and-poor

The vision expressed by the WTO agreement is of an integrated global agricultural economy requires that agricultural commodities be transported long distances, and be processed and packaged to survive the journey. When account is taken of all energy inputs, global food production and trade probably consume more fossil fuel than any other industrial sector. Thus international agricultural trade policies are likely to substantially increase greenhouse gas emissions and make climate objectives much harder to achieve.

Under the WLO all countries would be encouraged to reach maximum self-sufficiency in food. They would only export and import for the end goal of helping move towards maximum sustainable local production, whilst fostering rural regeneration. Trade in food which cannot be grown domestically should be obtained where feasible from neighbouring countries. Long-distance trade should be limited to food not available in the region. Those countries providing food exports should use the funds to increase their own level of food security and in a way that benefits rural communities.

Colin Hines:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colin_Hines   

http://progressiveprotectionism.com/wordpress/

 

 

 

 

 

Seeking food supplies from Turkey and Morocco?  Time for change!

On BBC Radio 4 today it was reported that some supermarkets are limiting sales of fruit and vegetables.

veg-2shortage

A newspaper elaborates: “Morrisons and Tesco have limited the amount of lettuce and broccoli after flooding and snow hit farms in Spain. Shortages of other household favourites – including cauliflower, cucumbers, courgettes, oranges, peppers and tomatoes – are also expected. Prices of some veg has rocketed 40% due to the freak weather. Sainsburys admitted weather has also affected its stocks”.

HortiDaily reports on frost in Europe in detail (one of many pictures below) and the search for supplies from Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia.

snow-2spain

A former Greenpeace Economist foresees these and more persistent problems in his latest book, Progressive Protectionism.

Colin Hines reminds us that in 2014 the UK supplied just over half (54%) of its food supply. The EU was by far the next largest supplier at 27%. It is clear that we depend on Europe to keep ourselves fed. He adds:

“At present the UK can only feed around 60% of its present population of 65 million, let alone the around 8 million extra projected in the next 15 years. The UK’s food vulnerability could worsen for a number of reasons. The global availability of the food supplies that the UK at present imports could be dramatically reduced, due to rapidly rising global demand, particularly from Asia; or increased domestic demand from the countries that we at present import from; or if we are unable to afford whatever the global prices might rise to”.

And, presciently, “the threat to UK food security could be more serious should increased global demand combine with other potential problems such as climate change”.

govt-ccc-header

A 2013 report from the UK government’s official climate change advisers warned that droughts could devastate food production in England by the 2020s. Hines advises: “The answer has to be to heed the Sustainable Development Commission’s call ‘to produce more food from less land and to eat differently, specifically to eat more plant-based foods, less meat and dairy, and to waste dramatically less”.

To this he adds the need to halt as rapidly as possible the UK’s population growth, by curbing present levels of migration and reducing it to more sustainable levels, bearing in mind the numbers we will be able to feed predominantly from our own resources.

Finally he focusses on another area of import dependence.  A 2007 study, ‘Can Britain feed itself?’ by Simon Fairlie, estimated that it could, but that the dietary changes would be significant, “including far less meat consumption, feeding livestock upon food wastes and residues; returning human sewage to productive land; dispersal of animals on mixed farms and smallholdings, rather than concentration in large farms; local slaughter and food distribution; managing animals to ensure optimum recuperation of manure; and selecting and managing livestock, especially dairy cows, to be nitrogen providers”.

Time to ‘retool’ our provisioning?

“UK agriculture is also reliant upon imported energy, fertiliser, seeds and machinery. So should the availability of such imports become limited because of purchase by more affluent countries, or were we to become unable to afford to purchase such imports in the quantities required, then our domestic agriculture itself would be deprived of such essential inputs”.

And, essentially,  give our food producers – from farmers to small-holders – a fair price covering costs of production plus.

 

 

 

Taking back control of the agricultural economy

Former Conservative MP Matthew Parris asks, “Is ‘food security’ still an imperative for this 21st-century country long unable to home-source many of the other mainstays of our economic life? Why, post-CAP, should we despoil East Anglia and plunder Treasury coffers for fear of relying on Canadian wheat or West Indian sugar?

We all need to take a view on the texture of the rural Britain we want to sponsor, the size, type and location of the farms we want to support, the agriculture we want to see there.

Hill farming on sloping ground. in places rocky, often marshy and reedy, everywhere wet, exposed and windy, and with poor-quality soil whose agricultural use is only grazing. Nearly half of hill-farmers’ income comes from CAP subsidies. For them it’s the foundation of what still amounts to scraping by: they really are just about managing. Ministers guaranteed during the recent referendum campaign that this bedrock would not be disturbed until 2020. Beyond that there are no promises.

Governments cannot strike out in a new direction as suddenly as could an individual like me. Farmers and local businesses have invested whole lives in what they expect, and cannot take too much uncertainty about the future. Nor should the English countryside become just a forest, or a leisure park.

But sometimes there comes a chance to tweak policy gently but decisively in an altered direction, so that things begin to change, giving people time to change too. Could Brexit help us take back control of this at least?

Here are two questions to which I may not know the answer, but we should ask — at least because the compass must anyway be reset by 2020, and I think the Defra secretary, Andrea Leadsom, knows something needs to be done.

Her farming minister, George Eustice (another dedicated Leaver) has struck me as a man prepared to think outside, if not the box, the cowshed: he’s been talking sparkily recently about Britain’s chance to lead the way in land-stewardship and compassion towards farm animals; and on new approaches to underwriting this part of our economy.

Only a monster would deny there should be CCTV cameras in slaughterhouses; but chicken factories, cow prisons, industrial wastelands and giant system-built housing estates are on the march across our countryside.

Brexit is a chance for Britain to reshape its farming subsidies in ways that protect the land and use it more intelligently

There’s money here, and money talks, and ministers must stand up to it. Taking back control shouldn’t be from Brussels alone.

Edited extracts from the Times article (paywall)

 

 

 

Organic farming: better for the climate, soil conservation, biodiversity and food security

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joanna-blythmanThis news will be of particular interest to those who have read about animal factory-farming methods (see the work of Tracy Worcester) and those who were earlier stunned by the exposure of systemic pesticides in ‘Roots of Evil’ (The Guardian 29.4.95) by Joanna Blythman(left) – often described as Britain’s leading investigative food journalist.

In 2016, Scheherazade Daneshkhu, Consumer Industries Editor for the Financial Times, reported that home deliveries of organic vegetables have almost returned to pre-recession levels – £2.1bn in 2008.There has also been a higher demand for organic jam, tea, oils, organic cotton clothes and beauty products.

soil-aShe cited the Soil Association’s 2016 Market Report, free to members, which recorded that sales of organic products rose last year by 4.9% to £1.95bn in the UK – the third year of consecutive growth for the UK organic sector, now worth £1.95bn. Sales of non-organic food dropped by 0.9%.

An increase in the numbers of independent suppliers has helped the sector to establish firm roots

80% of organic sales were made in supermarkets a decade ago and that proportion has fallen to 70% as organic products have benefited from the broader retail trend towards more local and online shopping. Ocado’s organic sales jumped by 19% as the online retailer expanded its organic range by a quarter. Discounters Aldi and Lidl are also gaining share of the market with small but growing ranges.

orc-header-2017The Organic Research Centre is the UK’s leading independent research centre for the development of organic food production and land management solutions to climate change, soil and biodiversity conservation and food security.

Its detailed financial report on organic farming in England and Wales for 2014/15, published two months later also showed organic farm profits increasing, with organic dairy farming outperforming conventional dairy farming in England and Wales.

orc-graphThis research was undertaken for the Welsh Government, a partner in Organic Centre Wales. It highlighted that the organic dairy industry is now generating higher profits during that period than conventional farms despite producing lower yields.

This was due to reduced costs on items such as fertiliser and machinery together with the premium price for organic milk.

Professor Nic Lampkin from the Organic Research Centre, one of the co-authors of the report said:

organic-food-text“Organic farms are far more engaged in production methods that are better for the environment. Restricted pesticide inputs, and more diverse crop rotations contribute to greater diversity and to natural weed, pest and disease control. These are all seen as important reasons for the financial support given to the organic sector . . .

“We have been monitoring the performance and profitability of the organic sector in England and Wales for the past 20 years the analysis of 2014/15 data showed that organic farms achieved higher or similar profitability to comparable conventional farms, and on organic LFA (less favoured area) cattle & sheep farms profitability was statistically higher than conventional farms. At the enterprise level, organic dairying net margins were above the conventional level, whilst for beef and sheep enterprises, organic margins were ahead of the conventional sector. Cropping enterprises also showed a positive position for most organic activities, and therefore it can be concluded that with the addition of support payments, organic farms are performing at a similar or better level than comparable conventional farms”.

However, the Soil Association report points out that despite the third consecutive year of organic sales growth, the amount of land under organic cultivation has continued to fall. There are 548,700 hectares of farmed organic land, down 5% since 2013, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The amount of land in conversion to organic is also in decline but the size of the average organic farm has increased, in line with trends in the sector.

More reassuringly, the Organic Research Centre report adds that although numbers fell during the recession, organic farming in England and Wales has stabilised, with fewer farmers withdrawing from the sector and new converters coming on board. 

‘Organic Farm Incomes in England and Wales 2014/15’ can be downloaded here: 2014/2015, PDF 2.04mb – no paywall.

For the full ORC article please click here.

 

 

 

A sustainable food system: Rosie Boycott, chair of the London Food Board and adviser to the Mayor of London

Rosie Boycott describes a sustainable system as “One that could guarantee that everyone on the planet has reliable physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food and that meets their dietary needs for an active and healthy life”.

On the challenge of delivering food security . . .

  • Agribusinesses tell us they have the answers: more efficiency, more technology, even greater yields, modified crops.
  • In contrast, the agro-ecological movement argues that only their approach can deliver the necessary calories and nutrition for the world’s population, while also nourishing ecosystems and the people who live within them.

rosie-boycottShe continues: “The focus of policy is too often just on tonnages and calories. We have enough calorific output to feed the world but there is too little attention is given to the problems such as food quality, distribution, impact of production on the wider environment, and waste”.

“We do not currently have a problem of scarcity: more than 50% of all the world’s grain goes to feed animals, who in turn feed us, rather than feeding humans directly. This is a grossly inefficient use of resources: cattle, for instance, can require 15kg of crops for every 1kg of meat. The scale at which we are farming animals means that animal agriculture accounts for 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the transportation sector.

“We should not be blind to role science can play in ameliorating such impacts. In the near future, is possible that animal products including meat could be grown in laboratories, via cellular agriculture, a scientific step that could undermine industrial-scale animal farming and its myriad threats to food security. This model system would require 90% less land and produce 75% less greenhouse gases than current meat production — and not require the use of antibiotics.

“Would such advances be desirable? Personally, I would welcome a world without millions of animals kept on dusty feed lots in Arizona, eking out short, miserable lives between birth and the abattoir”.

Then comes the crunch: the corporations are not going away

Ms Boycott notes that such market structures are considered by some as necessary to drive the provision of cheap food for everyone, but they have removed us from a connection with real food. According to the Food Foundation, typical British children get about two-thirds of their calories from ultra-processed foods. Our food system shapes consumer demand rather than vice versa, and supply chains are so opaque that it is easy for ‘adulterants such as horse meat’ to find their way in. She adds:

“The world will always have huge players in the food sector whose goal is to make a profit. Our food world is dominated by a few big names, which enable us to enjoy food from the other side of the world and bread that lasts for weeks. But such apparent consumer gains that flow from commercial endeavour have wider costs”:

  • the quest for gains in yield demands we use more chemicals each year, with adverse effects on the nutritional content of food and the health of the land. Meanwhile,
  • food-related illness is on the rise and,
  • while hunger persists in parts of the world, over 30% of food grown is wasted.

Rosie says that with market power comes responsibility but gives no direct advice on how to address that corporate power and lack of responsibility

There is massive consolidation of the food industry – in the UK the “Big Five” supermarkets have a 70% market share. We are moving towards yet greater homogenisation of diets as western fast-food takes over the world: we generate 75% of all the world’s food from12 plants and five animal species, but as she notes, “we need diversity of production and supply chains to withstand shocks — political, economic and climatic — as well as unwelcome effects on health”.

She advocates ‘restoring balance’

“To restore balance, we need to give organic, smaller-scale and diverse farming a proper role within the food system, through subsidies which support high quality of produce and recognise positive environmental impacts. We need to steer the world away from our over-reliance on certain foods such as meat.

“Mixed farming, an essentially old practice, can thrive given sufficient backing. Denmark, for example, has the world’s highest share of organic produce, coexisting with intensive, and unpleasant, animal production. In 2014, France introduced a law to shorten supply chains, making clear that seasonal produce and organic are vital for health and security. Some governments are finally recognising that ecologically minded farming has an essential role in delivering food security and that it can live alongside modified industrial systems”.

Rosie Boycott ends, “Our current food system continues to be disastrous for the planet’s health. In the UK, soil depletion means that East Anglia now has an estimated 40 harvests left, while farm land is losing 1-3cm of topsoil a year . . . Let us do more. Unless we want a future where almost everything we eat is grown in a Petri dish, we have to act now”.

Read her article here.