Category Archives: Government

‘Bright Blue’ Conservative proposal: damaging to British food producers but profitable to the hospitality industry, commodity speculators and Exim traders

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The proposal by a Conservative think tank opens with a people-pleasing injunction: end the payment of vast subsidies to wealthy landowners after Brexit.

However, those who read and remember more than the headline will begin to see that profits are simply to be redirected.

“The EU system of paying farmers according to how much land they own should be replaced by payments for environmental benefits plus a ‘means-tested livelihood support’ for the poorest”, the report by Bright Blue says. It accepts that the system could reduce food production and make Britain more reliant on imports, which account for 40% of consumption. However, it says that the loss of self-sufficiency is a price worth paying for protecting wildlife and natural beauty.

After a lyrical paragraph about the environment, Bright Blue sheds sentiment and proposes three income sources for food producers (in order of preference?):

  1. A market-based commissioning scheme;
  2. means-tested livelihood support – aka government dole
  3. and/or income from agricultural produce or other monetisable services sold at market prices without any production subsidies.

Yet another nightmare administrative system?

Chapter Three of the report explains, “We envisage ‘suppliers’ bidding together or individually to supply ecosystem services to paying ‘beneficiaries’ in specific catchments on online market-places. Suppliers would include farmers, land owners, and land managers”. 

Voices of sanityTimes readers’ comment:

David Illsley 

How to do the right thing for all the wrong reasons! Lower subsidies for empty fields, yes! but don’t pay farmers to stop producing food only to pay them for planting flowers! This country needs to be self-sufficient in basic foods, milk, grain, meat, food, water, and as much as possible energy. 

Tony Perryman 

So right, when the Chancellor might be announcing a relaxation of greenbelt rules this week. Land and the production of food for the nation is more important; our trading deficit will become a concern post Brexit. 

Keith William Hendry 

Scotland is self-sufficient in fish, meat, dairy products, vegetables & we have copious amounts of water. Our whisky is the biggest net export cash raiser for the exchequer.

Jane Cooper says it all:

“One problem is that UK farmers, farming to support and enhance our environment and with high animal welfare standards, will be competing on a world market with overseas companies that produce food cheaply by trashing their environments, abusing animals and paying slave-labour wages to employees.  That’s not a fair ‘market’ for UK farmers to be competing in.  

“If you can find a way to have farmers fairly paid what it actually costs to produce food in the UK to the environmental and welfare standards expected by most people in UK, then I agree subsidies wouldn’t be needed”.

 

 

 

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In the dark? Could there be a ‘bespoke’ agricultural policy after Brexit

MP for Stroud, David Drew, Shadow Farming and Rural Affairs Minister, retweeted a link to a Farmers Weekly article,Devolved regions left in dark about plans to take farming out of transition agreement’.

Scottish Office Minister Ian Duncan has suggested that the UK will have its own agricultural policy in March 2019. He said: “We believe taking UK farming out of the CAP during transition is the right thing to do. As farmers you will be better off”.

Professor Dieter Helm, chair of the Natural Capital Committee, is advising the Department lor Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on British agricultural policy (BAP) post-Brexit. He says the EU’s principle of paying farmers for the area of land they farm under the basic payment scheme (BPS) should go and asserts that the BPS does not actually affect food production.

But UK farmers subsidise the low (and unjust) prices received for the food they produce with the BPS payments, which average about £25,000 a year per farm according to an article in the Private Eye, issue 1456, which refers to figures from DEFRA’s Farm Business Income Survey :

For 2016-17, the average cereal farm is forecast to make a profit of £38,000 and the average lowland livestock farm £19,000, though the survey also noted that over 20% of cereal, dairy, lowland grazing livestock, mixed and poultry farms failed to make a profit in 2016/17. Without the BPS, most farms would have traded at a loss.

But the DEFRA survey’s figures were said to include BPS receipts and exclude farmers’ wages or personal drawings.

A 2016 LEI study for the NFU concluded that all UK regions would show, on average, a decline in farm incomes if the UK government fully abolished the direct payments. The UK trade liberalisation scenario would show the most significant changes; farm incomes would decline in all regions, except for the East of England where half of the UK horticultural farms are located, as they do not receive single farm payments (now superseded by BPS since Jan 2015) for fruit, vegetables and table potatoes.

How will UK farmers be protected from subsidised food exports from EU farmers who still enjoy BPS payments?

The column in Private Eye (1443) pointed out that given targetted production subsidies Brexit presents a real opportunity to introduce a bespoke British agricultural policy. A British agricultural policy (BAP) could:

  • encourage more mixed patterns of farming,
  • discourage industrial livestock production and
  • reverse the increasing imbalance in Britain’s trade in food.

To this end, DEFRA is urged to seek advice from other quarters – Professor Tim Lang comes first to mind.

 

 

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Saluting the French President – the first head of state to seek fair food legislation?

Macron: “We should allow farmers not to rely on subsidies anymore and therefore ensure than they be paid a fair amount for their work.”

Reuters reports that President Emmanuel Macron – during a meeting at Rungis international food market in Rungis, near Paris – has called for changes to France’s food chain on Wednesday to ensure that farmers, who have been hit by squeezed margins and a retail price war, are paid fairly.

Macron said that he supported a new type of contract, based on farmers’ production costs

In common with Farmers for Action (NI) which has joined a producer organization (Farm Groups) he is proposing a change in legislation – ‘a new type of contract, based on farmers’ production costs, which would require stronger producer organizations and a change in legislation’.

Prices are currently defined by buyers tempted to pressure prices, leaving many farmers unable to cover their costs.

The changes are part of a wide field-to-fork review promised by Macron during his presidential campaign as a third of farmers, an important constituency in French politics, earned a third of the net minimum wage.

Macron endorsed a proposal from the workshops to create a reversed contract starting from farmers, to food processors and to retailers. This would ensure a better spread of added value along the chain.

Just Food adds: “He promised to shake up the current “balance of power” between producers, food processing firms and retailers. A tougher line would be taken on low prices and discounting and a higher loss-leader threshold for retailers established, Macron underlined . . .

“Legislation will be prepared early next year reversing the current system of food pricing. In future, prices will be calculated on the basis of production costs instead of being imposed by retailers”.

First published here: https://politicalcleanup.wordpress.com/2017/10/19/saluting-the-french-president-the-first-head-of-state-to-seek-fair-food-legislation/

 

 

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A sustainable approach: the production and sourcing of local food

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In August a warning was issued by the British Retail Consortium that Dutch tomatoes, Spanish oranges could be held up at ports unless the government quickly smooths out post-Brexit customs processes.

The size of the problem was illustrated last year in a new report from the Royal Society, which shows that the UK is increasingly outsourcing its greenhouse gas emissions.

The editor of the Co-operative News, Anthony Murray, reports that by 2030, the UN wants us to create sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production. At last year’s International Summit of Cooperatives, UN Ambassadors called on the co-op movement to get behind these targets.

He continues: “One of the solutions to creating this sustainable approach is through the sourcing and production of local food. (Typically local food is produced within 20-30 miles of an outlet, but policies vary by retailer). Retail co-ops across the UK support around 1,400 local producers, according to our research into local food initiatives. What has also helped regional co-ops is the relaxing of sourcing rules from the overall Co-op buying group – Federal Retail and Trading Services”.

In another article he reports that Love British Food 2017 was sponsored by Co-op Food, a reflecting co-ops’ commitments to local communities – whether that community is members, suppliers or customers.

In May, the Co-op Group became the first retailer to switch all of its own-brand fresh meat to British suppliers; the retailer only sells British beef, chicken, ham, pork, sausages, duck and turkey and only uses British meat in its own-label chilled ready meals, pies and sandwiches. The only exception is cured meats and continental varieties in ready meals and sandwiches, such as chorizo.

 

 

 

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Access to food cannot be left to the market forces, it is the responsibility of society and the state: nine measures based on Mahatma Gandhi’s Talisman

An important message from friend and colleague, Devinder Sharma, who chairs the New Delhi-based Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security and is also a member of the coordination committee of the National Kisan Panchayat (National Coalition of Farmers Unions) in India:

It has been exactly 13 years since I was invited by the UK Food Group and Sustain to make a presentation on My Vision for a Global Agriculture at a ‘Dialogue on Agricultural Trade Reform, Subsidies and the Future of Small and Family Farms and Farmers’, held in London, on June 30, 2004.

[Ed: in the same year came the great paper: Stopping the Great Food Swap: Written by Dr Caroline Lucas MEP, based on background research and support provided by Andy Jones and Vicki Hird of Sustain: The alliance for better food and farming, and by Colin Hines, author of Localisation: A Global Manifesto, Earthscan 2000]

But looking at the recommendations I made you will agree that crisis wouldn’t have been of the order that we see today had the world taken a step towards ushering in sustainability. This would have reduced greenhouse gas emissions, limited the damage by climate change and reduced yawning inequality. This is what I wrote in 2004; it certainly needs to be updated. But the essence remains the same, even now:

“My Vision for a Global Agriculture comes at a crucial time in the history of international agriculture. I wish the powers that be, and that includes the agriculture ministers of the G-8 countries, and international agencies like FAO/IFAD/World Bank and the likes had paid some attention to it, and the world wouldn’t have been faced with the kind of crisis that we are confronted with now. It is my strong belief that sooner or later the world will have to return to a sustainable pathway in agriculture, the sooner it happens the better it will be for humanity.

Well, this didn’t happen. And the crisis on the farm meanwhile has already worsened, the environment already devastated. Climate change has the world sitting on a tipping point, and inequality has multiplied so much so that the world is grappling with these problems with no silver lining on the horizon.

I am trying to spell out a series of parameters that should underline all international approaches to agriculture. These are based on Mahatma Gandhi’s Talisman that suggests: ‘Think of the poorest person you have ever known, and ask if your next step will be of any use to him. In short, the effort should be to wipe every tear from every eye.’

Sustainable Livelihoods: focusing on tackling the causes of poverty, hunger, the inequitable distribution of income and low human resource base with the objective of providing everyone with the opportunity to earn a sustainable livelihood. The green revolution areas are encountering serious bottlenecks to growth and productivity. Excessive mining of soil nutrients and groundwater have already brought in soil sickness.

Food Sovereignty: Every country should have the right to food sovereignty. It should result from the interplay of three determining factors: food production, food availability and access to food. A sustainable livelihood approach is the strength of food sovereignty. It should be people centric, based on community strengths, eco-friendly and gender sensitive. Food production, a central pivot of food sovereignty, must be based on minimal use of external inputs and that includes chemicals, transgenics and water. Access to food cannot be left to the market forces, it has to be the obligation of the society and the state.

Local Solutions: For the past three decades the focus has been on finding global solutions to local problems in agriculture. The World Bank/IMF, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and now some of the major donors like DFID and GTZ have been embarking on introducing alien approaches to agricultural improvement and have exacerbated the crisis on the farm front. This process must be immediately stopped, if not reversed. Given the diversity of the agro-ecological regions, sustainable agriculture needs location-specific solutions. 

Emphasis on food as a commodity: this has encouraged monocultures, loss of biodiversity, encouraged trade in some food commodities, distorted domestic markets, and disrupted the micro-nutrient availability in soil, plant, animals and humans. The emphasis on food as a commodity to be traded internationally has encouraged food miles, adding to greenhouse emissions, water mining, and destruction of farm incomes. The need is to revert back to the time-tested farming systems that relied on mixed cropping and its integration with farm animals, meeting the household and community nutrition needs from the available farm holdings.

Move away from Cash Crops: For the past two decades at least, the World Bank/IMF, some in academia and their donors have been pressing developing countries to diversify from staple foods to cash crops in what is being projected as the right approach to add to farm incomes. This is politically motivated advice and runs counter to the sustainable approach spelled out above. Many Latin American countries are faced with a serious land degradation crisis and increasing hunger as a result. It also pushes farmers into a death trap since the developing countries do not have the resources to provide for adequate marketing infrastructure. Move away from cash crops: focus on staples, only trade surpluses.

Reverse Farm Exodus: The disappearing family farms in the developed countries and the process of further marginalisation of the farming communities in the developing world are the symptoms of the same malaise. Farmers are being pushed out of agriculture through a farming system that is becoming increasingly unremunerative and industrialised. To maintain ecological balance, and to ensure sustainable livelihoods, the focus of any policy imperative should be to restore the pride in family farms. This will need adequate state protection and support and at the same time should be based on the principle of mutual compatibility with the small farmers in the majority world.

Reorient Farm Research: International agricultural research, as well as the national agricultural research systems, should re-orient the focus of farm research based on these principles: farmer friendly, environment friendly and long-term sustainability. Instead of the ‘Lab-to-Land’ approach, which has done immense damage to agriculture globally, the emphasis should be on learning from the land, going back to farmers and the traditional farming systems. Technology need not always be high-tech and sophisticated, it can be simple and effective, fitting the new improved technology to farmers’ need rather than asking farmers to fit into the technology package developed. This can only happen if farm research is brought back to the public sector. All technology should be freely available, and should not come with any proprietary tags.

Change Food habits: Obesity has already emerged as the biggest killer in America, with tobacco-related deaths now in the second position. This is the outcome of the private industry efforts to change the food and dietary habits to suit their commercial interests. Industry is desperate to ensure its acceptability irrespective of the human costs involved. Changing the food habits of the urban consumers that dictate market demand, is certainly a difficult task. Ban advertisements for junk foods and genetically modified foods.

Encourage Local Markets: Creating a global market for farm produce is the bane of modern agriculture. The seed multinationals, the food giants, and the supermarkets, have cornered the food chain in the process destroying livelihoods, local markets and drastically reducing food choices. Such a market strategy has resulted in the disappearance of locally produced nutritious foods and micro-nutrient deficiency in human populations has grown manifold. Encouraging local markets will also reduce the dependence upon long distance transportation thereby minimising global warming. It will also help in bringing back the traditional and neglected crops, and help in changing the food habits.

This political process and mainline thinking has to be reversed for the sake of the global economy as well its sustained future. We need a world where every country is proud of its farmers, and where every farmer is proud to be the food provider – the annadata.

A happy farming family is the base for any and every strong economy. It is also the foundation for an all-round economic growth and development and the pre-requisite for sustainable development at the local, national and international level. Unfortunately, the small-scale farmer (called Kisan in India) has become a burden on the global society. Every government is keen to get rid of them as quickly as possible. Globalisation, economic liberalisation and the free trade paradigm are all aimed at pushing farmers out of agriculture.

Devinder Sharma is an Indian agricultural scientist, thinker, researcher and writer respected for his views on food, sustainable agriculture and trade policy. Through his writings and analysis, he focuses on the inextricable link between trade and sustainable agriculture, new technologies, intellectual property rights and biopiracy, poverty and hunger. He chairs the New Delhi-based Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security and is also part of the coordination committee of the National Kisan Panchayat (National Coalition of Farmers Unions) in India.

 

 

 

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Japan’s agricultural law offers British politicians a fine model in social, environmental and health terms

Lancashire organic farmer Tom Rigby (right, campaigning for all those affected by organophosphates used in agricultureposted a link to a most interesting July article by Jonathan Baker, currently working for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA). JB is ‘driven’ to better understand what he sees as a strategic challenge for the land use sector: how to provide food in a sustainable way (full text below). He opens:

“If Michael Gove gave you a piece of paper and asked you to draft the UK’s forthcoming Agriculture Bill I imagine you, like me, wouldn’t know where to start. This is partly to be expected, we’ve not had to do any such thing for almost 40 years. For this reason, and although the contexts are in many ways different, it is worth looking at how the Japanese approach this problem”.There have been two Basic Laws relating to agriculture in the post war era. The first Agricultural Basic Law came into force in 1961 and was focused on increasing production and maintaining the post WWII land reforms. It also looked at increasing the incomes of rural populations who were starting to be left behind by the rapidly developing urban centres. The current Basic Law – well worth reading – is less than ten pages long. This is the pdf I found, which lists many amendments – the 1999 version?

In social, environmental and health terms it offers a fine model for British politicians to follow today.Scrolling forward, in the early 1990s it was recognised that the situation had changed, driven by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) facilitated Uruguay Round and reforms of the EU’s CAP and US agricultural systems. Jonathan recounts that an Investigative Committee on Fundamental Issues in the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Industry was set up and reported in 1998, outlining four major ‘changing conditions’ to be addressed:

  • Falling self-sufficiency rates – driven in part by richer consumption habits.
  • Reduced agricultural land and aging farmers.
  • Loss of vitality in rural areas.
  • Changing public awareness with consumers having greater interest in stable and safe food and concerns about environmental and cultural sustainability.

In 1999 debates started in the national Diet and a number of key features of the ‘Basic Law on Food, Agriculture and Rural Areas’ emerged and ultimately were put into the final law:

  • The law would be divided into food policy, agricultural policy and rural area policy.
  • The law would create four basic principles
  • A ‘Basic Plan’ would be created and this would be revised every four years. The Plan would have to be consistent with the law and specifically the four basic principles.
  • The law stipulated the responsibilities of the different levels of Government, farmers, consumers and businesses involved in the food chain.

The four principles are:

  • Securing a stable food supply – Article 2 notes the ‘unstable factors’ in world food trade and talks about the importance of stockpiles of food and maintaining Japanese agricultural production. The law requires the creation of a food security ratio that must be published annually and should be improved over time. The current Basic Plan includes a self-sufficiency potential ratio.
  • Fulfilment of multifunctional roles – Article 3 refers to ‘the multiple roles that agriculture plays through food production in rural areas, from the conservation of national land, water resources and the natural environment to the formation of a good landscape and maintenance of cultural tradition’. These multifunctional rules ‘shall be fulflilled sufficiently for the future’.
  • Article 4 is not about environmental or cultural sustainability, but about ensuring that agriculture remains viable, that there is sufficient workforce and infrastructure.
  • Development of rural areas – Article 5 talks about the importance of rural areas and their ‘conventional role as primary food supplier and the multifunctional roles’.

The rest of the law sets out a series of policy areas (women in agriculture, food safety) and high level policy objectives.

We add news of urban developments – roof-top agriculture on Tokyo’s highrise apartments here:

Jonathan ended “The 1999 Basic Law marked quite a big change, creating a five year planning cycle, broadening out the objective of agricultural policy and focussing more on what the consumer wanted. The law also codified the idea that sectoral (food and agriculture) and regional (rural) policies should be distinct and although its questionable the extent to which this has happened it set a framework that is now starting to be used. This was the start of the liberalisation of agriculture that is now entering its late phase”.

About Jonathan Baker: I currently work for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) as a Senior Land Use Policy Adviser. My job involves working with officials, stakeholders and members on improving and informing land use policy with a focus on conservation. I also provide advice to CLA members as needed. I come from a research background and have worked in consultancy and Government on environmental and land use policy. I studied environmental science at Bath Spa and Environmental Technology at Imperial College London. I’m driven to better understand what I see as the land use sector’s two strategic challenges; how to provide food in a sustainable way and how to create business models for non-food production. I am also a Fellow of the Centre for Evaluating Complexity across the Nexus (CECAN) and bring a analytical point of view to my current role and to the Scholarship. My project will look outside the EU to see how other developed countries delivering environmental enhancements from private land. I hope to expand our sector’s horizons and bring back lessons, ideas and experiences to inform the ongoing debates about post-Brexit land use policy. I am grateful to the John Oldacre Foundation and Nuffield for providing me with the opportunity to study this important and timely issue.

 

 

 

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No fair trade here: cream and butter prices rise but farm-gate prices for milk don’t

The Financial Times reports that a reduction in the milk supply, due to a cold spring and dairy farmers leaving, has led to prices of butter and cream rising 18.7% in the year, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. But despite “record prices” for wholesale cream and butter in recent weeks, the National Farmers Union point out farm-gate prices for milk have continued to fail to keep in step.

BBC online reports that Arla’s CEO Peter Tuborgh said producers “put the brakes on” in 2016, in the wake of previous overproduction of milk and consequently lower prices and Michael Oakes, chairman of the National Farmers Union dairy board, added that UK supply had fallen partly because so many farmers “decided enough was enough during that downturn”. Many farmers have often had to sell milk for less than the cost of producing it and so – understandably – the number of UK dairy producers has fallen.

The National Farmers’ Union said the “constant boom-and-bust dairy market cycle” helped “no-one, most of all farmers” and expressed concern about the lack of strong upward movement in the farm-gate milk price.

Milk buyers are worried about milk volumes falling but, the NFU spokesperson added, “Confidence within dairy farming is at an all-time low [due to] mistrust in the market dynamics and suspicion about how milk buyers are treating their supply base, coupled with the lack of direction on the impact of Brexit on the dairy sector.”

Post-Brexit, will the UK government ensure that ‘ordinary’ farmers receive a fairer proportion of the agricultural payments and turn away from the practice of subsidising offshore companies and rich individuals?

And will the Groceries Code Adjudicator, who places great emphasis on scrutinising supermarkets give more time to food producers and address the issue of unjust farmgate prices?

 

 

 

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