Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Centre for Holistic Studies (India) UK network (O79)

  CHSUK would broadly support Option 1 of the three presented by Defra in 2003 for the following reasons:

  1.  Employment: CHSUK advocates the strengthening of local/regional economies; three members have worked with Localise West Midlands and Advantage West Midlands to promote the public procurement of food from the region, or at least grown in this country, wherever possible. This would include sugar from beet, rather than cane.

  2.  Food miles: CHSUK members support the food miles concept; use of UK and European sugar would bring about a transport-related reduction in congestion and pollution, also conserving oil resources. At present we import and export sugar, milk, beef and other foods; this is contrary to commonsense, counter to climate change measures and the general good, though obviously enhancing a few balance sheets.

  3.  Traceability is increasingly valued by the European consumer. Sugar production in the UK has greatly improved its environmental standards according to a Defra survey. We are pleased to see an organic pilot project in the Nottingham area.

  4.  Food security is a prime factor; reliance on the importation of basic food leaves the country vulnerable to interruption of supply. An increase in food production and processing for domestic consumption and the related education/training would enhance social harmony by offering worthwhile employment opportunities to those who currently have no hope for the future, with lives therefore blighted by addiction, crime, or ill-health of body and mind.

  Meaningful trade in surpluses and exotics would continue.

  5.  Just price: we would like to see a gradual transition from the present system to one in which farmers were paid a fair price for their produce, calculated as advised in the excellent 2003 report by the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers. Output-related subsidies could be phased out and grants given only on rare occasions "to even out nature's boom and bust" as Hilary Wilson, a Cumbrian hill farmer puts it.

Paragraph 6 raises an issue which I have not yet seen considered

   6.  Use of water resources: on 3 November 2003 Professor Frank Rijsberman chaired the Challenge Programme on Water and Food in Nairobi, which urged international trade negotiators to look at the impact of their proposals on how water is used by the world's farmers. CHSUK asks the Efra Committee to give paramount importance to the sustainable use of water resources, bearing in mind Defra's commitment in its 2002 Strategy for Sustainable Farming and Food:

  (To) Respect and operate within the biological limits of natural resources. (Page 12)

  Conflict over increasingly scarce water-resources is predicted. Because our Indian centre is in sugar-cane growing Maharashtra I have become aware that a great deal of sugar-cane can only be grown for export by depriving other food producers of irrigation water and fellow citizens of clean drinking water. The industry uses 80% of irrigation water—on 3-4% of cultivable land. The remarks of the chief economist of the CRISIL Centre for Economic research, Subir Gokarn apply equally to the Brazilian and Tanzanian cases:

  Our cultivation pattern has shifted in favour of water intensive crops like rice, sugar cane etc. This is happening even in water-scarce areas. So conflicts over water will occur with greater frequency. Times of India "Rating the Economy", 18.12.03

  In Brazil, described as the main world producer of sugar-cane, the Environment Minister Marina Silva deplored that fact that part of the population has no access to clean drinking water. Much of the country is semi-arid, the sparsely populated Amazon jungle region having 68% of its water.

  Tanzanian sugar also has to be irrigated.

    —  Instead of importing such countries' water in the form of cane sugar, we believe that regions able to grow largely rain-fed beet should be encouraged to do so, in their own interests—leaving water-scarce exporting countries to diversify into more suitable crops for their own consumption.

14 April 2004

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