Memorandum submitted by FARM (SFS 43)
FARM is a nationally based organisation, established in 2002, that represents and campaigns on farming issues. Ours is a democratic organisation, run by volunteers actively involved in farming and it is specifically intended to promote common values and objectives between farmers, consumers and environmentalists.
1.1 We support the objectives of the Committee in recognising the importance of strategic planning by identifying the role of the UK in securing the long-term future of food supplies both in this and other countries.
1.2 The objectives of increasing food supplies by 50% by 2030 and a total of 100% by 2050 are based on a number of assumptions and guesses. Similar extrapolations in growth could be made of the need to produce cars, electrical goods or virtually any other traded commodity, with the accompanying infrastructures needed to support them. One of the clear messages from the past 10 years is that the model of lifestyle currently enjoyed by the average American or European would require between 3 and 8 planets in order to sustain our current world population, let alone any increase.
1.3 Therefore the most important objective must remain one of sustainability. Although we welcome this inquiry, we recognise that there are inherent dangers in accepting the FAO report's assumptions of population growth, increasing prosperity, and the future demand for food, as well as accepting the predictions of the FAO report as an objective that must be met at all costs. We suggest that the most responsible objective should be that of increasing production as far as necessary to meet production shortages, but to do so in a way that does not deplete non-renewable resources, reduces current levels of pollution and stabilises the man-made effects of climate change.
2 Conflicting objectives
2.1 We believe that farming within the UK has the potential and ability to meet any realistic challenge of producing food and other products required of it and to do so to the highest standards. Equally, we believe that ability can be seriously compromised by a lack of clarity concerning the objectives and by a confused array of interpretations of the various means by which they may possibly be achieved.
2.2 Farming is currently being asked to respond to a bewildering number of objectives, some of which are often difficult or impossible to reconcile. Furthermore these objectives (in particular those of production and the environment) change within relatively short periods of time, depending upon the prevailing economic climate. This can lead to significant levels of uncertainty that affect farming business, which in turn adds considerable doubt to areas of business planning and the investment required to make the necessary changes to prepare for future challenges.
2.3 We therefore believe that it is vital that Government policy and how that is implemented through the work of its various departments and agencies begins to form a more coherent strategy. In recent years, the work of the Treasury and the Office of Science and Technology appears to reflect a strategy for food and farming that is based on international commerce and the knowledge economy. This has often appeared to have little in common with the more immediate practical farming challenges upon which the Environment Agency and DEFRA are focussed. Without a coherent strategy, our farming businesses will increasingly find that what constitutes good business practice and what constitutes good farming practice will become even further detached.
2.4 The principal objective of feeding an increasing world population presents farming with a clear challenge, but we recognise that it presents a significant opportunity for those in other areas of the food chain to promote potential solutions that would benefit their own preferred business model. It also provides an opportunity for countries such as the UK to promote technology as the central pillar for delivering change in farming, and to reap benefits through the knowledge economy without fully understanding the impact that the technology will have when applied. In our experience, the Government tends to overestimate or over-promote the benefits of technology and to under estimate potential negative impacts.
2.5 It is therefore not surprising that with so many vested interests competing for their voice to be heard, that the needs of both producers and consumers (particularly in developing countries) have become so distorted when articulated through business and politics, especially when complex scientific issues are selectively reduced to convenient "yes?" or "no?" fragments.
2.6 Both the Government and its Departments must recognise that the free market is not going to deliver the sort of sustainable models of agriculture needed to provide food security whilst also supporting the countryside and the wider rural economy.
2.7 With these points in mind, we therefore urge the government, through this enquiry, to make the recent IAASTD (International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development) reports the central pillar upon which to base future strategy. Within the findings of the report, we recognise the importance of considering social and economic factors as an integral process of developing appropriate technologies. The relatively muted response by the Government and industry to the findings of this report has been a disappointment and we believe suggests an increasing disconnect that has developed between science and those whom it is intended to serve.
3 The strengths and weaknesses of our current position
3.1 Through our work in recent
years, we have identified the four areas of most concern as being those of
scientific research and technology development, education and skills, the role
of commerce and finally the problems of balancing production with responsible
environmental stewardship. Although our response reflects the situation in the
3.2 There have been a number of recent reviews concerning the role of science, conducted by both the Government and parliamentary groups. However, within the area of agricultural science and research there appears to have been little change in the way that science is funded, guided and interrogated. Amongst the consultations that FARM has been involved is a review of DEFRA science, conducted by the OST (Office of Science and Technology). In this and other similar reviews, it has appeared to us that the value of science is treated as the end in itself and measured in purely economic terms. Public trust in science continues to be eroded by the increasing commercial ties developed with business and this is particularly the case within food and farming. In order to meet the objectives of sustainability set out within the IAASTD reports, we feel that a radical change is required in the way that science is funded, procured, evaluated and applied.
3.3 As the number of those employed within farming has declined, colleges and other centres of learning have changed the courses that they offer to reflect a more diverse range of non-farming enterprises. Currently we do not have a strong educational base upon which new entrants can be encouraged into farming and those already within farming can access the necessary ongoing training that reflects the changing nature of farming businesses.
3.4 The tendency for farms to work as independent businesses is a distinct weakness, particularly on smaller farming units and it leads to an unnecessary proliferation of machinery and other resources that could otherwise be shared with compatible businesses. Many farmers are capable of running their own farming businesses with a high degree of confidence, but their ability to engage in effective collaborative partnerships, inter-business dealings or effective marketing strategies can often prove to be poorly developed. It is within business relationships where there is the greatest imbalance of negotiating power, such as dealing with supermarkets, where the need for greater collaboration and cooperation is most needed.
3.5 Although a great deal of
attention is placed on the ability to produce food, IAASTD makes the important
point that the ability to afford food is of equal importance, if not greater.
3.6 In the introduction to this
consultation, the EFRA Committee makes reference to the increasing demand for
meat and dairy products, particularly in developing countries such as
3.7 The need for a balance between production and responsible environmental stewardship has been further complicated by a similar need to prioritise land use between fuel and food. There have been a number of recent suggestions that in order to deliver the sort of production increases suggested by the FAO, we would not be able to also afford the luxury of environmental management. We do not believe that production and environmental objectives are as irreconcilable as this position would tend to suggest. In recent years, farmers have successfully adopted a range of integrated crop management techniques, whereby good environmental stewardship is integrated within crop management. There is considerable scope for continuing to build on this success, given the necessary research and support.
3.8 We also believe that there should be an opportunity for any productive farmland to be farmed and therefore we have welcomed the removal of the requirement for land to be set aside from production. However, farming continues to loose valuable capacity, as good productive land is lost to development, infrastructure and leisure use.
4.1 The FAO objectives of increasing food supplies by 50% by 2030 and a total of 100% by 2050 are based on a number of assumptions and guesses that we believe may not withstand scrutiny in the light of recent events within the global financial system.
4.2 We believe that DEFRA needs to take on board the recommendation of the IAASTD that an over-reliance on some of the new biotechnologies may not help in the challenge of increasing food production. As food producers we need access to well funded research over the full range of technologies - genetic, cultural and mechanical - to assist us in meeting the challenge of ensuring a proportionate level of national food security from limited or decreasing resources.
4.3 In summary, the most important role that we believe the UK farming sector can play in contributing towards the future needs of a growing world population is to use its inherent skills and ability to develop sustainable systems of farming and to lead by example.