Memorandum submitted by the Reverend John Oliver (SFS 07)
Response from Reverend John Oliver, Chaplain and Trustee of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution and member of RABI's Welfare and Grants Committee
I warmly welcome the Inquiry to be undertaken
by the EFRA Select Committee into the challenges faced by the UK in securing
food supplies up to 2050, and I am glad that this Inquiry arises at least in
part out of last year's announcement by the United Nations Food and Agriculture
Organisation that world food production will need to rise by 50% by 2030, and
to double by 2050. I believe strongly
I am mindful of some thinking within Defra which envisages a reduction in food output from UK farms as a consequence of the phasing out of the Single Farm Payment (SFP), and I want to emphasize the vital importance for the future of UK (and European) farming of continuing some degree of Pillar 1 financial support (whatever precise form this may take) in the light of likely world market food prices. Estimates of the prospects for UK farming in 2009 (for example in Farmers' Guardian on 2.1.09) underline the continuing dependence of most UK farming sectors on the SFP to bridge the production cost gap, and there is no reason to suppose that this will not continue to be the case in future. I hope that the EFRA Select Committee will give close attention to the necessity to continue to provide some form of substantial financial support for UK farming, recognizing that such support will have to continue to be linked to cross-compliance conditions as at present; indeed, such conditions will be of particular importance as production is increased, if there is not to be a return to some of the damaging environmental consequences of the early years of the CAP.
I also hope that the EFRA Select Committee will at least consider the desirability, in order to maintain stable and rising levels of food production, in recommending the re-introduction of some form of intervention price for primary products, to counteract increasingly unstable and volatile world market prices, and to guard against the unpredictable effects of climate change. My work for RABI, which involves scrutinising the accounts of working farmers who need to apply for help from RABI, has made me realise how desperately narrow are the financial margins of many smaller farmers, and how critical any change in their cash flow is, through for example livestock movement restrictions or any abnormal disturbance in market conditions.
In response to some of the specific questions
on page 2 of the Inquiry announcement document, I am absolutely certain that it
is vital to maintain a good skills base for
Local food networks have grown in importance in recent years, and should be actively encouraged.
It is sad that support for UK farming from
Defra has been less enthusiastic and whole-hearted than it should have been,
and there is no doubt that many UK farmers look with some degree of envy to
other European governments who support their farming industries and communities
more generously and consistently, as well as valuing more highly the specific
contributions made by smaller farms to the quality and variety of rural
life. It would be excellent if the