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27 Jan 2010 : Column 280WH—continued

We need to take a long, hard look at the dairy sector. It is clear that the substantial sums of money the EU has allocated to dairy farmers in the past year alone are unsustainable. The health check, the economic recovery plan, market management and the dairy fund have
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contributed billions of euros to dairy support, but those funds are not the answer to the sector's difficulties, as many colleagues have said. The EU dairy sector needs to be leaner and more competitive to benefit to the full from the opportunities of a globalised market and to withstand its shocks.

We need to help the sector as prices rise to compete without support. With that in mind, we look forward to continued discussions in the high-level group, which was set up by the European Agriculture Council and the European Commission, and to further reform of the common agricultural policy subsequently. The high-level group process offers an opportunity to inform the direction of travel towards further reform, rather than away from it.

I will try to respond to some of the points raised in the debate. The hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire referred to the declining number of UK dairy farmers. It is clear that there is a natural consolidation in numbers. We are moving towards having fewer farmers, as has been clearly outlined, and larger dairy farms, but that is a move towards greater efficiency. The number of UK dairy farmers is falling more slowly than the number of our competitors in Europe, as has been outlined.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of TB, and the Government recognise the seriousness, the disaster and the tragedy that that represents for herds, farmers and farming. There is also an economic impact on the UK taxpayer because of compensation costs. The hon. Members for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) and for Newbury (Mr. Benyon) referred to the emotional aspect of that problem. I saw the piece on "Countryfile" about Adam's farm and recognise that it is a huge issue. I will come back to that in due course.

The hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire also raised the question of Dairy Farmers of Britain. Clearly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) mentioned, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee is looking at that and will come forward with its report. It is taking evidence from all those involved, including Ministers.

The hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson), in an intervention, expressed his view on subsidies. The UK strongly supports the end of quotas by 2015, and we lobby hard against market distortions. We lost the argument, and I know that there was some disagreement about the €300 million and whether that was a good or bad thing. We argued against the money being devoted to dairy farming because we thought it would further distort the market and not help the UK dairy industry, although obviously it was supported by the majority of member states at the Agriculture Council. As I said in my intervention, we are consulting on the share-outs of the €29 million allocated to the UK.

With regard to the question that the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire asked on the burden of EU regulation, our aim is to keep the administrative burdens to a minimum. That is a key part of our negotiations at EU level and considerations during all of our policy development, as I am sure he knows. He mentioned unhealthy diets and remarked that there is a range of causes, from alcohol and a lack of exercise to poor food choices, and I do not disagree. I do disagree, however, with his accusation that the Government are not addressing
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those problems. We might have different conclusions on what the priorities should be and what emphasis should be given, but the Government are addressing all the issues he raised and will continue to press on that. I am more than happy to endorse the dairy industry and dairy products, and I said the same to Dairy UK yesterday. Indeed, my wife says that I have bread with my butter, rather than the other way round.

The hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire asked about the trends on dairy and milk imports. The UK imports high-value products and exports low-value commodities as a rule, which leads to the distortion, and no one would deny that the exchange rate is having an impact. With regard to the Food Standards Agency, it is clearly DEFRA's role to promote agriculture and dairy, but the FSA has a responsibility to promote a healthy diet and eating well. We do not see those two aims as incompatible. We see dairy as an important element in a balanced, healthy diet, and we make sure that we get that message across as strongly as we can and as frequently as we can.

I will not return to the TB debate, if hon. Members will forgive me, because that matter has been aired well during the debate, and the same is true of Dairy Farmers of Britain. We covered the matter of the ombudsman in a debate last week. The vast majority welcome the advance of the ombudsman. The only Member I have heard speak against it is the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who was alone in the Chamber last week on that. That demonstrates that, although there is not unanimity, there is overwhelming support for an ombudsman from all three Front Benches.

The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham mentioned the size and power of Arla, but we covered that point to an extent in the European Committee, so he will forgive me for not referring to it again. I congratulate him on the establishment of the all-party group on dairy farmers-I hope that that advert increases attendance at the next meeting.

Mr. Benyon rose-

Jim Fitzpatrick: The hon. Gentleman will have to forgive me, as I have one minute left and will not get through my points if I give way.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mark Williams) asked about the UK's share of the €300 million, and we are consulting on that. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham asked about RPA payments. Its performance over recent years has been far better than it has ever been. It now has 80 per cent. of the payments already out. If he wants to write to me on any specific problems, I will be happy to do what I can to look into them. The hon. Member for Newbury gave us the benefit of his personal experience as a former dairy farmer, adding significantly to the value of the debate. I answered some of the questions that have been raised in the debate on Monday.

In conclusion, the prospects for the sector, in the sector's view, are positive, but there are challenges. The Government are trying to help and will continue to do so. The sector is fundamentally sound, and the efficiency improvements, innovation and investments in new products mean that in the medium to long term the sector can do well.

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Kenya (Drought and Famine)

11 am

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): It is a privilege to serve once again under your erudite chairmanship, Dr. McCrea, as per usual. I am delighted to have secured an Adjournment debate on an international topic that has been important for a considerable time.

As the developed world changes we see economies decline and then recover. Many of the emerging economies and markets in the near and far east attempt to play catch-up with the developing world. But in the context of those changing economies on a global scale there is one persistent problem, in a geographical sense, for more than 1 billion people: that is, the continent of Africa. Kenya has a population of some 40 million, a quarter of whom are under nine years of age. So it is a significant, populous country yet it has a young population.

Every international political leader of standing in the past 30 years has given, at some point in their tenure, a statement or repeated statements on their determination to help resolve the problems that afflict much of the African continent, but unfortunately the reality is that as they leave office many international statesmen and stateswomen find that those problems are similar to when they entered office.

Drought, famine and corruption are three debilitating reasons for Africa's awful dilemma, and they afflict Kenya as much as any other country. Despite all the aid and assistance offered it seems to many on the outside that things do not change. Yet there is hope. I have been to Kenya and other parts of Africa. Tribute needs to be paid, and repaid, to the many volunteers, missionaries and charities that are involved in delivering help and hope to the people of Kenya. In north Kenya I witnessed at first hand some excellent work being carried out by missionaries, who for many years have toiled without reward to deliver assistance to the people there.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate on the important subject of the difficulties in Africa. I wonder whether he agrees with me on this point. I speak to a lot of charitable organisations that I deal with and one message comes across frequently: although a lot of good work is being done by missionaries and organisations in Africa on irrigation and other projects, there is a real need for further education within the population in South Africa, especially in the rural areas-the extreme areas-to maintain irrigation and help people to help themselves. Although we put a lot of finances in, and it is good and right to do so, there needs to be more self-control and more education to maintain such projects.

Mr. Campbell: I thank my hon. Friend for his timely intervention. When I was in the northern part of Kenya, such was the level of deprivation that a new school being built by one church group was the major building work in the entire region of north Kenya. Yet that was a commitment addressing a need at local level. I concur with my hon. Friend.

In the east Africa region some 23 million people are at severe risk because of the reduction in rainfall in recent years. The average rainfall used to be 200 mm between March and May but last year in that region it was 40 mm-a reduction of some 80 per cent. on average rainfall that was already low.

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A charity entitled Excellent Development does phenomenal work in Kenya. It does superb work constructing sand dams, which are a comparatively cheap and ancient system, where the water retention properties of sand are used to help grow bananas, tomatoes and beans. They cost about £8,000 to construct, making them relatively cheap. A sand dam is a reinforced concrete wall built across seasonal river beds. A pipe is built into the dam, going 20 metres upstream, and over one to three seasons the dam fills up with between 2 million and 10 million litres of water. The sand, which filters water through the pipe built into the dam, delivers a clean, reliable water supply for up to 1,200 people. These dams can last for approximately 50 years and they deliver a clean water supply for approximately £7 per head of the population. Some 200 dams have been built by Excellent Development in the past eight years in Kenya, which means that approximately 250,000 people are able to access a clean water supply as a result of a cost-effective measure by a charity that deserves the praise that is heaped upon it.

This type of innovative forward thinking can, if replicated in other parts of Kenya and across the African continent, offer hope to millions of people who otherwise would have none. Offering people ownership of the benefits of many of these projects on an anti-corruption basis can also help remove the stigma that has attached itself to some of the aid efforts of the past in Africa.

Simon Maddrell, who is the originator of Excellent Development and is originally from the Isle of Man, and Joshua Mukusya, who is described as a charismatic Kenyan agriculturist, pioneered the sand dam technology in Kenya to help impoverished communities. Between them they have delivered considerable assistance to more than 250,000 in Kenya. Simon Maddrell's original applications for charity work were turned down several times, but he decided-I have much sympathy with his decision-that if he could not join them he would beat them. He set up his own charity.

I should also like to mention the work of Dr. Rene Haller, who is from Switzerland. Dr. Haller started experimenting with different trees to see if any would put down roots into the dry, rocky terrain in northern Kenya. The casuarina tree, whose seeds were washed up on Kenyan shores when Krakatoa erupted in the 1860s, was thought to be the best candidate. It produces nutrients in nodules on its roots and so is self-sustaining.

Haller set up a charity and managed to establish many different business enterprises supported by rehabilitated land, both employing and providing food for hundreds of local people. He managed to demonstrate the value of conservation-for example, by showing farmers the benefits of tree planting in preserving water for irrigation. Another activity complements dam-building projects. To prevent the freshwater pools from becoming breeding grounds for mosquitoes, fish have been introduced and the fish eat the mosquito larvae. The fish are also a rich source of protein for the community and they fertilise the water, which makes it even better for feeding the crops. Any surplus fish are sold, providing much-needed income for local communities.

I and my party have supported successive Governments in their endeavours, through international aid agencies, to help in Kenya and throughout Africa, but I hope that the Minister today can offer the prospect of additional help to projects such as those that I have outlined,
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whereby a difference can be made on a local and regional basis. I am talking not just about a difference in per capita spend in Kenya, but about a difference that is seen on the ground, at very local level, and that individuals there report as a positive step, a renewal step, a regenerating step. I am talking about steps that provide them and future generations with the wherewithal to regenerate that part of Africa.

11.11 am

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): I join the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) in welcoming the opportunity to serve under your chairmanship, Dr. McCrea. I do not think that I have had that privilege before now. I also, in the usual way, congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate and on the way in which he introduced the topic. I welcome, too, the interest of his party colleague, the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson), in the debate. I join both hon. Members in paying tribute to the considerable number of charities, aid agencies and individuals who make it their life's work to serve people less fortunate than themselves on the continent of Africa, and in particular today, to those working in Kenya.

In a debate such as this, it is worth noting that although many of the countries in Africa still face considerable challenges, there has been considerable progress across the continent. One thinks of the considerable numbers of children who are now in school, the rising economic growth and extra jobs that are being created-notwithstanding the impacts of the current global recession-and the fact that less conflict is taking place in Africa now than probably at any time in the last 30 years, albeit there are still considerable challenges.

Mr. Campbell: May I rectify an omission? I also thank those people involved in the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, who have made a considerable contribution to the work in Kenya and other parts of Africa. I omitted to mention that in my speech and I thank the Minister for giving way to allow me to do so now.

Mr. Thomas: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the contribution of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, which does very good and important work-work that is appreciated by politicians and parliamentarians across the globe, but particularly in a number of Commonwealth countries.

The hon. Gentleman rightly drew the attention of the House to the issues relating to drought, famine, corruption and good governance. Those issues would challenge any state, but they are challenging Kenya in particular at the moment. He is right to highlight the fact that for millions of people living in Kenya, hunger is a harsh reality. In 2009, an estimated 3.8 million Kenyans needed emergency food aid, hence the importance of today's debate.

It is perhaps worth pointing out that the real problem is not that there is no food available in Kenya, but that food is available only at a price that puts it beyond the reach of most people, particularly those living in remote or marginalised areas. There are a number of reasons for that. As the hon. Gentleman said, last year's drought had far-reaching consequences for Kenyan farmers, for other food producers and for people in Kenya more
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generally. El Niño rains were expected from October to December, but many areas experienced a shortfall of rain. It is a cruel irony that although rain is now falling in Kenya, it is falling at a rate that has caused harmful flooding in many areas in the past week alone. All that means that Kenyans are likely to suffer even more hunger this year than they did last year, and that is why the work of the charities that the hon. Gentleman described is so important.

The second barrier to affordable food has been the post-election violence that has blighted some areas. As a result of tensions and conflict, pastoralists in north and east Kenya have had difficulty accessing land and water sources. The fear of violence also means that even those who did manage to produce food face problems supplying it to their usual markets.

The third challenge has been the massive rise in food prices. The hon. Gentleman will probably remember that food prices across the world rose steeply in 2008 in line with rising oil prices. Although global prices fell later, Kenyan prices remained high last year, with maize costing about double the average global rate. That was in part due to high transport costs, but according to research recently carried out by the World Bank, domestic prices in Kenya also reflect subsidies that the Kenyan Government have offered to maize producers. By subsidising producers who sell maize to the National Cereals and Produce Board, the Government have, in effect, kept maize prices high. In addition, although the subsidies were meant to be part of the response to the food shortage, the reality is that only a minority of large farmers benefited, leaving the impoverished majority even worse off. Indeed, according to the same research, half of all maize revenues are enjoyed by just 2 per cent. of farmers.

Those, then, are some of the underlying causes of the shortage of affordable food in Kenya. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are committed to trying to tackle these challenges and to giving help to those who need it immediately. Let me set out how we have responded. First, on humanitarian aid, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced in October that we would provide £39 million of extra funding to tackle the food crisis across the horn of Africa, bringing Britain's total new commitments for 2009 to £83 million. As the hon. Gentleman will recognise, the horn covers a number of countries beyond northern Kenya, but Kenya certainly benefited.

I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that Ethiopia must remain our priority, given the sheer number of people in need. In 2009 alone, however, our direct humanitarian support for Kenya reached nearly £15 million. That money is helping to provide a full emergency food ration for up to 220,000 people for three months, treatment for more than 25,000 cases of severe acute malnutrition, clean water for 200,000 households and vaccination against measles for 400,000 children.

David Simpson: Will the Minister outline how the Government are helping to prevent aid-whether food, water or medical supplies-from being sold on the black market? What are they doing to tackle corruption?

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