In a recent article in the Huffington Post Ross Murray, President of the Country Land and Business Association, outlined some brief thoughts regarding a future British policy for ‘Food, Farming and the Environment’. He called on Andrea Leadsom and Defra not to ‘lose momentum’ and to ‘make an early commitment’ to establish a new Food, Farming and Environment policy that will generate a positive future for the countryside. Murray raised six principles which he believes should drive the agenda. They are as follows:
- A productive, competitive farming and forestry sector: the policy must enable UK farmers to be competitive on domestic and international markets, with a renewed recognition as the nation’s primary food suppliers
- Food security: the policy must promote innovative, sustainable ways to increase production and manage risk
- Enhancing the environment: the policy must be more ambitious than its predecessors in meeting environmental challenges
- A dedicated UK budget: Government must provide sufficient funds for the policy across the whole of the UK and take a long term approach
- Value for Money: the policy must deliver value for money in the way it is implemented and in the outcomes it delivers to the benefit of everyone
- Clear, proportionate regulation: the standards that must be met should be clear, with guidance for businesses to achieve compliance.
Looking at the above is actually quite exciting. Even as a ‘remainer’ I can look on Brexit positively in that it provides a first class opportunity to generate an ambitious food and farming policy that is fully targeted to the unique needs of British farmers and the environment. The caveat is that we need to get it right! It must be done well and in a way that takes all interests into account. It is certainly no small task and I predict it will take years to develop. There will be teething problems but what is most important is that the initial draft policy has wide support in the countryside, across groups and interest boundaries.
There have been some concerns raised about Andrea Leadsom’s suitability for the job of leading Defra in these troubled times but I would say that we need to put concerns aside at present and move forward. It is not necessarily a matter of leadership at this stage but more a matter of coordination and facilitation. We need a facilitator who can bridge the interests of different groups but hold a good picture of the overall direction. A countryside wide conversation is required so that the new policy is not the policy of the NFU and the RSPB but of all countryside people. Is Leadsom the right person for this? I hope so as it is she who will be leading the conversation (or at least should be).
I agree with the six points that Ross Murray has outlined but I would like to offer forth a seventh which alludes to the need to develop the rural economy more broadly, beyond the farming industry. In essence we need to go further than creating a ‘Food, Farming and Environment’ policy and generate a policy reflective of rural Britain as a whole. The rural economy needs to be vibrant for the countryside to survive. People of my generation, the millennials, who grew up in the countryside usually have no choice but to migrate to the towns and cities for work and often they never return to their original communities. This is generating a culture of disconnect and constant movement that is not conducive to the benefits that close communities bring about. Rural communities become overly heavy with members of the older generation, not a problem necessarily, but for a community to thrive I believe it should be balanced with members of all generations doing their part to builder a better locality together.
In conclusion, yes, the food and farming sector is vital for the rural economy but we should also invest in other areas to enable new businesses to flourish and sustain rural communities in the future so that all generations can have the opportunities they deserve in the brave new world we are creating for ourselves.