small farm future? oxford real farming conference

Speakers: Chris Smaje- author of A Small Farm Future, Guy Shrubsole- author of Who Owns England, and Elise Wach- researcher at the University of Sussex (https://www.ids.ac.uk/publications/pathways-towards-agroecological-food-systems-small-scale-farmers-at-the-centre-of-the-transitions/)

The speakers argue that small farms need to be at the centre of developing a food system that produces good, quality, affordable food in ecologically responsible ways. These farms need to be based on agroecological principles and focused on local markets. The current system is not only causes environmental problems but does not provide the kind of food people need at prices they can afford.

Most land in the UK is used directly or indirectly for livestock. This was not always the case. Elise, based on her research in Scotland, explains that in the Highlands, people used to be self-sufficient in food. People grew oats and barley, gathered or hunted food in the forest, and also grew fruit and veg. This changed with capitalism; the land was turned over to sheep for wool production and this then began to be seen as the traditional land use. Today, there are millions of cattle and sheep across Britain, with a small area used for fruit and veg. This happens because farmers are forced to produce what will give more income- livestock or grains for livestock- producing more meat and dairy than we can healthily consume. Change requires new social and economic systems.

How do we provide incentives to encourage more small farms who will produce the kind of food required- more fruit, veg and pulses- at affordable prices for all? Fossil fuels make it cheap to import food. We need shorter supply chains and more of a culture of buying local food.

An important part of any strategy is access to land. There are 100,000 farms in England with 25,000 bigger than 50 acres. Tenanted farms are often leased from larger estates. Community right to buy hasn’t affected farming. Reviving county farms might be an answer (https://whoownsengland.org/2018/06/08/how-the-extent-of-county-farms-has-halved-in-40-years/). Community right to buy could be brought into farming, though we need to discuss who is the local community and what is the public interest. We also need to be wary of seeing the State as the answer. There is a tension between individual and collective interests. There is a finite amount of agricultural land – we need collective decisions.

Watch the whole session here.

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