Live from the Real Farming Conference: Equality in the Countryside – a rural manifesto
I’m blogging from the Real Farming Conference in Oxford, in Oxford Town Hall. This is the seventh annual conference, set up as a counter to the corporate farming conference running at the university in Oxford. I wasn’t expecting such a huge affair – 850 attendees, with some fantastic sessions. So far today I’ve attended discussions on independent retail for local food; synthetic biology – the latest assault on agroecology; the corruption of agricultural science; and access to land in the UK, past and present. I’ve learnt a lot, made some new contacts and met old friends. I’ll blog about those other sessions later, but today I want to blog about a session that happened at lunchtime – the launch of a new rural manifesto by the Landworkers’ Alliance and The Land Magazine. It’s called ‘Equality in the Countryside’ and it’s intended for the parliamentary opposition, to inform their policies.
By the way, as an aside, I noticed that the press were tending to photograph some of the ‘wackier’ looking attendees, but trust me, the 850 people are largely very normal-looking – a good cross-section of the public, apart from the fact that seem to possess a lot more common sense than most, and an acute awareness of the corporate takeover of our food supply.
Simon Fairlie of the Land Magazine started the ball rolling by saying that the manifesto was part of a campaign against a bogus countryside – one in which most people who live there don’t work there. Most people who live in the countryside work in towns, and people are being pushed off the land as farms get bigger and employ fewer people. The main reason he gives for this is that primary commodities are subject to global competition, which pushes prices down. The decline in food prices has been accompanied by a rapid rise in land and house prices. This means that most of the profits from agriculture are absorbed by housing / rent / mortgages. On average in the UK, around 50% of income is spent on housing costs.
The aim of the manifesto is to help nudge policy towards equality and greater access to land and employment for people in the countryside and people who want to live in the countryside. There are 46 recommendations, although there could have been many more. Here are some highlights, and the full manifesto is below.
- Land: a proper land registry for the UK – one that everyone has easy access to.
- Housing: more council housing and more self-build (Simon actually praised the Tories for focusing more on self-build). The problem is the price of development land – we need more affordable self-build. Here I might mention the work of the Ecological Land Co-op, who are all about providing affordable land for self-build for smallholders.
- Energy: the countryside will be a big provider as oil runs out (water, wind, solar, biomass), but profits should be kept within communities rather than exported to shareholders. See here.
- Transport: reduce private vehicle transport, improve public transport, but also village hubs with shops, post office, pub, bus stop and car hire.
- Education: bring back the agricultural extension system and include farming and food production in school curricula.
- Environment: more trees and fewer sheep for uplands; more agriculture in green belts, instead of ‘horses grazing under pylons’.
Rebecca Laughton of the Landworkers’ Alliance talked about the need to get more young people into agriculture, and to put feeding people and environmental protection above corporate profit. Then Simon returned with some controversial suggestions:
- Food prices need to rise. Low food prices mean that small farmers go out of business, farms get bigger and the environment gets damaged.
- Housing and land costs need to fall.
- The combination of these two policies would mean taking money away from developers and giving it to farmers. He sees this as a very good thing (and so do I).
- ‘Conventional’ food should be organic. Pesticide-grown food should be labelled as such (maybe with a skull and crossbones, or with a black tractor with sprayer logo).
- So there should be no fee to be labelled organic, but there should be a licence requirement to farm with pesticides. This would make it cheaper to do the environmentally-friendly thing, rather than more expensive, as it is at the moment.
Here’s the full manifesto, hot off the press (click on the image):
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
1Entropy Juggler January 6th, 2016
Lots of references to food prices having to increase lately, and on the face of it…I’d agree, however… that’s assuming that a £ is traded in an isolated exchange, which it clearly isn’t. Firstly we need to deal with the semantics of descriptives, is…. what the majority of folk are buying….to be rightly defined as ‘food’?…even a cursory glance at the etymological roots of the word food suggest a lineage pre-way-beyond systemic chemical synthetics, secondly…how many times is the substance paid for?…checkout till, taxes-derived subsidies, health costs inclldental, insurance premiums, land degradation costs-incl carbon relase and other climate influences, flooding exacerbation (when admitted and tackled) clean up, and the many other ‘externalities’ unaccounted for, granted…it’s unlikely that price parity can be achieved by means of agroecology, or can it?,…sunlight and biology are essentially free, and with correct design and stewardship, will also redress hydrology and fertility within that process. So, with fairer rents, a just wage, localised chain, increased employment, low input-high output, why then…is a mantra of higher prices being so sweepingly asserted?
It’s true enough that everything is currently subsidised via hydrocarbons, with no way of replacing such dense portable energy and the externalities are myriad, but…this isn’t about replacing like for like.
Many thanks for blogging.
2Dave Darby January 6th, 2016
Hi – food expenditure has decreased as a percentage of household income for generations, as housing costs have risen sharply and new stuff has appeared that previous generations didn’t have – we now have to change our outfits every year, fly on holiday, drive cars, have dishwashers, flat-screen TVs, laptops etc. – none of which previous generations needed to be happy. But the current generation does, so food expenditure is squeezed.
The reason the corporate sector can produce food so cheaply is: plantation workers getting paid almost nothing; pesticides and machinery removing the need for labour; externalising environmental costs; cheap foreign pickers; tax avoidance; keeping animals in cruel conditions; abbatoirs that kill 1300 pigs per hour; low-quality food; ripping up hedges; supermarkets squeezing suppliers; economies of scale; CAP handouts for large producers etc. All the things, small, ethical producers don’t do, so their produce is more expensive. But if people didn’t want the other junk that the corporate sector produces, they could afford the good, local food.
See here for more of a discussion on this – http://lowimpactorg.wpengine.com/how-much-should-a-loaf-of-bread-cost/
3Entropy Juggler January 6th, 2016
Hi Dave, thanks for the reply.
Yes, I fully appreciate all the other distractions and exuberances of the market trinkets and baubles, but that’s got nothing to do with the price of food per se, neither is it making anyone happy in the highest sense of the word, and yes..I’m also aware of the middle men and commodity trading, not to say…political leverage from price setting, my point, as of the now, is that the £1 is more like £5 actually* being paid, that fact that the majority of the cost is hidden is neither here nor there to the fact that it is. If we focus purely on raising the level of ecological food, then not only does that allow the ‘externalities’ of conventional practice to continue in a mirage of cheap*, which…we’re obviously well aware it isn’t, but also compounds the drifting back* into the realms of the organic* niche again*, as it stands it’s looking like a capitulating reformation to the same distorted benchmark…and raising it beyond the reach of many folk and only affordable to those at the top of the corporate sector, interesting loop, isn’t it?
The real issue is informed education, not price.
4johnhson January 7th, 2016
this business of food prices is so difficult. Small scale organic or sustainable farmers need to receive more money, a decent price to give them a decent wage and enable them to, in turn, pay out fair wages rather than exploit foreign workers. This causes the price of food to rise which may be fine for those who can pay £3.50 a loaf (including me in that) but not good for families who live in dread of sanction and reduction / review of tax credits and whose lifeline is charity food banks. Yes food has fallen in price (real terms) as have other things – cars, TV’s to name but two. However, what savings have been made have been swallowed up in property price increases. Even outside of London, ‘cheap’ property is running about 5 times average income. Rent or buy makes no difference.
When I were a lad, mortgages were 2.5 times income max and my first bought 2 bedroom flat cost 1.5 times income (I was a sales rep, not highly paid – about average). That property has gone from £3,000 to around £230,000 today.
Direct supply farmer to consumer may cut out the middle man but please, don’t ask someone struggling to live as it is to pay 7 times Lidl price for a loaf of bread. It almost smacks of ‘let them eat cake’
What a mess we’ve made of things!
5Dave Darby January 7th, 2016
Agreed. It’s a very tricky and emotive issue. Some people have no choice – they have to eat non-nutritious Lidl bread. I’d prefer to slowly build an economy of small businesses, where the person making the nutritious bread has enough income to buy from the person making hand-made furniture, who has enough income to buy milk from the person with a micro-dairy etc.
At the moment, I have family members who can’t afford organic, locally-produced food, but can afford £150 trainers, flat-screen TVs and computer games. It’s a question of priorities.
But the middle classes certainly can afford organic, locally-produced food, so maybe that’s where we start until new kinds of jobs are created. Otherwise the middle classes are just giving their money to the corporate sector, the working class are exploited by the corporate sector, with shelf-stacking jobs or worse on zero hours contracts, and nothing changes.
6Paul Jennings January 7th, 2016
This strikes me as more of a demand for a new policy from the centre than a manifesto of a movement. The way this is presented it comes across as a list of suggestions that might be presented for example to the Labour Party, or to a newly elected Labour/Green Government. In any event, these reformist demands are brought together and into a real world where no Government is going to move in that direction. For me this represents the worst kind of pressure group politics, and we could talk about laudable ideas for the countryside, indeed for the whole country, forever. Government should do this, blah, Government should do that, blah. Sorry, I’m not buying that.
So, what’s the alternative? Unsurprisingly I’m going to say direct action and organisation in communities to increase food security and community resilience; the development of a “community supported” economy, indeed society. It’s slow work, but it’s real.
7Entropy Juggler January 7th, 2016
Hi Johnhson & Dave.
Again, there is an unquestioned acceptance that food prices have fallen, in real terms, they haven’t, the true cost is more than likely immeasurable, for all the unaccounted reasons, and more, previously stated, which is the entire point of developing ‘true cost accounting’, is it not?
Let’s pluck just one out for now, how much is obesity costing the NHS?…roughly £7.5 *billion*…per year!
Who’s paying for that?, the public purse. Ok, that’s at the POS of processed gunk (not so much on initial production), but the figures, costs and ramifications are what they are.
Let’s try another, this time at the front end of production, how much is soil (the biological interface of our multi-species existence) destruction costing?
In truth, this is one of those immeasurable ones, in order to quantify it we’d have to be able to translate, into words, let alone numbers, the very goings on of the known universe, eh?..yeah…quite, besides..we* don’t even know exactly what soil is* or does, but anyway…here’s a US-centric guesstimate….
‘At the extreme high side Pimentel et al (Science Magazine, 1995) stated that the total on- and off-site costs of damages by wind and water erosion and the cost of erosion prevention each year is 44,399,000,000 US$ in the USA alone’
Obviously we’ve chomped our way through a fair bit more since that study, so the figures will be much higher, what with exacerbation and velocity of feedback loops, it’s cost?….we don’t know, because it’s not factored in to profit margins, it’s a freebie, so that’s ok not to include in food prices then?ermm..no, because this erosive plate spinning demands more inputs/costs to keep the illusion going.
So, just with a very basic and simplified audit at the front end and POS-near the front end, are we really saying food is cheap, really?
It may well be tempting to shift an onus to the ignorant purchases of the lower* class (this class perception is a hoot, considering the climate* of our collective shit-storm faced), of which, those purchases actually do contribute to GDP, as contradictory and negative as that may be, these folk didn’t conceptualise the push for exponential consumptive growth* that at least this generation were all born ensconced into. Your frustrations would probably be better levelled at the fact that no…energy, ecological, economic literacy was taught to any of us, at least nothing outside of compartmentalised specifics, certainly not in a systemic fashion of holism/wholism, besides….any notion that the perceptions of the middle to upper classes can lead to a belief of living any more ethically than any other sections of industrialised society is a delusion, class* perception translates to varying levels of access to money, and in energy terms….that’s brought about a lot of problems.
Here’s a guy doing it big, with far healthier and cheaper less…
How much does food cost?
8Dave Darby January 7th, 2016
I agree. Actually, a list of suggestions for a future Labour/Green government is exactly what it is. But the vast majority of people here are into action in their local communities – met some great people doing great things. I’ve only come across a couple of dissenters. I was chatting with one woman who said that Indian peasant farmers need GM to feed themselves (hmmmmm), and one speaker said that one way of scaling up community enterprises was to sell to the corporate sector! When I questioned him, he started to say that we shouldn’t rule out partnerships with the corporate sector. That was a bit like trying to persuade a vegan to eat a Big Mac. I think they both belonged in the corporate farming conference that this one was set up in opposition to.
I think the manifesto is a list of things that we’d like to see happen, but most people here don’t think for a second that it’s going to be delivered by governments, and even if some of them are, it will be taken away with the other hand (TTIP, GM etc.).
Off to a session on community-supported agriculture now.
9Dave Darby January 7th, 2016
Yes, our industrial food system is costing us a lot more than money. But unless we grow our own, I think that a healthier food system is going to cost us a bit more. Some people are going to be able to afford it, some aren’t, and some won’t care. But if some people are able to pay that bit more for non-corporate food, it’s going to provide work in the non-corporate sector. win-win.
10Entropy Juggler January 8th, 2016
The point Iv’e been trying to highlight, is that even within the premise of an agreed metric of measurable monetary terms, the ‘true cost accounting’ of industrial-Ag reveals that the price people think they’re paying, is in no way representative of the *real* price actually paid from the public purse, and constantly repeating a mantra of ‘cheap food’ is to perpetuate the conventional myth that cheap* is somehow a benign achievement of the miracle markets when in actual fact…..is counter productive to the very foundations of forwarding the realities of a *fair* price for honest nutritional food, because at our most primal level, we subconsciously function on an innate biological instinct of EROEI, the word *cheap* registers (with industrialised folk) as a worthy quick hit investment, and we’ll go for it every single time it’s dangled in-front of us, and we’ve been doing it for over 12000 years, with the desert receipts to prove it. There’s plenty of words around to describe what’s on the shelves and it’s outcomes, and cheap….isn’t one of them, far more emphasis is needed on just how expensive conventional is before a fair price for Regen is accepted, or even understood.
I don’t know if you checked out the link of Gabe Brown I posted, but al assume you have, and also that you’re familiar with Holzer, Lawton, Shepard, Gotsch, Doherty et al, etc etc etc….as we know, this work is regenerative, it mitigates and replenishes, using less and less as it multiplies more and more, this, although now changing the context of the word as glib and tacky, can be defined as *cheap* and it costs less, even in monetary terms, to implement, can *it* feed the world?…yes, absolutely, and when fully audited, will actually be cheap-er* than any other system, indeed…taken to its’ logical conclusion, food will be free, but we’re a long way from that yet.
I fully agree that more folk could and should be growing their own food, for those that are able, however….we have no alternative but to take on the scale anyway, we’re way past the point of ‘sustainable aspirations’, we need to shift the whole lot to regen and restoration, at the very least the 30% of conventional which’s using 70% of the resources, that’ll scupper any cooperative cottage industries anyway, if left to it’s own devises, and for those that don’t care?…..hardly their fault, besides…its a temporary.glitch.
11Dave Darby January 8th, 2016
12rmfoster March 13th, 2016
If we reduce this to a simple £1, $1, €1 = 1 Universal Credit model, then its easier to understand how it is that we have been guided and coerced into a crazy Economic Model. In Brighton, Sussex, a cup of coffee from Costa’s Coffee is £2.80, in Calais, the same cup of Coffee is, funnily enough, €2.80, in Hamburg, one Coffee = €2.80, same in Madrid and Birmingham and Brussels. The evidence of this Model being applied is truly visible when comparing food prices from Supermarkets throughout Continental Europe, Asia and the America’s regularly, realising that actually its quite a stitch up.
It is a Model of Economy that some Journalists allude to on Russia Today occasionally, but basically no one dares admit the truth, certainly not in the Main Stream Media, nope, they speak nothing of how each Industry has been coerced, torn, cut, shredded, squeezed to fit this new, “Economic Model.”
A Model of Economy by the way, that has almost finally become, “THE!” Global Model.
Success has begun to drown the Greedy, this Global Economic Model is proving to be serving the very few, very nicely indeed and the rest of mankind shall perish into dust whilst they sit in their cold Gold chambers alone!
A handful of men and women gifted with a super sharp intelligence, yet who are emotionally dead, controlling the entire system of “Money.”
Sadly all that resides within these dark, shrouded Skeletons of inhumanity is a staleness, imbibed with highly negative character traits, vanity and self serving narcissism, call them greedy, cold, callus psychopaths, mean whilst, through all the understanding we have accrued of the kind of mankind we are dealing with here, they are getting away with the theft of Billions of Tons of wealth at everyone else’s expense.
The Coin rolling into their pockets on such an unimaginable scale. Put Housing and Land purchases into the mix and its a done deal, coup d’état, 3% own 91% of the worlds wealth..
“They”, the Bankers etc, determined what amount of, “Credit” people needed to have per week to live on. In Tesco’s, a loaf of bread may be £1. But in Aldi’s the same Bread is sold for £0.40, however Aldi’s will be sure to have the remaining £0.60 because their Cranberry Juice Ocean Spray is £1.40 and in Tesco’s the same carton of juice is £2.00, and this Economy of scale was applied across a single months Bills, all our monthly Incomings are calculated with its outgoings so that we end up with nothing left but pennies. We are a free man, not a number you think, sigh.
Your weekly income is apportioned to each of the few Monopolies we now have left. Think Amazon and Asda, there is no such thing as a free and openly trading Europe, its spin and concocted lies with commentators either bribed, or oblivious to the truth because their egos are sure darn glad to be on TV tonight, reading the, “News”.
The fact that small scale Farming even remains, albeit as almost invisible communities, is remarkable and is a gift we mustn’t take for granted, think Steel, Fabrics, Mining, Mills, Canals, each village once milled its own Wheat, made its own Bread, grew its own Crops, it was the infamous Tax invention by Rome that changed everything here in Europe. Each Village once surviving well with its very own Baker and Butcher, Fishmonger, Haberdasher, Blacksmith etc, etc.
By the skin of its vile and obnoxious tenacity, this Economic Model is proving brutal and calculating, no love or feeling or compassion, think twenty years and suddenly Asda’s are doing wobbly veg boxes as if its a novelty…….
Seriously, the bigger picture stinks rotten to its core. It sounds so very surreal except that’s where we are right now, fields with huge Billboards in them saying “This Field sells only to Weet-a-Bix!” in huge, twenty foot letters. Billboards standing in fields, in Somerset, Derbyshire, Herefordshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, it is happening across Europe now too. We the stupid humans, denser than Orwell’s animals we wont rise up, because we still haven’t noticed how very upside down the World has become, very 1984, but so right on point.
Ones wages are to be used to serve their purpose only, not for our betterment in the slightest, we have become clever slaves, unseeing, slaves.etc, etc. Look at how wages and the cost of living has changed, from 1950 onwards our spending has been controlled through advertising and clever use of pretty-vain-glorious Super “Stars” to sell us toothpaste and Insurance! Once proud men and women reduced to flogging potato crisps and grey hair cover ups. Journalism is used to sell the big idea of how much they will let you have next week, if next week so and so doesn’t need a new car, jobs wont be lost, be grateful, here, have 100 credits……………
We sleep walked into the illusion, the great big, “Buy.” We have allowed ourselves to be steered into the, “Dream Economic Model,” through our beguilement at bright, loud, clever stories sold through films, TV and magazines, our every upgrade, new gadget, new phone, affording all this “stuff” requires sacrifices, so people will look for £0.40p bread, to cover the portion lost from ones wages, suddenly we understand the control that has deemed oneself worthy of only so many, “Universal Credits!”
With this Model, “We, ” will only ever get the percentage of the economy that, “They,” have deemed a need per person, per requirement.
You don’t really need that new phone, so, accepting you can not save for anything, you buy £1 tat from the tat shop, and do Boot Fairs in search of the thrown away and search the internet for “Bargains”.
What percentage of 100 Credits is then to be divided between Utilities, Food and Commodities per person per week? How many, “Universal Credits,” the lowest should live on, relative to each economy, ensuring that at least nine out of ten people can not afford inter-continental travel or Gucci handbags for the Escort paid for on Fridays, or the Yacht, or the new Bentley, or even just and only, decent, un-poisoned, untainted, non G.M.O food. Most can not afford the £4.80 a decent loaf of Bread actually costs now, and woe if they want to buy decent Meat as well as local fresh Milk products in a weekly shop, nope, they must pay considerably less for contaminated, G.M.O food. The prices of truly healthy food, completely out priced for common man. This is what has happened to our Farming Industry and only a massive will to change will things will Life ever improve for us, ordinary man, woman, child, human living in and on what is left of a once glorious Eden, abundant, vibrant, healthy, where air, food and water was once clean and free, a loving, abundant, compassionate Earth.
13Dave Darby March 13th, 2016
Oh come on, don’t hold back – tell us what you really think of this system.