The UK’s youngest serving cabinet minister arrived at the environment ministry DEFRA this week, just months ahead of a general election. Oxford-educated MP Liz Truss moved from a junior ministerial post in education to clear up after her hardline “business as usual” predecessor, Owen Paterson. While she would doubtless have made a good education minister, after this week’s departure of Michael Gove, Truss is no stranger to the rural world and the fine detail of agricultural life.
She has been representing south west Norfolk since 2010: in June of that year she took former DEFRA minister Caroline Spelman to task over the Environment Agency’s flood defence shortcomings in her constituency. Later that year she quizzed minister Jim Paice over the EU fines imposed on DEFRA’s Rural Payments Agency (RPA) for its perceived weaknesses in managing the 2005 payment changes. Through no fault of her own, she may yet find herself exposed to similar European sanctions if the RPA’s digital by default fails to deliver its Basic Payment Scheme targets in 2015.
A paper-based offline alternative for “… those who lack the ability to use the new digital application platform” was just one of the requests made by the Tenant Farmers’ Association (TFA) in a letter greeting the new minister. The Landworkers’ Alliance was heartily relieved to see Paterson leaving DEFRA. Farmer and FWA member Rebecca Jones declared that Paterson’s: “…unashamed focus on corporate agribusiness over the needs of farmers and the environment has been costly to good food and farming. We hope that his successor Liz Truss will put the environment back in Environment Secretary, and stand up to the corporate interests who will try to lead her away from environmental concerns and the needs of farmers.”
Taking a positive view of the ministerial change, Jones added: “Ecological land use and properly funded small farms hold the key to dealing with the multiple issues of climate chaos, food security and rural unemployment. The Landworkers’ Alliance looks forward to meeting Liz Truss and discussing how she will work with us to mainstream the solutions that our members are already putting in place.”
A Via Campesina member organisation, LWA is keen to see supportive policies for agroecological farming and to: “…level the playing field for small-scale food producers who often receive little or no financial support from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) despite providing high yields of quality food, and high levels of employment, per unit land area, alongside countless social and community benefits.”
LWA is keen to work with DEFRA to simplify planning, waste and food hygiene regulations to make them appropriate for small-scale producers. Given the ageing UK farming population, the Landworkers’ Alliance hopes that Truss will find: “…ways to support the numerous young people who want to set up new farming enter
prises, but face significant obstacles to doing so.”
At the moment, the minister faces a series of time bombs that Paterson’s gung-ho pursuit of doctrinaire policies have left ticking. If she is wise, she will build bridges with those who have a shared interest in defusing otherwise intractable situations.
The Ecologist’s take on Paterson (Feb 2014)
Blue and Green Tomorrow on Paterson’s sacking (July 2014)
Minister goes west for a stormy reception (Arc2020 March 2014)
Ministerial own goal over Badger cull (Arc2020 October 2013)
Arc2020’s new agroecological project
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