Land Workers’ Alliance: small scale & family farming in UK

The Landworkers’ Alliance (LWA), one of the UK’s Via Campesina members, issued a policy document for its annual general meeting (AGM) asking UK environment ministry DEFRA to be part of the process in letting family farmers feed UK citizens. “Our vision for UK agriculture includes more farmers, better quality food, a fitter population, a healthier environment, fewer greenhouse gas emissions, increased biodiversity, and flourishing, vibrant rural economies,” the alliance affirms.

Agriculture with a family farming mandate like this is unheard of in the UK: “The political interests of traditional farmers are not represented by either a major political party or a vocal trade union,” warns LWA. Starting with the obvious necessities, LWA demands a national food policy based on food sovereignty principles. The aim of such a policy would be to: “…give the UK greater control over food safety and environmental regulation, and protect erosion of our civil rights by global partnerships such as TTIP.”

As part of this levelling policy, LWA demands that DEFRA puts in place a Pillar I cap of EUR 150,000 and use the money saved to support new farmers and strengthen greening measures: “Subsidies should be directed towards those farmers who are delivering social and environmental goods as well as producing food, to bring prices for “eco-products” in line with conventional food prices.” The alliance is also urging support for new farmers, since only 3% of UK farmers are under 35. This is a ready made solution, the alliance argues, for working through the issue of ageing farmers.

Likewise, access to land is high on the LWA agenda, which calls for a halt in the sale of county council farms and other measures to dilute the ownership of land: “…All that is needed is the political will to level the playing field.” More trenchantly, the LWA argues that: “…if small, agroecological farmers were given equivalent subsidies and funding for R&D, there is no reason why they couldn’t exceed yields of industrial farms, whilst providing environmental and social benefits that large-scale farming simply cannot match.”

In short, LWA is arguing that agricultural policy must prioritise resilience, food security and sustainable food production. To do this will take more farmers and, not to put too fine a point on it, better food and farming.

“In contrast to our vision, the food system promoted by DEFRA, branded as ‘sustainable intensification’, is one where small and medium scale farms are being phased out to make way for agribusiness. The message coming from government programmes is ‘get big or get out’. Such economies of scale only result in efficiency when it is measured in terms of production per unit of labour. When efficiency is measured in production per unit area, smaller farms often perform better than larger units.”

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Peter Crosskey is based in the UK.