Scotland cannot afford “business as usual”

© SCF/Andy Law

Scottish crofters welcomed the stance of Scottish National Party agriculture spokesman and MEP, Alyn Smith.

The challenge to the ‘business-as-usual’ notion of farming strengthens the Scottish Crofting Federation’s case for the “necessary deep and rapid agricultural change in Scotland towards less-intensive, smaller scale approaches, such as crofting.”

SCF chief executive Patrick Krause declared: “As Alyn Smith rightly points out, agricultural policies at a European level “don’t necessarily stack up” at the moment and, as he also said, reports such as this one from the UN are a “motivation” to make the radical changes that are needed to make agriculture sustainable in the long-term.”

The SOLAW report is hardly the first international study to draw these conclusions, Krause concedes, but: “as individual producers and as nations, we need to leave behind high-input and high-energy ‘modernised’ agricultural systems.”

Scottish agriculture has always placed great store by its acheivements: “We have been proud of our ‘improved’ agricultural systems which have, in the past, been well thought of throughout Europe,” Krause explains. “Yet the basic motivation for this ‘improvement’ was to increase profit and personal wealth. Such ‘improved’ agriculture has, indeed, increased the financial wealth of the few and enabled cheaper food for the many.”

The uncounted cost, however, to the landscape of intensive agriculture is greater than is acknowledged. “Over the long-term, it is exhausting the fertility of the land – the very basis by which our food is produced – and requires inputs of fertiliser and pesticide that our world just cannot sustain.”

This should not come as a surprise, however. “That ‘improved’ agriculture leads to the exhaustion of land and the erosion of societies was a message that crofters gave to the Napier Commission more than a century ago. Loud and clear, this is what organisations like the UN are now also telling us [in the SOLAW document].”

© SCF/Andy Law

Scotland’s ‘improved’ agriculture is less permanent than it might appear, Krause warns: “Policy-makers need to ditch the old assumptions of ‘efficiency’ based on high input systems and unsustainable short-term yields. This kind of efficiency means cutting labour costs and putting more profit in fewer pockets.”

“In the Highlands it is called ‘Clearance’. Instead of ‘Clearance’ we need to marry appropriate scale technologies with what remains of our traditional knowledge of how to work with the land and live in community.”

The SCF is advocating a simple solution: “In such a context, the small-scale, low intensity, communally oriented world of crofting provides a model for the country as a whole, and, because of this, the issue of land tenure is important for Scotland. We are calling on the government to endorse a policy of increasing the number of crofts in Scotland by 10,000 by the year 2020 and increasing the amount of Scottish land in crofting tenure to 25 per cent by 2030,” Krause reminded ARC 2020.

Peter Crosskey
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Peter Crosskey is based in the UK.