Monday, 5 December 2011

Allotments - A Vital Community Resource, Pt III

DEFRAs vision for food

A number of submissions, mainly from the retail and manufacturing sectors, made clear that DEFRA should articulate the role of securing food supplies in the long term. Waitrose drew attention to the governments improved rhetoric on the matter, but called for clarity in guiding sustainable food production. Sainsburys called for greater leadership by DEFRA and centralised policies. The Co-operative group, which is the UKs largest commercial farmer as well as running stores, called for DEFRA to adopt a leadership role between the various parties involved in improving UK food security. These sentiments were echoed by the Food & Drink Federation. The Country Land & Business Association expressed a slightly different point. It commented that the government was still grossly-underestimating the scope and role of policy to address in this area. They expressed concerns about the over riding EU policies affecting UK food production and distribution.

The EU has also shown signs of elevating the issue of food security in reports of its own [Why can’t farmers just farm?] though some proponents claim the EU has no issue with food security and policy should be dictated by national governments.

In conclusion the committee felt that the UK should develop a stronger UK policy whilst considering EU directives.

DEFRAs progress

Though it is easy to conclude that DEFRA has fallen short on the issue of food, it should be noted this has mainly been due to a previous preoccupation with climate change, which has been since moved to another government department. Bearing that in mind DEFRA set itself a target date for developing strategy policy of October 2009.

A reflection of the direction DEFRA was taking was indicated at the Oxford farming conference in January 2009 by Hilary Ben:

The best way for the UK to ensure its food security in the 21st century will be through strong, productive and sustainable British agriculture, and trading freely with other nations. And just so there is no doubt about this at all, let me say the following. I want British agriculture to produce as much food as possible. No ifs. No buts. And the only requirements should be, first that the consumers want what is produced and, second, that the way our food is grown both sustains our environment and safeguards our landscape.

Impressive as this sentiment was, as Professor Lang commented, it was just a speech and not directed DEFRA policy to encourage corporate powerhouses, supermarkets and farmers to plan long term sustainable partnerships.

In fact the cabinet office report Food Matters set out the governments future objectives for food. Domestic production is not even mentioned which, state the committee, underlines the importance of DEFRA taking firm action to employ the policy frameworks needed to see Hilary Bens aims become a reality.

This is not without its challenges as DEFRA is faced with making short term swift policy decisions yet is tasked with applying long term vision. The short term political cycle is cited as a frequent disruptive hurdle in the process of longer term policy aims. Securing food supplies is not about implementing policy that will last for 5 years, but 40-50 years. This particular challenge places even more focus on building consensus of opinion between parties in order to maintain order in policy despite the ebb and flow of the political cycle.

The report then goes onto to outline DERFAs approach to assessing risks and the structure it needs to employ to see its vision through.

Acting on the Vision

This chapter discusses the effectiveness of food production targets, the Common Agricultural Policy, the focus for Research & Development, Genetically Modified Organisms, Agricultural Skill Development and the UK Food Supply Chain. [Though a substantial chapter I have omitted details here].

The report ends with a conclusion covering all the points mentioned. On Local and Home production in particular, the commission concludes that:

We welcome the increasing enthusiasm among customers for buying food that is local to a particular area of the UK, and also for growing their own food. In terms of overall production, these trends are a small contribution to a huge challenge, but they are a way of reconnecting people with food production and have an important part to play in encouraging the sorts of behaviour that will be necessary for a sustainable system of food production. The role of local and home production, and of educating people about food, should be incorporated in DEFRAs vision and strategy for food. When it has been established that their has been an unmet demand for allotments in a local authority area, the government should require the local authority to publish, within three years, a plan setting out how it proposes to meet that demand.

It's very clear where we stand on this issue in Cowling. The PC provides an inadequate number of half sized plots that are badly kept and poorly managed.  This is a state of affairs that predates my involvement of going on 6 years.  A look back through their own records shows the PC does little more than acknowledge the lack of provision, whenever the issue is raised, before ignoring the matter completely.  Yet the facts remain:
  1. Allotments are a statutory right of those UK taxpayers wishing to claim them.
  2. Allotments are an important community resource and are promoted by government.
In a change of direction since we pushed this subject more public while resisting attempts to manage our involvement; the PC have closed as many doors of communication as they are able whilst making so far hollow public claims of "doing their best" on the matter.

As we've done the right thing by paying our taxes and waiting patiently for more years than is considered constitutionally acceptable by our government, any chance of those that wanted to be representatives of their local community doing the right thing as representatives of the local community?


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