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Future Of Welsh Food Debate

10 Oct


After posting the below on Welsh Food Bites last week, I was called by Wynfford James and threatened with legal action because he felt I had implied that he was in some way directly involved, during his tenure as the head of the Welsh Assembly’s Food Promotion programme, in the appointment of his son Meilyr Ceredig to run the Welsh Government funded ‘Fork2Fork’ local food awareness-raising campaign. So I need to say that this was not my intention. (I have removed the offending paragraph).

 (I have since heard that F2F has been extended for a year with another £100,00 of WG money, including £43,000 (!!) to maintain and update the website. Let’s hope that ‘maintaining’ will include getting more people to actually visit the site!).

Step change needed in the level of Welsh Government support for local food production and marketing.

Steve Garrett:

I was  recently asked to take part in a ‘Future of Food Debate ‘at the Cardiff Country Fair in Cardiff Castle. It was saddening to hear from the representatives of Wales’ farming unions about the tough economic challenges facing food producers in Wales and surprising to hear Alun Davies, Welsh Minister for Natural Resources and Food, assert that he sees his main task as promoting exports for Welsh food – mainly lamb and beef. What happened to the principles of the Food Strategy for Wales (‘Food for Wales, Food from Wales’) which ostensibly ‘sets out a wide ranging vision…for the Welsh food industry to grow in a sustainable and profitable manner’ and, crucially, claims to be ‘founded on principles of sustainable development, which includes economic, social and environmental aspects’? Surely a key step towards a ‘sustainable’ food system will be to reduce our dependency on importeds and encourage and enable Welsh people to eat more locally produced foods. Good for health, good for the economy, and good for the environment, I would have thought……not to mention tasting much better!

(Mr Davies also claimed that all of the food purchased by the Welsh government was produced in Wales – which would be lovely if only it were true and suggests that he needs to have a chat with his procurement staff. In terms of commitment to purchasing local food with public money my understanding is that we are lagging far behind Scotland and Ireland).

Of course international trade is essential for Welsh agriculture, as we do produce far more meat that we could consume in the domestic market, and I welcome the Minister’s efforts in this area. But this concentration on exports rather begs the question of why, for example, we import any New Zealand lamb into Wales. It seems common sense that it would be environmentally and economically better for Wales if more of the lamb eaten here was actually produced here. Recent statistics show that Wales actually imported £342.1 million and only exported £143.8 million of food and drink. The Farmers’ Union of Wales confirms that we are relying on food imports more now than in the past 40 years. Half the vegetables and 95 per cent of the fruit on supermarket shelves have been imported. Not only is this obscene in a country that is capable of producing some of the finest fresh produce in the world, it is also completely environmentally unsustainable and makes us extremely vulnerable in terms of food security in a world in which the reduced availability and increasing price of oil will make imported food ever more expensive.

John Davies of the Food Centre Wales is clear that: “the time of cheap exports with low fuel prices, to travel products around the globe is coming to an end, so it is important that we are self-sustaining in the food that we produce.” Mr Davies believes that with a little more diversification Wales can produce all the food it needs. “It’s not as easy any more to import from any part of the world, because there’s a growing world population, and we must make sure that the consumer in Wales has the opportunity of having food grown close to home, but we need to extend our variety.”

The Welsh Government proudly proclaims that: “Sustainability lies at the heart of the Welsh Government’s agenda for Wales”. The fact is that, although sustainable development was embodied in the constitution at devolution, the Wales Audit Office showed three years ago that our carbon dioxide emission reductions lag behind the UK average and renewable energy capacity has been growing half as fast as in the rest of Britain. Surely the Welsh Government could make an important contribution to sustainability and also be true to its own commitment to developing Welsh agriculture by investing more in the home production and consumption of fruit and vegetables.

At the Riverside Market Garden ( http://www.riversidemarketgarden.co.uk  ), a community supported agriculture project on five acres near Cowbridge , we have demonstrated over the past four years that the climate and soil of Wales is perfectly capable or producing top quality fruit and vegetables year round, if polytunnels and other techniques are employed. We have received some Welsh Government funding to share the knowledge we have gained with others who want to do the same – though the current lack of any horticulture training anywhere near Cardiff makes it less likely that there will be young people in the area who want to take up this opportunity.

At the same time, Sir Terry Matthews’ plans for setting up a 100 acre organic farm in Gwent to supply fresh produce to meet the requirements of his Celtic Manor hotel – which spends up to  £10m per year on food! – will be a further positive example of the potential viability of horticulture in Wales. But much more support is needed to get production levels in Wales up to a sustainable level.

The Welsh Government needs to put its money where its mouth is in terms of fostering a sustainable and resilient local food economy, by investing in the production and marketing of Welsh produce so that more people in Wales eat fresh seasonal produce from Wales, supporting a vibrant local agricultural economy, giving more people access to the best and healthiest food, and reducing our carbon foot print. In other words to put into actual practice the fine words and principles espoused in the Food Strategy for Wales, and more broadly in the ‘One Planet Wales’ Sustainable Development Plan.

Welsh agriculture and horticulture urgently needs Alun Davies’ department to invest in Welsh food production and marketing that will actually yield results in terms of increased local food sales –  just like seeds planted and tended in Welsh soil can produce a rich harvest that would significantly improve the health of the people, of the environment and of the economy of our country.

 
 

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  1. producer

    October 11, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    Thanks for putting this detailed report up from Mr Garrett.
    Why didn’t I know this was happening? I would have attended. Having said that love to know when Welsh lamb and beef seem to be the only products talked about, that Wales imports so much New Zealand lamb. Isn’t that puzzling? Guess no-one answered that one, so it’s pointless.
    They can talk about the future of Welsh food till the cows come home, but they are incapable of talking, even on an infrequent, never mind regular basis, to food producers. We rarely find out what is going on apart from you guys through best of welsh and this site too.
    We are still talking about fork2fork and I’ve yet to met anyone who reckons it achieved anything, and certainly couldn’t value it as worthy with cracking on nearly a million quid.
    £43k to update their website is a scandal and should NEVER have been authorised. Who thought that was value for anyone’s money? Some civil servant who is out-of-touch with our reality.
    More and more money is wasted in the food department and doubt if they understand value for money.
    I despair of our industry which is lacking total direction.
    Thank goodness for this site and the team at the magazine.

     
  2. Andy

    October 14, 2013 at 8:35 am

    I was also threatened with court action by FBA after contacting them regarding the appointment of Wynford’s son.

     
  3. Benji7???

    October 14, 2013 at 9:31 am

    Wished I’d known at the time this had happened. I tried a different avenue, also meeting a dead end but without the legal threats!

     
  4. trader

    October 14, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    It’s ok having the Minister in on a food debate, but pointless if he can’t answer questions like the New Zealand lamb one and it’s even more pointless if he can’t take on board what is being said from people on the front line
    i.e. people like me