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As a 5th generation farmer I woke up this morning to hear the good news on Radio 4 that food prices would double by 2030. Selfish I know but when for the last 10 years most farmers in this country have made very little money an increase in prices is needed to keep them in business.
But what about feeding the world and making food affordable for all? A highly efficient commodity based farming system or local small community farmer approach?
In poorer countries 80% of people’s income is spent on food compared to 10-20% in richer countries. So really high prices can really cause big problems.
The Today programme was debating the case of growing more food to meet the growing demand either by encouraging small farmers to give more jobs and sustainable farming systems, or allowing investment in, to have more really large, super efficient, farms.
Having seen both in my travels I recommend both. There is a place for large farms with massive machinery, especially in places where populations are low and the land is not being used. Such as some parts of Brazil, Africa and Eastern Europe.
There is also a place for small farms, rearing animals and growing a range of crops. These farms are more labour intensive and can become the centre of the community linking consumers directly with food and shortening the supply chain. In this country when on average, only 9p in every £1 spent of food goes to the farmer, buying direct can mean much cheaper food.
Big farms also have their place as the smaller farms often need to buy feed for their animals. But we need a great deal of infrastructure and regulation. Such as efficient storage and transport to handle and move the commodities. And regulation to protect the small farmers who do exist, as well as to protect the environment from pollution and animals from cruel farming practices. Far to often large corporate farms are run by accountants cutting costs when prices are low. When this causes animal welfare to drop this cannot be allowed. See Pig Business for an example
Price fluctuation is one of the big dangers to large farmers and poorer people. And a single commodity based large farming system would mean greater fluctuations. The answer is simple. Dramatically increase world stocks of grain. Grain can be stored easily as proved by quality grain found in the pyramids.
World grain stocks have been dropping for years, and to me are irresponsibly low. If world leaders decided to increase stock levels and buy grain when prices were low, selling when relatively high, world prices would become much more stable and there would be enough stock to avert starvation if a world crop failure ever happened.
Unfortunately with America and Europe in debt and a blind belief in a global market economy, world leaders are more likely to pass the buck.
What can you do? Comment below, and get our food economy working. We are lucky in this country to have the big farmers and high animal welfare, but we need to support the small local farmers where food is fresher and often cheaper and more convenient. Find your local producers using the BigBarn local food map and tell your friends. As we buy more local food local farmers are encouraged to grow a wider range of foods, or join the food industry and Crop for the Shop. Let’s show the world how to build a more robust and sustainable food economy.