Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Farmers from across the world met at Dublin Conference.

There was an interesting juxtaposition of two articles on page 29 in the Scottish newspaper 'The Press and Journal' on July 29th.Taking up most of the page with three times the column space plus a big photograph of a forage harvester, was an article about Britain's 'agricultural machinary trade body' and its assessment on the economic outlook for farming,as measured through machinary sales. On the right hand side of the page, with no photograph, was an article about a conference held in Dublin on 28th July, by the International Federation of Agricultural Producers. The juxtaposition is interesting because the BIG article on the left (agricultural machinary trade body) is about the profit margins of big business. The little article on the right, about the contribution made by women farmers at the Dublin conference, is a recognition that farming is not solely a production activity but is also a way of life and a means of combating poverty.Sustainable agricultural development, and community food security were the speakers' priorities.

The relative newspaper space given to these divergent visions symbolises the emphasis given to corporate agriculture and its mechanistic systems and hidebound, mechanistic thought processes. You would think by now that policy-makers would have given more of a warning-shot across the huge bows of the expensive oil-guzzling machines which will eventually come to be regarded as the SUV's of agriculture.

Back to the womens committee of farmers;
The view was expressed that "Securing food production would not only benefit individual nations, but allow countries in the developing world to concentrate on feeding their own people instead of chasing income through exports and often leaving themselves short of produce." The Irish Farmers Association farm family chairwoman Mary Sherry told the conference: "Food security is of major importance and must be addressed by all countries, not just developing countries. If Europe is food independent then the production burden on developing countries is reduced and countries can direct their food production to feeding their indiginous population."(From-' Food security top of the agenda'-The Press and Journal)
It is important that women farmers should be integrated into the decision making processes, and implementation of policies. Mary Sherry pointed out how in global terms women were the main producers of food, and that they also carry out the bulk of management and administrative tasks associated with farming.

Irish Agriculture minister Brendan Smith, made a point at the conference which is being loudly expressed by farmers now, that 'large supermarket chains needed to remember that their responsibility does not stop with the consumer and their shareholders – it must also extend to producers, processors and suppliers, who have invested heavily in building up the food industry. They needed an adequate return to ensure a system of sustainable production'

I think Brendan Smith didn't go far enough.The nature of food production has huge consequences and impacts on rural communities, not just those involved directly in the food production chain.. Farmers from across the world will be aware of the way that corporate agriculture has put thousands of small farmers out of work. Even in this country the introduction of corporate agriculture has seen the destruction of rural economies. Farm workers were the first to be made unemployed, then trades and businesses which used to be allied to thriving mixed farms, were put out of business.
A week or two after the Dublin Conference, Hilary Benn has recently published the new UK Food Strategy. It seems to be a mixed message. Oh dear.

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