A localised world is possible – four talented exponents with complementary messages –4: Karen Leach

Since 2001, Karen has been the prime mover and co-ordinator of Localise West Midlands, a not-for-profit organisation which promotes the environmental, social and economic benefits of:

  • Local trading, using local businesses, materials and supply chains
  • Linking local needs to local resources
  • Development of community and local capacity
  • Decentralisation of appropriate democratic and economic power
  • Provision of services tailored to meet local needs.

The localisation approach makes economic development and government systems more sensitive to local autonomy, culture, wellbeing and the responsible use of finite resources. It is growing in popularity with people and organisations all over the world.

Karen has played a leading role in Extending Localisation, an ongoing project identifying ways of extending economic localisation good practice in the energy, food, retailing, finance and manufacturing sectors around and beyond the West Midlands region.  She writes:

Since the general election Localise West Midlands has been reiterating the question “how can we have meaningful localism without decentralising economic power?” The UK economy is one of the most centralised in Europe, increasingly recognised as remote from people and society, exclusive and beyond control.

In a diverse, localised economy, more people have a stake, which redistributes economic power, reducing disconnection, inequality and vulnerability. LWM is a thinktank, campaign group and consultancy that promotes this localised approach for justice and sustainability.

Contrary to the stereotype of planning reform opponents, we love economic development – community economic development, which fosters competition and enterprise, strengthens local distinctiveness, and works with an area’s resources, heritage, culture and social capital. We think the economy should be part of civic fabric not something done to the community.

The importance of small business in our economy is often underestimated. For one thing, you could say they contribute more to the public purse because they don’t have the resources to work out how to avoid it! More seriously, firms with less than five employees accounted for over 50% of the new jobs between 2000-2008; without startups, private sector employment would have declined. There is increasing evidence that large established businesses destroy jobs.

So decentralising economic power should be central to localism agenda – but it’s not. Much of the localism agenda simply builds community aspirations to be knocked down by powerful economic interests.

We need to recognise and plan for the collective strategic importance of the small scale. Our problems with the planning parts of the localism agenda are probably familiar to many of you:

  • a presumption in favour of development,
  • the lack of a workable definition of sustainable development;
  • the reduced ability to impose planning conditions that the developer might feel make a development unviable;
  • weakened retail policies;
  • the need to allocate more and rolling land supplies
  • and the abolition of spatial policy for ‘reducing the need to travel’.

The combined consequence of these is the reduced ability to differentiate between quality & poor quality development. This includes a lack of ability to protect economic diversity and accessible local services from bigger competitors: not just the odd independent shop but all types of businesses and the supply chain infrastructure and spatial environment that supports them – a weakening of urban renaissance.

Easier and more lucrative sites cherry picked for economic development or housing will not be integrated with existing economy or infrastructure.

In Darlaston in the Black Country, a colleague tells me that Asda closed their central store and applied for planning permission for an out of town site nearby. They pointed out they had a 99 year lease on the central site, and hinted that any use of the site would be blighted unless they got planning permission for the out of centre site. The council stood firm on policy grounds and the store did eventually reopen in the centre of Darlaston. Strong policy works to favour quality over poor quality development – under the localism bill it might not be possible.

Adverse consequences of catering to the private sector – two examples

We also have issues with providing for every need of private sector organisations that don’t necessarily have the public interest objectives or the accountability to take responsibility for them.

Developers in Ireland now blame the government for giving them planning permission for what are now ghost estates. In Digbeth, Birmingham, there was a compulsory purchase four years ago for site assembly – closing down local independent businesses including the last Italian-owned family business of the city’s Italian Quarter. That land has been completely empty for 4 years.

This raises issues over accountability & evidence of need and also of the danger of exclusive, blank slate large-scale development that ignores community economics. Why not work round and with existing uses? The local authority’s ability to challenge this is greatly reduced in the National Planning Policy Framework [NPPF].

Neighbourhood planning goes some way to address this and has some positive potential for people to think about what local economy needs and how they can meet this, but it requires communities being able to protect, to say no and to set boundaries as well as saying yes. The failure to incorporate neighbourhood planning seems like a missed opportunity to strengthen local economies.

There is also the danger of vested interests swaying the NP agenda – it’s widely reported that Tesco was designing its off-the-peg neighbourhood plan for communities to adapt locally before the NPPF was written. How can that not be a conflict of interest? Of course pressures are worse in areas of deprivation to accept any development, however damaging.

One final example: good economic development on greenfield site: the former farmland land occupied by Lammas Eco-village in Wales used to bring the farmer £2,500 – £5,000 a year through sale of lamb. That same land now provides nine families with £60,000 worth of food, fuel and other goods and is predicted to be bringing in a surplus income of £40,000 by Year 5.

We need planning that can assess whether developments deliver quality of life, revitalised places, job creation, economic diversity, local multiplier. A blanket state of permissiveness doesn’t do it.

 

 

 

o

Advertisements

A localised world is possible – four talented exponents with complementary messages – 3. Colin Hines

Colin Hines worked in the environmental movement for over 40 years on the issues of population, food, new technology and unemployment, nuclear proliferation, before spending ten years as co-ordinator of Greenpeace International’s Economics Unit. He was a member of the International Forum on Globalization, formed in response to widespread concerns over economic globalization promotes equitable, democratic, and ecologically sustainable economies and helped to set up Localise West Midlands, which aims to put localisation into practice on the ground, ensuring that goods, finance and services be provided locally wherever possible.

Routledge – and Earthscan (from Routledge) – celebrated the third millennium by publishing the first edition of his landmark work, Localization: a Global Manifesto. It has been aptly described as a passionate and persuasive polemic, challenging the claims that we have to be ‘internationally competitive’ to survive and describing the destructive consequences of globalization . . . unique in going beyond simply criticizing free trade and globalization trends . . . detailing self-reinforcing policies to create local self-sufficiency and showing clearly that there is an alternative to globalization – to protect the local, globally. In 2017 he published as an e-book Progressive Protectionism – taking back control’. 

Ten years after the 2008 economic crisis, this time it must be different: jobs in every constituency

As convenor of the Green New Deal Group, he works with other members who have a wide range of expertise, to power a renewables energy-efficient revolution, create thousands of green-collar jobs and rein in the distorting power of the finance sector, making more low-cost capital available for pressing priorities – an infrastructure programme which would mitigate the adverse effects of climate change, substantially reducing its domestic carbon emissions and addressing automation’s threat to employment.

Two major labour-intensive sources of local jobs were advocated in a recent report: face-to-face caring in the public and private sector – frequently discussed – and infrastructural provision and improvements. Both are difficult to automate and can’t be relocated abroad.
Hines points out that apart from the advantages of improving social conditions and protecting the environment, the majority of this work will take place in every constituency, will require a wide range of skills and help to improve conditions and job opportunities for “left behind” communities.

A year ago, Colin Hines and Jonathon Porritt challenged the “permanent propping up of whole sectors of our economy as a direct result of our failure to train people properly here in the UK”. They called for the training of enough IT experts, doctors, nurses and carers from our own population to “prevent the shameful theft of such vital staff from the poorer countries which originally paid for their education”.

They advocate like Chancellor Merkela redoubling of our commitments to improve people’s economic and social prospects in their own countries, tackling the root causes of why people feel they have no choice but to leave family, friends and communities in the first place. 

 

 

 

o

A localised world is possible – four talented exponents with complementary messages – 2. MEP Molly Scott Cato

Molly Scott Cato is a British Green politician, academic, environmental and community activist, and green economist who is the current Member of the European Parliament for the South West England electoral region for the Green Party.

Her analysis, presented to the Commons Environmental Audit Committee 2010-2012:

“Globalisation has left us rather vulnerable, and we are now living in a very energy-intensive economy where we rely on countries on the other side of the world to produce our most basic goods. Those systems are not only energy intensive; they are also obviously very lengthy. One of the things we know about climate change is that we will be seeing more unpredictable weather patterns, and I do not think this system of distribution of our most basic needs is very reliable. I would give you, as an example, what happened following the Japanese tsunami, where because they have those just in time production systems, suddenly British car plants can no longer function because they cannot get parts that would normally be shipped in from Japan. To me that looks like a very vulnerable system, and I think a more local system of production would make us more resilient.

“I would also draw attention to the fact that if you look at a map of the world and see where the world’s ports are, they are all at sea level, yet the first consequence of climate change that we know about is going to be a rise in sea levels of about 5 metres within the next 20 years. How resilient is that system of supply?

“I do think it is much more important to produce at home and I think we should start asking questions and assess the benefits of trade, in terms of their environmental impact rather than just the economic gains in the sense of higher profits. There are other economic gains in terms of job creation, skilled jobs and people having a sense of meaningful identities within their home communities, which will be brought if we have a regeneration model based on local production as opposed to global trade. I think the export-led growth model is incompatible with a green economy.”

In 2002, Molly Scott Cato’s book, Using Best Value to Encourage Green Procurement in Local Government: Opportunities for Change – A Report for the Association of Green Councillors (2002) was published. It gave thought-provoking examples of good practice:

She contributed to the Commons Environmental Audit Committee 2010-2012 report on The Green Economy

After asking the committee to consider ‘living within our means’ in planetary terms – to live successfully within the planet’s limits – she added that the scientific evidence shows we are not doing that.

The government’s Enabling the Transition document, read like a conversation between Government and a small number of large businesses, whereas, Ms Scott Cato explained, building the green economy involves empowering people to create the economy themselves. She called for a mature discussion with the people of this country about the kinds of changes that are necessary to achieve the sort of energy limits that climate change requires.

She highlighted land policy as a key component of the green economy for achieving more self-reliance in terms of food production, a very significant carbon dioxide sink through afforestation and through land management practices that enable the land to hold more carbon dioxide. It is a way that our economy can be used to work with natural systems, the carbon cycle and the nitrogen cycle, whereas at the moment it tends to conflict with those systems.

She endorses the 2017 Green House report by her colleagues, Victor Anderson and Rupert Read who recommend:

“An alternative option is for the UK to make a radical shift in economic policy and become more self-sufficient . . . A comprehensive set of new policies will be required in order to put into practice a new UK trade policy on these lines. Some of these are in the power of the UK Government; others, more ambitiously, would require more diplomatic work internationally. The full report contains 23 recommendations. Here are some that could be enacted by a UK government:

  • Introduce short-term transitional government subsidies to invest in and develop economic sectors where UK production can substitute imports, including a boost to skills training in these sectors.
  • Shift taxes, subsidies, and public expenditure on infrastructure, away from unfairly favouring large and global companies, and redirect them to help build up local economies.
  • Introduce or increase tariffs on imports of goods and services.
  • Within England, there should be devolution to regions and reform to local government finance to provide effective decentralisation of power; this should be the first step in a more radical agenda of localisation”.

The conclusion is that reducing dependence on international trade and deliberately boosting the resilience of local, regional and national economies is the only way to make an economic success of Brexit.

 

 

 

o

A localised world is possible – four talented exponents with complementary messages 1: Helena Norberg-Hodge

Move beyond left/right, Brexit/Remain thinking, and build a movement for economic change

Helena Norberg-Hodge, a linguist who studied with Noam Chomsky,  is a pioneer of the new economy movement and recipient of the Alternative Nobel prize, the Goi Peace Prize and the Arthur Morgan Award. She is author of the inspirational classic Ancient Futures and producer of the award-winning documentary The Economics of Happiness. Helena is the founder and director of Local Futures and The International Alliance for Localisation, and a founding member of the International Commission on the Future of Food and Agriculture, the International Forum on Globalization and the Global Ecovillage Network.

She writes:

Ever since the Brexit referendum was first announced, we have been bombarded by an array of starkly contradictory pronouncements – from the Leave camp’s now infamous claim that withdrawal from the EU would release £350 million a week for the NHS to the former Chancellor George Osborne’s assertion that Brexit would leave the UK “permanently poorer”.  At first glance, the two sides seem to have almost nothing in common; these are polar opposites.  Dig beneath the surface, however, and a fundamental similarity is revealed:  both Leave and Remain are under the spell of the global market and see trade-based economic growth as the panacea for all our problems.  They are not alone.

Governments worldwide – whether led by nominally left or right political leaders – are systematically encouraging more consumption, more trade, and more energy-dependent, job-destroying technology.

When we step back to see the bigger picture, it becomes apparent that the ‘free market’, far from being a solution to the crises we face, is actually a primary cause of them:

  • it is widening the gap between rich and poor;
  • hollowing out our democratic institutions;
  • spreading job insecurity;
  • exponentially expanding the number of economic and political refugees;
  • depleting natural resources
  • and haunting us with the looming spectre of climate chaos.

A worldwide epidemic of depression and a rising incidence of teen suicide. 

The global economy affects even our life purpose, our wellbeing.  It undermines community and individual identity while at the same time dramatically increasing competition.  No wonder we are seeing a worldwide epidemic of depression and a rising incidence of teen suicide (WHO).  And yet the economy’s central role in these unfolding tragedies goes largely unnoticed.  Instead, we are encouraged to blame ourselves, to believe that we are solely responsible – as individuals and as communities – for our growing misfortunes.

Simply put, we need to move from the global towards the local:

There is, however, real cause for hope.  Around the world, ‘new economy’ movements are mushrooming as people become aware that our multiple crises are in fact linked; they are not all independently arising, but are rather the inevitable consequence of the same growth-at-any-cost economic policies.  Change those policies, and a process of healing can begin – from the planetary to the personal.

Simply put, we need to move from the global towards the local: taking economic power away from vast, unaccountable corporations and banks and handing it back to communities and nation states.  Moving in this direction would have profound and widespread benefits: not least serving as a bridge between left and right, urban and rural, North and South, and yes, Leave and Remain.

Many people think that globalisation is about international collaboration and the spread of humanitarian values. But at its heart it is an economic process – one that has been central to economic planning since the end of World War II. In the name of  ‘development’, or ‘progress’, governments of every political colour have used taxes, subsidies and regulations to support the large and global at the expense of the small and local.  Today, many global businesses and banks are  more powerful than nation states – to the extent that key trade treaties now include so-called ‘investor state dispute settlement’ clauses, in which governments agree that corporations can sue them if health and environmental standards threaten their profits.

Increasingly distanced from the institutions which make decisions that affect their lives, and insecure about their economic livelihoods, people around the world are becoming frustrated, angry, and disillusioned. Because the bigger picture has remained largely hidden, few people blame the de facto government of deregulated banks and corporations; instead, they point the finger of blame elsewhere – at particular political parties, at immigrants, or at residents who are ethnically or racially different.  From this perspective, the false and often hateful claims of xenophobic movements can appear reasonable, thereby giving them an unmerited foothold in the political arena. 

Move beyond left /right, Brexit / Remain thinking, and build a movement for economic change.

In order to reverse these disturbing political trends, we need to move beyond left /right, Brexit / Remain thinking, and build a movement for economic change. Instead of allowing businesses to shape our future, we need to shrink their power and mobility – to insist that they be registered in a particular place and accountable to democratically determined rules. In other words, business needs to be ‘place-based’, or ‘localised’.

Essentially, localisation is about reducing the scale of economic activity, about bringing the economy home. That doesn’t mean pulling up the drawbridge and retreating into isolationism.  Nor does it mean an end to trade, even international trade.  But it does mean a fundamental shift of emphasis: away from the current obsession with exports towards a more diversified economy geared instead to local needs. Shockingly, countries across the world today routinely import and export identical products in almost identical quantities: butter in, butter out; wheat in, wheat out; industrial waste in, industrial waste out.  In an era of human-induced climate chaos, the subsidies and other supports that purport to make such practices ‘efficient’ and ‘profitable’ are little short of immoral, and need to be reversed.

The logic of localisation

The ecological argument for localisation is unassailable. But its logic doesn’t stop there. Among other things, localisation allows us to live more ethically as citizens and consumers.  In the global economy, it’s as though our arms have grown so long that we can no longer see what our hands are doing.  By contrast, when the economy operates on a smaller scale, everything is necessarily more transparent.  We can see if the apples we are buying from the neighbouring farm are being sprayed with pesticides; we can see if workers’ rights are being abused.

So how can a global-to-local shift happen?

However, the huge corporations that profit from the current system wield immense power, and will use that power to prevent fundamental change.  So how can a global-to-local shift happen? As the Brexit negotiations have made clear, it can be exceedingly difficult for a single country to disentangle itself from the established global economic order.

The key is to pressure governments to join a ‘breakaway’ strategy, in which a group of nations collaborate to forge new trade treaties that limit the import of goods that could be produced locally. This collaborative approach would allow countries to protect jobs and local resources from the disruptive impact of international finance and transnational corporations.

At the grassroots, we can already catch glimpses of localisation in action.  Across the world, literally millions of initiatives are springing up – often in isolation one from another, but sharing the same underlying principles. The most important of these initiatives relate to agriculture – important since food is the only thing humans produce that we all require several times a day.  From farmers’ markets to community supported agriculture, from ‘edible schoolyards’ to permaculture, a local food movement is sweeping the planet.

We are also seeing the emergence of small business alliances, local banking and investment programmes, and local energy schemes.  The Transition Network has captured the imagination of people in both the global North and South.  So too the Global Ecovillage network. Thousands of communities are attempting to lower their carbon footprints.

Local economies not only help to ensure greater job security, they also provide the framework needed to support strong communities, which in turn support the health of the individual – psychologically and physically. I call it ‘the economics of happiness’.

Ultimately, localisation renews our connections – to one another and to the living world around us. It satisfies our deep longing for purpose, belonging and a secure future for ourselves and our children.

Leave/Remain was always a false dichotomy

The real choice is between a corporate economic system that systematically destroys livelihoods and undermines the environment and, on the other hand, a form of economic decentralisation that actively encourages both community and ecological renewal.  The British people weren’t offered that choice in the referendum. But it’s on offer out there in the real world.

 

 

o

 

 

FT: Shinzo Abe has called on all countries to join Japan and act now to save our planet

The admirable Japan Times reports that for the past three months, this phrase: どうなっちゃってるの今年の夏 (Dō natchatteru no kotoshi no natsu, (What’s up with this summer?) was a standard greeting among friends and colleagues in Japan. The summer of 2018 broke meteorological records, devastating entire regions along the coast of western Japan. There were unprecedented levels of rain, heat, landslides and hurricanes.

The country’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has called on all countries to join Japan and act now to save our planet. In the Financial Times he writes:

This summer western Japan was battered by the strongest typhoon to hit the country in 25 years. Unprecedented torrential rain and landslides ravaged the residents of western Japan this summer, killing more than 200 people, and ruining hundreds of thousands of livelihoods.

Roads are cut off by a mudslide at a section of the Kyushu Expressway in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture (all pictures and emphases added)

Meanwhile, severe scorching heatwaves struck the country and resulted in approximately 160 deaths. Fierce heat also gripped North America and Europe, and hurricanes and typhoons hit the US and Philippines.

Global warming increases carbon dioxide and acidifies the ocean, damaging its ability to self-purify. Even worse, proliferating marine plastic pollution threatens marine ecosystems and eventually, our own health.

The international community has taken steps to address climate change with forward-looking and long-term goals. An agreement was adopted in Paris in 2015 with the participation of all major economies including China and India. The following year, I went a step further at the Ise-Shima summit in Japan, as G7 members committed to devising long-term strategies.

Climate change can be life-threatening to all generations, be it the elderly or the young and in developed and developing countries alike.

Rescuers help local residents to evacuate in the town of Saka, Hiroshima Prefecture

The problem is exacerbating more quickly than we expected. We must take more robust actions. And swiftly.

The way forward is clear. We must save both the green of the earth and the blue of its oceans.

Our goals must be firmly based on the latest scientific knowledge. As we learn more, through the work and expertise of the scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the entire world should take appropriate measures accordingly.

All countries must engage with the same level of urgency. Some are still increasing greenhouse gas emissions and emit more than 2bn tonnes annually according to the International Energy Agency. All countries must put promises into practice. Developed countries should provide support to developing countries for fulfilling their obligations.

As part of their long-term strategies, governments should promote innovation to drive new growth and spread the net widely for new ideas.

No alternatives should be excluded. Japan has goals such as creating ultra-high-capacity storage batteries, further decentralising and digitising automated energy control systems, and evolving into a hydrogen-based energy society. Countries should also rank the competitiveness of a company based on its development and dissemination of future-oriented technologies. This would encourage companies to invest for the long term.

Momentum is already growing in the private sector. The number of companies engaging in environment, social and governance-focused investment or issuing green bonds is rising dramatically. Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund is one of them. Investors now require businesses to analyse environmental challenges and disclose potential risks as well as opportunities.

We must also focus on reducing emissions from infrastructure.

In Japan, our Shinkansen high-speed rail network prevents congestion and boosts the overall fuel efficiency of transportation nationwide. We also have set our carmakers a goal to cut the greenhouse gas emissions per vehicle they produce by 80 per cent by 2050 so as to realise “Well-to-Wheel Zero Emission”.

We must simultaneously boost economic growth and reduce the use of fossil fuels. That means cutting the costs and improving the reliability of renewable energy. In Japan, the volume of electricity generated from renewable sources has increased 2.5-fold in the past four years. Japan will host the world’s first ministerial meeting focused on hydrogen energy. We cannot overlook safe nuclear power generation and controls on emissions of methane and hydrofluorocarbons.

Manufacturers with large-scale greenhouse gas emissions should be encouraged to update their production methods. Countries should stop excessive steel production, which causes massive greenhouse gas emissions and creates imbalances in markets.

Finally we should tap data processing and communications advances to speed up the innovation cycle. Investing in energy transition and the sharing economy will ensure economic growth and dramatically reduce greenhouse gases.

Addressing climate change, marine pollution, and disaster risk reduction are critical pillars for achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Japan will preside over the G20 next year and focus on accelerating the virtuous cycle of environmental protection and economic growth.

When the seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development is held in Japan, we will extend support to African countries. We invite the rest of the world to join us in tackling this tough challenge.

*

Endnote:

Today the Japan Times brings news of a data processing and communications innovation from ‘informed sources’. The Japanese government plans to launch in 2019 a system in which information on earthquakes, heavy rain and other disasters collected by government agencies and local authorities is displayed on electronic maps. Work to connect central government agencies’ computers to the electronic map system is likely to be completed by next March, setting the stage for full operations.

A photo taken on April 25, 2016, shows devastation from earthquakes in Minamiaso, Kumamoto Prefecture. Electronic maps to show information on disasters were used on a trial basis for the Kumamoto quake.

The system is intended to facilitate the sharing of disaster information and help enable adequate disaster responses by relevant bodies. During the heavy rain in the northern part of the Kyushu in summer 2017, it was used for search and rescue operations by police and firefighters. Soon after the giant earthquake in Hokkaido earlier this month, it was utilized for the supply of relief goods by the central government.

 

Basic Income poll: 41% support – 17% oppose. Charlie Young, Populus/RSA


 

Populus research for the RSA finds that the public as a whole is open to the idea of a Basic Income – a regular payment made by government to citizens – especially in the context of rising economic uncertainty. 40% would support local Basic Income experiments in their area, 15% would be opposed.

The Populus report by Charlie Young (RSA Associate, right) points out that despite these positive findings, 38% of the public think this measure is “unaffordable”. The most popular funding option for a Basic Income is raising a progressive tax so the rich pay more into the scheme than they would get out (39% would support this).

Protecting the most vulnerable in society was found to be by far the most important moral principle for a welfare system in the eyes of the public.

Populus found that 49% think a Basic Income would “reduce the stigma associated with receiving benefits” with 16% disagreeing.

Responding to these findings, Anthony Painter, Director of the RSA’s Action and Research Centre, said: “The Universal Credit experiment is failing on its own terms, while the wider welfare state is riddled with complexities and underpinned by draconian sanctions . . . our poll shows that in an era of widespread economic insecurity, policy-makers have the public’s support to start exploring innovative alternatives to today’s failing and unpopular welfare system”.

The report has recorded examples of Basic Income and Basic Income-type models around the world which should be considered. Anthony Painter ends: “Basic Income is no magic bullet, but with HM Opposition exploring the idea and the Scottish Government looking to pilot it with four Scottish councils, Basic Income is increasingly seen as one plausible response to modern economic insecurity.”

 

View the Full Data Tables here.

Highly recommended, Charlie Young’s Twitter feed.

 

 

 

o

Farm Groups request Stormont to put forward a bill for legislation on Northern Ireland farm gate prices: William Taylor

Farming families and rural merchants and traders in Northern Ireland by and large have hit the financial buffers. The convenor of NI Farm Groups, William Taylor (right), who farms in Coleraine, writes:

Farmers find themselves in the position where the sale price for the majority of commodities they produce does not even cover the input costs.  Banks are finding it increasing difficult to justify lending money to increasingly non-profitable farmers, instead rural merchants, vets etc are being forced into the position of secondary bankers to many farmers.  1 in 4 UK family farms are living below the poverty line (2012 figures) – all in all a disastrous situation with no future is now with us.

Meanwhile, large corporate food wholesalers, large corporate food retailers and, to a lesser extent, co-op and corporate large food processors, continue to maintain their enormous unsustainable profits.

No need for consumers to pay more, instead farmers want their fair share of current corporate food sector profits 

Rural NI must have its share of the financial food cake.  Northern Ireland Farm Groups currently including Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association (NIAPA), Farmers For Action (FFA) and National Beef Association (NBA) would make it clear that there is no need for consumers to pay more other than normal inflationary increases, instead we want our fair share of the money, currently going into the corporate food sector profits and it will take legislation to obtain it.

Currently individual family farmers are too weak in the market place to command a decent price for their produce and unfortunately to date, even with attempts by farm organisations across Europe, it has been impossible to bring farmers together in sufficient numbers and strength to overcome the power and influence of the corporates. They know this and abuse the fact every hour of every day to their profitable advantage.  Indeed, the EU has admitted publicly that:

  • food security is now top of the agenda
  • this is about agriculture not just any old industry and
  • farmers need a safety net – Westminster pay attention! 

When Northern Ireland’s government returns, it will have no choice but provide that safety net for Northern Ireland’s family farmers, if NI Plc is to succeed in lieu of the deficit from Westminster and Brussels.

The Groups’ proposal is timely in that for Northern Ireland the Brexit Flux and whatever outcome, cannot and will not succeed without profitable farmers in NI.  So what is the Groups proposal?  Quite simple, almost exactly the same as that submitted by Fairness for Farmers in Europe as a stakeholder to the 2010/11 CAP review: that of NI legislation being passed, stating that NI farmers must be paid a minimum of the cost of production, plus a margin inflation linked for their produce. If the ‘free’ market moves up then fine, the farmer will get the benefit, however, when it falls the legislation is there to provide the safety net limit.

Where is the evidence for the success of this proposal?

There is that age old saying, “When the farmer is doing well then everyone else is doing well” but sounder evidence is the fact that during the 30’s depression in the US, President Roosevelt could not get the US economy to move until he put money in farmers pockets.  NI farmers with money in their pockets would purchase products and services from an average of 123 different types of businesses from plastics, to machinery, to veterinary to accountants, to oil and lubricant suppliers, to building supplies, the list goes on.  Indeed there are only two types of wealthy countries in the world or a combination of both, ie those who are energy rich (ie oil and gas) or those with a good agricultural base, Zimbabwe a disastrous case in point.

How would legislation on NI farm gate prices work?

In recent years the Livestock and Meat Commission employed McKinsey’s International Consultants to professionally work out the cost of production including money for re-investment of beef and lamb production in Northern Ireland.  McKinsey’s did so very successfully by gleaning the information from the top beef and sheep farmers across NI.  They were totally independent of processor or retailer or even farmer influence, all of these factors a must.  These results could easily be done for all the food related commodities produced by NI farmers and adjusted for inflation or deflation every 6 months.

On a European scale this proposal would require flexible supply control, ie quotas, on all commodities but quotas without value.  However, in NI because we are small in comparison to the whole of the EU influence this would not be required.  The results of such legislation would in fact have a useful quota effect in itself.  It would create balance in the countryside creating good change in farming practices including:

  • A reduction in available conacre as owners decide farming is now a profitable option and farm their land themselves
  • One sector for example could not expand over and above any other sector, due to lack of land because the balanced requirement for land would come from all commodity sectors
  • Pressure on land would once again help farmers to increase good farming practices and invest in new technology and good farming methods such as instead of cutting and spraying rushes, lime would be applied due to money available; hedges would be brought under control, fences would be mended and replaced, drainage would be carried out. All this in harmony with nature as profitable farmers can easily produce more food in Northern Ireland whilst abiding by commonsense environmental laws.
  • d) There would be a certain amount of musical chairs of farming practices. In recent years many farmers moved into dairying or chickens because of the then perceived regular income which has since been eroded, many farmers may be perhaps beef, vegetables or other minded, they would therefore switch enterprise due to profitable options, thereby creating a balanced agriculture in NI.

It would in effect be a new dawn in NI agriculture, a land mark where farmers could afford to embrace new technology, to repair their sheds or build new more efficient ones, they could afford to purchase much needed new efficient safety equipment, they could afford to pay staff, to cut the current slavery hours currently being worked by farming families and their staff.

In fact the Groups can confirm that if this legislation is introduced it could create a minimum of 10,000-20,000 new professional on-farm jobs followed by approximately four times the number of related jobs.  Without exception, every farmer we have put the question to – ‘If legislation was in place to provide you with a minimum of the cost of production inflation linked plus a margin for your produce would you employ another member of staff or members of staff,  the answer is always a loud  – of course  I would!’

Furthermore, approximately 60% of NI farmers are part time – many of those would go full time if agriculture was profitable thereby creating a vacancy for others – by now you will have got the scale of this proposal for Northern Ireland.

Legislation

The legislation must go through on a welfare issue, for the sake of protecting farming families from corporate ravages for endless profit.

Due to the current rural financial crisis and after the experience of 2012’s wet Spring, 2017’s wet year and 2018’s extreme dry year, where many NI farmers were faced with extreme weather conditions and no spare money in their pockets, many being currently unable to feed their families, a welfare precedent was established: an ongoing increase in calls to farm crisis centres by farmers at the end of their tethers with corporates growing fatter by the day while rural NI has been drained dry of finance and resources.

Precedents are already being set with regard to the EU “free market”:

  • by the Scottish Government on minimum priced alcohol in supermarkets proposal on a welfare issue
  • by the Welsh Government’s success in already implementing this legislation
  • and for the second time in recent years the EU’s intervention in the free market by capping EU roaming charges by mobile phone companies.

In short on the plus side if Stormont were to legislate on NI farmgate prices as proposed by the NI Farm Groups, then virtually overnight a minimum of 10-20,000 initial jobs plus would be created and over the next 5 years there would follow an additional x4 multiplier of jobs. Every job on the farm in addition to the 15,000 processing industry jobs the Agri Food Sector would increase to almost 100,000 NI jobs minimum – an exceptional result which would allow NI Plc to firmly turn the prosperity corner and not look back.

To conclude, the Farm Groups hereby request that Stormont will put forward a Bill for Legislation on Northern Ireland farmgate prices as a matter of urgency under a rural welfare crisis where lives are at stake, stating that a minimum of the cost of production plus a margin inflation linked must be paid at the farm gate for all the food produced in Northern Ireland.

NI family farmers need your help in protecting their incomes from the corporates, just as you need them every meal time! 

William Taylor

56 Cashel Road, Macosquin, Coleraine,

 Co L’derry, N Ireland,

BT51 4NU

Tel/Fax  028 703 43419

Email  taylor.w@btconnect.com

 

 

 

o