What Wales Could Do with a Community Food Strategy

By Jane Powell

This article was originally published by IWA on August 31, 2021.

As pressure to meet net zero emissions targets grows, Oxfam has warned that the drive to plant trees could lead to vast areas of land being taken out of food production, leading to hunger for the most vulnerable.

Now carbon offsetting is causing concern much closer to home. As reports emerge of corporations buying whole farms for afforestation. Ceredigion MP Ben Lake has warned that rural communities, the Welsh language and food production are being sacrificed to a ‘green-washed business-as-usual’.

Wales has its own target of net zero by 2050. Following guidance from the Climate Change Committee, it plans to move around a fifth of agricultural land from livestock rearing to carbon sequestration, supported by a change in diet away from red meat consumption. 

However, even given the need for more trees, there does not need to be a simple sacrifice of food production for forestry. What is needed is a comprehensive land use policy, one that recognises that food production, forestry and other land uses all have a place, and can even sometimes be combined, as for instance in agroforestry. 

A food strategy for Wales

An effective land use policy would need to be linked to a food policy. England has come up with some pointers in its recent National Food Strategy, an independent report to which government has yet to respond. Such a food policy could help us decide what our land is for, as well as pulling together other threads, from farming and the economy to health and social inclusion.

Both the Welsh Food Manifesto and the Food Policy Alliance Cymru have been calling for just such a joined-up food policy for some time. Now, the Welsh Government has announced that it will create a Community Food Strategy during its current term.

At first glance, the reference to ‘community’ seems limiting. It makes no reference to how Wales as a whole intends to feed itself, or to the global impacts of outsourcing food production to countries with lower farming standards, or of importing livestock feed grown on land taken out of tropical rainforest.

Maybe, though, communities are a good place to start. We have many inspiring grassroots projects which are busy reconnecting people with food production. Numerically small, these projects nevertheless represent the citizen power so essential to the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act.

They are pioneering new ways of doing things, including community gardens, local food hubs, community meals and Community Supported Agriculture projects. 

Local integration

In particular, community food projects could be an important way to integrate farming and food policy. 

On the one hand, we have a forthcoming Sustainable Farming Scheme that will reward farmers for managing the land environmentally, while at the same time supporting them to develop their businesses. Food production, which is not considered to be a public good, will not be directly supported and so will depend on other policy moves. 

On the other, we have an action plan for food that is mainly about developing the food and drinks industry, with an aspiration in the next version to contribute to community development.  This strategy has little to say about farming.

What community projects might do therefore is to bridge the gap between these two policies, by reaching out to local farmers and growers and connecting them with markets, tapping into a growing demand for local food. 

These markets include retail, the hospitality sector and public procurement; Carmarthenshire is already backing local sourcing as part of the government’s Foundational Economy programme.

The missing link here is infrastructure, including small abattoirs, processing facilities, cold storage and distribution, which will need investment. The returns are big though: the regeneration of rural economies, vibrant communities and a healthier population with cooking and gardening skills.

Alongside physical infrastructure it is also important to build democratic processes that allow citizens to contribute to local decision-making, something that is encouraged by the Well-being of Future Generations Act but difficult to attain in practice.

Here, there is inspiration in the shape of Food CardiffOur Food Crickhowell and the Sustainable Food Places network which have shown their worth in mobilising community responses to the pandemic.

Land use

Food security is a key concern of community food projects, and provides an impetus for local food production. But this depends on access to land. As outrage builds over the sale of the countryside to corporate interests, what can we do?

One approach might be to develop a Rural Land Use Framework, as the English food strategy recommends. The English model would assign land to one of three compartments: intensive food production, natural habitats or an agroecological combination of farming and nature. 

We might not follow that model in Wales, but without any plan at all, we may default to a combination of intensive farming and rewilding which will disappoint many. 

The Food, Farming and Countryside Commission is calling for the English land use framework to be led by local communities, and again, a Welsh Community Food Strategy could allow for that.

Another approach would be to follow Scotland’s example of the community right to buy, so that Welsh farms that came on the market could be bought by local groups, such as Community Land Trusts

Alternatively, local authorities could step in and increase their stocks of county farms, neatly reversing the sad case of Trecadwgan, where a community group failed in their bid to buy a 14th century farm from Pembrokeshire County Council.

Wales has no equivalent of either the Scottish land reform legislation or the English Localism Act, and we will need to establish our own principles of land management. 

One starting point could be to find common ground between those who want to preserve traditional family farms, with all they contribute to the local culture and language, and new entrants to farming, often from urban backgrounds. A community food strategy could help to do this. 

Food democracy

There is strong public feeling about the Welsh countryside. Concerns about the sell-off of farms to corporate interests and the proliferation of intensive poultry units are rooted in a deeper concern about our national culture and the natural world. 

A Community Food Strategy must give people the means to ground those concerns in practical action, and a voice into government.  The mechanisms exist: the Future Generations Act provides for communities to influence local authorities via Public Services Boards, and the Environment Act invites collaboration through the Area Statement process. 

The Public Services Boards do not have the power to block the sale of farms for carbon offsetting, any more than they can stop the proliferation of intensive poultry units. 

What they can do, however, is provide a space for community organisations to propose strategies for local land use which could then be picked up by national government. This would allow local and national priorities to be matched.

They could also set up mechanisms by which environmental goods such as carbon sequestration and flood prevention can be rigorously audited to allow for a blend of public and private investment, leaving farmers in control of the land. In Pembrokeshire, the BRICS project is pioneering a blended model for water quality. 

It will not be easy to create these new structures for a new form of governance, but working locally does bring the energy and creativity of communities, and maybe they can do what government cannot.

Jane Powell is a freelance education consultant and Renew Wales coordinator and writes at http://www.foodsociety.wales.

Photo by Beth Macdonald on Unsplash

UK names first food with protected status in post-Brexit scheme – here’s how it will promote sustainable farming

By Luke Prosser

This article was originally published by The Conversation on August 17, 2021.

Sheep have been grazing the salt marsh landscape of the Gower Peninsula in Wales since medieval times. Today around 3,500 lambs and ewes feed there, where a diet of naturally growing samphire and sorrel gives their meat a unique flavour.

Gower lamb, which is available to buy and eat between June and December, matures more slowly and lives longer than intensively reared lamb, which further adds to the characteristic taste.

That flavour has now been given protected status, providing the farmers of those lambs with membership of an exclusive club. Fellow members include producers of Cornish clotted cream, Melton Mowbray pork pies and champagne, which have long been part of a European scheme which means certain food and drink can only be made in certain places.

Since Brexit, the UK has established its own geographical indication scheme, which closely resembles the EU version. Gower salt marsh lamb is the first product to be added to the new British scheme and must be born, raised and slaughtered within the 19 electoral constituency boundaries that make up the Gower Peninsular. It joins 16 other Welsh products already protected including Anglesey sea salt, Welsh laverbread and Conwy mussels.

My ongoing research is looking into the the contribution to that sector of local food production which is sustainable – environmentally, socially and economically. My colleagues and I are so far finding that locally produced food contributes significantly to making sure rural areas are viable communities. And evidence shows officially recognising and protecting the links between a food product and the area it comes can have significant benefits for that community.

In a competitive market, this protection really counts. The food and drink sector is worth £29bn to the UK economy, so standing out from the crowd has never been more important.

The protected designation of origin (PDO) awarded to Gower salt marsh lamb is reserved for products with the strongest links to the place in which they are made. There is strong evidence that such protections mean better prices for producers. For example, prices of French cheeses with a PDO are higher by an average of 11.5%.

PDOs also help to preserve traditional methods from being driven out by intensive agricultural systems by stipulating a number of requirements on the methods of production. In the Gower’s case this includes recognising the shepherding skills and knowledge of the salt marsh tidal ranges to protect the animals from dangerous rising tides. These are skills which have been developed and passed on through generations.

But it could potentially have a damaging effect on the sale of Welsh lamb from other regions, which is itself protected by a similar but less specific classification, known as a protected geographical indication (PGI).

Again, this is designed to emphasise the relationship between the specific geographic region and the name of the product. The PDO will likely be seen by consumers as a mark that Gower salt marsh lamb ranks even more highly for quality and taste against other Welsh Lamb, which could be a blow for many of Wales’ other sheep farmers currently boosted by their PGI status. At the moment there is a lack of research on the differing perceptions of PDO and PGI categorisation, so we will have to wait and see if this turns out to have any significant impact.

That issue aside, geographical indicators generally work well in protecting consumers against food fraud, through an official process of audit and authentication. They are designed to avoid things like the 2013 scandal in which a number of beef products from across the EU were found to contain varying levels of horse meat.

Check meat

Products with geographical indicators are subjected to extra auditing to ensure authentic products for consumers, with controls conducted by local authority trading standards.

Compliance is monitored, and suspicion of counterfeit products can be reported directly to the enforcement body who have the power to impose fines or imprisonment under various consumer protection laws.

Geographical indicators also promote a sustainable food system by promoting localised approaches to food production. They champion and protect local and traditional production systems that limit intensification and market saturation, and promote high quality and welfare produce.

By supporting low impact practices GIs provide greater stability for those working in the industry, protecting traditional skills and maintaining viable rural livelihoods by placing requirements on production processes

Asked about the importance of designation for its Anglesey Sea Salt (protected by a PDO since 2014) Halen Mon director Alison Wilson told me it was one of the company’s “proudest achievments”. She added: “It gives protection when it’s needed, and status and proof of the particular qualities of our hand-harvested sea salt. It means that we are the only British sea salt to be audited and proved 100% authentic, in a world full of food fraud.”

As dietary habits continue to change, many people are looking to reduce the impact of their diet on the environment. The new status for Gower salt marsh lamb will hopefully give consumers reassurance that they are eating a high welfare, pasture fed animal, which has had a minimal environmental impact over its life. A protected product can help protect the planet.

Luke Prosser is a PhD researcher at Bangor University with a specialism in Food and Drink Geographies and Rural Communities, focusing primarily on Food and Drink supply chains and procurement.

The Brecon Beacons Mega Catchment: A proactive and collaborative approach to delivering a resilient drinking water supply

By Dave Ashford

The ongoing debate around the sustainable production of food and the inextricable links with the climate and nature crises is vitally important, but there is an extra element which is often overlooked. In a country like Wales blessed with our wonderful rivers, lakes and abundant (occasionally too abundant) rain, it seems odd to worry about the quality and availability of drinking water sources. However, there are a number of challenges that we need to respond to, so that we can ensure we protect our drinking water supplies for current and future generations.

The cluster of drinking water catchments across the Brecon Beacons supply almost half of the drinking water Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water provides to customers every day – that’s more than 400 million litres of water, equivalent to 160 Olympic-sized swimming pools. But it’s not just water that make the Beacons extraordinary. Communities, biodiversity, agriculture, forestry and tourism all play a part in making it such an iconic landscape that provides so much for so many.

As a water company, we need to treat water to remove a range of contaminants to ensure we serve our customers safe, wholesome drinking water.

For example, pesticides enter our water ways from a variety of sources including our gardens and allotments, parks and sports grounds and from farms. Our routine water monitoring programme has detected increasing traces of pesticides in areas we have never seen them before, and therefore more treatment is needed.

Sediment, which has to be filtered out, enters water courses from a number of sources including landslips and cultivation, and that sediment can carry pathogens, nutrients and agricultural chemicals, all of which need to be removed as they can impact the safety and enjoyment of our drinking water.

And these are just some of the water quality risks we deal with daily. As a result of climate change, we can expect to see more erratic floods and droughts, and we may even see different animal and plant diseases that we have not encountered before in the UK. This could mean more erosion of soils, new pathogens or veterinary medicines finding their way into drinking water catchments. We may start to see changes in food production trends – for example more home-grown fodder and horticulture expansion could mean detecting more pesticides being used in areas where we aren’t used to dealing with them.

While we already work hard to respond to these changes, we believe there is a huge benefit to be gained from trying to get ahead of the risks. That is why we are shifting our emphasis from reactive treatment of water to proactive measures to reduce or prevent water quality issues before they happen. We will, of course, treat water to make it safe and wholesome to drink, but we believe that by focusing on the management of water within the wider environment we can reduce the chemicals and energy needed in the treatment process – which is better for everyone.

Considering some of these issues in the context of drinking water may help clarify why it is important to adapt certain practices. However, we don’t want to implement more actions for overstretched farmers to juggle, because many of the actions needed to improve water quality are the same actions being discussed in relation to sustainable food production – improved soil husbandry, proactive animal health planning and caring for our precious habitats – including restoring them where needed.

The Brecon Beacons Mega Catchment (BBMC) is a Welsh Water-led initiative, and we’re now getting underway with an active programme of collaborative land management and engagement trials.  We want to explore new ways of working – on the land and with each other.

We are a growing partnership of individuals and organisations representing farming, forestry, community, tourism, academia and ecology. This is a network we want to expand further to encompass other elements, but the most valuable partnerships we have are with the farmers and community members at a grass roots level who can bring their experience and ideas to bear, helping us develop and trial these new ways of working. Collaboration has recently become another fashionable term to use in land management discussions. But we believe the value of coordinating our expertise and resources with others, means that we can achieve far more together than we can achieve individually. We are not a major landowner in these drinking water catchments, so we must work in partnership with others if we are to have a positive impact.

For example, inspired by a knowledge exchange with our friends working in the Catskills catchment which supplies New York (widely recognised as one of the most successful catchment management examples globally) we are trialling a new approach to smarter nutrient applications with the Beacons Water Group – a farmer led group in the heart of the Beacons. Here, we will be using data on drainage patterns across individual fields and whole farms to identify ‘spread / no spread’ zones to reduce nutrient run off to water courses and make more efficient use of manures.

We’re also scoping out the restoration of damaged areas of peatbog to reduce water quality risks of sediment and colour compounds from eroding peat. In addition, this restoration should prevent further carbon emissions and regulate peak water flow. But again, we will need to work with a range of partners to deliver this. There are many peat restoration activities taking place across the country, but importantly, we will be working closely with local graziers to explore how best to share information on the importance and ambitions of peatbog management, and how to monitor the success of the project and make more locally based management decisions that are right for the conditions and the season.

We are also exploring opportunities for working with groups of farmers to develop more integrated livestock health planning, biosecurity and quarantine that will support livestock health as well as reducing pathogens and medicines lost to water.

We will be trialling these initiatives in the Brecon Beacons with a view to rolling these new ways of working out in the drinking water catchments throughout Wales. These results cannot be achieved over night and our ambition is to deliver long term sustainable solutions to safeguard our environment and drinking water for generations to come. We are keen to hear from any new partners who would be interested in working with us to deliver these ambitions.

For more information contact bbmc@dwrcymru.com.

Dave Ashford currently works for Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water as Programme Manager for the Brecon Beacons Mega Catchment – a programme of collaborative activities to avoid risks to drinking water supplies.

Photo by Carl Jorgensen on Unsplash.

Why effective regulation is so important along the food chain

By Jane Powell

Earlier this year the Welsh Government announced it would make the whole of Wales a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ). This is a European mechanism that requires farmers to follow stringent rules to reduce nitrate pollution. It was greeted with fury by the farming unions, who had favoured a voluntary approach. At the root of this is the view that nitrate pollution, as a by-product of food production, is the responsibility of wider society. It should therefore be managed by negotiation, as has been proposed in Pembrokeshire, not by draconian measures imposed from above. Additionally, regulations that are not widely supported tend to be less effective, which might be why a 2009 study found that many NVZs in England showed no significant benefits even after 15 years. 

What this controversy proves, negatively, is how important it is to have good regulation. We all want clean rivers and waterways, and farmers need clear rules about what they can and cannot do, so that the playing field is level and the quality of their goods is recognised. But regulation must be fair if it is to be effective, and it must be supported by a network of trust and communication as well as credible enforcement. This applies all along the food chain, from environmental protection to nutrition, food safety and trade.

So how is Wales doing? A recent report from Unchecked UK, Safeguarding standards in Wales: Why Wales should lead the way commends the Welsh Government for its generally positive approach, and for the notable Well-being of Future Generations Act, and contrasts it favourably with the policy of deregulation that it sees in Westminster. Unfortunately, though, the UK Government’s austerity policy has weakened the regulatory agencies in Wales, and most of the report is a chronicle of the damage that has been done.

First on the list is environmental protection. Their research shows that the main environmental regulator, Natural Resources Wales (NRW), has lost 35% of its funding from 2013 to 2020, while prosecutions of environmental offences fell by 61% in the period from 2014-20. This is cause for concern. But what the report does not cover is the positive ways in which NRW could uphold standards, for instance by working alongside farmers and businesses to help them to do better, and by maintaining conversations with countryside groups and organisations.

This is important because the Well-being of Future Generations Act, as part of its Five Ways of Working, requires public bodies to focus on prevention rather than the cure, and to be collaborative and to involve their stakeholders – with the punishment of offenders as a backstop. Consultation takes up staff time. But NRW, the report says, has 53 fewer staff than it had six years ago and so it is likely that this function has also been weakened. Meanwhile, local authority spending on environmental services fell by 13% during 2009-20, adding to the problem.

The section on food and public health also makes for a depressing read. Wales has brought in some ground-breaking legislation, including its food hygiene rating system, nutritional standards for school meals and a national strategy on tackling obesity, as well as the Well-being of Future Generations Act. But because of cuts to local authority funding, the number of people working in councils across Wales fell by 37,000 between 2009 and 2018.

“This has had far-reaching effects on local authorities’ ability to carry out their duties,” the report notes. “As a result, frontline staff tend to work reactively rather than proactively, at which point the damage – be it fraud, health and safety violations, or food safety breaches – has often been done.”

When councils lose staff, they also lose expertise. It isn’t just that local health and safety inspections in Wales fell by 45% during 2015-20 – a whole culture of cooperation and local knowledge has been weakened. Again, the principles of collaboration and involvement that are so key to the Future Generations Act are threatened, as the public realm is hollowed out. Opportunities for local food democracy will be lost.

Wales does not act in isolation, of course. It has been subject to regulation by both the EU and the UK government, and both of those relationships have changed since Brexit. The Welsh government has pledged to retain EU standards of environmental protection, using the Well-being of Future Generations and Environment Acts. However, it will no longer be able to call on the European Court of Justice to hold public bodies to account, and we have already seen how NRW has been weakened by staff cuts. Meanwhile the UK government’s Internal Market Act, intended to secure frictionless trade within the UK, threatens the rights of devolved administrations to set their own (higher) standards and has caused alarm in Wales

Unchecked UK has conducted a survey which finds support across all political persuasions for strong regulation in Wales. Over two-thirds of people in Wales, for instance, would like to see legally binding targets for wildlife restoration. There is also strong support for maintaining quality and sustainability standards for food, and fair workplace practices. Their campaign video calls on the Welsh public to keep up the pressure on our politicians, and “protect the things that make Wales the country we all love.”

Good enforcement of regulations is certainly essential, and government has a vital role to play. But equally, we need public understanding and support to build consensus around the regulations that are put in place. That requires joined up thinking. The consumers who want higher food standards are also the taxpayers who support farmers, who in turn have a huge influence on wildlife and water quality. They are also the citizens who have been empowered to create a better world for future generations. We need to bring all that together.

It is telling that the report commends the forthcoming Agriculture Bill for strengthening food safety and environmental and animal welfare standards. What the Bill fails to do however is to consider the contribution that farming makes to food production itself, because that is held to be a market good, not a public one. But a thriving local food economy, to which farming is central, is about much more than food security or the viability of farms. It is about the sense of place that creates social as well as economic bonds, and this is ultimately the basis of regulation in its truest sense – a set of agreements arising from a shared intention. Regulation must be bottom-up as well as top-down.

Jane Powell is a freelance education consultant and Renew Wales coordinator and writes at http://www.foodsociety.wales.

Co-designing new relationships between people, wildlife, land and sea in mid Wales

By Sian Stacey

You may well have heard of the Summit to Sea project, read the articles and spotted the signs – ‘Conservation Yes, Rewilding No’ – along the road between Machynlleth and Aberystwyth. The project has had a challenging and difficult history. But over the last 12 months, through some small steps and some larger leaps of faith, things have started to develop more positively. This has involved a lot of listening, reflecting and learning. After the departure of Rewilding Britain from the partnership in October 2019 the project has been re-setting and is in the middle of a new and exciting development phase. We are now concentrating entirely on co-designing a future, asking what the land and sea will look like in a Mid Wales where nature and people thrive.

One of the key criticisms that the project evaluators made of the first phase was the ‘lack of appreciation of the wider context of farming and land use in the area’. They also noted, however, that the controversy had the effect of galvanizing the farming community and bringing people together, as well as creating a much deeper understanding of the challenges that face farmers in particular.

Since June 2020 the project has been hosted by RSPB Cymru whilst a locally based partnership is developed, depending on the outcomes of the design stage. The project is currently exploring how to support healthy and biodiverse ecosystems that deliver economic, ecological and social benefits, through a connected land and sea, appropriate to the local place and culture. It’s about developing collaborative management for wildlife, across ownership boundaries. This will need a shared, agreed, and inspiring approach.

Co-designing a project

We’re working with the local community and key stakeholder groups and organizations to co-design this locally appropriate project. What do we mean by co-design? We’re not using this term to describe ‘engagement’. We are going beyond traditional consultation by building and deepening equal collaboration between people affected by, or attempting to, resolve a challenge. One of the main principles of co-design is that people are ‘experts’ of their own experience, and so central to the design process. We’ve been ensuring involvement in the project is accessible for all, and reaches the broad communities of this rural and semi urban area.

Although Covid-19 restrictions have forced the project to adapt, it has still been possible to continue  Following a large number of one to one conversations with people, organizations and businesses in the area, the project held several online workshops in 2020. These have been well attended with more than 70 people coming together across these to imagine what the future of land and sea use could look like in the area. Building on the excellent examples of some local people’s assemblies, these workshops have been supported by a number of local volunteers as facilitators to help make sure that the small group discussions in breakout rooms ran smoothly, and everyone had a chance to contribute and share. The notes of these workshops have been shared on the projects website and we’ve created a Google Drive for anyone involved in the project to find and contribute to documents.

At the moment, the key areas of focus which have been identified during these workshops are:

  • A nature-rich and sustainable production system
  • Connectivity between wildlife rich habitats for greater collective benefit
  • Re-connecting people to nature
  • Re-connecting the economy to nature

Within the themes we’ve begun to hear specific ideas for how they might be delivered. We’ll now be focusing on exploring a whole range of ideas, inviting more ideas, and discussing these in detail over the coming months.

Community facilitators

As the project moves into a more detailed stage, where these themes which have been identified from workshops and conversations lead to the potential interventions,  we hope to build a wider design team drawn partly from  the recent workshops. We’ll be recruiting ‘community facilitators’ who will hold their own conversations within their communities.

One of the biggest challenges and opportunities is that such a high proportion of the population of this part of Wales are dependent on natural resources for their income. For example, we have a high number of farmers and fishers, but also landscape photographers, outdoor pursuits providers, mountain bike centres, bee-keepers and tourism providers. This demonstrates the importance of getting the management of natural resources right, to ensure the same opportunities for future generations to live and work in the area.

Nothing can really replace a paned and piece of bara brith face to face, but we’re hoping that while we’re still unable to do this, we make the most of the situation and use other methods. Sometimes this can work in our favour, when people are able to join an online workshop without needing to drive half an hour, or while making dinner. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it can be more accessible and inclusive for many. An important principle for people working on a co-design project, is to go to where people are instead of expecting them to come to you. Until we can safely meet in local cafes, markets and village halls there’s nowhere closer than on a screen in everyone’s home!

What excites me most about this project is that we’re giving it the time and space needed to build a conversation between varied groups of people. Through building this conversation and listening to each other’s experiences, concerns and hopes we hope to build mutual trust and the possibility of working together to achieve impact at scale for nature. It is only through working across boundaries, real or imagined, that we’ll be able to tackle the threats our future generations face, but I strongly believe it’s possible to paint a positive picture of our futures together.

For more information about Summit to Sea, visit the project’s website on www.summit2sea.wales

Sian Stacey is the Project Development Officer for the Summit to Sea project and lives in Aberystwyth. She has previously worked for Menter a Busnes in the Cywain team, working with food and drink producers, and before this was the Warden/Island Manager on Bardsey Island for three years. Sian is now Chair of the Bardsey Island Trust and is also involved in the People’s Practice in Aberystwyth.

Main image: Ben Porter. Other images: Sian Stacey.

Make farming part of an ambitious food policy to transform Wales

By Rhodri Elfyn Jones

It was New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra who apparently said “It’s like déjà vu all over again”.  But it was also how I felt reading the Welsh Government’s Agriculture White Paper only a few short weeks after England’s attempt at setting out its own farming future.

One-dimensional approach

Once again, failing to link agriculture and food – particularly the food market – has led to a one-dimensional approach which will shackle farmers to support payments and perpetuate a broken market.  The White Paper mentions supply chains and economic resilience – as it seems all policies must these days – but the content does not fill me with confidence that the Welsh Government really wants to get to grips with the issue.  Its intentions have been clear now for several years but we are embarking on yet another consultation period without the slightest idea of how the oft-mentioned public goods are to be valued.  It therefore remains difficult to evaluate the likely effectiveness of the proposed scheme.

It seems the recent report from Bangor University (which fed into Hybu Cig Cymru’s “The Welsh Way” document) which showed that Welsh farms produce the most sustainable red meat in the world has come as something of an inconvenient truth to the Welsh Government.  The policy would see such farms reduce production in favour of delivering as-yet unconfirmed public goods.  The consequence would, of course, be that less sustainable meat would take the place of Welsh produce.  A climate own goal as well as being a complete failure to shift agriculture away from public funding.

Farming is realising that it is on the cusp of significant change and many farming groups are now presenting their own take on changes required.  For example, the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission have recently published Farming for Change.  It would be a great shame if many of the great ideas being discussed by the farming community were ignored in favour of an office-based idea of sustainability.

Just as with its English counterpart the Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMS), the overwhelming focus is on sustainability, but a very narrow interpretation of it, I fear.  The intentions behind the new policy are, no doubt, sincere and in the main very worthwhile.  However, it wastes an opportunity to create a wide-ranging transformative policy for agriculture, environment and, importantly, food.  It’s concerning to see the Minister in her foreword saying that “A separate approach is proposed to provide wider (‘beyond the farm gate’) support for supply chain and agri-food development”.  Why does this need to be separate?  Why not take the opportunity to link the added value to the communities which produce the raw products?

That produce – which farmers can rightly label as with the most sustainable in the world – should have huge value as the world looks to “eat less but better” where meat is in the question. Our challenge as farmers is to capture far more of that value than we are able to at present – and we must also take responsibility and step up if we want to improve our lot.   Decades of subsidies and support payments have seen the industry become and remain reliant on public money.  Sadly, we continue to talk about the level of public payments and schemes to make farms viable rather than creating the correct environment for the sector.  With such a marketable product, the new policy should at least partly be about ensuring that this value is realised by the primary producers.

Despite making reference to it, the proposed approach also largely ignores the developing trade situation and the several other areas which are intertwined.  In particular, we can think of public health and food policy – an opportunity missed.  For Wales, there is the added dimension of a rich heritage linked to the land and, as the “Iaith y Pridd” report recently showed, the Welsh language is deeply rooted in our rural communities.  It is important that the final product protects them.

Papering over the cracks

Over the last 40 years, public funding of some sort has been present in UK farming and is now baked into farm and food economics. It has been estimated that in recent years some 80% of total farm income in Wales is derived from payments under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.  If structural change is not part of the solution, then an ever-decreasing pot of money will simply see farms cease to trade, with dire effects on rural communities. 

The recent arguments when looking at a new Welsh agricultural policy have included whether the production of food – sometimes sold at below the cost of production – and the food security that brings is deemed a public good.  The Welsh Government says No, because there is a market for food.  However, it also contradicts itself by saying that “successive governments have provided support for policies that have increased agricultural production and provided affordable food.”  The market is, of course, broken and distorted and just like the UK Government, it is ignoring the elephant in the room.

It is interesting the way the White Paper talks of the wider industry and supply chain as something separate.  It does go on to talk of supporting the creation of local supply chains and increasing the amount and value of Welsh products used in the supply chain, both in Wales and beyond.  The Welsh Government needs to ensure that its future policy has measures which actually deliver on this and not keep what’s inside and beyond the farm gate separate.

Despite the few encouraging noises, they play a bit part in the proposed policy and once again, we have an approach which papers over the cracks of a broken food system.

There is, of course, no effective food policy in the UK and it was perhaps strange that the future agriculture policy proposals for England did not wait for the conclusion of the ongoing review on English food strategy being led by Henry Dimbleby.  Once again, it seems to reinforce the failure by UK Government to link agriculture and food. 

As for Wales, there are many strategic documents which have been produced by the Welsh Government, but nothing which ties them together and feeds through to the real world.  Without such a policy encompassing agriculture, the environment, food production and processing, public health, rural economy, culture, language (the list could go on), there is a vacuum.  As Professor Tim Lang says in his excellent book Feeding Britain, we are leaving the food policy to “Tesco et al”.  This has led to a completely extractive food economy, where large companies are now dictating what small amount of money is allowed to trickle down the supply chain to primary producers. The huge imbalance of power in the market and the wealth which is being taken out of local communities is itself a cause of the current reliance on public money in food production.  With funding about to be cut, a problem postponed with support schemes for many years has now become a real issue.

Transformative policy possible

Successive Governments – UK and Welsh – have ignored this issue and it has led to a plethora of other problems.  The prevalence of ultra-processed foods has contributed to unprecedented levels of chronic conditions such as diabetes and obesity; all because we have failed to look seriously at a food policy and we have instead allowed entirely profit driven companies to control our diets and keep our producers reliant on public money. 

Having allowed and indeed encouraged this, Governments must now acknowledge their role in doing so and the need for them to be a part of the solution.  There’s a significant amount of regulations which protect consumers when you have a monopoly or oligopoly (small number of sellers in a market) but no corresponding protection for producers where you have monopsonies or oligopsonies (one or a small number of buyers).   The Grocery Code Adjudicator’s remit is far too narrow to be effective in respect of primary producers.

Regulation and the creation of a fair marketplace is therefore one potential solution.  But it could also involve the provision of a protected space in the market for the creation of co-operatives or suitable organisations which could level the playing field to some degree.  Localism and shorter supply chains would be beneficial for Wales but we must also be able to target other lucrative markets and ensure that the profits are finding their way back to our communities.  The potential solutions deserve far more thorough consideration but it’s clear that Wales needs a mature discussion about this as a matter of urgency.

The UK Government has chosen its plan and it will be the end of many English farms.  Wales needs a different approach.  If it really wants to create a sustainable future for the sector, reduce or eliminate reliance on support payments and address a whole host of other issues at the same time, the Welsh Government must look at the structure of the entire food sector – a genuine farm to fork approach. A comprehensive policy looking at the wellbeing of its rural communities has the power to be transformative for the whole of our country.  The White Paper speaks of all of these things but they must be followed through and each of the issues given equal weight.

Having seen the future trajectory for the sector as proposed by Westminster, characterised by damaging our closest export links and failing to ensure standards of imports, I firmly believe that the brightest future for Wales lies in Independence.  Across the board where food is concerned, the UK Government’s approach is disappointing. There seems to be very little interest in promoting a successful agricultural sector or dealing with wider issues such as food poverty. All of the issues touched upon in this article will be better served by policies designed by and for Wales.

In the meantime, there is still much which could be done.  I would urge everyone who reads this to impress upon the Welsh Government – through the White Paper Consultation or via your MS’s – that the current proposals are an opportunity missed.  It’s also the case that The Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 could be a firm foundation for a sustainable future for agriculture, while also dealing with the issues of food poverty, food education and creating a food market which functions for Wales’s producers and its people.  The Future Generations Act really needs to start achieving something, not just be a nice idea. 

Dr Ludivine Petetin also proposes some excellent ideas about how we can all change small things based on what we have learnt during the Covid crisis.  Dr Petetin also notes what changes policymakers at several levels could adopt.  So much is based upon common sense but the neo-liberal oil tanker takes a great deal of effort to turn.  

At the essence of the food democracy she proposes is the simple challenge of getting everybody – all of us -– engaged with the subject.  It shouldn’t be hard – we all eat – but it is an issue which we have all been encouraged not to think too hard about for too long.  The time for an agricultural policy which plugs financial holes and only deals with what goes on within the farm gate are long gone.  For a country so able to produce sustainable food, Wales needs far more ambition to reach its potential.

Rhodri trained as a solicitor and specialised in Agricultural Law, becoming a Fellow of the Agricultural Law Association in 2016. While he still practises law part-time and advises on succession and business structures, he now farms and has recently entered a joint venture involving grass-based dairying.

Images: Rhodri Elfyn Jones.

‘A Small Farm Future’: could it happen in Wales?

By Carwyn Graves

A Small Farm Future by Chris Smaje is subtitled ‘making the case for a society built around local economies, self-provisioning agricultural diversity and a shared earth’. Smaje’s surprising core argument in this ambitious and timely work is that some kind of ‘small farm future’ in the above vein is both necessary and in fact, inevitable. Necessary, in the sense that in light of the compounding crises that now beset western civilisation, a society of this kind offers our best chance of a humane, liberal society that both reflects the democratic values held dear by most in the West, and respects the ecological limits set on human civilization by the planet on which we live. This is a desirable small farm future.

A Small Farm Future published by Chelsea Green 2020

But a small farm future of some sort is, says Smaje, inevitable in the sense that as a result of the crises facing our civilisation a significant proportion of the world’s population will likely end up in a situation where they are dependent on cultivating small parcels of land for their economic basis – and, he intimates, this is likely to be the case for the majority of the world’s population regardless of the trajectory we take. This is far from a groundless assertion, describing as it does what is already the reality for 1.2 billion people globally[1], and as Smaje notes, without the inflated symbolic economy drawing people to the slums and peripheries of the early 20th century’s megacities, the security offered by the land will once more increase in weight in their decision–making. This phenomenon is already in evidence in economies rejected by the arbiters of the current system, such as Greece and now Lebanon: a dystopian small farm future.

Wales is not, of course, currently in that economic place. It therefore stands in a position where it could opt to set a course for the former, desirable small farm future.[2] Most of Smaje’s energy in the book goes into outlining the choices and trade-offs that societies across the western world will need to negotiate in order to avoid the latter future and land instead somewhere in the realms of the former, desirable one. And as a small political-cultural unit currently on the periphery of the global capitalist system (or rather, the western inner ring thereof), Wales is in some-ways well-placed to make choices that would lead to that desirable option. A number of phenomena in the Welsh cultural and political landscape also augur well for this, on paper: a government that has, in its rhetoric at least, long been supportive of ambitious action towards creating a sustainable society (cf. the Future Generations act, the early adoption of planning policies allowing for low-impact dwellings and livelihoods and other legislation in a similar vein); the small size of farm holdings in the country and the high percentage of owners, rather than tenants (in contrast to Scotland or England); the fact that the current economic settlement doesn’t work well for Wales, at least when in comparison with most neighbouring societies (so that government and civil society hasn’t much to lose in opting to chart an unorthodox course).

Cwmyrarian was once a prosperous mixed farm, known for miles around. It provided work for a large family and several farmhands into the mid 20th century but now lies in ruins with its lands split between other holdings.

There are however significant obstacles to the realisation of anything approximating Smaje’s vision in Wales. Many of these arise from the Welsh situation: perhaps the most important of these is the destruction over recent decades of the lingering vestiges of peasant culture in this country, as in other parts of north-western Europe. Add to this is the lack of a strong civic sphere: the peculiar fact that national conversation takes place within different bubbles (British/ Welsh-regional/ Welsh-language) with poor interfaces between these conversations. Much energy therefore necessarily goes into the creation and maintenance of those parts of civic society which many other comparable societies take for granted; and when you’re forced to argue about the terms of your own existence as a cultural unit, there is little bandwidth left for serious debate about issues which seem tangential.

One of these obstacles, however, illuminates tensions which will be of relevance to the discussion about desirable small farm futures well beyond the bounds of our small country. The attractiveness of the small-farm future option arguably applies in the western world most readily to people in marginalized rural areas, who already have emotional investment in the flourishing of the countryside and of farming in particular, and who can see with their own eyes the bankruptcy of the current settlement. The kind of society sketched by Smaje is likely to be intrinsically attractive to many in these contexts, and to be viewed as a solution to many currently intractable and emotionally draining problems for these communities (rural depopulation, lack of jobs, thinning of society).

But in a Welsh context, and undoubtedly many others, solutions touted for rural Wales’ problems (which are at their most acute in the Welsh-speaking parts that cover a good half of the country by area and represent an internal colony of an internal colony in the words of Seimon Brooks) are often bedevilled by a perception that they are foisted upon those communities from the outside. In other words, the kinds of well-meaning institutions and organisations that are the main vehicles for rebuilding the foundations for a positive small-farm future in rural Wales tend to draw their energy and support from outside the communities which they would depend upon and ostensibly benefit. Particular organisations are not the point here: culture and ownership are. From a Welsh perspective this cuts to the core of the greatest weakness in Smaje’s erudite tome: a reluctance, perhaps understandable given his project, to engage with cultural specificities – and thus to acknowledge the real-world implications of these specificities on the likelihood of a positive small-farm future of the type he outlines arising in many contexts.

In other words, there will only be a desirable small-farm future if the effort to create one comes from within the communities themselves: otherwise, all that happens is the creation of a new fault-line between the advocates of such a settlement and everyone else. This potential disengagement is a serious issue, which pertains to ownership – in the emotional sense. In a section touching on these issues in section 4 Smaje states that, ‘as communities develop new commons through self-provisioning from the local ecological base, everybody’s voice counts, not just that of local elites…’[3] But it is far from clear in real-world scenarios where efforts to make this happen are underway that everybody’s voice does count – not because of exclusion so much as the fact that not everybody (or everybody that ought to matter) is in the room. They won’t be in the room if they aren’t invited; but they also won’t come if they don’t feel any potential ownership.

This is about more than simply making the case for a small farm future within wider western culture (vital though that is). Local ownership only happens through the means of local culture – there isn’t an alternative for the kind of bottom-up shift that Smaje is advocating (top-down is different, of course). And so that local culture needs to be the prism through which an argument for a small-farm future is filtered. In other words, the very rationale for why a small-farm future could be a desirable future needs to differ in meaningful ways from context to context. Where this doesn’t happen, only the “likely candidates” will take this forward – which risks alienating those very communities who most need a future of this kind, and who will also be most needed to make it happen in many western contexts. To avoid this, the argument in favour of a local small farm future should therefore look substantially different in the US rust belt, and Welsh-speaking rural Wales and wealthy Bavaria (where much of the same applies, mutatis mutandis). This is a point which Smaje almost acknowledges and often touches on, but which may transpire in practice to be key to the balance between the dystopian and the desirable small farm futures he outlines.

Despite this weakness in his argument, A Small Farm Future is a watershed work – intellectually brilliant and strongly argued. Several of the heuristics Smaje employs are illuminating (the concept of stocks and flows, the centrality of trade-offs for his analysis or the term ‘symbolic economy’ used above); and his bold marriage of sociology, political economy and philosophy with food history and agricultural analysis is riveting. We have here the ambitious groundwork, global in scale, for exactly the case for a small farm future that Smaje set out to write. It now remains for those of us who share his vision to do the hard work of applying that to our own varied contexts.

Carwyn Graves is an author, public speaker and linguist based near Carmarthen. Author of Apples of Wales (2018) and Welsh Food Stories (on its way in 2021…)

Carwyn will be speaking about the history and future of food in Wales at the second Wales Real Food and Farming Conference on 16-19 November. Get your tickets now!

Feature image: A small farm in post-industrial Glamorgan, summer 2019. Whither Wales?


[1] p.91

[2] This term is also repeated, slightly ad nauseam, in the book.

[3] p.260

Gwersi o’r gorffennol, mewn torth o fara

Gan Jane Powell [read article in English]

Os byddwch yn lwcus y gaeaf yma, gallwch brynu torth arbennig iawn ym Marchnad Machynlleth ar ddydd Mercher. Gyda dim ond chwech o dorthau’n cael eu pobi bob wythnos gan bopty Penegoes Rye and Roses, gwneir y bara o wenith a dyfir ychydig filltiroedd i lawr y lôn yng Nglandyfi a’i falu â maen a phŵer dŵr yn y ffordd draddodiadol yn y Felin Ganol, Llanrhystud. Mae’n amser maith er pan dyfid gwenith ar raddfa fawr i wneud bara yn y rhan yma o Gymru a dyma ganlyniad arbrawf gan griw o unigolion brwd o’r enw Tyfwyr Grawn Dyfi. Mae’r grŵp hefyd yn tyfu ceirch.

Un ohonynt yw Katie Hastings, sydd hefyd yn gweithio i Mach Maethlon ac yn tyfu llysiau ers sawl blwyddyn. “Mae gen i wir ddiddordeb mewn bwydo’r gymuned leol a dechreuais i feddwl a fyddai’n bosibl tyfu ein bara a’n huwd ein hunain yma yn Nyffryn Dyfi? A ches i wybod bod gwahanol fathau o rawn yn arfer cael eu tyfu drwy’r dyffryn ar ei hyd 50, 60, 70 o flynyddoedd yn ôl. Arferai pobl dyfu grawn ar ddarnau o dir sydd bellach, yn ôl rhai, yn anaddas i gynhyrchu bwyd, ond nid felly oedd hi o gwbl yn y gorffennol pan fyddai’r amrywogaethau Cymreig hyn yn cael eu tyfu”.

Tyfu gwenith yn Nyffryn Dyfi, 2019. Llun drwy garedigrwydd Katie Hastings.

Dechreuodd Katie a’i chydweithwyr ar arbrawf hirfaith, gan ddysgu sut i aredig, hau, cynaeafu a dyrnu’r grawn. Buont yn ei gynaeafu â llaw ac yn hytrach na defnyddio combein, cawsant fenthyg peiriant dyrnu o Glwb Hen Dractorau Meirionnydd. “Wrth i ni dorri’r grawn a gwneud cocynnau yn y cae, roedd pobl yn dod i lawr o’r bryniau i weld beth roedden ni’n ei wneud ac yn awyddus i helpu,” medd Katie. “Roedd defnyddio’r hen injan ddyrnu wir yn gadael i fi ymgysylltu â ffermwyr o’r hen do oherwydd bod ganddyn nhw y peiriant yma roedd ei angen arnon ni a’u bod am ein gweld yn ei ddefnyddio eto. Fydden ni ddim wedi gallu ei wneud o heb y ffermwyr hŷn yma’n dangos y ffordd i ni.”

Un o’r rhain yw Alun Lewis o Benegoes sy’n cofio ei dad yn tyfu gwenith, haidd, ceirch a thatws ar fferm y teulu ac yn bwyta bara, caws, cig a llysiau wedi’u cynhyrchu gartref yn ystod cyfnod pan fyddai Dyffryn Dyfi’n tyfu cyfran uwch o lawer o’i fwyd ei hun nag sy’n digwydd heddiw. Yn nes ymlaen, treuliodd 27 o flynyddoedd fel contractwr yn mynd â’i beiriannau dyrnu o fferm i fferm. Yn wahanol i gombein, mae injan ddyrnu’n sefyll yn ei hunfan a rhaid i bobl fwydo ysgubau gwenith neu geirch i’w chrombil er mwyn gwahanu’r grawn o’r gwellt a’r us.

Peiriant dyrnu. Llun drwy garedigrwydd Amgueddfa Ceredigion

“Ar ôl y rhyfel, oedd pob ffarm yn gorfod tyfu ŷd a tatws, er mwyn ffidio pobl,” medd Alun gan gyfeirio at y Pwyllgorau Gwaith Amaethyddiaeth Rhyfel lleol (neu’r War Ag) a sefydlwyd ym 1939 gyda phwerau i hawlio tir gan ffermwyr nad oeddent yn cydymffurfio. “Mae’r llyfrau ’ma yn dangos bo ni yn dyrnu bron yn bob ffarm yn Benegoes ’ma, amser ’ny, ac ym mhob ardal arall, Talybont, ffor’ na i gyd, pob ffarm un ar ôl y llall.” Gan nad oedd gan Alun a’i dad ond tri pheiriant dyrnu a’u bod yn gweithio dros ardal cyn belled i’r de â Llan-non, roedd yna dipyn o bwysau i gwblhau’r gwaith. Yn ffodus, gallent fenthyca peiriant ychwanegol gan y War Ag ac roedd yna help gan garcharorion rhyfel a genod Byddin y Tir.

Mae Alun wedi bod yn rhannu ei atgofion gyda phrosiect o’r enw ‘Ffermio cymysg – hanesion a’r dyfodol’ sy’n ymchwilio i arferion ffermio dros y ddwy ganrif ddiwethaf. Ynghyd â hanesion llafar gan drigolion hŷn dan ofal y partner arweiniol ecodyfi, mae’r prosiect yn edrych ar fapiau degwm o’r 1840au, lluniau o’r 1940au a dynnwyd o’r awyr gan yr RAF, ffilm o archifau’r BBC a dogfennau eraill. Mae System Gwybodaeth Ddaearyddol yn cael ei defnyddio i ddwyn yr holl ddata yma at ei gilydd gan fwrw golwg fesul cae ar sut y byddai’r tir yn cael ei ddefnyddio.

Ymysg y data hanesyddol ceir cyfres o fapiau o’r 1930au a luniwyd ar deithiau maes gan blant ysgol a’u hathrawon. Ei gyhoeddi fel yr ymchwiliad cyntaf i ddefnydd tir yn y DU ers Llyfr Domesday, mae’n adnabod saith categori, gan gynnwys coetir, dŵr ac ardaloedd adeiledig ac yn dangos faint mwy o ffermio âr oedd yn digwydd yn ardal Machynlleth yr adeg honno. Trefnwyd yr arolwg gan y daearyddwr o Lundain Syr Dudley Stamp, a’i gwelodd yn rhannol fel ymarferiad mewn dinasyddiaeth i bobl ifainc, ond aeth y mapiau yn eu blaenau i wneud cyfraniad go iawn i ddiogelwch bwyd yn ystod y Rhyfel.

Defnydd tir yn ardal Machynlleth yn y 1930au. Brown tywyll = tir âr a gerddi marchnad, porffor = gerddi, perllannoedd a rhandiroedd. Seilir y gwaith yma ar ddata a ddarparwyd drwy http://www.VisionofBritain.org.uk gan ddefnyddio deunydd map hanesyddol o’r Arolwg Defnydd Tir sydd o dan hawlfraint Arolwg Defnydd Tir Prydain Fawr, 1933-49, hawlfraint Audrey N. Clark

Yn adleisio hyn, un o nodau’r prosiect Ffermio Cymysg sydd â Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru, Prifysgol Aberystwyth ac Environment Systems Cyf. ymhlith ei bartneriaid, yw cyfrannu i drafodaeth gyhoeddus am ddyfodol ffermio yn yr ardal.

“Amserau cythryblus i ffermwyr yw’r rhain ac mae’n helpu i edrych ymhell i’r dyfodol. Mae ffermio wedi newid yn aruthrol dros y ganrif ddiwethaf mewn ymateb i newidiadau economaidd a chymdeithasol ac mae’n gallu newid eto. Rydyn ni am sicrhau bod gwybodaeth ac adnoddau ar gael i ffermwyr a darparu data’n sail i’r drafodaeth gyhoeddus,” medd Chris Higgins, rheolwr y prosiect.

Gwenith Hen Gymro. Llun drwy garedigrwydd IBERS, Aberystwyth

Nid mapiau ac atgofion yn unig sy’n ein cysylltu â’r gorffennol. Ym Mhrifysgol Aberystwyth, mae Dr Fiona Corke yn esbonio sut maent yn meithrin gwenith traddodiadol o’r enw Hen Gymro. “Fe’i casglwyd o ffermydd yng Nghymru ym 1919 gan Syr George Stapledon, cyfarwyddwr cyntaf Bridfa Blanhigion Cymru, ac mae’n cael ei adnabod fel landrace nid amrywogaeth oherwydd mai cymysgedd o fathau oedd o, wedi ymaddasu i’r lleoliad lle’r oedd yn cael ei dyfu,” meddai. “Mae gwellt hir i’r hen fathau o wenith a ddefnyddid at doi ac mae pwysau’r cnydau’n is na phwysau gwenithau modern. Fodd bynnag, roeddent yn ddibynadwy ac mae diddordeb ynddynt eto erbyn hyn, yn arbennig gan dyfwyr organig oherwydd nad oes angen fawr o wrtaith arnynt”.

Wrth gefn adfywio grawn traddodiadol mae Fforwm Grawn Cymru, sef rhwydwaith o felinwyr, pobwyr, towyr, bragwyr a distyllwyr sy’n ymrwymedig i adfer economi rawn genedlaethol. Yn allweddol i hyn mae creu diwylliant bwyd sy’n croesawu amrywiaeth ranbarthol, wrth i rawn esblygu i weddu i wahanol amodau. Chwedl Katie, “Rydyn ni am i bobl brofi’r blas sy’n deillio o gymysgedd o wenith sy’n wahanol iawn i’r blawd rydych chi’n ei brynu oddi ar y silff. Mae blas Dyffryn Dyfi ar y dorth yma, gan adlewyrchu’r pridd a’r hinsawdd lle cafodd ei thyfu.”

Ariennir y prosiect Ffermio Cymysg yn rhannol gan Sefydliad y Teulu Ashley ac yn rhannol gan yr Undeb Ewropeaidd drwy Weinidogion Llywodraeth Cymru. Cafwyd cyllid gan Gronfa Amaethyddol Ewrop ar gyfer Datblygu Gwledig drwy Lywodraeth Cymru, Cyngor Sir Powys a’r tri Grŵp Gweithredu Lleol sydd ar waith yn ardal Biosffer Dyfi: Arwain, Cynnal y Cardi ac Arloesi Gwynedd.

Mae’r prosiect yn rhedeg tan hydref 2020 gan groesawu cyfraniad gan bobl sydd â diddordeb yn hanes amaethyddiaeth yn yr ardal a dewisiadau arallgyfeirio o ran cynhyrchu bwyd yn gynaliadwy. Cysylltwch ag ecodyfi i gael gwybod mwy.

Mae Jane Powell yn ymghorydd addysg sy’n ysgrifennu am fwyd yn www.foodsociety.wales

Lessons from the past, in a loaf of bread

By Jane Powell [darllen erthygl yn Gymraeg]

If you’re lucky this winter, you can buy a very special loaf at Machynlleth’s Wednesday market. Baked in a limited edition of six a week by Penegoes bakery Rye and Roses, it’s made from wheat grown a few miles down the road at Glandyfi, and milled the traditional stoneground, water-powered way at Felin Ganol, Llanrhystud. It’s many years since wheat was last grown at any scale to make bread in this part of Wales, and it’s the result of an experiment by a group of enthusiasts called the Dyfi Grain Growers. The group is also growing oats.

One of them is Katie Hastings, who also works for Mach Maethlon and has been growing vegetables for many years. “I have a real interest in feeding the local community, and I started thinking, would it be possible to grow our own bread and our own porridge here in the Dyfi Valley? And I found out that grains used to be grown all over the valley 50, 60, 70 years ago. People used to grow cereals on areas of land which people now say are unsuitable for food production, but really weren’t in the past when these native Welsh varieties were grown”.

Growing wheat in the Dyfi Valley, 2019. Image courtesy of Katie Hastings.

Katie and her colleagues embarked on a long experiment, learning how to plough, sow, harvest and thresh the grain. They harvested it by hand, and rather than use a combine harvester they borrowed a threshing machine from Meirionnydd Vintage Club. “When we were cutting the grain and making stooks in the field, people were coming down from the hills to see what we were doing, and keen to help,” she says. “Using the old threshing machine really allowed me to connect with the older farmers, because they had this machine that we needed, and they wanted to see us using it again. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without these older farmers showing us how.”

One of these is Alun Lewis of Penegoes, who remembers his father growing wheat, barley, oats and potatoes on the family farm, and eating home-produced bread, cheese, meat and vegetables, in an era when the Dyfi Valley grew a much higher proportion of its own food than it does now. Later he spent 27 years as a contractor, taking his threshing machines from farm to farm. Unlike a modern combine harvester, a threshing machine is static, and requires people to feed sheaves of wheat or oats into it, in order to separate the grain from the straw and chaff.

A threshing machine, courtesy of Ceredigion Museum.

“After the War every farm had to grow wheat and potatoes to feed people,” he says, referring to the local War Agriculture Executive Committees, or War Ags, set up in 1939 with powers to requisition land from farmers who did not comply. “Our records show that we were threshing on nearly every farm here in Penegoes then, and everywhere else, Tal-y-bont, all down that way, one farm after another.” As Alun and his father only had three threshing machines and they covered an area as far south as Llanon, there was a lot of pressure to get the work done. Fortunately, they were able to borrow an extra machine from the War Ag, and there was help from prisoners of war and the Land Girls.  

Alun has been sharing his memories with a project called ‘Mixed farming – histories and futures’, which is researching farming practices over the past two centuries. Together with oral histories from older residents organized by the lead partner ecodyfi, the project is looking at tithe maps from the 1840s, RAF aerial photographs from the 1940s, archive footage from the BBC and other documents. A Geographic Information System is being used to draw all this data together and provide a field-by-field overview of how land was used.

Among the historic data is a set of maps from the 1930s which were compiled on field trips by schoolchildren and their teachers. Hailed as the first investigation into land use in the UK since the Domesday Book, it identifies seven categories, including woodland, water and built-up areas, and shows how much more arable farming there was in the Machynlleth area in those days. The survey was organized by London geographer Sir Dudley Stamp, who saw it partly as an exercise in citizenship for young people, but the maps went on to make a real contribution to food security in the War.

Land use in the Machynlleth area in the 1930s. Dark brown = arable and market gardens, purple = gardens, orchards and allotments. This work is based on data provided through http://www.VisionofBritain.org.uk and uses historical Land Utilisation Survey map material which is copyright of The Land Utilisation Survey of Great Britain, 1933-49, copyright Audrey N. Clark.

Echoing this, one of the aims of the Mixed Farming project, whose partners include the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth University and Environment Systems Ltd, is to contribute to a public discussion about the future of farming in the area.

“These are turbulent times for farmers, and it helps to take a long view. Farming has changed enormously over the past century in response to economic and social changes, and it can change again. We want to make information and resources available to farmers and help inform the public debate,” says Chris Higgins, project manager.

Hen Gymro wheat, courtesy of IBERS, Aberstwyth

 It’s not just maps and memories that link us with the past. At Aberystwyth University, Dr Fiona Corke explains how they are maintaining a traditional wheat called Hen Gymro. “It was collected from Welsh farms in 1919 by Sir George Stapledon, first director of the Welsh Plant Breeding Station, and it’s known as a landrace not a variety, because it was a mixture of types adapted to the locality where it was grown,” she says. “The old wheats all have long straw, which was used for thatching, and they are low yielding compared to modern wheats. However, they were reliable, and now there is interest in them again, particularly from organic growers because they don’t need a lot of fertiliser”.

Backing the revival of traditional cereals is the Welsh Grain Forum, which is a network of millers, bakers, thatchers, maltsters, distillers and brewers committed to restoring a national grain economy. Key to this is creating a food culture that embraces regional variation, as grains evolve to suit different conditions. As Katie puts it, “We want people to taste the flavour you get from a mixed population of wheat, which is very different from flour you buy off the shelf. This loaf has the flavour of the Dyfi Valley, reflecting the soil and climate where it was grown.”

The Mixed Farming project is funded partly by the Ashley Family Foundation and partly by the European Union through Welsh Ministers. The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development has been made available through the Welsh Government, Powys County Council and the three Local Action Groups operating in the Dyfi Biosphere area: Arwain, Cynnal y Cardi and Arloesi Gwynedd.

The project runs until autumn 2020 and welcomes involvement from people interested in the history of agriculture in the area and sustainable food production diversification options. Please contact Ecodyfi to find out more.

Jane Powell is an education consultant who writes about food at www.foodsociety.wales.

Global reforestation and sustainable farming – 200 million trees for Wales?

By Rob Squires

Scottish agroforestry

Agroforestry (main species silvopastoral system) at Bolfracks Estate, Upper Farrochil, by Aberfeldy. Forestry Grant Scheme. Photographer – Matt Cartney. Crown Copyright.

A recent Guardian article covered a report proposing the planting of one trillion trees over the next 50-100 years, to mop up two-thirds of global carbon emissions. The Global Tree Restoration Potential excludes arable and urban areas from its calculations, but includes grazing land, on which the researchers say trees can benefit sheep and cattle. As the most effective projects cost as little as 30 US cents a tree, the total price could be £240bn.

This may sound like a lot of money, but on the same day as the Guardian article came out I received a petition from Positive Money (who campaign for monetary reform) demanding the Bank of England divest from fossil fuels. It stated: “Since 2009 the Bank of England has created £445bn of new money, in the process termed ‘quantitative easing’.” Reading this put the situation into sharp context for me. If the banks are “too big to fail”, such that £445bn can be whipped up using the government’s “magic money tree”,  then surely the planet is big enough to merit a mere £240bn to put the brakes on the climate crisis? What is more, this would be £240bn globally, so Wales’ share of this would be a drop in the ocean, compared with the bill for bailing out the bankers.

I recently attended a meeting about the Sustainable Farming and our Land, the Welsh Government’s consultation on support to farmers after Brexit. This got me thinking about the one trillion trees and what it would take for Wales to play its part in this, and I was prompted to do some back-of-an-envelope number crunching.

Let us assume 200 million trees[i] would need planting in Wales, for us to achieve our share of one trillion. Using the same planting densities as the report, this will require around 285,000 hectares (ha). Wales actually contains about 1,500,000 ha of grazing land, which is roughly three-quarters of the total land mass of the country. If most of the trees were planted on this land, it would take up about 20% of it. The average holding size in Wales is about 48 ha, and on that basis an average of 6,720 trees will need planting per holding, at a rate of 140 trees per ha.

If planting 200m trees sounds like a tall order, then serendipitously, in the few days I have been writing this blog, Ethiopia has broken a world record by planting an incredible 350m trees in just one day! Their plan is to plant four billion to counter deforestation, and climate change. The surface area of Ethiopia is 53 times greater than that of Wales, so this target equates to pretty much the same amount of additional trees per hectare as Wales.

Tree planting on this scale will have a dramatic impact, both on the natural world and on the livelihoods of farmers and smallholders. For the environment the benefits of reforestation are obvious, providing habitat, increased biodiversity and ecological resilience. The challenge however, is to develop ways in which the rural economy can adapt to such changes, building food security and ensuring financial benefits.

One important aspect of the government’s proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme is that it plans to reward farmers with subsidies for environmental outcomes, such as biodiversity, air quality, and water quality, all of which tree planting can contribute to. Since currently an average of 80% of Welsh farmers’ income comes from the direct payments they receive through the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, the new environmental rewards are going to be crucial to prevent many farmers from going out of business after Brexit. Tree planting offers much more potential for farmers though, than simply obtaining a replacement subsidy.

The Soil Association’s new Agroforestry Handbook explains the potential of different types of tree farming systems, with advice on implementation, case studies, and market opportunities. The economic case for agroforestry can be considered in three main ways: enhanced ecosystem services; enhanced agricultural outputs; and direct tree outputs.

  • The enhanced ecosystem services that can be achieved are perfect for the Sustainable Farming Scheme, and include carbon capture, biodiversity, rain water retention and soil improvement.
  • A good case study for enhanced agricultural outputs is Welsh sheep and beef farmer Jonathan Francis, who was unable to turn stock into some fields because of rainfall and lack of shelter. With support from Coed Cadw (the Woodland Trust in Wales) he planted 15,000 trees on his 113 ha farm. He is creating shelter for his stock, and reducing water logging and erosion of the soil, thus reclaiming the land and enhancing his conventional outputs. Meanwhile Pembrokeshire farmer Alex Heffron who has written about silvopasture (the grazing of livestock amongst trees) is applying for funding from Coed Cadw to plant tens of thousands of trees on his land.
  • In terms of direct tree outputs, the Agroforestry Handbook lists a range of potential market opportunities, including timber, fuel, food, leisure, and carbon markets. As well as the direct sales, farmers could choose to reduce costs by utilising their own timber for things like fencing, farm buildings, and fuel.

Within the Sustainable Farming Scheme, in addition to a regular income stream from environmental rewards, farmers will be able to access a wider range of business support such as advice, capital investment and skills development. With such a framework in place, it is feasible that land use can be reformed such that Wales makes a fair contribution to global reforestation, whilst supporting land managers to release themselves from the worst of global market forces, moving  away from a heavily subsidised and precarious place, to a new position of much improved community resilience.

Rob Squires is a web developer and food activist in Aberystwyth.

Both images: agroforestry in Scotland, by Matt Cartney, under a Creative Commons licence

[i]. Global population is currently about 7.72bn (growing by over 200,000 / day!), and the population of Wales is around 3.2m, or 0.041%. Based on this percentage, Wales would be required to plant around 410m trees in order to meet its commitment to 1tn trees. This however, is a lot of trees for a relatively small country.

Another way to break it down might be by surface area. The land mass of the entire world is 149 million km², whist the area of Wales is 20,735 km², which is about 0.014%. Based on this percentage, Wales would be required to plant about 140m trees in order to fulfil it’s commitment, which seems more do-able.

There are other ways of thinking about this, such as basing the size of Wales’ commitment on the country’s GDP, or on its carbon footprint. If either of these measures were used, then the Welsh commitment to 1tn trees would no doubt be a lot higher than either of the two figures above. To keep things simple though I have chosen a figure of 200m trees, somewhere in between the estimates formed from population and land mass.