Small farmer ‘crucial’ to food security – Prince Charles

August 9, 2015

 

Prince Charles

NATURAL ECONOMY: Prince Charles, who says that biodiversity must be at the forefront of thinking when planning future food production as it is essential for man’s ultimate survival. Picture by Dan Marsh.

 

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PATCHWORK QUILT: Some of the landscape as seen Glastonbury Tor down on the Somerset Levels towards Glastonbury. Small and medium-sized farms shape this landscape through agri-environment schemes and careful water management.

 

PRINCE Charles has spoken about the threats to small farmers and the impact of biodiversity on the South West countryside.

These transcripts are from an interview by rural affairs correspondent Charlotte Smith with the Prince of Wales on BBC Radio 4 called On My Farm and it can be played back on BBC IPlayer. In it he argues that biodiversity and the importance of having a style of agriculture that supports nature rather than exploiting it is crucial in maintaining cherished landscapes.

The interview was conducted in Transylvania where the Prince has two properties that he has restored. He was there to launch a Romanian version of the Princes Trust to help young people stay in their rural communities by sponsoring courses in traditional crafts.

As this interview went out on Sunday 9 August, it has been claimed by industry activists on social media that the BBC’s flagship rural programme Countryfile made no recent references to the “trolley dash” protests in supermarkets highlighting the devaluing of milk, lamb, beef and other grocery items.

Contrary to some of the mainstream media missing the point of these protests, shelves are being emptied and put out in trolleys outside to illustrate to consumers if there are no dairy farmers to provide the milk, there won’t be any for them to buy.

Two weeks ago the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall made their annual joint visit to the West Country.

The 67-year-old heir to the throne heads the Duchy of Cornwall estate, which was established in 1337 by King Edward III. The Duchy consists of 53,000 hectares in 23 counties including Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall.

When Smith initially raised the subject of biodiversity, the Prince recalled someone telling him some people thought biodiversity was a “new kind of washing powder’

He said: “Biodiversity seems a very long word but actually means ‘variety of life’ on which we all depend. The difficulty is that we have been taught that we don’t depend on this.

“I have been saying this for a long time but you have to put an economic value on what nature gives us. For hundreds of years we have pushed nature into the background, we’ve exploited it and put nothing back and we somehow imagine that we are separate from nature and you keep on exploiting.

“We need to have an integrated approach to rural development. I believe the small farmer or smallholder is absolutely crucial to the maintenance of food security. It can’t all be done by gigantic corporations. Agri-businesses – some of them try – but a lot of them are simply not interested in biodiversity, culture, villages or rural communities.

“How sustainable is the modern industrialized system of farming? I would argue that it isn’t sustainable, which in the long run is why I decided to opt for an agri-ecological approach to farming because this approach maintains so many of the things that are vital to our long-term survival.

“Actually putting biodiversity at the heart of farming is absolutely crucial due to water supply and all the things that nature gives us in the long term.

In reply to the Prince’s call for protecting diversity, NFU vice-president Guy Smith, who farms 600 acres in Essex growing oil seed rape, barley and wheat, says intensive production was the priority post-war but the sons and daughters of the their generation had a different mindset to biodiversity. He uses pesticide and fertilizers as a means to help with his business.

“The message my father’s generation got post-war was to produce more because that generation came out of rationing and war-time shortage and they weren’t expected to mindful of every hedge and skylark and the changes they made increased production but maybe did damage biodiversity.

“We are mindful that society expects us to mesh conservation with production and I think we meet those targets. The idea that the British countryside has been rendered into some car park in terms of its biodiversity – I look out of my window and I visit farms and that’s not what I see. I see rich bio-diverse landscape in amongst productive agriculture.”

However, the Prince, who is grandfather to Prince George and Princess Charlotte, insists it was vital that biodiversity was maintained for future generations.

“I’m still going on about it and people say ‘I don’t live in the real world’, of course you have to produce food for millions of people. However it depends on the quality of food and how much waste there is.

“In the developed world and the developing world, we waste 40 per cent of all our food and that is crazy and we should start there. We should get on with energy efficiency. There is a hell of a lot that still needs to be done because of the pressures on our precious environments that we depend on are immense.

“If the global temperature goes up by more than 2’C, serious things will happen and it will be much more difficult to produce food and that is why I go on about maintaining nature’s own economy which we forget is absolutely essential in maintaining our own human economy.”

 

 

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