CHALLENGES and problems that farmers in the UK face are not so different to those faced by farmers in Malawi, a delegation of Farmers’ Union of Wales officials has heard.
Visiting a Welsh organic arable and dairy farm – Allan Saidi a sugar farmer from Malawi – told FUW president Emyr Jones that the challenges of trying to achieve a fair price for their produce in order to provide a brighter future for their children are just the same in Africa as they are here in Wales.
The delegation was joined by the deputy minister for farming and food, Rebecca Evans AM, as they explored FUW Ceredigion county chairman Aled Rees’s150-acre organic dairy farm at Trefere Fawr, Penparc, Cardigan.
Following the visit the deputy minister for farming and food, Rebecca Evans AM said: “It was a pleasure to meet Allan last week and hear about how Fairtrade is transforming lives and helping people out of poverty in Malawi. Becoming the first Fair Trade Nation was a huge moment for Wales. It showed the world that we are an outward-looking, compassionate country which cares about ensuring farmers and food producers receive a fair deal wherever they are.”
“It was an absolute pleasure to show Allan around the farm and hear about the challenges a farmer on the other side of the world faces. It has become quite clear that even though we tend land many miles apart we worry about very similar things –floods, prices, cost of production and how to improve the lives of our families on a day-to-day basis,” said Mr Rees.
“It is easy to forget how fortunate we are living in the western world and take things like running water, safety, health care and education for our children for granted. What Allan and his fellow sugarcane farmers have achieved over the years can only be admired and must be supported in whatever way we can.
“Achieving a fair price for our produce plays a major role in this. Of course we have to take responsibility for running efficient businesses and producing a quality product but if we don’t get paid fairly for our efforts we cannot expand and further invest in the industry,” added Mr Rees.
Speaking after the visit, FUW president Emyr Jones added: “As much as the union and every farmer in the UK want a fair price for dairy, meat and arable produce in the market place we also want to see farmers like Allan get a fair price for his products. The two principles should have equal priority worldwide.”
Mr Saidi, 27, who has been farming sugarcane for over ten years, is also secretary of the Fairtrade Premium Committee – the elected committee which manages projects chosen by Kasinthula Cane Growers’ Association (KCGA) members. The members decide what community projects should benefit from the Fairtrade Premium received, with funds being invested in services such as communally owned agricultural machinery, school buildings and a community leisure centre.
“Malawi’s sugar sector is vital for the country’s economy – in 2013 sugar exports were worth $114m, making it the second most important export commodity after tobacco. Sugar is grown as a mono-crop and is generally the main source of income for smallholder producers, who also grow food crops and keep livestock. Agriculture provides a livelihood for over 85 percent of the population, of which around 90 percent are smallholders,” said Mr Saidi.
“KCG is a smallholder sugar cane project located in an inhospitable region of southern Malawi. Long droughts occasionally result in famine, and the twice-yearly rains often bring floods – in January 2015 many farmers were affected by Malawi’s worst floods for fifty years that killed several hundred people, displaced thousands more and caused extensive damage to crops, livestock and infrastructure.
“Literacy levels are low and poverty is widespread in the region. Most people live in basic mud huts with thatched roofs and few can afford to keep livestock. Families make a living growing maize, cassava or rice, while others earn cash from sugar cane or cotton, or by labouring on nearby sugar plantations. Other challenges faced by farming communities include high input costs, poor rural infrastructure, inadequate health facilities, and a lack of agricultural extension services and appropriate technology,” added Mr Saidi.
FUW policy officer Helen Ovens, who has previously worked with farmers in Uganda, said: “I have seen first-hand the benefits of growing a cash crop -even on a very small scale-alongside crops grown to feed the family.
“Sugarcane is a high value crop, bringing in much needed income into deprived rural communities, and helps to pay for essential services. Allan and his fellow farmers produce a particularly high value product – that being organic, fair trade sugar.The quality of this product, and the real tangible benefits to his community that arise from us purchasing products with a Fair Trade logo should not be underestimated.”
“Farmers across the world need to receive a realistic financial return for their products, whether that be sugarcane from a small farm in southern Malawi, or milk from a dairy farm in west Wales. It has been a pleasure to see Aled and Allan exchange farming experiences, increasing each other’s understanding of their own farming circumstances,” added Helen.
FUW welcomes new minister
THE FARMERS’ UNION OF WALES has welcomed the announcement in continuity in the Welsh Government, following the Cabinet reshuffle (Nov 3), which saw Lesley Griffiths continuing in her role as Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, with the addition of a deputy, Hannah Blythyn as Minister for Environment.
Responding to the news, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “We welcome the continuity of keeping Lesley Griffiths as our Cabinet Secretary. Our working relationship has been a positive one and we look forward to continue working with her.
“With issues such as climate change and water management dominating agendas such as those listed in the Well-being of Future Generations Act, we are pleased to see Mrs Griffiths will be able to continue to fight for the interests of our rural communities – communities for which agriculture is a cornerstone.
“We are also pleased to see that Hannah Blythyn has joined the Cabinet. The addition of a new Minister recognises the complexity of the portfolio and we look forward to working with Hannah in the context of her remit.
“We met with Lesley Griffiths last week and will now seek a meeting with Hannah Blythyn at the earliest opportunity, to discuss those issues which are of concern to farmers and have an impact on all aspects of her portfolio.”
Commitment on funding welcomed
NFU CYMRU has welcomed the Welsh Government reaffirming its commitment to ring-fence funding for Welsh farming post-Brexit.
Last week NFU Cymru met with Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths AM, and in a wide ranging discussion covering a range of topics, Brexit topped the agenda.
Following the meeting, NFU Cymru President Stephen James said: “I am pleased that in our meeting with the Cabinet Secretary, Lesley Griffiths AM, she reaffirmed the commitment from the First Minister that funding for Welsh agriculture from the UK Government to the Welsh Government will be ring-fenced for Welsh farmers post-Brexit.”
The Cabinet Secretary’s commitment follows on from a response that the First Minister gave to Plenary on October 24 and reaffirms the commitment in the Welsh Government / Plaid Cymru Securing Wales’ Future document which stated that it is ‘essential that equivalent or greater resources to those Wales would have received from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) are provided from the UK to support Welsh farming’.
Stephen James continued: “NFU Cymru’s message on future funding arrangements has been clear and unequivocal. Governments in Cardiff and Westminster must maintain current levels of investment for farming in Wales, to ensure Welsh farmers remain competitive and can continue to produce food to the highest standards whilst maintaining and enhancing our environment and meeting our climate change obligations.
“At Plenary, the First Minister mentioned that he would consider looking at alternate ways of working and we would absolutely agree with that. This is an opportunity for us in Wales to work collectively to create a new agricultural policy framework that helps to achieve our vision of a productive, progressive and profitable farming industry that delivers jobs, growth and investment for Wales.
“We see the development of a new policy framework as an evolution over a period of time, with the timeframe for change very much determined by our future trading relationship with the EU.
“With the UK Government having committed to the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of this Parliament, the next step is for the UK Government to clarify how these funds will be allocated amongst the home nations. This allocation should be based on the current formula for distributing CAP funds within the UK.
“Farming is a long term business and we need clarity and certainty on a range of issues including funding, trade and future agricultural policy. Developing agricultural policy and budgetary frameworks should be developed in partnership between the governments of the UK, so that a common policy framework can be agreed. A common policy, but a policy which allows flexibility for each country to take account of the pattern and practice of farming within their country.”
Family farms on the brink
FEWER than one in five family farms are making a profit from their farming activity, according to research undertaken by the Andersons Centre on behalf of The Prince’s Countryside Fund.
Analysis of data from 172 participants in the first year of The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme has shown that the average farm made more than £20,000 loss from farming activities, and instead is reliant on other income streams to make a profit.
The shortfall was made up by income from non-farming activity, such as tourism enterprises, renewables, direct selling of products to the consumer, or income from working off farm as well as farm payments.
According to the report, broadly speaking, farmers face two business choices in order to cope with declining economic fortunes: either to focus on a farming solution or to redeploy resources away from agricultural production. In reality, it may be a combination of the two or farmers may vacillate between the two courses of action with periods of off-farm work generating income interspersed with a focus on the farm.
There are, of course, two further options open to farmers. First, they may cease farming, either entirely through selling up the farm or by letting their land. Or secondly, they might tighten the belt and continue business as usual.
Worryingly, many operators of small farms, believe the near future will see them retiring or otherwise leaving agriculture altogether.
Lord Curry of Kirkharle, chairman of The Prince’s Countryside Fund said: “Although the initial figure is startling, the research from the Andersons Centre shows that farmers are increasingly looking at their farms as a business, and are proactively looking for how they can generate an income from diversified sources to remain profitable.
“This is more crucial now than ever. Farmers must develop their skills and improve their business confidence to survive. If they do not, the risk of extinction for the family farm is very real; farmers must act now to both strengthen their core farming business and to spread the risk.
“The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme is vital, because it equips farmers with the tools they need to remain financially stable. Maintaining diversity of farm size is essential to protect the British countryside and our rural communities.”
The Andersons Centre developed a bespoke and easy to use Business Health Check Tool for The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme, allowing farmers on the programme to benchmark their performance, identify their strengths and weaknesses, and make informed business decisions as a result. Data from this tool was analysed to identify trends and performance in the farm businesses involved in the initiative.
The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme aims to help 300 family farms, across 15 locations, each year. It brings together like minded family farm enterprises in local networks, to review their current activity and identify improvements and opportunities that can be made on-farm to build resilience, effectively helping farmers to take control of their businesses. Farmers who took part in the first year have confirmed they have higher levels of confidence in their business, better business management, and stronger communication within their family.
The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme directly addresses some of the issues raised in a report commissioned by the Fund from the University of Exeter, ‘Is there a future for the small family farm in the UK?’
The report detailed how the loss of small family farms would have devastating effects for the British countryside, leading to loss of employment, breakdown of rural communities, and potential negative environmental consequences. The report concluded that it was essential to maintain a diverse range of farm sizes, but that this was in significant jeopardy.
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