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.
Industry-wide review for meat processing
THE FOOD Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland are publishing details of a major review into the sites where meat products are processed and stored in the UK.
The review includes a comprehensive review of hygiene controls and unannounced inspections and audit regimes.
Jason Feeney and Geoff Ogle, Chief Executives of the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland respectively, jointly commented: “We are concerned about recent instances of companies breaching hygiene rules. People rightly expect food businesses to keep to the rules, rules designed to keep consumers safe and to sustain public trust in food – and food businesses have a duty to follow the regulations. Our review will be far reaching and thorough and we will announce our initial findings in June.”
“We are pleased that the meat industry representatives who we met with have pledged their full and effective engagement with the review.”
The review being launched today will aim to:
- Increase public and stakeholder confidence in the meat industry and its regulation
- Improve the ability to identify non-compliance and take prompt action to minimise the risk to public health and food safety
- Assess how the industry currently operates across the whole supply chain.
- Increase awareness of circumstances and factors which can lead to non-compliance
The scope of the review will incorporate:
- All types of cutting plants (red meat, white meat and game)
- How the current legislation works and the guidance supporting it
- How the ‘official controls’ are carried out which must be followed to ensure compliance with hygiene legislative requirements (this includes audits, inspections, sampling and surveillance)
- The roles and responsibilities of food businesses, regulators and assurance bodies
- How incidents are managed and responded to
The recent investigation into 2 Sisters Food Group has been extensive and thorough and looked across their poultry sites.
500 hours of CCTV from the site were examined along with audit information from major retailers. The company voluntarily ceased production at one site whilst changes were made and staff re-trained. The FSA have had a permanent presence at their cutting plants for the last four months.
Jason Feeney, Chief Executive of the Food Standards Agency said: “Our investigation found some areas for improvement but the issues were resolved promptly by the company, who co-operated fully, and at no point did we find it necessary to take formal enforcement action.”
“The business has made a wide range of improvements across all their sites to improve processes. They are already publishing the outcomes of all their audits and are in the process of installing high quality CCTV across their estate that we will have full access to. These are measures we would like the whole industry to adopt.”
Sheep’s importance to countryside highlighted
CARMARTHEN sheep farmer and Farmers’ Union of Wales Vice President Ian Rickman, whose hill farm Gurnos, near Bethlehem, Llandeilo, lies at over 1000 feet in places, has highlighted the important role sheep play in maintaining the countryside.
500 Llandovery white faced ewes, which are due to lamb during the next two months, call these lands their home. Ian fears that the consequences of not grazing the mountains would have a devastating impact on the environment and tourism.
The farm extends to 220 acres with Common Grazing Rights on the Black Mountain, and he is a member of the Management Committee of the Black Mountain West Graziers Association.
To showcase just how much #FarmingMatters and to discuss wider issues of concern, he held an open day in February, welcoming Jonathan Edwards MP, Adam Price AM, Dafydd Llewelyn Dyfed Powys Police and Crime Commissioner, Councillor Gareth Thomas, various business representatives and many local farmers.
Ian explained the importance of grazing the mountains: “I move the ewe lambs annually to the mountains and common land with their mothers where they are taught where to graze. It has been an important part of grazing the mountains for many generations.
“If lamb prices dropped drastically, we lost our market or farm support was to diminish, it could mean less or no sheep on the mountains. That in turn could have a detrimental effect on the landscape of the mountains in years to come and therefore also on tourism, the communities that are intrinsic to our rural economy, and our way of life here in the uplands would change – and possibly not for the better.”
The FUW further used the opportunity to discuss wider #FarmingMatters such as the lack of broadband, telephone signal, worries about lamb prices, rural crime, and bank closures, as well as the urgent need to secure fair farm funding for Wales.
Nerys Edwards, the FUW’s assistant CEO in Carmarthen highlighted the need for urgent funding security. She said: “We know that the UK Government has said that it will match the current EU budget that supports farming and our rural economies, but how that money gets to Wales and how it is managed has not been determined. That of course is a real problem for our farmers like Ian, because they can’t plan for the future.
“It is encouraging to hear First Minister Carwyn Jones backing the industry and we recently heard him say that “agricultural funding will have to be held in a separate pot and dealt with in a different way”.
“However, there is a risk that it could go through the Barnett Formula, which will reduce the £260 m to circa £150 million and spell disaster for our rural economy.
“The FUW is now actively lobbying for the money to be assigned from the UK Government to Wales, for agriculture and we really appreciated being able to raise this with our local elected politicians here on farm.”
When East meets West
THERE may be over 5,000 miles between a livestock farm in the Welsh Valleys and a coffee and spice farm in Kerala, India, but the challenges they face are not such a world apart.
Welcoming spice and coffee farmer Father John Joseph from Wayanad in the state of Kerala, India, to Pencoedcae Farm, Princetown, near Tredegar, was Farmers’ Union of Wales Vice President Brian Bowen.
The farm is a mixed suckler cow and sheep hill unit. It consists of 150 acres of owned land with a further 1,000 rented acres and 1,200 acres of common rights on three separate commons. He runs the farm, along with his father, mother and his son.
Father John Joseph is visiting Wales as a guest of Fair Trade Wales as part of the annual celebration of Fairtrade Fortnight.
He grew up on a farm and studied at his local university before moving to Bangalore to complete his law degree. The area he farms is hilly and forested, which brings challenges. John decided to set up the WSSS Organic Farmers Fair Trade Association (WOFFA) in 2008 as a way of organising farming families to gain knowledge and tackle the challenges they’re facing, such as cycles of debt and over-use of chemicals and pesticides.
Speaking about the need for fair prices for farmers, Brian Bowen said: “In 2008 Wales became the first ever “Fair Trade Nation” and the FUW announced its support for Fairtrade at the Royal Welsh Winter Fair in December that year.
“Since then we have been working closely with Fair Trade Wales to highlight the need for farmers all over the world to get paid a fair price so that food security can be achieved across the globe.
“While our produce and farming methods are on the one hand extremely different, there are many similarities between major issues of concern.
“Despite our differences, the principle that a farmer should receive a fair price for his produce transcends international boundaries, and is one that we should all support, whether as individuals or as organisations – and this principle should also extend to procurement by public bodies.”
Talking about the benefits of the Fairtrade movement, Father John Joseph said: “Being part of a Fairtrade organization has helped farmers like myself to create a positive cycle of investment. The communities are also able to invest in better farming practices, training and workshops, which in turn increases production and efficiency. Almost 20% of the members are women.
“Using Fairtrade Premiums WOFFA has been able to grant the financial support for making the compost for farmer groups, which provides higher yields. This makes the farm more productive, and ensures a higher return to the farmer.”
Julian Rosser, National Co-ordinator of Fair Trade Wales commented: “All around the world, farmers are working hard to produce food and other products we consume every day. Wherever they are in the world we believe that they should get a fair deal and a decent price for their products. As the UK considers future trade deals with other countries we will be campaigning to make trade justice a central part of government policy.”
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