Welsh Government must learn lessons from the coronavirus crisis and change course on its post-Brexit agriculture policy, focusing more on food, says Rachel Lewis-Davies, NFU Cymru’s national environment and land use adviser.
In the four years since the EU Referendum, there has been considerable debate about what will replace the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in Wales.
Support delivered through this policy forms an important component of farm business incomes.
In line with its objectives, it supports the production of safe, affordable food for consumers; ensures farmers can make a reasonable living; helps to tackle climate change and the sustainable management of natural resources; maintains rural areas and landscapes and keeps the rural economy alive.
Given its significance, its replacement has formed the basis of not one, but three of the most comprehensive consultations with NFU Cymru members in the union’s history.
In 2016, our members – farmers across Wales and from every farming sector – defined the principles and framework of measures for future food and farming policy.
Paramount is a policy that secures safe, high-quality, traceable food for our nation, supporting the active farmers who take the risks associated with food production.
It should be an integrated framework of sustainable agriculture founded on three cornerstones of measures that reward and enhance environmental outcomes on agricultural land; boost productivity by supporting investment in the latest innovations and stabilise incomes to underpin the continued delivery of food in an increasingly volatile world.
Welsh Government has proposed, through two successive consultations, a policy focused on environmental outcomes and productivity.
Concerns have amassed around the absence of measures to secure the continued supply of food.
Unintended consequences have also been foreseen, with the polarisation of Welsh farming into areas of production and areas of environmental delivery.
But in 2020 the world has changed. Covid-19 has touched all our lives.
Empty supermarket shelves and ensuring food is provided to the clinically vulnerable has reminded us of the need for safe, high-quality, affordable food as a basic requirement for every citizen.
The overnight closure of our cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars has exposed the fragility and inequity in our food supply chains.
Parallel to this, the concerns of over a million people over the direction of travel of UK Government trade talks have manifested in our NFU and NFU Cymru food standards petition.
These events have served to highlight that food security and ensuring a stable supply of home-produced, high-quality food for consumers is most certainly in the nation’s interest and should be a priority for Governments.
People care about the food they eat, how it is produced and where it comes from.
Covid-19 calls for Governments to learn lessons and reflect on the direction of travel.
The question we have posed on the extent to which a policy focused on the delivery of environmental outcomes can also underpin the continued delivery of high-quality, affordable food for consumers, alongside vibrant rural communities, remains highly pertinent and largely unaddressed.
But it must surely be considered now?
How Wales addresses this question will define farming for a generation or more. It will also define our place in the world.
Climate change impacts are set to increasingly challenge global food production systems.
Rather than implementing policies that see food security and our agricultural productive capacity decline and our food requirements off-shored ‘out of sight and out of mind’, the ambition of Welsh farmers is to become world leaders in producing climate-friendly food from a strong and improving natural asset base.
NFU Cymru’s vision is for a pathway to a productive, profitable and progressive Welsh farming industry delivering the multiple objectives of ensuring a stable supply of safe, high-quality food; supporting Wales’s economic recovery and maintaining and enhancing our environment while sustaining our rural communities and culture.
Rachel can be found tweeting at @Rachel_LewisD