Brexit gives the UK a fantastic opportunity to improve food security, but politicians need to grasp it with both hands, says Andrew RT Davies, South Wales Central AM.
Given the turbulent nature of the political scene over the past month or two, you’d be forgiven if the Welsh Government’s latest Brexit consultation had passed you by.
Before the summer recess, the Cabinet Secretary launched Labour’s ‘Brexit and Our Land’ consultation, which will form the basis of a new Land Management Programme to support Welsh farmers post-Brexit, and in doing so replace the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
The consultation includes detailed productivity and environment measures, but sadly no recognition of the requirement for volatility measures, which is a regrettable and glaring omission when you consider the very difficult conditions farmers are currently experiencing across the country!
As ever, the Welsh Government is asleep at the wheel and this aspect must be immediately addressed.
It is the duty of each and every Government to help farmers manage their exposure to risks caused by external factors completely outside their control, such as trade bans, extreme global market fluctuations, weather and disease.
This was a huge talking point at the Royal Welsh Show and it is vital that farmers across Wales make their voices heard loud and clear by engaging with this consultation process.
Sadly, the lack of political vision from the Welsh Government for the farming industry in Wales is epitomised by the timing and details in the document, with the UK Government already legislating in this area.
Since devolution, Wales’ rural economy has been held back through severe neglect by successive Welsh Governments, and much of the processing sector in meat and dairy has moved to other parts of the UK.
Yet, Brexit provides us with a much-needed platform and opportunity to do things differently in Wales.
The trade opportunities are endless and the growing awareness of the importance of the environment and food security is welcomed.
We can capitalise on this, if we think creatively and demonstrate an agility in policy making which has sadly been missing from Labour figures in Cardiff Bay.
Last week, I visited Northern Ireland to discuss the ramifications of Brexit on agriculture and it’s pleasing to see that it has become the first UK nation to recognise the importance of food security in its post-Brexit policy development. Welsh Government, please take note.
And the opportunities in new and emerging markets are huge – for one, simply look at the potential of a Trans-Pacific free trade deal which has the potential to open up our products to half a billion new customers.
More can be done at a UK level in the negotiations, and there will come a point where we might have to play hardball.
Securing a deal is in everyone’s interests as access to the EU market is important, particularly for the sheep industry in this country.
However, since the EU referendum, the immediate doomsday scenarios predicted upon a leave vote have been proven to be sheer folly, and the world of agriculture in this country is enjoying an economic boom.
But the importance of food security should never be underestimated, something highlighted by the NFU recently when they pointed out that this week was the point in the year when the UK would run out of food if we relied solely on that we produced ourselves.
It is a fact – and indeed a point of huge concern – that over the past 3 decades, we have become less self-sufficient as a country.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the UK was 75 per cent self-sufficient, but worryingly this figure now stands at 60 per cent.
For those who are misty eyed about the CAP, it is worth remembering that this decline has been delivered under it.
It is therefore vital that we make the most of the opportunity that Brexit gives us to reinvigorate our farming community to produce the food our nation’s larder needs.
Andrew can be found tweeting at @AndrewRTDavies