|PUTTING THE CULTURE BACK INTO AGRICULTURE
The following article by Alistair McConnachie appeared originally in the July 2002 issue of Sovereignty.
Picture: Pedigree Galloway cattle at the McConnachie organic family farm.
On 13 July 2002 I was in London for the "End Factory Farming" march organised by pressure group Viva! Around 1,200 people marched from Kennington Park to Trafalgar Square, behind the slogan, "No Excuse for Animal Abuse: End Factory Farming".
Viva! is a vegetarian and vegan advocacy group which would probably be happy if all animal farming was to end in Britain, whether "factory" style, or not. Nevertheless, the group publishes excellent reports on the animal cruelty inherent in "factory farming" -- providing that omnivores, such as your editor/publisher, are prepared to overlook their vegetarian/vegan agenda.
The "factory farming" methods they target are mainly the abuse of laying hens in battery cages, intensive chicken, turkey, and duck production, and intensive pig rearing -- although "farming" is not really the correct term for such methods.
It's likely that if these "factory farming" methods were to end tomorrow, groups like Viva! would simply target other forms of livestock farming, even the extensive (as opposed to intensive) methods. They have their own agenda, after all, and their literature suggests that the best way to end "factory farming", is to get people to stop eating animals, period!
However, the general cause of "ending factory farming" is a good cause with huge public appeal, even though most people are not persuaded by Viva's vegetarian/vegan solution.
Moreover, so long as these cruel "factory farming" methods exist, then all farmers are tainted with the stain.
And so, as I marched, leafleted and watched I wondered, where are the farmers advocacy groups - other than Sovereignty - campaigning for an end to factory farming?
IT'S TIME FOR FARMERS TO GET WITH IT!
They need to turn these perceptions around. To do this they need to get back to their agri-cultural roots.
The first priority is to develop and promote a food and farming philosophy for Britain which will appeal widely, and attract the support of the British public.
So do this, they need to get with it. They need to get a little bit trendy! But the irony here is that :
TRENDY IS TRADITIONAL
Here we highlight eight more principles, which represent fertile ground, lying fallow, just waiting for the farming community to cultivate - and some suggested policy options. But first :
THREE BASIC POINTS OF STRATEGY
Then tie this in with the need for financial support mechanisms to enable you to arrive at that destination.
Otherwise you can be portrayed as just wanting "more handouts" to keep doing "more of the same", and that means you're in danger of losing the support of the taxpayer.
2- Attract the Urban Majority - Don't Alienate Them
In this regard, the awful slogan doing the rounds, "We'll keep our cow shit in the country if you keep your bullshit in the city" strikes quite the wrong note! Instead, build alliances with rural and urban people alike, unite consumers and producers in an organic whole.
3- Direct Action must Promote a Positive Agenda
For example, the Foot and Mouth cull had to be opposed because it was symptomatic of the industrial approach to farming, and the absurdity of the globalised economic system - as well as being inhumane, unnecessary, uneconomic, illogical and unscientific.
It would have been an ideal opportunity for the NFU to illustrate these facts and to promote the positive alternatives of natural farming methods, and localised economies.
Instead they blew it. If anything gave the impression of a farming "industry" which had been severed from nature, it was the culling policy. The leadership turned it into a PR disaster for the farmers.
It was left to a small band of activists, organising predominantly on the internet, to see the facts clearly and campaign positively.
Picture: Contractors bale the organic silage at the McConnachie farm. Here, the new technology and methods are integrated with the traditional, as demonstated by the last picture on this page.
TEN PRINCIPLES FOR BRITISH AGRICULTURE
3- NATURAL FARMING
4- ANIMAL WELFARE
= An End to Live Exports
It is blatantly obvious that it is a PR disaster for farmers' leaders to support live exports! They should be openly and loudly campaigning for an end to this trade on the grounds of animal welfare. And using the opportunity to argue for new markets based on Localisation and Food Sovereignty, and for financial compensation and subsidies to enable farming to move this way.
= An End to "Factory Farming"
Many farmers have no idea the extent to which these high-profile and degenerate forms of "farming" impact upon the public's consciousness of farming in general, and the extent to which the public, albeit wrongly, associate it with all farmers.
Right now, the only people campaigning for the worthy end of such "factory farming" are vegetarian and vegan people - such as those on the Viva! march. Consequently, there is a huge space for the majority to get behind popular campaigns against these forms of factory farming on the grounds of animal welfare, and the superiority of natural farming methods.
Farmers should be leading these campaigns, articulating the alternative direction in which they want to move, and making it clear that a successful transition from factory to farm, from agri-production to agri-culture, will require financial assistance.
That's the kind of farming subsidy which the public is likely to support! Import controls from countries with sub-standard animal welfare conditions will also be required, and if the government won't enforce controls, then direct action could be used at point of import, or sale. Again, the public will support this.
More smallholdings are going to be necessary, anyway, when intensive chicken and pig production has been phased out. For example, immediately after WW2, when we still had a large number of smallholders in this country, we had 100 million egg laying free-range chickens. Today we have 34 million in battery cages!
Some figures: In 1939 there were almost 500,000 farms in Britain, the majority fewer than 100 acres and together employing up to 15% of the population. Within 30 years, the number of farms had almost halved. In the last 10 years the number of farms has fallen from 233,000 to 168,000.
42,000 farmers and farm workers have left the land in the past two years. Today about 2% of the workforce is actively engaged in farming (Source: The Guardian, 28 February 2001).
6- BREED BIO-DIVERSITY
Indeed, as we look to the long-term future for British farming, the native breeds may be hardier, more disease resistant, and able to survive on less. In popular vernacular, the British breeds may be more sustainable, than the continental breeds.
For example, encourage Dairy Shorthorns and Ayrshires rather than Holsteins and Friesians. And just as the cruel and intensive factory production of the Large White pig will have to be phased out, so an alternative is to direct subsidies to promote traditional British breeds - such as the Berkshire, British Saddleback, Tamworth, Lincoln Curly Coat, Cumberland, Dorset Gold Tip and Gloucestershire Old Spots (most of which are presently on the endangered list) - in extensive outdoor, organic, smallholdings.
7- URBAN FARMING
Regenerate and green the cities by encouraging the growing of food within, or on the edge of, cities. Got a windowbox? You're involved! Encourage local food supplies from this urban agriculture.
For example, outside Shanghai, some 750,000 acres of land, bordering the city, have been put into production to supply it with vegetables. Cuba is another good example of a country with an integrated urban agricultural programme.
9- OPPOSITION TO CORPORATE CONTROL
10- SOLIDARITY WITH FARMERS INTERNATIONALLY
So, don't fret about the fate of peasant farmers abroad while ignoring the fact that 20,000 farmers and workers are being driven off the land every year, right here in Britain!
Co-operate internationally where possible. Try to ensure that farming policies in this country benefit the greatest international good - to the extent that it can be defined. Remember that the principles of Localisation and Food Sovereignty applied globally will benefit all.
But when it comes to the crunch, prioritise your own. Get your own field in order first, before you try to plough anybody else's!
CAN YOU DIG IT?
Let us, therefore, articulate a vision for British agri-culture which adopts and integrates these issues into a national food and farming programme. Let us hear farmers advocating a vision which inspires the great mass of people in Britain who live in the towns and cities, as well as those in the rural areas.
The popular support will follow. People may not want to support "greedy farmers" wanting "more taxpayers money" to "grub up more hedges", but they will support farmers when they understand what is trying to be achieved, and especially if they feel included in a programme which involves, and represents, and benefits everybody.
Let us move from agri-production to agri-culture, from intensive to extensive, from industrial to natural, from large to small, from factory to farm, from corporate to family and community.
That's the direction for British agriculture. If you can dig it, then get your boots on, and get with it!