In the second of our Brexit Briefing Updates, Corinne Castle and Jane Powell, authors of ‘Brexit and Wales: A fresh approach to food and farming?‘ argue that persistent uncertainty about Brexit and new urgency about the climate emergency both add momentum to the movement for a more sustainable food system in Wales.
Earlier this year, we published a briefing paper as part of the FRC Food Brexit Briefing series looking at how Wales could make the most of Brexit opportunities, when it comes to reforming its farming and food systems. Since then, there has been increasing doubt about whether the UK will leave the EU and, if it does, what our future relationship with the EU will look like. Whatever the outcome, we strongly believe that there is great impetus for change. Current agricultural payments and policies, such as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments, are outdated and need a refresh.
When we drafted our briefing, we were optimistic. We believed that Brexit could be an opportunity for Wales to make a step-change into a new approach to food and farming. We still think this is the case. To bring this about, though, people who don’t usually talk to each other – from farming, public health, food poverty, education, the environment – will need to start forming alliances. This, in turn, means that we need to be willing to see ourselves differently and think afresh.
Wales is in a good position to do this. It has vibrant networks of grassroots organisations that are building innovative local food enterprises, and we need to build on this. There have also been some promising steps taken by government, such as the Well-being of Future Generations Act, a radical new piece of legislation requiring public bodies to consider the long-term consequences of their decisions and to work in new collaborative ways.
Then there’s the climate crisis, which has moved up the agenda recently. Food obviously has a great bearing on climate change, but more than that, it is an immediate part of our lives that connects us with global challenges – eating differently and buying differently gives us all something practical that we can do. We need action on the local level to ground the big changes we have called for, such as more community gardens, local procurement of food, better use of surplus food and so on. Top down action on its own will not be enough.
It is vital now to keep up the momentum for radically reforming the farming and food industries, before business as usual becomes impossible. We need a bolder vision and we need to bring back trust and respect to the vital business of feeding the nation.
We at the Wales Food Manifesto are in talks with the Welsh Assembly’s cross-party group on food policy, as well as being part of a group that is looking to set up a new food organisation in Wales. One of us (Jane) has been instrumental in setting up the first Wales Real Food and Farming Conference – to be held at Aberystwyth University on 11-12 November – that will bring together farmers, food campaigners, scientists and environmentalists to develop a new vision for Wales.
This could be the start of a new consensus and vision in Wales. Public mood is also changing. Extinction Rebellion and other related activity have put climate change firmly in focus. Climate emergencies are being declared across Wales, from the town of Machynlleth to the county of Pembrokeshire, as well as by the Welsh Government. This has given new urgency to reforming farming and food systems, bringing fresh energy and raising awareness. Now we need food practitioners, policy makers and those passionate about a sustainable food system in Wales and beyond, to capitalise on this momentum.
Read the briefing paper ‘Brexit and Wales: A fresh approach to food and farming?’.
Find out more about the Wales Food Manifesto.