Union representing small and medium-scale farmers calls for measures to increase UK food resilience in light of Coronavirus outbreak
The Landworkers’ Alliance, a union representing more than 1000 small and medium-scale farmers and landworkers across the UK, has said that following the Coronavirus outbreak, we need emergency measures to ensure the resilience of our domestic food supply in the months ahead.
The UK relies heavily on imported food, which makes up around 47% of our total supply. In particular we rely on imports for 53% of vegetables and 17% of fruit. Much of our fresh produce comes from Southern Europe, where producers are already delaying and reducing spring plantings due to restrictions on movement of seasonal workers from Eastern Europe, illness, transport restrictions and cash flow. Restrictions on movement will also affect UK producers who rely on seasonal workers.
On top of this many farmers in the UK are in the high-risk category because of their age and many farm businesses could not survive the costs of stopping work to cope with family illness, especially during the spring when workloads for many are at their highest and income at its lowest. This is the time when we need to actively recruit new farmers and local agricultural workers to “get onto the land and lend a hand”.
As a result of Coronavirus, many farmers have seen a dramatic increase in demand for vegetable box deliveries, while others have seen sales to restaurant custom collapse overnight. At this stage in the season, it is possible to dramatically increase domestic production of many crops, but growers of all scales will need government support to scale up or rapidly reorientate their supply chains and marketing channels.
The Landworkers’ Alliance are seeking immediate emergency measures such ensuring farmers are eligible for the promised £10,000 grant for small business relief, even though farmers do not normally need to pay rates, an emergency “dig for victory” style programme to encourage market gardeners to produce more fresh food this season and “kick start” new entrants in waiting, recruitment of local workers to help with planting and harvesting, and a community resilience programme to help local food businesses set up doorstep delivery systems and safety measures to ensure that essential food system infrastructure like farm shops and open air markets can remain open.
Jyoti Fernandes, the Campaigns Coordinator for the Landworkers’ Alliance, said:
“This crisis highlights the vulnerability of our globalised food system, which in coming years will only get worse if we don’t invest in building a resilient, diverse, local food system. To secure our food supply, we need emergency government action to make sure we get the crops we need in the ground and ensure that it all gets picked and distributed safely so that everyone can access healthy, affordable food. It is essential that farmers get the help they need to survive this crisis. We need our local farms for our own survival- let’s not lose them when we need them most!”
Ashley Wheeler, a salad and vegetable producer at Trill Farm in Devon, said:
“We, like many others, almost exclusively sell to local restaurants and cafes, and the closure of so many of our customers over the past week has meant that we are having to completely rethink the way that we grow and distribute our food overnight. Supermarkets are already unable to deal with the demand for produce, whilst small and medium scale farmers have it growing in the fields but haven’t got the routes to market or systems in place to get it to people. What we need is help to coordinate the distribution of the food that farmers and growers have to local communities, especially those who are vulnerable and in isolation.”
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