A strategic alternative: localised and labour-intensive food production

LWM’s co-founder Colin Hines, in his latest book, Progressive Protectionism, asks: “In a sustainable system, would not each country aim to produce its own staple food? Surpluses and exotics could be exported, speculation in food by unproductive middlemen would be outlawed and vitally important food producers encouraged at every turn”.

He notes that at present, the UK feeds only around 60% of its population of 65 million. The EU was the next largest supplier at 27%. The distribution of UK imports from Europe has changed relatively little over the last 15 years. Other food travels much further: click on the link for a larger picture: http://www.coolgeography.co.uk/A-level/AQA/Year%2012/Food%20supply/Changes%20in%20food%20supply/Food%20Miles%20Britain.png

There is no guarantee that these supplies would continue under the same terms following the outcome of the Brexit negotiations and there are other potential threats, such as drought, floods and/or increased global demand.

A 2007 study ‘Can Britain feed itself?’ by Simon Fairlie estimated that it could, but that the dietary changes would be significant including:

  • far less meat consumption,
  • feeding livestock upon food wastes and residues;
  • returning human sewage to productive land;
  • dispersal of animals on mixed farms and smallholdings,
  • local slaughter and food distribution;
  • managing animals to ensure optimum recuperation of manure;
  • and selecting and managing livestock, especially dairy cows, to be nitrogen providers.

Hines notes that these measures would demand more human labour and a more even dispersal of livestock and humans around the country.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) promotes a global economy which requires agricultural commodities to be transported for long distances, processed and packaged to survive the journey. As global food production and trade probably consume more fossil fuel than any other industrial sector, substantially increasing greenhouse gas emissions and making climate objectives much harder to achieve, i ts Agreement on Agriculture should be superseded by a World Localisation Organisation (WLO), under which all countries would be encouraged to reach maximum self-sufficiency in food.

Trade in food which cannot be grown domestically should be obtained, where feasible, from neighbouring countries. Long-distance trade should be limited to food not available in the region and countries exporting food should use the revenue to increase their own level of food security.

Hines ends by endorsing – as the answer – Tim Lang’s injunctions in the Foreword to the report of the Sustainable Development Commission (above left): calling for significantly less food wastage, more produced from less land and dietary change – eating more plant-based foods, less meat and dairy.





Research findings: allotments have good food yields without sacrificing soil quality

Fruit growing on Hall Green allotment
Fruit growing on Hall Green allotment

There are around 330,000 allotment plots in the UK, covering more than 8000 hectares and demand is growing, with more than 90,000 people currently on allotment waiting lists in the UK. 

Findings of a study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology

  • Soils under Britain’s allotments are significantly healthier than intensively farmed soils.
  • By growing on a small-scale in urban areas, it is possible to produce food sustainably without damaging the soil.

Science Daily reports that ecologist Dr Jill Edmondson from the University of Sheffield took soil samples from 27 plots on 15 allotment sites, local parks, gardens across the city of Leicester and surrounding agricultural land. She measured a range of soil properties, including soil organic carbon levels, total nitrogen, and the ratio between carbon and nitrogen (all directly related to the amount and quality of organic matter in the soil) as well as soil bulk density, an indicator of soil compaction.

Intensive farming often results in significant declines in soil organic carbon stocks, as well as reducing the ability of soils to store water and nutrients, and damaging soil structure, on which food production — and other services such as carbon storage, flood mitigation and locking up pollutants — depends.

Compared with local arable fields, the allotment soil was significantly healthier: allotment soil had 32% more organic carbon, 36% higher carbon to nitrogen ratios, 25% higher nitrogen, and was significantly less compacted. Dr Edmondson says:

University of Reading study
University of Reading study

“We found remarkable differences in soil quality between allotments and arable fields. Our study shows how effectively own-growers manage soils, and it demonstrates how much modern agricultural practices damage soils.

“Allotment holders are able to produce good food yields without sacrificing soil quality because they use sustainable management techniques. 95% of allotment holders compost their allotment waste, so they recycle nutrients and carbon back to their soil more effectively.

“An estimated 800 million city dwellers across the world participate in urban food production, which makes a vital contribution to food security. Our results suggest that in order to protect our soils, planning and policy making should promote urban own-growing rather than further intensification of conventional agriculture as a more sustainable way of meeting increasing food demand.

Vegetables growing on Hall Green allotment
Vegetables growing on Hall Green allotment

“Using urban land, including domestic gardens, allotments and community gardens for own-growing is an important and often overlooked way of increasing productivity whilst also reconnecting urban dwellers with food production.

“As well as improving food security, studies show that own-growing has direct physical and mental health benefits, and can provide access to sustainably produced fruit and vegetable crops without the associated food miles.”

As a result of the findings, the authors say that planners and policy makers should increase the number of allotments available.

Jill L. Edmondson, Zoe G. Davies, Kevin J. Gaston, Jonathan R. Leake. Urban cultivation in allotments maintains soil qualities adversely affected by conventional agriculture. Journal of Applied Ecology, 2014; DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12254 – gives link to pdf.


The University of Reading studies of soil erosion on farmland: see picture above left and http://www.ecifm.rdg.ac.uk/erosion.htm

Time to change: Professor Lang’s challenge: embrace local sourcing

tim langSusan Press in the Co-operative News reports a challenge issued by Professor Tim Lang, Head of City University London’s Centre for Food Policy, to the Co-operative Group. It is time to radically change the way food is delivered and distributed to the Group’s 4,800 retail outlets:

“At a time of growing interest in locally sourced food, he thinks there should be far more support for producers supplying direct to local stores. He says: “I think the co-op has lost its way a bit. Back in the 19th century, the first co-operators led the movement against the adulteration of our food and sourced local food which everyone could afford.

Unfortunately, the Co-operative Group has gone down the road of emulating the supply chain model of its major competitors with regional distribution centres and centralised supplies . . .

“But our food supply is being more and more standardised by very big and powerful companies. There are more local artisan and special interest foods, so we have come a long way, but small producers are held back by lack of access to land, ownership of which is dominated by large landowners.”

One of Professor Lang’s current concerns is the growing concern around food security – the availability of food and access to it

He points out that worldwide, figures show around two billion people are going hungry and for the first time in decades the number of food banks in the UK has tripled in the last 12 months.

Lang says: “For the first time since 1945 we are living at a time of rapidly rising inequality, with around five million people living in poverty according to the recent report from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission”. He looked at the history of the co-operative movement:

“In 1994, the Group set up the Responsible Retailing Code, building fair and sustainable relationships with suppliers across its whole supply chain across the world, also leading the way on Fairtrade. It was pioneering stuff, but we need to be building upon that knowledge and working for more sustainable food thinking concerned with the future of biodiversity and our eco-systems . . .

“Like the other major retailers, the Co-operative Group goes for cheap meat reared on cereals. Around 40 to 50 per cent of our cereals are fed to animals. We need more grass-fed meat and dairy and we all need to eat less meat and double consumption of fruit and vegetables because we are storing up huge problems for the future  . . .

“We don’t need supermarkets offering 35,000 lines or people working hard to earn enough money to buy a car so they can drive to the local hypermarket. We need to look at what things will be like in 2050; the effects of climate change and the billions more people there will be on the planet. We need to establish a good food culture which is also good for the environment.

“Stores have to have better access to local food with a shorter supply chain and we have got to re-design the whole food system because frankly it is environmentally crazy.”

Read the whole article here: http://www.thenews.coop/article/time-change-food-professor-issues-challenge-embrace-local-sourcing


Professor Lang was the first to coin the term ‘food miles’ – in the 1990s – to describe the distance groceries have to travel to reach us. He was invited to set up the London Food Commission in the 1980s with the Greater London Council, which did some of the earliest work on the effect of food poverty. He pointed out the damage done to school and hospital meal services by government policy, making a major contribution to the Food Safety Act (1990) and the creation of the Food Standards Agency (2000). He has been a consultant to the World Health Organisation, a special advisor to four House of Commons select committee inquiries on food standards globalisation and obesity and was on the Council of Food Policy Advisors to DEFRA.



Is the priority to expand world trade or to build on the resilience of communities?

DF Times obit

Fleming, second left, discussing the working of an experimental rocket stove – to capture heat with clean combustion – at Transition Town Louth, Lincolnshire (The Times)

In Lean Logic, David Fleming asks:

“Is the priority to expand world trade, to push ahead with the global market, or to build on the resilience of communities, to protect them from the turbulence of the global market and to improve their food security?

“The former head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Mike Moore, writes persuasively about the benefits of free trade in A World Without Walls; (2003). He shows that the lowering of trade barriers has stimulated growth, that the countries that have been the most open to trade have enjoyed the most economic progress and the greatest rise in the incomes of the poor. And, as former prime minister of New Zealand, he has the experience of making that country a pioneer of free-market agriculture, with benign effects across the economy. How, then, can there be doubts when he argues that the anti-globalisation movement, if successful, would bring catastrophic consequences, not just for the poor in developing economies, but for all of us?

“Can Mr Moore and the anti-globalisation protestors really be talking about the same thing?”

He continues with the opposing argument which states that globalisation, in the form of free trade, opening up small-scale production in the non-industrialised countries to competition from multinationals:

  • leads to unemployment and dispossession;
  • makes agriculture dependent on imported energy;
  • devastates soils, ecosystems and communities;
  • raises incomes in part by destroying local subsistence and forcing people into the cash economy;
  • and is supported by the governments of the affected countries
  • not least because of the debts into which they have been lured.

And concludes:

“Food security, with higher overall yields and greater diversity, less damage to the soil and higher real local incomes, would be more fruitfully sought by helping farmers to make the best use of their own skills applied to local conditions”.

Lean logic DF titleBoth sides beg the question: they are each correct if their premises are accepted: if the priority is to expand world trade, to push ahead with the global market, Mr Moore’s conclusions naturally follow; if it is to build on the resilience of communities, to protect them from the turbulence of the global market, and to improve their food security, his critics are correct.

The begged question is the one thing they should be talking about.

Achieving food security by relocalisation and building up the resilience of our agricultural resources – three voices

At a meeting of Hadlow College’s Rural Focus Group, their Sustainability Champion, Dr Howard Lee, noted that DEFRA is committed to food security in principle but not to food self-sufficiency.

The strategic contradiction is that succeeding governments have preferred to promote the export of agricultural and horticultural commodities.

Coventry University’s Dr Julia Wright recommends building up the resilience of our natural agricultural resource base

In the Fresh Produce Journal she says that the droughts and the floods we have experienced this year have been “exacerbated by the way we manage the hydrological cycle on farms and across landscapes”. Drawing on extensive drylands experience in Australia she advocates setting up appropriate-scale water-storage mechanisms, building more fertile soils with a greater soil-water retention capacity and introducing soil cultivation techniques that enable retention of groundwater. Read more in another article.

The ‘grow local, eat local’ message – Russ Grayson

Some years ago, Russ Grayson, in the Energy Bulletin, reported that the most visible manifestation of ongoing food relocalisation is the growing number of farmers’ markets that now dot our towns and suburbs:

“Farmers’ market organisers have promoted the “eat local” message ever since the markets started in this country, over a decade ago. The food in question is known as either “local” or “regional”. The terms are interchangeable but refer to food produced within relatively close proximity to the towns or cities where it is eaten.

“Eating local has always had the economic incentive of supporting local growers and food processors consequently boosting regional economies. This is one reason that people in rural towns like the idea and encourage farmers’ markets.

“Not all of our food can be produced locally, of course – climate prevents this – and staples such as grains are usually imported from further afield.

“The argument of the food relocalisers is that food that can be produced in a region should be substituted for imports from overseas”

The fact ‘food miles’ don’t always guarantee the lowest energy use has led thoughtful proponents, like local food pioneer Helena Norberg-Hodge, to say that the issue is the transportation of “like foods” that could be grown in the regions into which they are imported – as did another who thinks ‘ahead of her time’ – Caroline Lucas, with LWM’s co-founder Colin Hines, in STOPPING THE GREAT FOOD SWAP – RELOCALISING EUROPE’S FOOD SUPPLY.

Years ago the Telegraph reported research at the University of Essex and City University revealing that buying locally produced food would save the UK £2.1 billion in environmental and congestion costs. The report’s authors, Professor Jules Pretty and Professor Tim Lang, called for supermarkets to put food miles on product labels, so customers can make informed choices. To read more about the impact of internationally traded food moved by sea go to Grayson’s article.

Attempting to move the local food issue away from those relating to climate change, nutrition and good farming

Grayson remembers Australia’s Federal Agriculture Minister,Tony Burke, making “a poor attempt to reframe the local food issue to move it away from the global warming, human nutrition and Australian farming elements that lie at its core”. Local food advocates were also accused of “protectionism”, influencing consumers, so creating “a consumer-driven barrier to trade”.

Developing new markets and increasing farm viability

Russ Grayson concludes: “For farmers within reasonably close proximity to towns and cities, the growing preference for local food represents new markets and farm viability, especially for the smaller farmer and especially for the organic farmer whose sector is the fastest growing. This is true for the Sydney region market gardeners who supply the city with 90% of its fresh vegetables and almost 100% of its Asian vegetables and who, with the associated marketing and distribution sectors of the local food industry, generate an estimated $4.5 billion annually (Sydney Basin Industry Details, Gillespie, P, Mason, David NSW Agriculture, Orange 2003) . . .”#

New video for sustainable CAP reform and food sovereignty

LWM are a signatory to the European Food Declaration which has been promoted to guide CAP reform towards social justice and sustainability over the last year or so.

The ongoing campaign is hosted at www.nyelenieurope.net, home of the European food sovereignty forum,

They have produced a three minute video linked from their page on CAP reform to let people know what is at stake. Please do go to the site and watch it.

The campaign reports:

A lot has happened since the start of the European Food Declaration:
–  we submitted our suggestions for a better CAP in July 2010 and
– a paper called ‘The missing option’ last January;  we asked you to sign that as well in a first newsletter in January.
– in August we had a great event in Austria: the Nyeleni Forum on Food Sovereignty.
400 People from 34 European countries attended. See the website for reports, also for the Declaration that was agreed on and published on the last day, 21 August.

Now Commissioner Ciolos has presented his proposals for CAP legislation, on 12 October.

Their press release is copied below.

Karen Leach

Brussels, 12 October 2011

CAP 2104-2020:

European Commission proposals fail to tackle food speculation and environmental crisis.

sustainable family farming would continue to disappear


Brussels, October 12, 2011 – The European Commission announced proposals for the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) today. Essential steps towards tackling rising food speculation are missing, and the proposed policy will fail to bring substantial benefits to sustainable family farmers, citizens and the environment, according to the ‘European Movement for Food Sovereignty and Another CAP’ (Foodsovcap).

Instead of introducing clear market measures that stabilise farm prises at a fair level, the Commission suggests spending money on insurance schemes and on the so called ‘crisis and globalisation funds’which are said to compensate farmers for their losses in times of environmental or food crises, and for the adverse results of the liberalisation of the markets. These measures will do nothing to prevent rising prices for resources but low incomes for farmers, nor will they ensure better pay or working conditions for food workers, claim the Foodsovcap movement. The proposals will not counter the flourishing speculation on agricultural markets resulting in higher food prices for people in Europe.

Irmi Salzer, from European coordination Via Campesina said, “Europe is facing big environmental and farm crises and it is disappointing that the Commission has missed this golden opportunity to take a first step to ensure that European farmers will no longer lose out to agro-industry, supermarkets, speculators and the export companies. It seems that a trade- fixated food industry will still be able to continue making a lot of money, while farmers in Europe disappear, raw materials from the South are shipped to us at a high cost for the environment, and the people, and European rural areas abandon”


Stanka Becheva, food campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe continued: “Agriculture in Europe is in a mess – with farmers and wildlife disappearing at an unprecedented rate. We need a root and branch reform of European farming that benefits people and the environment. We need strict and bold measures addressing the challenges we face that also protect our soil, water, seeds and biodiversity for future generations. And today’s proposals don’t look any good.”

Alexandra Strickner from the European Attac Network emphasized: “Instead of acknowledging the failure of unregulated agricultural markets and consequently introducing measures such as the management of production, public food stocks and new mechanisms to allow the negotiation of fair prices for farmers, food workers and consumers on the one hand and less profits for the food industry, super markets and financial speculators on the other hand, the Commission continues to propose ‘business as usual’ policies.”

The Foodsovcap movement proposed a policy option that promotes a Common Food and Agriculture Policy in Europe that puts the interest of farmers, food workers, consumers and the environment in Europe and globally at its heart [1]. The future CAP must move European agriculture towards agro-ecologicalmethods of production. Such a CAP reform must include:

  • public supply management to balance supply and demand of agricultural products and avoid structural surpluses. This will prevent prices from fluctuating excessively. Various instruments adapted to the different productions have to be developed;
  • management of agricultural imports to avoid imports at prices below the European average cost of production. This should be linked to the banning of all forms of market dumping in other countries;
  • prioritizing the maintaince of sustainable family farming all over Europe, which involves numerous farmers producing food and caring for the countryside;
  • Setting a cap on direct payments as well as defining strict environmental and social criteria – only farmers respecting those criteria should be eligible for direct payments;
  • transparency along the food chain so that citizens know how their food is produced, where it comes from, what it contains and what is included in the price paid by consumers;
  • an end to the negotiation of ‘free-trade’ agreements between the EU and third countries (Mercosur, Canada, Ukraine,…) which would benefit companies and not citizens.


[1] The MISSING option for the Common Agricultural Policy post 2013: http://www.europeanfooddeclaration.org/documents

Proposal for a New European Agriculture and Food policy that meets the challenges of this century:


We are proud to present a short video (3 minutes only) that offers an analysis of what is wrong and some suggestions for alternatives. It can be found from October 12 on www.nyelenieurope.net

We also recommend the short film on food speculation which explains the basic mechanism of excessive speculation and why regulation is needed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpM9XxJ-vo4


For more information, please contact:

Irmi Salzer, European Coordination Via Campesina

E-Mail: irmi.salzer@gmx.at

Stanka Becheva, food campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe
Tel: +32 (0) 2893 1025, stanka.becheva@foeeurope.org

Alexandra Strickner, European ATTAC Network

E-Mail: alexandra.strickner@attac.at

Gert Engelen, advocacy officer Vredeseilanden

Tel.: 0032 497 38 13 77, Gert.Engelen@vredeseilanden.be

Greet Goverde, secretary of Platform Aarde Boer Consument, the Netherlands

Tel.: 0031 24 3443678, h.goverde@chello.nl