Rewards of Responsible Practice
Iona Walton speaks to Jenny Jones about policies for farming under a Green government
Small and medium farming units, particularly those with organic status, would be better rewarded under the Green Party, at the expense of large intensive agribusiness. But no land would be taken out of production, even for conservation purposes, explains Jenny Jones, prominent member of the Green Party and former chairperson of London Food.
“A focus on sustainability and the fulfilment of local basic food needs combined with a land value tax would eliminate speculation in land and stabilise land prices, encouraging local people to remain in agriculture,” says Ms Jones. “Intensive farming is at the heart of many environmental problems, in part due to polluting activity through the use and production of fertilisers and pesticides. Subsidies that contribute to environmentally harmful agricultural practices would be phased out and an environmental tax introduced that would reflect the true cost of harmful inputs, transportation, packaging and waste.”
On a positive note, financial help and advice would better enable producers to make the transition to organic and biodynamic growing, mixed rotational cropping, small scale growing, permaculture ventures, agroforestry, pasture-fed livestock farming and ventures that restore or create diverse habitats. And at the industry’s core would be good animal welfare.
“It’s inspiring to see the majority of farmers work with the environment in mind, using pockets of unproductive land in imaginative ways that benefit biodiversity and wildlife, and this would be financially encouraged by a Green government,” Ms Jones continues.
“Assisting community participation in farming would be a key area, as would the facilitation of box schemes and direct links between growers and consumers.
“DEFRA and the NFU could generate a deeper understanding of what consumers want. Food preferences in London, for example, are phenomenally wide and there is huge scope for farmers to grow new crops that are in heavy demand.”
Sustainable food strategy
As the former chairperson of London Food, Ms Jones was responsible for drawing up the Sustainable Food Strategy for London and chaired the Food Implementation Group overseeing the strategy. More recently she issued a report on the subject of food security in the capital.
“The point of the Sustainable Food Strategy for London was to give a cogent steer on how London’s carbon footprint could be reduced and to improve food access for poorer households across the capital,” she explains. “Half London’s children live in poverty – long-term effects of lack of nutrition will became a real issue.”
Ms Jones established that London has 472 registered farm holdings that comprise 12,064 hectares of farmland (about 8% of its total land area) and along with its green belt could produce at least 25% of its fruit and vegetable requirements, provided there is the will to introduce change.
She echoes Al Gore’s assertion that, “There is no silver bullet that will resolve the issue of feeding the growing world population”. Instead, we have to work hard to achieve small, well-performed solutions, and GM is not part of the toolkit.
“Green Party policy is anti-GM because its impact on human and environmental health is unknown and we take a precautionary view,” she warns. “Many more studies need to establish its long-term effects and while I understand the necessity of patents, they restrict open and transparent research in this area.”
A reduction in the number of middlemen who take a margin could mean a fairer deal for farmers, and Ms Jones argues that supermarket power should be ‘reigned in’. At the same time, making more of seasonal produce would be high on the agenda of a Green Party government.
“Importing food brings with it more problems than just food miles,” she says. “Large agribusinesses that grow food abroad for overseas markets create problems for local populations and domestic wildlife in their quest to satisfy the demand for year-round produce. Land is beyond the reach of local residents, and while jobs are created, welfare of workers is seldom near the top of the agenda. We need to become more responsible world citizens and we can start by following the ordered hierarchy of local, seasonal, fair trade, good animal welfare and organic.”
In the last issue we inadvertently referred to Simon Twigger as Sainsbury’s dairy category manager. He is, in fact, fresh food director.