Examination of Witnesses

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:24 pm on 13th February 2020.

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Jyoti Fernandes:

Our union represents all scales of farms: we are all agroecological farms, family farms and mixed farms. As smallholder farmers, this is something we are particularly interested in. We also represent a lot of horticulturalists, who grow fruit and veg, and it is possible to grow a lot of fruit and veg on a very small acreage.

To date, we have been really disadvantaged by the payment schemes that are out there. There is a 5-hectare threshold, which cuts people off from getting payments if they have less than 5 hectares. If someone has a large landholding that is used extensively for beef, they can get quite a lot of subsidy, but if they have less than 5 hectares and use it for intensive market gardening—providing the fresh fruit and veg that we need—they get nothing. That means that 85% of our membership have never received subsidies before. That puts us at a serious disadvantage, even though we as small farms provide a huge amount of public goods—we directly provide fresh food, the sorts of fresh fruit and veg that we need for healthier diets—to communities. In the transition around climate change, we need to eat more fruit and veg and less meat. That is the sort of thing that we can be in a position to do.

There is nothing in the Bill that specifically directs towards helping smaller farms, though the focus on public goods would enable us to do that, if we get the right schemes in place. We are working with DEFRA to try to ensure that the schemes it rolls out will benefit horticulture and fruit and veg. One amendment that we suggested was about affordable access to food. We would like to see some acknowledgment that agriculture is about producing food and that everyone needs food. While food itself might be a business like any other—bought, sold and traded—access to food is not. Having good, nutritious food available to everyone is something we strongly believe in.

If that was in the Bill, a lot of our farms, which provide a social outcome directly to consumers at an affordable price—from fresh fruit and veg, to milk and pasture-fed, free-range meat—could be enabled to develop those marketing mechanisms. That would help us out quite a lot. That means community supported agriculture, direct supply chain stuff and doorstep delivery of unpasteurised, raw, wholesome milk, or whatever it may be. That would enable those small businesses that work directly for our food supply in our local communities to get support. It would also support community farms that integrate social measures. They might, for example, have green gyms, work with horticultural therapy or bring people form disadvantaged backgrounds into the countryside to learn where their food comes from and join in that process. Food has a much wider remit than just being something that farmers gain an income from. A lot of us produce food because we believe it is important to our society.