The r egional food fund plays an important role in supporting regional activities, local community events, networks and other collaborative initiatives with small grants of up to £5,000. That, in turn, delivers long-term benefits to Scotland’s local food and drink sector. Since its launch, in 2018, the regional food fund has provided over £550,000 to 121 projects the length and breadth of Scotland. The 2022-23 round, which closed for applications on 9 May, will provide even more support for great local food initiatives across the country.
I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer. Ayrshire boasts some of the best food that Scotland has to offer, and organisations such as the Ayrshire Food Hub in Crossroads, in my constituency, which has a unique farm shop that is run by the local community, are central to showcasing this world-class produce. Does the cabinet secretary share my view that such organisations are crucial in ensuring that it becomes the norm that all Scots take a keen interest in their food, valuing it and knowing what constitutes good food, as we strive to become a good food nation?
I absolutely do. I recognise that Ayrshire is, indeed, famous for its food. Ayrshire Food Hub received nearly £5,000 from the regional food fund in January 2020. I know that a delay to its progress was caused by the pandemic over the past couple of years, but I am delighted that, as we emerge from the pandemic, it is now successfully operating a cafe, a farm shop, a training kitchen, an events space and a community garden, all with the aim of promoting the best of the area’s produce.
The member is absolutely right in saying that such initiatives are fundamental in helping us to achieve our vision of Scotland being a good food nation. The project embraces everything that we want to see as part of that. It involves the community and showcases local produce, and there is the education and training element. I wish the project every success.
NFU Scotland has called for a greater commitment to funding the sustainable agriculture capital grant scheme to assist farmers to use resources more efficiently, and for the temporary suspension of the ecological focus areas component of the 2022 greening requirement in order to bring additional arable land back into productive use, with a focus on EFA fallow land being used for nitrogen-fixing protein crops. That is not being delivered, despite the fact that the Scottish Government has the powers to do it now. When will the Scottish Government relax the EFA rules? Where is the extra funding that is needed for the SACGS to support farmers and food producers?
In relation to the EFA areas that the member mentioned, I have addressed that question a number of times in the chamber.
The Government is clear in its commitment to support farmers and crofters to produce more of our food more sustainably, but it is important that we maintain and enhance our efforts and do not scale them back when it comes to tackling the climate and nature emergency.
Events that are on-going in Ukraine only strengthen the case for doing more, because, ultimately, that is how we can make our farms and food production systems more resilient.
When it comes to changes to greening, there are a number of considerations that we have to take account of. However, there is flexibility in the greening rules for farmers to apply them according to their own circumstances. For example, they could choose options other than to fallow, such as green cover crops or catch crops. We are working and will work with the industry to promote the flexibilities that already exist. We will continue to work with it to find practical solutions to bolster food production in these times of uncertainty while continuing to contribute to the achievement of wider climate change and biodiversity objectives.
This week, the Scottish Food Coalition wrote to the First Minister, calling for the establishment of an independent food commission to drive forward the change that we need in order to make Scotland a good food nation. We have a land commission, a social security commission, a poverty and inequality commission and a just transition commission, but, so far, the cabinet secretary does not think that food policy merits an independent food commission.
Will the cabinet secretary listen to civil society, local authorities and the majority of members of the Scottish Parliament, avoid destroying the consensus that we have seen in our journey to become a good food nation and give her backing to an independent food commission?
It is not really fair of the member to categorise it in that way—especially to accuse me of ignoring the calls that are out there. I think that I made it perfectly clear during stage 2 consideration of the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill that I am open to considering the options and the oversight functions. In fact, the member will be aware that we will have a meeting shortly, ahead of stage 3 consideration of the bill, to discuss what that might look like.
I am open to considering those options and trying to build consensus across the chamber.