Fair Deal for a Square Meal?

Food is a basic necessity, but farming is in crisis. Producers are receiving less and less of the price you pay.

At present:

These already small returns keep on getting smaller. The relationship between consumers and producers of food is now controlled by powerful commercial players. While returns to farmers have shrunk, profit margins of food manufacturers, transporters and supermarkets remain steady or are increasing. In Britain, five supermarkets account for more than 80% of all grocery sales; their mark-up is between 30% and 40%.

This concentration of power enables the purchasers to dictate not only the price but also which varieties are grown, how animals are kept, what chemicals are sprayed and when and where food is bought and sold. If the produce is not uniform in size, shape and colour, it is rejected and farmers get nothing. Increased powerlessness and falling returns are destroying farming:

Incomes are very low and falling. In 2000, the average annual income per person employed in British agriculture was £7,500, or £144.20 per week, barely the minimum wage for a 40 hour week; most farmers work 60-70 hours per week. With this, farmers must support their families, re-invest in the farm and provide for old age.Many farmers are tenants who are in danger, when old, of leaving farming with no home and insufficient income. The average age of farmers is now 58.

Agricultural employment is falling fast. 45,000 people have left farming in the last two years in England and Wales. In poorer countries where farming employs the majority of the people, the effects are even worse. In Sri Lanka, a surge in imports if potatoes and onions has resulted in a loss of 300,000 jobs. In Brazil, despite being the second largest exporter of soya, 50% of the population is malnourished (FAO 2000).

Because of stress, the farming community has one of the highest suicide rates of all British occupations; at least 10% of tenants are on anti-depressants (NFU, 2000). Reduced prices mean that farmers have to produce at an ever lower cost per unit at the expense of the environment, workers, animals or themselves. Imported food is often cheaper because the consumer price does not include the true human and environmental costs:

"Outside economic forces have done me in. You have no control over
prices, everything is set by outsiders. It doesn’t matter how well you farm,
it just gets harder and harder ."
A farmer

What’s farming got to do with me?

What can I do?