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.
- Apples are sold at nearly double the price that farmers are paid for them - eggs, four times.
- The farmer is paid 2p for the wheat in a 50p loaf of bread. The EU subsidy adds just another 1p.
- A coffee or banana grower receives only 7-8% of the consumer price.
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:
- large-scale farming of single crops harms biodiversity;
- hauling food round the world and all over the country wastes millions of gallons of fuel;
- international trade in live animals is very stressful;
- employing cheap migrant labour disregards workers’ welfare and rights.
prices, everything is set by outsiders. It doesn’t matter how well you farm,
it just gets harder and harder ."
What’s farming got to do with me?
- For each person employed in agriculture, 1.6 other workers are maintained in rural areas. For every pound of agricultural income, the local economy gains £2.20 (Rural Development Commission & the Agriculture Training Board 1997).
- Rural employment is necessary to keep people living in the countryside. Already many rural areas do not have the population density required to sustain key rural services. As shops, post offices, schools, surgeries, public transport and pubs disappear, villages either die or become rural ‘dormitories’.
- Once they have disappeared, farmers cannot be easily re-invented. Their knowledge of locality, soils, climate, crops and animals goes with them. The British landscape of fields, moors and woodlands has been formed and shaped by farmers.
- Farmers and farmworkers help to keep traditional rural skills and traditions alive.
- The less food is hauled, handled and added to, the better it is. The more local the production, the more informed your choice can be.
What can I do?
- Buy locally produced food, from farmers’ markets, farm shops, ‘box schemes’ or from the internet. At farmers’ markets you can ask exactly how the food was produced. Find out what local food is available in your area and where farmers sell their own produce by calling 01225 787914 or www.farmersmarkets.net
- Shop at local, small, specialist shops and producers (e.g. bakers) and encourage them to source locally.
- Buy fairly traded products, such as Cafédirect (Oxfam shops, some farmers’ markets, wholefood shops and some supermarkets stock them), to ensure ‘Third World’ growers also receive a fair price for their produce.
- Go and visit farmers where they live. There are many holiday homes and B&Bs on farms. You can share in the farm activities, buy fresh produce and learn with ‘farm trails’ and other activities specifically designed for children.
- Wherever you shop or eat out, ask the management’s policy regarding fairly traded and local produce.