Opinion: Now could be the time to ship actual change within the UK’s meals system

Over the previous few many years, the UK’s agri-food provide chain has grow to be centralised and opaque, with simply 12 supermarkets controlling about 95% of a retail market that’s value roughly £200bn a yr.

This has correlated with reducing farm incomes, the place right now, on common, UK farmers get 8% of the shoppers’ meals spend. That’s unsustainable.

See additionally: Can supplying the general public sector work for farmers?

In regards to the writer

James Woodward is the sustainable farming officer at Maintain – The alliance for higher meals and farming.

Right here he explains why authorities and trade have to create new and higher routes to marketplace for native meals producers.

Moreover, supermarkets have traditionally used unfair buying and selling practices to squeeze producers and push prices again onto farmers and smaller-scale suppliers.

This has included including unexplained charges to invoices, cancelling orders on the final minute, and utilizing worth wars to compete with different supermarkets.

Analysis exhibits this has additionally created a dangerous meals system, extremely weak to shocks.

In our current farmer survey “Past the Farmgate”, we at Maintain discovered that English and Welsh farmers are prepared for a change.

Many of the 500 we surveyed wish to provide much less to supermarkets and large-scale producers, and extra to a various array of markets that embrace meals hubs, direct gross sales, impartial retailers and the meals service sector.

They wish to do that as a result of they see nice advantages for his or her companies, the atmosphere and their native communities.

These shorter, extra localised provide chains would pay a fairer worth, reward farmers to do extra for local weather and nature supply, create higher enterprise resilience, join producers and residents extra carefully, and facilitate extra collaboration on the native degree between farmers and suppliers.

The farmers participating within the survey additionally highlighted a number of boundaries that want tackling.

An absence of entry to reasonably priced finance, accessible and versatile infrastructure, social networks, and advertising assist and recommendation, are stifling change.

So there’s a willingness and need for a special meals future, and each nationwide and native authorities might do an terrible lot to interrupt down these boundaries.

They may assist enlargement in these shorter provide chains by figuring out alternatives for development on the native degree.

They may reorientate among the “levelling up” and different funds in direction of native meals provide chain infrastructure and networks.

They may buy extra meals for faculties and care properties from native farms, and assist dynamic meals procurement to facilitate small and medium-sized enterprises accessing contracts.

It’s crucial that we construct meals methods which are extra targeted on farmers’ and growers’ wants, in addition to serving to them to sort out challenges within the years forward.

These challenges embrace main and unpredictable climatic modifications; the pressing have to reverse the lack of nature and degradation of ecosystems together with soils and water;  the brand new commerce offers that might undermine British farming companies; scarcity of employees; a much less accessible EU market; and the rising prices of inputs.

All these clearly level in direction of the necessity to create new and higher routes to marketplace for our meals producers.

Rising the market share of shorter provide chains from 3.5% to even 10% of retail would require important funding and coverage shifts, together with for the infrastructure wanted, however the rewards are properly definitely worth the effort.

We wish to see long-term ambition to extend the market share to 25% over the following 10 years.

Because the UK authorities continues to develop new insurance policies round farming, devolution and levelling up throughout the nation, it should seize the chance to create a fairer, extra resilient and extra sustainable meals system, from farm to fork.

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