2. The NFWI is concerned that the British Government's recent Rural White Paper (November 2000) may allow farming in the UK to become further marginalised and may do little to stop the flood of farmers leaving food production or to encourage young people to enter farming. The Rural White Paper mentions the importance of farmers' markets and speciality foods in contributing to dynamic and sustainable local economies, but seems to accept that more and more of our staple food production will shift overseas as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) drives forward its 'free' trade agenda. As well as jeopardising our food supply and countryside in the UK, this could lead to major intensification of food production systems in other countries. UK farmers are being encouraged to diversify into rural tourism and craft activities instead, but as the Foot and Mouth epidemic has shown, these are highly risky ventures. Farmers who are on the brink of bankruptcy should not be pushed to take on further debts in order to fund high risk ventures.
3. While the NFWI agrees that every effort must be made to reduce the stress that agriculture places on the countryside, we believe that allowing food production to be run down could have severe consequences. Indeed, in an era of increasing economic, social and environmental instability, the NFWI believes that the main aim of government agricultural policy should be food security. The NFWI has long argued that, contrary to much mainstream economic thinking, agricultural self-sufficiency should be a major goal of international development assistance, and that dependence on international trade for food supplies is undesirable on national security, economic, social and environmental grounds. Where trade is necessary to meet a nation's food demands, trade rules should be fair, should not damage local economies, and should encourage high social and environmental standards.
4. The NFWI is concerned that globalisation is increasing the industrialisation of agriculture and the centralisation of the production, processing and distribution of food in Britain and around the world, with all the attendant economic, social and environmental damage. Globally, small and family farmers are being pushed out of food production and off the land. Sustainable systems of agriculture are being broken down and traditional knowledge and wisdom lost.
5. The NFWI believes that agriculture is an intensely local activity dealing with local land, topography and climate, at exactly appropriate points in time and season. It deals with the living and the unpredictable, is prone to disease and therefore depends on biological diversity as well as modern science. It has a long time-scale and production processes which once initiated cannot easily be altered or reversed. It is therefore not compatible with the drive for global competitiveness, which is being forced upon it.
6. The NFWI argues that the role of agriculture should be to provide food first and foremost for the local market, in ways that are safe for producers and consumers, that are environmentally friendly and humane, and that provide meaningful and gainful employment to rural people.
7. The NFWI therefore calls upon the British Government to help bring in the necessary national, regional and international level policies to allow this, and to implement immediate measures to support farmers on the brink who cannot hold on for a long-term strategy to bear fruit.