Is food security better in Wales?

Maybe: at least the outlook is promising…

Food security is one of the issues which makes me compare the 2020s to the 1930s: there are huge problems looming, most people are in denial, but a few are making preparations which could be crucial. Some of these are in Wales, and as a fresh immigrant, I’m following the situation here closely.

If you’re reading this, probably you already believe the food outlook is grave: but if you’d like more evidence, here are two useful sources. One is a paper recently published by Professor Jem Bendell, which is well researched on the global outlook. The other is an overview of UK data on several major issues, the UK Risk Review 2030, which I commissioned from the Schumacher Institute.

So what’s the food security outlook in Wales? Let’s start with the Welsh Government, who are generally progressive in their response to climate and related issues. One of the many things I like about Wales is how good intentions at the national level emerge as tangible support and local action: one benefit of a country of 3 million, where local and national join up.

Swn Y Coed permaculture smallholding in Carmarthenshire, an example of Wales’ One Planet Development policy

Derek Walker, the current Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, issued a statement in July titled ‘We need a new long-term vision for food in Wales‘ – timed to coincide with him hosting a People’s Assembly and a round table at the Royal Welsh Show on this topic. (Spot the difference from Whitehall?!)

The Welsh Government are developing a community food strategy, and already provide funding support for CSA and similar schemes. They recognise that raising food security will also help with employment, wellbeing, and alleviating food poverty.

Currently, Wales grows only 2% of the fruit and veg it consumes – far less than in England, but understandable given the upland terrain and thin soils of much of Wales. So the starting place is tough, but the level of motivation and the extent of grassroots initiatives on food security is exciting.

One of my favourite examples of this is Our Food 1200: they estimate that their bioregion in South-East Wales needs 1200 acres to provide its fruit and veg, and they are intent on creating it. Examples of their recent progress include:

  • An approach to Powys County Council about repurposing some of the farms they own received an immediate positive reply, and a feasibility study is already finished on the first, turning a 36-acre farm near Montgomery into three smallholdings. Funding for conversion should come from the Mid-Wales Growth Fund. Six more of PCC’s farms are proposed for a similar approach. In Dorset, years of hope about the county farms have led to nothing.
  • Setting up a joint marketing website for local growers, Bannau Acres, as a prelude to a larger Sustainable Food Partnership. This is really smart, as small rural growers may struggle for outlets, distribution costs can be shared, and outputs coordinated.
  • Collaboration with the innovative Black Mountains College to provide local work placements and bursaries for horticulture students, recognising the urgent need for more capacity.
  • Working with the local planning authorities on revised planning guidelines, making it easier for small producers to have a home on their land: this is a crucial issue across the UK.

Overall, I feel hopeful that as in the 1930s, just enough is being done to meet the food crisis when it really hits us – at least in Wales. The effect of supportive national and local government is hard to explain: it feels like halving the force of gravity. And Wales has a long track record of local communities sorting out their problems amid neglect from Whitehall!

All the growers I talk with, plus valuable enablers like the Ecological Land Cooperative see water supply as the biggest future concern. So why not be hopeful about a country noted for rainfall? And although land is overpriced and hard to find, it’s relatively less pricey than in England. If you feel like joining the Welsh adventure, please contact me: there’s plenty of opportunity out West!