The old adage ‘think global act local’ takes on a new urgency and salience
Ahead of the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show, Cefin Campbell MS writes in the Sunday Times about the threats to the rural way of life, and argues that farmers should be seen as the solution, not the problem.
This article was written for the Sunday Times on 18 July 2021
“Farming is my bread and butter – poetry is the jam.” A typically tongue in cheek observation from the late Dic Jones, widely acclaimed as one of Wales’s greatest poets.
His iconic strict meter poetry was crafted whilst toiling the 80 acres of his farm in Blaenannerch, near Cardigan, drawing inspiration from the changing seasons in his most famous works ‘Y Gwanwyn’ (Spring) and ‘Y Cynhaeaf’ (Harvest).
With summer upon us, rural communities up and down the country would ordinarily be preparing for weeks of shows and fairs, but recent events has left this period feeling ever more like a harsh winter.
Perhaps the most noticeable absence from the agricultural calendar this year is the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show in Builth Wells, the largest event of its kind in Europe.
The Royal Welsh is so much more than the farmyard replicated on a far grander scale.
It is the rich patchwork of activities and interests, from forestry to food and drink, which forms the fabric of rural life.
Attracting competitors from around the globe, there is little doubt that ‘The Show’ as it’s affectionately known represents the pinnacle of the agricultural calendar, but this year for the second year in a row, it is reduced to a virtual offering.
Like so many large-scale events since the start of the pandemic, the cancellation of the Royal Welsh has served as a stark reminder of the vulnerabilities of occasions whose success rely on people’s ability to come together.
But despite the gradual easing of restrictions, taking for granted the future of The Show and all it represents for Wales would be folly.
The challenges facing the farming sector no doubt predate the pandemic. No doubt the ability to trade has been hindered by Covid, but this has merely been fuel on the Brexit bonfire.
It is unclear whether the Westminster Government’s determination to strike a trade deal with Australia is driven by ignorance or apathy when it comes to comprehending the consequences, but one certainty is that this deal represents a gross betrayal of Welsh farmers, their high trading standards, and best interests.
Back in 2016, farmers were sold the promise of more freedom and less red tape. Five years on they are facing unprecedented uncertainty and incoherence.
On repeated occasions my Plaid Cymru colleagues have taken UK Government Ministers to task over their empty soundbites, and on repeated occasions they have failed to give the guarantees which the Welsh agricultural sector needs and deserves.
There is a real risk that an influx of cheaper Australian beef and lamb into our markets will undercut domestic produce. Farmers are still waiting for details on how post-EU subsidy schemes will operate, while trying to navigate a new trading relationship with their largest export market, the EU.
Not only does the Australia deal make little economic sense, it is also environmentally illiterate. 50 miles of water separate Wales and Ireland where most of our imported beef comes from. Meanwhile, the UK Government has relentlessly pursued a trade deal with a nation 10,000 miles away making a mockery of its so-called commitment to tackling the climate crisis.
Adding insult to injury the Tory government also cut £135 million off the Welsh agriculture budget in the Comprehensive Spending Review of 2020.
It is clear that the rural way of life and those earning a living from the land face threats from all directions.
Now is the time to sow the seeds of a new green deal which recognises farmers as the solution not the problem.
The adage ‘think global, act local’ takes on a new urgency and salience.
As custodians of our ancient lands, who better to lead the effort to strike harmony between the economy and the environment than those who have farmed them for centuries?
Wales’s agricultural sector holds huge potential. Producing some of the highest quality food and drink in the world, Plaid Cymru’s “square mile food mile” ethos would incentivise businesses to source locally, shortening the supply chain and creating jobs by boosting procurement.
A ‘Made in Wales’ official brand should be created, to be carried by any product or service where 50 per cent of the value is created in Wales. We can sell our best food and drink to the world to the benefit, rather than the detriment, of our farmers.
Similarly, the global fight against climate change can be aided by local action.
The principles of a Nature Act – successfully proposed by Plaid Cymru Members and adopted by the Welsh Parliament in recent weeks – would make farmers key allies in the fight to protect endangered indigenous species and restore biodiversity across our lands.
If the many facets of rural Wales, our language and heritage included, are the pieces which form that patchwork epitomised by The Royal Welsh Show, then the people of its communities are the thread which hold it together.
It is they who must be empowered to safeguard a future for their way of life, rather than be left at the mercy of clueless Ministers in Westminster.
Beyond Brexit and the pandemic, we need Welsh trade on Welsh terms. Policies designed with and by those directly impacted by them is the best way to forge a sustainable future for rural Wales and ensure that The Show will go on.