I thank you for the opportunity of speaking on this special occasion.
There could hardly be a more important issue confronting not just farmers, but the whole of society, than the subject of this meeting: how to grow adequate food and produce adequate energy without the aid of rapidly diminishing and highly polluting fossil fuels. And the reason why it is so important is because: this is not a concern for the future -it is the reality at this very moment. The transition from a 250 year old fossil fuel powered society to a genuinely sustainable renewable energy fuelled society is to be achieved in less than 25 years -if we are to avoid an ultimate meltdown of most of what sustains our present planetary ecology. That is not my prognosis but the increasingly broadcast view of the majority of professional climatologists from all around the world.
The task involved in meeting this deadline would be considerably easier if we had started in earnest some 30 to 40 years ago -but we didn’t. And we still haven’t today. The juggernaut is barely even applying the brakes and is happily cruising through the red lights, building an impression of absolute immunity to nature’s warning cries. The tractors and combine harvesters, even on England’s green and pleasant lands are still getting bigger and the use of oil-based synthetic fertilizers and pesticides is not diminishing. More roads and airport runways are planned and more hypermarkets are queuing to convert green pastures into concrete Warehouses for factory farmed foods. And if this isn’t enough we have leaders hell bent on adding genetically modified foods and nuclear power stations to the apocalyptic corporate soup.
I hope those of us in this room are under no illusions about what goes on in these hallowed halls for the majority of the year. The Houses of Parliament have become a very prestigious auction house, where the welfare of humanity is auctioned off for the price of maintaining the corporate-led status quo, and the organophosphate treated wool is pulled over the eyes of the expectant electorate -many of whom still believe that governments are supposed to be interested in their future.
Global warming and industrial agriculture coupled with untempered mining of fossil fuels, is a combination that leads directly to mutually assured destruction’. Ecological farming of food and energy and their localised distribution, is a combination that leads directly to mutually assured creation’. It is that simple!
So will this House now pass an act to put this resolution into action? All those in favour? Against? Abstentions? Now then, the first thing we will need is independent and caring farmers, saving and growing their own seeds and selling the resultant foods locally. They will only be able to do this if they are supported by local consumer groups who work out a contractual agreement with such farmers to grow foods for them on an annual basis (Yes, this is the way). This is the only genuinely manageable route to food and energy sovereignty and a long term foundation for well-maintained soil fertility, clean air and a humanitarian culture of town and country. Neither farmers nor consumers can survive unless each helps the other to achieve their basic needs; and this must first happen at the local and regional level. It must be a mutual- self-help-community- inspired action. It is here that we find the seeds of hope, that can lead on to the celebration of a shared harvest feast that we are all, perhaps unconsciously, longing for.
To set this process in motion, we have to do two things: we have to first ban the genetically modified seeds of despair that enslave farmers and destroy the diversity of the gene pool which is the source of life and our common inheritance; then we have to adhere to something I have called the Proximity Principle’. Quite simply this means acquiring the majority of our ecologically managed food, fuel and fibre products from the areas of land that immediately surround the townships and villages that form the main population centres across the country. It is a plan so simple that most adults can’t understand it! But here is a clue: let us say that 1 acre of land can provide for 1 person’s basic food needs. Then we can extrapolate that a market town with a population of 10,000 would need 10,000 acres of land to feed it. Well, the Proximity Principle informs us that the cheapest, quickest and most environmentally and humanly benign way of achieving this town and country mutual support symbiosis is for the farms that immediately surround the town to be the suppliers of the town’s needs. This formula can then be repeated throughout the towns and villages of England and the world, so that only when an overall surplus of food or energy is left over after firstly fulfilling the immediate needs of each region, should this surplus be available for export into the nearest region or other country which is suffering an undersupply. So where there is a short-fall of local food, energy or fibres this is to be met by the nearest region which carries a surplus of these. We have to fulfil our own needs with the land resource we have at our disposal, and cease relying on a cut-throat aggressive and inhuman oil fired global economy to provide for our basic needs.
It is the antithesis of the hypermarket-led global food business which is now as popular with organic growers as with conventional growers -and is the single most destructive factor in food and farming’s contribution to climate change and a generally burnt-out world.
Adherence to the Proximity Principle will revolutionise our relationship with the land and those who farm it, providing fresh, flavourful and nutritious local food to all who need it, and finally ensuring that farmers have a guaranteed all year round market -on their doorstep. It is the first stepping stone in assuring the food sovereignty that is our democratic right, and is a task which lies at the heart of the ISIS report Food Futures Now.
The seeds of despair will be transformed into the seeds of hope.
15 April 2008