Maybe it takes a crisis to motivate humans. Our modern Welfare State was planned during the Second World War and the Marshall Plan was a response to Europe in ruins. Are there, however, leaders today capable of carrying through the necessary reorientation in United Kingdom farming and horticulture – or do we need to take seriously the responsibility of forging local solutions before global warming (sic) and resource boundaries force uncomfortable change?
The IF campaign, focusing in particular on the crisis in developing countries, claims that there is enough food for everyone on this planet IF four achievable criteria are met: Aid (and in the EC, farming subsidies need to be refocused), Tax (an end to tax dodging by some of the ‘rich’ in the UK would also be manifestly fair), Transparency (farmsubsidy.org is campaigning for greater transparency in Europe) and Preventing Poor Farmers being Forced off their Land (which in the UK has been in progress by design and accident for centuries, and is happening now from financial pressures).
Apart from supporting the appropriate campaigns, perhaps the fourth of these is where we can make the greatest impact locally. We need to be part of the out-working of the Jubilee principle re-proclaimed by Jesus at the start of His ministry – the equitable redistribution of land. Sociologically, this is part of our readjustment to a post-industrial society (not, please note, a post-technological society). Theologically, it is a condition for Shalom. Short of violent revolution, which would be a negation of the Way of Christ, is this possible?
Jesus is ahead of us in Transition Towns, sustainability villages, food co-ops, urban farms, local concessions, working farm holidays, community supported agriculture schemes and many other similar initiatives. It is not practicable nor necessary (yet) to return to the grinding toil of an agrarian economy but it is possible to involve many more people in affordable, intensive, resilient organic horticulture (and keeping chickens!) in gardens, allotments and community projects. Even city-dwellers, with little more than a window-box of their own, could be part of a group sharing the risks and rewards of a hillside farm. Some of us not only get our hands dirty but dream of rebuilding harmony with Nature. Do farmers on the one hand and congregations on the other have the imagination to grasp the possibilities or the vision to see where this might lead?
Today, of course, some developing and under-developed countries have the greatest need. Aid (except in response to natural disasters) is only a temporary expedient – we have a duty to join the struggle for economic justice, fair trading and debt-cancellation that will enable poor communities to work their way out of poverty. If things seem less urgent nearer home, it may simply be that God has answered our prayers for time for amendment of life. Floods, snows and an exponential rise in food-banks are straws in the wind (or the whirl-wind?).
If mean global warming rises more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial (as seems increasingly likely) accessible global food production could drop as population (with increased expectations) climbs to 9 billion – never mind soil degradation, phosphate shortages and other worries. Europe has a moral and strategic need to be at least net-self-supporting in food production – and the UK has to play its part.
Some of our smaller farmers in crisis need aid right now but that is no long-term solution. In the medium term it must be recognised more clearly that even uneconomic farms perform vital ecological services and farmers should be paid, directly or indirectly, for providing these conscientiously. In the longer term, however, a renewed regard for the productive value of well-tended land means opportunity for all of us to move closer to the relationship with growing food that God intends for our true prosperity.
2 April 2013