ONE OF THE great challenges in formulating a national food strategy is to marry economic realities with environmental and social aspirations.
So three cheers for Wales, whose recently published “Action Plan for the Food and Drinks Industry 2014-2020” sets out a roadmap for achieving a profitable food system that is also sustainable, fair and culturally sensitive.
The Welsh government has identified food and farming as one of nine priority sectors which it sees as key to prosperity. The sector has a turnover of £5.2 billion and employs 45,000 people, many of whom are self- employed or work in micro-businesses. In common with other Celtic nations, central to Wales’s approach is an export-led strategy focused on promoting commodities such as Welsh beef and lamb which already have a strong reputation internationally.
An export-led strategy is also at the heart of the British government’s long-term economic plan, not least in food where the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, has spent much of his tenure touring the globe banging the drum for UK produce. But while DEFRA has focused its efforts on boosting competitiveness of the food sector it has struggled to produced a convincing vision for what a sustainable, equitable food system should look like.
In this regard the Welsh plan could provide a useful template. The government’s vision is for a food system that contributes towards its overarching goal of delivering “healthy productive lives in a more prosperous and innovative economy” while contributing towards “safer more cohesive communities, with lower levels of poverty and greater equality” and “a resilient environment with more sustainable use of our natural resources and a society with a vital sense of its own culture and heritage”.
This is music to the ears of anyone who believes food can deliver on many more aspirations than purely financial ones. Wales deserves credit for showing faith in food’s ability to act as a force for social and environmental good while supporting economic growth through enterprise and exports. Its next challenge is to deliver on its bold ambitions.