It was good to have the opportunity to chair the IWA Sustainable Food Nation Conference at Cardiff University earlier this week, which I think will prove to be of real significance in the future of food for and food from Wales
For those unable to attend, the IWA produced an excellent pre conference publication with a range of articles from conference contributors and other experts in the field – available here. There is also a full report from the conference available to members.
It was significant as it was the first food conference addressed by Alun Davies in his role as Minister for Natural Resource and Food (pictured above) – the first time that food has been identified as a specific Cabinet responsibility. He set out his agenda and timetable for the publication of a Food Plan by the end of the year and the associated establishment of a Food Board to oversee delivery, stressing that food was emblematic as a statement about who we are as a nation.
The conference identified a number of big ticket issues, barriers and opportunities:
- The key role of the public sector in providing an exemplar in procurement of local food – particularly in respect of schools and hospitals where there is long established evidence of the link between quality of food and better outcomes for learners and the unwell.
- The need for better brokerage to connect local demand and supply – creating better market opportunity to stimulate supply. A challenge well articulated by the Catering Manager for Cardiff University the conference hosts.
- The critical role of schools and colleges where food needs to be at the centre of Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship in providing the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes.
- The role of the Sustainable Food Cities programme being run through the Soil Association and which will include Cardiff, where good progress has been made through a Food Charter and a Food Council. There will be competition with Swansea where Sybil Crouch as Sustainability Cabinet member has put food at the heart of her responsibilities and is driving hard on a city wide food strategy that can also extend across the Swansea Bay City region.
- The need to enable increase in land for allotments, community plots and creative use of city spaces through the release of public sector land, building on the excellent work of City Farms and Gardens.
- The importance of enabling the expansion of horticulture in peri urban areas with more supportive planning to encourage growth of local provision of vegetables.
- The critical links between food and public health, around issues of food poverty at one end and levels of obesity at the other – where the conference was left stunned through a presentation on diet by Zoe Harcombe which challenged existing guidance and will now be the subject of a specific follow on debate organised through IWA.
- The supermarkets were ably represented through Waitrose and the Cooperative group recognising their key role and the need for greater engagement and dialogue on their role in Wales.
- Public attitudes and consumer behaviour with levels of waste being a key issue highlighted by the work of FairShare Cymru.
- The nature of the global food challenge as represented through the IF campaign which will be lobbying at the G8 meeting for fairer global food.
There were then a wealth of ideas and actions for delegates to take forward and as Commissioner I will be following up on the big ticket issues of procurement, education and supply of local land for community food schemes. I will also hope to be working closely with the Minister and officials on the development and delivery of the Food Plan, which will have close links to the work of the Rural Development Advisory Group I have been chairing for the Minister.
The missing element in the conference was a stronger link to the producers of Wales – with Ed Bailey of NFU Cymru being the very effective but sole voice of the agricultural sector. There is a real gap between food from Wales and food for Wales. While it will never be possible or desirable to close that gap completely we do need to continue to increase local supply and improve routes to local markets. We equally need to ensure that food from Wales is emblematic of our values and commitment to sustainable production providing flagship brands for our wider green economy.