The gap between food from and for Wales

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.

Peter Davies is Sustainable Development Commission for Wales and a trustee of the IWA. Presentations from the conference are available here.

One thought on “The gap between food from and for Wales

  1. Peter Davis’s comments are very welcome and encapsulate the need and potential to put food back at the centre of our lives in Wales. Producing food is an important part of a sustainable economy, with around a fifth of fossil fuel consumption going into growing, transporting and processing food. Agriculture itself accounts for a fifth of the greenhouse gases produced by human activity. The community aspect of a sustainable economy is also well served by food when consuming it brings people together in a shared experience.

    It is ecouraging that the conference identified actions that can be taken using existing resources, with a change of mindset being more important than additional funding in achieving change. Organic Centre Wales was pleased to be able to support the conference for this reason. The Centre, through the Welsh Government and EU-funded Better Organic Busines Links project, has been working with schools, local authorities and communities to put food back at the centre of building healthy, stable communities.

    Food that has been certified as organic can help public institutions source locally. Organic standards are backed by EU legislation and all certified businesses are inspected annually by an independent certifying body. Institutions that are inviting suppliers to tender for business can specify that a proportion of it is organic. This won’t ensure that it’s local, but it can open the door for local suppliers and is an opportunity to apply pressure to move the emphasis away from cost. Hospitals, for example, use the same contracts to procure food for patients as they do for staff and visitors, and the latter may well want to spend a little extra as a treat.
    Central to this work by Organic Centre Wales is the availability of the Soil Association Catering Mark. This assurance scheme has given institutional caterers a valuable tool with which to engage with their customers and suppliers. The independent accreditation is valued by staff and consumers while the bronze, silver and gold standards establish a pathway for increased use of local and organic food.
    For more comment on food issues please visit our blog pages on http://www.organiccentrewales.org.uk/.

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