The vision of a sustainable, competitive and diverse farming and food sector plays a dynamic role in the rural economy and delivering the environment goals effectively and efficiently (Anon, 2007). Food and farming are significantly contributing to the UK economy through the production of food and the impacts upon the countryside environment. This industry accounts for almost 8% of GDP and 12.5% of employment, farmers are responsible for looking after 70% of land. Therefore, farming has major impacts on environment in both positive and negative ways. However, this industry is facing difficulties and significant long term pressures. Therefore, it is necessary to find ways and means to uplift and sustain the industry for the future of the country (Anon, 2002a; Rackam, 1995). The changes in better farming practices and cooperation across the food chain and real efforts to protect and enhance the environment are most appropriate. The policy commission is looking for a profitable and sustainable farming and food sector. The aim of the commissions is to advise the government on how to create a sustainable, competitive and diverse farming and food sector (Anon, 2002b).
The challenges of the sustainable farming and food industry have been analysed under three main elements of sustainable such as economy, environment and social (Anon, 2002). Productivity is lower by 20% than the world leaders in food production because of the extremely variable lower investment in people and capital, which leads 20-30% lower employment than other European Union countries and Japan in food and drink industries. Therefore, lower profitability leads the income of farmers to lowest level ever since the 1030s. It is obvious that agriculture generates significant environmental benefits; however, it also has several negative impacts such as emission, water pollution and disruption of biodiversity. This is supported by the cost and amounts of waste generated in food industry, in general 10 tonnes of row material are needed to produce 1 tonne of food, the remaining 90% discarded as waste especially in packaging. Agriculture has significant social impact as more than half million UK jobs comes under food and drink manufacturing industries. Food and mouth disease outbreak illustrated severe impact on wider rural economy and farmers. Food production along with its demand and supply also causes impacts on diet habit and diet related ill-health (Anon, 2002).
The main challenges have been identified in farming and food industry regarding its future perspectives including producing safe and healthy products in response to market demands and food security. There is a need to assure that all consumers have access to nutritious and healthy food along with accurate information about the food products. The viability and diversity of rural and urban economy and communities should be supported with proper plans. The viable livelihood of farming communities is to be made through market and payment for public benefits from the sustainable land management. The natural resources such as soil, water and biodiversity within the biological limits should be respected and protected. Higher standard of environmental performance through reducing energy consumption, minimizing resource inputs and use renewable energy wherever possible should be planned and achieved (Anon, 2002). A safe and hygienic working environment must be ensured along with high social welfare and training for all employees involved in the food chain. Consistently high standards of animal health and welfare must be achieved. The sustainable usage of resources must be assured for farming and other public benefits over time except the possible alternative land uses which is essential to meet the needs of the society.
In order to meet the challenges, three key essentials to sustainability have been identified such as connecting to the market, delivering environmental goods & services and contributing to the sustainability of rural communities. These can be met through collaborations with state holders, local empowerment and innovation through rejuvenation (Anon, 2002b).
Connecting to the market
This emphasises the importance in understanding business by business of the changing market and find the ways to best use the market opportunities identified. There are several initiatives being identified to cope up with the demands.
- Adding value: encourage the farmers market which will meet the demand of the consumers, reduce the transport and packaging and connect the consumers with the rural economy. The supermarkets need to give preference to the local produce. Regional food branding will helps to make consumers to be aware the origin of food they are interested (Born, 2003).
- Assurance: Branding assurances have helped to re-establish the consumer confidence in British food along with the assurance of safety and other standards. For example, the red tractor logo implies the assured food standard.
- Organic action plan: The UK currently imports 70% of the organic produce which facilitate the producers to exploit the domestic market. Action plan for organic production in England provides on-going payments for the organic farmers and encourage sustainable procurement of food (Anon, 2002c).
- Exports: UK producers need to produce value added product to compete in world market. Primary agriculture makes an important contribution to the economy.
- Farm diversification: Framers are seeking ways to increase their income by farm diversification. This will help to sustain the jobs and increase new employment. Diversification can be out side or inside the farming. Inside farming promote non-food activities including environmental goods and services such as landscaping, nature conservation management, water supply and carbon capture. Unlike the organic farming, theses have not been reflected in the market prices to date but nevertheless provide important benefits to the society (Murray, 2008).
- Co-operation: The collaboration with others is the best way for small farmers to gain benefits from their business. The farmers are encouraged to join with the cooperative societies in order to strengthen them (Anon, 2007).
The global context
Important sectors of farming such as horticulture, poultry and pig farming are operated without any subsidies. However, largest sectors i.e. livestock and arable farming are amongst those which receive substantial subsidies and price reduction. World trade organizations have already committed to reduce the tariffs and subsidy payments in all direction of the farming and trade in view of these make the farming community less or no-trade distorting or a combination of the two. However, an innovative way of subsidy scheme with relatively less distortion has been recommended by the Policy Commission and subsequently it is proposed by the European Commission. This emphasise that the subsidy payment must encourage the farming community to involve in environment friendly and sustainable agricultural activities which will benefit mainly the public in the theme of ‘public money should be used to pay for public goods that the publics wants and need’ rather than farming community alone. The initiative like increased incentive for the excess production of organic farming produce, usage of bio-fuels which may enable to reduce the usage of fossil fuel, implementation of appropriate solid and liquid waste treatment options including compost making, etc. are the some of the recommended activities (Anon, 2002b).
Contributing to the sustainability of rural communities
The rural communities have involved on primary sectors like agriculture, forestry, mining and quarrying in the past. However, agriculture continues to play an important role in supporting rural communities and sustaining their employment opportunities with other forms of employment. The rural communities contribute to the social network and institutions which are so important to community life. The role of public policy and its integration will be fundamental to sustaining the farming rural communities (Legge-Bourke, 2007).
According to Greenwell (2002) the government strategy for sustainable farming and food makes some worthwhile commitments and provide verbal support for the industry, however fails to address the key challenges in restoring the profitability of farming. Sustainable farming is an environmental friendly approach; however, it gives lower net profitability in terms of total productivity. In the meantime, traditional agriculture satisfy the farmers immediate requirements with increased productivity, however causes significant environmental hazards. It has failed to understand and address the fundamental weakness of agriculture in the UK in relation to market strength. About 250,000 farming businesses make up a small industry in an indifferent urban society where the food chain is in oligopolistic hands. Because the production from these small holders can produce only 1% of farming out put, which is too small to have any presence in the market place (Anon, 2009). Diversity of farming also provides farmers more profitability through recreation and tourism during off season, however continuous usage of farm land leads to the degradation of the land value along with increased environmental hazards. Countryside is not only valued for farming, timber and minerals, it is also useful for wildlife, scenic quality, cultural significance, recreational opportunities and other benefits includes water supply and carbon storage (Anon, 2009). However, the UK water endorses the Curry Report and urges the government to adopt it towards the sustainability of the food and farming industry.
The sustainable future of the food and farming industry is becoming under thread due to the increasing demand for food and other needs. A changing lifestyle, an increasing environmental concern and present economic recession also cause significant impact on the industry. Therefore, there is a big task ahead for the government to find the means and ways to keep the industry sustainable. The policy commission has proposed several activities to make the industry sustainable and profitable. However, the practicability of the proposed plan is debatable as far as environmental issues are concerned. Therefore, sound and promising plans should be validated towards the sustainable future of the industry.