An otter holt under construction on a farm in Cambridgeshire. Image credit: The Cooperative Group, used under Creative Commons license.
I wrote yesterday that focusing on food miles risks oversimplifying the idea of local food. The fact is that how are farms are run, and by whom, is at least as important as where they are located. David Suzuki has already made the case that small farms can both feed the world and protect biodiversity. Now a piece over at The Soil Association makes the case for why farms deliver much more than just economic benefits or food on our plates.
Writing about a recent government report that valued ecosystem services created or protected by farmers at well over GB£2b per year, Phil Stocker makes the case that farming should not be considered as "just another business". The fact is, says Stocker, farms can and should be expected to deliver much bigger benefits than just economic returns, but public money has a role to play in supporting that approach:
Agriculture could be more likened to our health or education services, they too have to run in a business like way but much more is expected of them than economic outcomes. But farming is different here too in the thousands of individual business structures not necessarily connected or pulling in the same direction. That's where the CAP [The European Union's Common Agricultural Policy] comes in but even that makes life complicated - so much of the ecosystem services were created by default, as a by product of a low intensity agriculture. Can the same, or better be created by design?
Stocker doesn't have a blueprint for how to incentivice farmers to protect nature going forward, but the idea that they are stewards of our collective heritage is an important one. Like any steward, the role carries with it important responsibilities, but it should also carry adequate and effective compensation. What that looks like will, of course, depend from country to country, and region to region. But never kid ourselves that farming is just like any other business—it's much more important than that.
More on Local Food, Sustainability and Carbon Emissions
Can Small Farms Feed the World and Protect Nature?
Is Industrial Monoculture the True Path to Sustainable Farming?
Pablo Looks at the Carbon Footprint of Local Food
Local Food is Better, and it's About More than Just Carbon
Organic Farming Uses Less Energy, Searches for Even Lower Impact
Small-Scale Agriculture Could Double Crop Yields in Developing Nations