Letter: Green farming systems can revive the countryside

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The Independent Online
Sir: One further point to your valuable debate on whether UK Farming plc can "go green". Rural people and jobs are vital to maintain viable rural communities, services and culture. The reasons for the decline seen in many rural areas are complex but one of the most pressing implications is the loss of rural employment. The UK farm workforce has shrunk from 21 per cent in 1841 to an average of 2.1 per cent in 1995, the second lowest figure in the OECD membership. It is set to drop even further.

The BSE saga has huge implications for rural workers. The intensive farm systems behind BSE have let down not only consumers and the environment but also rural communities. In future they should not be relied upon to provide a stable rural employment base.

It is possible to alter the dynamics such that new and improved farm and rural job scenarios are created. Green farming systems can create job opportunities. Low-input farms such as organic and mixed are, by nature, more labour intensive and are associated with on-farm processing, local marketing and other activities (one study found 19 per cent greater employment on German organic farms). Landscape and woodland management requires local labour and enhances local incomes. Such systems are often associated with better environmental protection.

Sustainable agriculture will be a reality when a working, healthy environment is created. The obstacles to this are many but the UK could and must take the lead.

Vicki Hird

Sustainable Agriculture

Food and Environment

London SW1