I am currently applying to carry out research into the effects of energy input decline on agricultural employment. I wanted to resurrect this blog as somewhere that I can not only write publicly and hopefully gain useful feedback, but also somewhere to record all the useful media, references and stories that I come across.
But first, an idea of where I’m coming from…
In 2008, whilst writing my posts on Peak Food in Japan, I became interested in a number of issues relating to agriculture, particularly such international movements as permaculture in developed countries and the work of Via Campesina globally.
That summer I took the opportunity to meet with the international Via Campesina representatives who had travelled to Japan to protest against the G8 Summit. I was struck by a number of things, including that although they have a solid presence in many developed countries, such as through NOUMINREN in Japan, this is lacking in the UK. I began to look more closely at my own country’s history of agricultural development, and events such as the enclosures and clearances.
Nick Broomfield’s 2006 film Ghosts had impressed upon me how heavily dependent the UK agricultural sector is on exploited migrant labour. It occurred to me that despite our being the first country to industrialise and our heavy use of fossil fuels in agriculture, we still have a rural landless underclass in the UK. However, as one of the most excluded parts of society, they are rarely commented on or recognised.
Something else which I observed in Via Campesina and other anti-globalisation groups was a lack of awareness and discussion of the forthcoming energy decline, and how this might impact upon their particular interests.
In my opinion, a change to more intensive labour-based production is inevitable. However, this type of production could come in many forms. From my personal view-point, a small-scale farming system such as advocated environmentally by permaculturists and socially by Via Campesina would be best, but I see this as far from the most likely outcome. Even in Japan, where compared with the UK there has traditionally been greater land access, more farmers markets and a higher government awareness of domestic food security, there is still a shift away from small farms.
The large-scale farming alternatives are likely to have associated social costs, illustrated for example by the plight of immigrant labourers in California, and the potential for catastrophic damage to the environment, such as occurred in North Korea.
Having returned home to Wales in spring 2009, I have found myself involved in local food issues, as during my time abroad my parents had helped to found a Transition movement in our town. This has also given me the opportunity to consider food security in Wales and the UK in more detail.
I realised that the UK, as a food and energy importing country, was similar to Japan in facing serious problems in coping with a likely future where reduced food imports necessitate increased agricultural production.
However, due to the nature of land ownership and farming here, the challenges facing the UK may be even greater than Japan’s, especially with regard to agricultural labour where a low-skilled migrant workforce is often exploited.
This has led me to the conclusion that the impact and magnitude of the forthcoming energy decline and its implications for agriculture are such that there is an urgent requirement for research into trends in agricultural employment. This research is needed to inform sustainable agricultural strategies and support necessary economic and cultural paradigm shifts.