September 2015: One of the speakers at the seminar ‘Agroecology in the EU’ taking place at the European Parliament, was family farmer Jyoti Fernandes. A leader of the UK Land Workers’ Alliance and the European Coordination of La Vía Campesina (host of the seminar), she said: “Small farms are actually more productive per hectare. The diversity of food and the quality of the food that we produce is better.” Here follows the full transcript of her speech.
“My name is Jyoti Fernandes and I have a farm in the UK. It’s a family farm and I would consider it an agroecological farm, all though I never really thought of it like that before. It’s just a farm that’s based on a lot of different traditional elements of agriculture in our area. I think that when you are looking at what’s in your environment and you create a farm based on that, and you also consider the local markets and the diversity of products you can sell to the local market, you have an agroecological farm.”
Building an agricultural community
“I run our farm with my four children and my husband, and it’s very mixed. I think it is a good example of agroecology in a European context. We have three milk cows that we milk by hand, and we have sheep which we keep in a very traditional way: underneath fruit trees. We produce cider and apple juice. We keep pigs and chickens free range and outdoors that eat the waste products from other parts of the farm. We grow traditional varieties of vegetables. And all of these things we process: we make cheese, bacon and sausages, apple juice and cider and preserves; a real diversity of products.
There are 50 smallholders in a 15 mile radius of our farm. We work together to process and sell our products in local markets. We have a great time together creating what is an agricultural community in our part of the world.”
The backbone of food security in Europe
“All across Europe, through La Via Campesina, I’ve met farmers doing similar things. We’re doing these projects on the land in connection with the territories and communities that we live in. We do it because we truly believe in producing food for our families and our communities and doing it in the best way possible in connection with the Earth. We look at all the cycles of nature around us. We look at the intricate connections between these cycles and what we take into our bodies every day, and all the different ways that the animals and the plants can work together. With that we create something that has real meaning for our lives and for our communities. We’re trying to be the backbone of food security in Europe.
Why we do this has almost nothing to do with market economics. It has to do with the fact that what makes life worth living for those of us who use agroecological approaches in Europe, is that we want to produce something healthy for people to take into their body three times a day. We want to create life.”
“And that’s what policy should be about- creating meaning for human beings. It doesn’t work to just look at export markets . It should be about valuing the people who are here in Europe producing our food and working on the land every single day to get food to our communities and our families.
We want to create jobs in Europe! We want people to be able to go into agriculture and work on the land. Those of us across Europe who are trying to do this are operating in an incredibly unhelpful context. We’re out there working every single day and the EU policies don’t help us at all. In fact, they work against us. The common agricultural policy makes up 65 percent of the EU budget, but 80 percent of that is going to the big industrial farms and to large land owners. Only 20 percent goes to all the small farmers across Europe, who are the majority of farmers. “
“One thing I really want to challenge is that small farms aren’t as productive. Sometimes we talk to policy makers and the first thing they throw back at us is “Well, your way of farming is a nice romantic notion, it’s really great to have this community, the tasty food. But you know, the population is going up, so is really realistic we’re going to feed Europe in this way? Don’t you think that we actually need to industrialise, and need these big farms and GM crops to feed Europe?”
But if you look at the productivity of small farms, they are actually more productive per hectare. The diversity of food and the quality of the food that we produce is better. We are giving something nutritious to people.
When you look at the productivity figures used now, they’re based on the amount of calories produced per hectare per employed person. It’s a really capitalist way of looking at production efficiency: not assessing the actual amount of food you produce per hectare, but whether or not someone can make money from the amount of people that are employed on that unit per hectare.”
Land and food prices
“We see the price of land going up and up and up. As a farmer, you can hardly afford to rent land, and if you do, it’s often from a land owner who also claims ‘single farm payments’ from the common agricultural policy. So they’re getting the payments and they’re getting the rent from the small farmers. This per hectare payment system absolutely has to go if we’re going to support small farmers across Europe. It’s driving up the price of land and makes it extremely expensive. All those young people with passion who want to get on the land and produce our food can’t get that land because it’s too expensive.
It also drives down the price of food, because when subsidies go to these large industrial farms, the price of commodities goes down. You try and compete by producing good quality food that you’ve thrown your heart and soul into, but there’s no way to be successful. The price that you get for the food, that you’re producing with your whole spirit, is a slap in the face.
Laws that work for us
Secondly, we need more support under pillar two’s rural development funding. We need funding for infrastructure, we need funding to get onto the land in the best way, we need money for primary products, and we also need money for processing facilities, such as small scale abattoirs.
We need real change to the laws that work deliberately against us: those about being able to save and produce your own seed and the food safety regulations. And we have so many other suggestions that come from our exchanges within La Via Campesina. If policy makers listen to us, we can tell them exactly what’s holding us back. It’s as if we’re trying to feed Europe with straightjackets on.
We know exactly what we need to do to become the backbone of food security in Europe. It’s entirely possible. If policy makers listen to us, and take our passion and run with it, we will have a Europe that’s fed in the best way possible.“