Sunday, 14 September 2014

Too small to matter?

Earlier this week a note was sent to all the usual broadcast media.  That I am aware not one has commented or picked up on it. Just today I came across a piece from the other side of the world that gives a very interesting  light on the contents.

Jersey Organic Association 
“Small changes, big difference” is the slogan of the Soil Association's Organic September campaign. It is ironically appropriate to the organic market in Jersey, for both consumers and producers. The recent proposal from the Environment Department for ongoing support for organic producers most definitely feels like small change.

The payment offered to the producers is £11 per vergée split over 2 years. To qualify, the seven or eight local producers will have to be organically certified and supply accounts. Soil Association certification costs a minimum £400 per year for a licence, and accountancy costs would probably be more. For a number of those growers, the payment over two years won't even cover the licence for a single year and for the smallest the payment works out at less than £1 per week. In Germany and France, annual maintenance payments for organic producers can be 900Euro per hectare, approximately £100 per vergée .

For consumers this is also a loss. There are many varied reasons people choose organic, but concern for the environment is one. Many of us want local produce, knowing it has been grown to the best standards of protection for our own wildlife, environment and biodiversity. Already we are witnessing a decline in the area of organic land in the Island. There will be consequences to the continued neglect of this part of our economy. I predict that two of the local producers will have either given up organic status, or possibly left farming altogether, by the time the policy is reviewed in the Rural Economy plan of 2016. That would leave local consumers with less choice.

A small change making a big difference indeed, in the wrong direction.

Mark Forskitt

Chair, Jersey Organic Association

I should clarify.  I don't qualify for any of these payments.  My land is organically certified, but I am not considered commercial, and do not qualify.  Obviously I am not one of those who might go out of business as I am not technically in business to begin with !

A couple of smaller growers going out of business won't make much of a dent on the size of the economy, it wont affect tax revenues much.  But just how far are we prepared to see one of the few legs of our our economy wither?  How much choice are we happy to see removed from the local population.

Here's the contrast  Hong Kong has numerous parallels to Jersey.  It is one example of where we might very well end up if we continue with  growth and eating away at green zone and agricultural land.  They had a problem with farming becoming non-viable in the face of land prices and wages from the burgeoning financial economy.  "By 1980, 40 percent of farmland in Hong Kong was reported as abandoned and rice paddies made up less than one percent of what was in use. Today, a total of just seven square kilometres (2.7 square miles) is actively farmed." That's out of a total of 426 sq m, a touch  under 10 times the area of Jersey.

"But the number of organic-style vegetable farms has increased from a handful of trailblazers in the 1990s to several hundred today -- of which 130 are certified as fully organic.

While still flown in to the semi-autonomous southern Chinese city, homegrown organic vegetables now make up 12 percent of the 45 tons of vegetables the city produces daily." How does that compare with us?  Who's looking to our future, our food security, our land and ecology?

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