Growing our own and owning our grow

COVID-19 and Brexit require us to re-think food production, food security ad supply chains in Wales. Jon Parker considers the co-operative opportunities for the agri-food and fisheries sector.

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As the lockdown period of the pandemic slowly loosens to allow citizens in Wales the freedom to resume their lives in what will become the ‘new normal’, there is an industry that has, alongside other key workers, sought to maintain productivity throughout the crisis – agriculture, fisheries and food production.

We’ve seen changes in the way we shop in store and movement towards greater online purchasing of food. Within the supply chain there has been and will be casualties in business. With the food service sector being particularly badly hit, some prominent operators in the UK have suffered from the closure of the restaurant and eating out sector.

In the shellfish industry in Wales, we have seen the supply chains dependent on traditional markets on the continent suffer, but alongside that, the adaptability of fishers to move into local sales and deliveries, with a renewed interest in the produce harvested from the waters around Wales.

The pandemic has offered an opportunity to reset some of our thinking within industry sectors. From an agri-food and fisheries perspective, Wales has an opportunity to consider its role in food production from a regional and global perspective. Both COVID-19 and the spectre of Brexit present issues in terms of food security and the ability of the nation to feed itself. Climate change, environmental protection and sustainability is also high up on the agenda of business and Government.

We have a strong co-operative base in the Welsh agriculture sector, covering key sub-sectors with thousands of members across Wales. The executive teams and boards of these organisations hold a huge pool of knowledge, and experience of trading through commercial farmer owned co-operatives. Innovative, progressive individuals in the sector have also sought to develop new farmer led co-operative approaches to tackle environmental issues through the use of new technologies and data gathering.

How COVID-19 and Brexit will impact on consumer behaviour in the medium to long term has yet to play out, but co-operation has a role to play within supply chains and food production, providing efficient solutions with benefits to local communities in terms of job creation and short supply chains. As we venture into a new era of agriculture and food policy and in Wales, and move towards Government’s vision for sustainable farming, the sector needs to be innovative in its approach to change. I believe that co-operation and indeed the concept of competition has a role to play in developing sector resilience and responsibility in food production to meet the challenges facing us all.

Jon Parker is an independent consultant and non-executive director working across the agri-food, fisheries and rural development sectors. This blog is published as part of a series for Co-operatives Fortnight 2020. Let’s build something better together. #KeepCooperating

 

“Co-operation has a role to play within supply chains and food production, providing efficient solutions with benefits to local communities in terms of job creation and short supply chains.”

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