Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru Senedd Member for North Wales
The Welsh food and drink industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
The sudden closure of restaurants and coffee shops and the collapse of the food services sector saw many Welsh farmers lose their markets overnight. We’ve all seen images of milk being poured down the drain and beef prices have also been hit, leaving many farms incurring losses and struggling to survive.
Plaid Cymru has campaigned hard for Government action to help these businesses, but we can all do more to help.
That’s why Plaid Cymru has launched the “I’m Buying Local” campaign.
We’re urging everyone to make that extra effort to back Welsh food and drink producers wherever possible. Helping to celebrate the world-class produce Wales has to offer, whilst increasing value to the local economy and lowering our carbon footprint.
Welsh agriculture is the economic backbone of our rural communities and market towns. It plays a vital role in the broader economy with exports of half a billion pounds in 2018, supporting the Welsh food and drink sector which employs over 240,000 workers.
Yet the coronavirus pandemic has exposed and exacerbated long-ignored issues within our food supply system, including our dependence on imports.
The UK Government has steadily withdrawn from food policy and allowed our food retail industry to become ever more concentrated in a few hands. Just four companies control 70% of the UK food retail market. The large food retailers have used that concentration of power to dictate ever-lower prices to our farmers, continually sapping the financial health of domestic agriculture and the rural economy.
Our food production model was fundamentally flawed before Covid-19. Yet for many people and even the UK Government, the frailties and flaws of the current food supply model only became apparent when they saw empty shelves as panic buying shattered the fractured supply chain.
Plaid Cymru has a long-standing commitment to addressing the crisis in the food system that starts with a local procurement policy. Some councils in Wales procure school dinner basics such as potatoes and bread from Rochdale and Liverpool. Hundreds of millions of pounds leak out of the Welsh economy each year because local producers and enterprises are overlooked or are unable to compete with the bigger corporations.
It’s time Wales focused anew on developing our processing capacity to add much-needed value to our raw materials. The loss of abattoirs and dairy processing plants in recent years have meant hundreds of jobs lost, thousands of food miles added and primary food producers even more exposed to global markets.
Now is the time to rethink, reset and rebuild our food supply model from the ground up.
Wales needs a long-term food strategy, re-localising our food system with a strong emphasis on local procurement and shorter supply chains with both economic and environmental sustainability at its heart.
We cannot return to business as usual in a post covid-19 Wales. Buying local now can help start a move towards a better, fairer and more resilient future for our food and drink sector. One that puts our local communities at the heart of our economic recovery.