Llyr Gruffydd MS, Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for the Environment and Rural Affairs
Ben Lake MP, Plaid Cymru’s Westminster Spokesperson for Rural Affairs
This week is Royal Welsh week, and despite the event itself being cancelled, we can at least enjoy a virtual get-together. Thanks to modern technology and despite the terrible impact of Covid-19 – the show goes on.
The determination and innovation shown by the show organisers in the face of such adversity highlights a wider resilience within a sector that has endured all sorts of trials and tribulations over the decades. Be it BSE, CJD, bTB or any other acronym that causes many of us to shudder, the sector has always adapted and endured. We can now add Covid-19 to that list, whilst remembering of course that we’re nowhere near out of the woods yet.
We’re also braced for the end of the EU transition period and the still real prospect of a no-deal scenario. Questions still remain unanswered on fundamental issues such as levels of future funding, models of support, access to international markets, foreign imports, a race to the bottom on standards and quality, internal market arrangements and an anti-democratic Westminster power-grab. All of which currently haunt the industry and all of which need to be addressed in the short few months ahead.
It’s against that backdrop that we would have been visiting Llanelwedd this week, discussing and debating with friends and colleagues from the sector and beyond. In the absence of being able to do so in person, may we take this opportunity to send my message of support and solidarity to the agriculture industry in Wales.
Plaid Cymru has always been passionately invested in agriculture, understanding the huge benefits it brings and the significance it holds for Wales. That’s why Plaid Cymru is committed, both at the Senedd and in Westminster, to fighting your corner and to speak up for rural Wales.
Agriculture is an integral part not only of Wales’ economy, but of its environment, its social fabric, its culture and identity. All of these golden threads come together at the Royal Welsh Show in a glorious shop window, declaring to the world that despite the adversity, rural Wales is very much alive and kicking and agitating for a better future.
But Covid-19 has reminded us that there is much work to do. It has exposed many of the weaknesses in our food supply system. Empty shelves reminded us of the fragility of the food supply chain and our lack of food security. Images of milk being poured away brought home the reality that primary producers are too often at the bottom of the chain where the economic buck stops, exposed to risks that others avert through unfair contracts and supply arrangements.
It also revealed the power of large retailers. Can it be healthy that 70% of the UK food retail market is controlled by just four companies?
Wales has to move towards much shorter food supply chains. Developing greater local processing capacity would not only strengthen the hand of our primary producers, it would also add value to our produce, cut our carbon footprint and bring more employment to rural communities too.
Re-casting our farm support system for a post-covid, post-Brexit era gives us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make the decisive changes needed to focus on long-term sustainability over short-term support, on provenance over commodity production and on co-operation over competition.
The Welsh Government’s refusal to recognise food production as a public good risks entrenching the already dysfunctional food retail market that we want to move away from. It gifts even more power to a small number of retailers over food producers and processors in Wales. Our aim must be to shift the balance in favour of our primary producers.
Plaid Cymru’s vision is to forge a new context for agriculture in Wales. Just as nurses and care workers will never again be taken for granted neither should our farmers who feed the nation. This starts with putting the resilience of our family farms at the heart of its renaissance.
That’s not a virtual statement for the virtual Royal Welsh week. That’s Plaid Cymru’s promise to the people of rural Wales.