The world needs mixed farms. The prevailing economic dogma, agribusiness, and the world’s most powerful governments, favour the largest possible monocultures. In addition, worldwide, huge tracts of land are owned by small elites, who typically have no wish to change the status quo; half of all Britain’s land is owned by just 5000 people – less than one in 10,000 of the total population. Worldwide, too, land has become a commodity – to be owned for nothing more than its capital value; to be sold as soon as someone has permission to build; and in Britain at least land prices are way out of proportion to what a farmer can earn from them.
So the problems are manifold. We need to save and enhance what is left of the world’s small farms; to divide the big estates and especially the big monocultures into smaller units – and provide the infrastructure needed to turn a slice of land into a working farm; to create a new generation of farmers in countries like Britain that have cut thief agrarian economy to the bone, and then gone on cutting; and to do all this in face of some of the world’s most powerful economic and political forces, and the experts and intellectuals who support them. It seems a tall order, and so it is.
Yet there are ways in – even without the land reform and economic re-think that are obviously necessary. At least in theory, groups of people could pool funds to buy land despite land prices, as the members of the Woodland Trust have done. There surely is mileage in the idea of the Fund for Real Farming. But ownership is not vital – not if the law recognizes that people should have rights to used land constructively that they don’t necessary own. Then again, some big landowners are excellent stewards and some in Britain are already letting out some of their land to would-be newcomers. With leases of 30 years plus, we could go a long way. CSA groups (community-supported agriculture) rarely own the land they operate. For individual would-be-farmers we can envisage a step-by-step progression from city to farm (as outlined in “Eight Steps Back to the Land”, on the main Campaign website).
(In principle, the people of Britain could afford to buy all of our agricultural land to be placed in trust and dedicated forever to farming that is truly intended to feed people and to take care of our fellow creatures. Preliminary estimates suggest that the total cost would be only about one tenth of the amount that is now required, in principle, to pay off our “debt”. The trillion pounds or so now destined for the bankers will simply restore the status quo ante – a very dubious prospect. The much smaller sum required to buy back our own land would re-ground the British economy in a firm agrarian base, where all economies should be. But paying back the banks is considered “realistic”, while the re-establishment of an agriculture and an ecosystem that would ensure our long-term security is unlikely ever to be considered in high places. But the College should work on it!).