PRINCE CHARLES has backed family farms saying that the very existence of the countryside depends on their survival.

Contributing by letter to a conference on world agriculture issues, the Prince said that family farmers everywhere were crucial to the maintenance of rural communities and the landscapes which they inhabited.

“They can be guardians of food security in an ever more uncertain world, nurturing biodiversity and caring for and protecting the countryside,” he told the conference in Zeal Monachorum, Devon.

“All our efforts must now be put into encouraging consumers worldwide to demand and buy locally-sourced and regional produce.

“This is the way in which they can help secure the future of family farmers and thus the very existence of the countryside.”

Prince Charles‘ opinions were echoed by other speakers including consultant and former Seale Hayne lecturer John Usher.

Mr Usher added that ensuring the survival of family farms should be central to the government‘s policy but that the gap between legislators and producers had never been wider.

“The government is in complete denial that farming is a scientific and commercial activity.

“We cannot live on environmental payments and a bit of diversification – that is an area where I think the government needs a bit of education.”

Farmers could not offer all these benefits unless the core enterprise was profitable, said Mr Usher.

International legislators also needed to drop the concept of free trade, said Prof John Wibberley, professor of agriculture and rural development at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester.

Free trade encouraged countries to compete for markets at the least cost, which would result in intensive and unsustainable forms of agriculture, excessive food miles and would wipe out rural communities across the globe, said Prof Wibberley.

It was not just rich countries which were being affected, he added.

Sierra Leone was one of the poorest countries in the world, and whole communities, instead of producing and eating their own rice, were being undermined by cheap imports from Thailand, he said.

“We‘re not trying to stop trade – that would be nonsense. But I want the UK government to put national food security at the heart of the national agenda.

“You need to ring-fence the sovereignty of food. We must boost consumer awareness that local food and local food cultures matter, and we lose them at our peril.”