A hungry world without women

12 October 2001

A hungry world without women

Food and the sustainability of farming were top of the bill at the Womens Food &

Farming Union conference at Chester last week. Simon Wragg reports

FOOT-AND-MOUTH delayed the WFUs conference, aptly titled When the going gets tough, organised by the Cheshire branch for Mar 26-28. But defiantly members re-arranged the event for Oct 1-3 with success.

Without women the world would go hungry, said WFU national chairman Janet Godfrey at Hoole Hall Hotel, Chester. "In developing countries women provide 75% of the staple food." And nearer home, their involvement in supporting British agriculture was equally as important.

It was a fact borne out by Womens Institute president Helen Carey. "At the WIs inaugural meeting on Anglesey in 1915 the topic was how to sustain the food supply for our country and it is still relevant today."

The WI is lobbying government and assisting the policy commission on farming and food as it looks at a future for agriculture. However, it is appalled that only 29 days has been allowed to consult members on such an important topic, said Mrs Carey.

"We also have to ensure the current world situation [after terrorist attacks in America] doesnt distract or detract from what we want in our own environment as well. We are all part of the global picture."

The WI and WFU share a commitment to promote and support farmers both at home and abroad, delegates were told.

At local level the WFUs School Milk Project is winning over dairies and bringing fresh milk to more school children, reported its chairman Meg Stroude.

The WFU wants the dairy industry to run the White Stuff advertising campaign for a second 18-month period as originally outlined.

Farmers also had to act for themselves, said independent supplier and dedicated foodie Peter Papprill. "We have a £9bn trade deficit and yet some of the best food does not come from abroad but is right here on our doorstep.

"People will keep going to McDonalds until they have an alternative."

Farmers needed to show shops, caterers and restaurants what they can produce. "Its about provenance – a sense of place. Tell them about what youve got, why it can only come from your farm. Tell them your story – people really love stories," he said.

Some farms may be able to diversify into food centres, he hoped. "Cluster together and get these people on to your farms. Theres government money sloshing about; all it needs is enthusiasm."

Producers must be prepared to take a risk, added local independent supermarket supremo Simon Booth of Cheshire-based EH Booth & Co. The company had approached pig farmers for an own-label bacon supplier but without success. "It was a market opportunity and yet nobody took it up despite the value-added potential."

Even supermarkets work together to ensure costs were contained and farmers must follow suit or be driven out of business, he warned.

Organic farmer and cheese producer Michael Allwood of Burland Farm, Nantwich told delegates change was good and had bolstered income for his 140-cow herd. "It took some convincing, but going organic has put money into our pockets."

Others, such as John Cottle of Birchen Fields Farm, Sealand, near Chester were looking at GMO technology to improve profits. "It has to be tested at farm level and can offer benefits to all producers and to the environment," he said.

Dedicated foodie Peter Papprill says the best food does not come from abroad, it is right here on our doorstep.

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