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The Cosy Way to Rescue the World

by Colin Tudge, at @realfarming

Invitation to a discussion at the Oxford Real Farming Conference 2014 on Tuesday January 7 (9.30 - 10.30am)

We can’t change agriculture in the ways that are needed without a radical shift in the economy – and that frightens people. Mrs Thatcher declared 30 years ago that “there is no alternative” to the neoliberal global market, except some kind of Stalinist top-down control; and despite all the evidence, her influence lives on.

But this, like so much of the information that flows from on high, is untrue. The economic shift we need is certainly radical but we can bring it about in ways that are not at all alarming and indeed seem positively cosy.

For all we really need is what Adam Smith in the 18th century called “a nation of small shopkeepers” and Thomas Jefferson in the early 19th called “a nation of small farmers”. Small farms – run on agroecological lines, with a clear social purpose, served by local markets can do all that’s required. We don’t need to “smash capitalism”, as the ultra-radicals insist. We merely need to re-claim it.

Britain itself provides the precedent. The norm through most of the 20th century was the “mixed economy” – a balance of public and private ownership. Conservative and Labour differed only in the emphasis they placed on each. Given the disruptions – including two world wars and the breakup of Empire and all the rest – the arrangement worked pretty well. For our own times we need simply to add one refinement, as urged by Martin Large: ownership should be split three ways: public; private; and – perhaps above all – community.

The necessary shift is happening. Though the tide still flows with high-tech monocultures and big finance, backed by governments like Britain’s, new mixed farms and smallholdings, and new markets, often community-supported, are springing up in every continent. The overall effect on individuals, communities, and wildlife is overwhelmingly benign and with enough such enterprises, we really could achieve the Agrarian Renaissance that we need.

So come and talk more about the whys and hows, with people who are already showing the way -- at the “ECONOMY FIT FOR FARMING” session at the ORFC.