Building a Common Food and Nutrition Policy: asking the new structures question

Terry Marsden revisits the opinion paper he wrote earlier this month on a common food policy and reflects on the ‘new structures question’. If you would like to comment on this please join us in our discussion on #commonfoodpolicy on Twitter or Facebook.

Since my first intervention calling for a radical reorganisation of the CAP, both in terms of individual responses and further reading, I am increasingly struck by the significant weight of evidence calling for more policy integration around food. This includes various EU Foresight reports. In debating these proposed changes and policy needs it is perhaps important not to rush into concerns about changes in actual policy instruments and structures, but first to more fundamentally consider and debate some of the principles which lie behind a ‘new deal for food’ in Europe. One key area is to re-position rural development concerns right at the heart of the debate. Talking to colleagues this week at the ‘kick off’ meeting of the new EU ITN Network (SUSPLACE) in Wageningen, and visiting a multi-functional ‘care farm’ in the process, made me reflect upon the renewed need to establish and embody a firm EU policy regime around multifunctional rural development, very much along the lines of the ‘new rural paradigm’ thinking coming out of the OECD, and various academic writings over the past decade[1].

TransmangoThis is now becoming all the more critical to progress as  the slow and fragmented development of the post-carbon ‘bio-economy’ takes hold, whereby more of our energy, food and well being needs will need to come from rural land and its biosphere.[2]  Rurality becomes critical to sustaining the post-carbon transition. We cannot allow this opportunity to re-valorise rural-based assets to be overtaken by the ‘business as usual’ cost –price  squeeze and ‘treadmill’ which currently so afflicts small rural- based enterprises. We thus need to develop a new food policy which stimulates  far more place-based multifunctionality and contributes to a more sustainable and distributed ecological economy in rural regions.

“Rural enterprise development needs to be placed at the heart of a Common Food Policy, whereby a diversified tapestry of land-based businesses are nurtured in ways which deliver multiple benefits for the urban and rural populations.”

This means celebrating and augmenting rural diversity rather than concentration and intensification. This also means rejecting bio-economic framings of ‘sustainable intensification’ as an oxymoron. Rural enterprise development needs to be placed at the heart of a Common Food Policy, whereby a diversified tapestry of land-based businesses are nurtured in ways which deliver multiple benefits for the urban and rural populations. In this sense, and whilst we should clearly pay far more attention to sustainable food consumption needs, we must not lose sight of the equal need to foster  new distributed systems of production which increasingly detach themselves from  the industrialised treadmill of agricultural intensification. A Common Food Policy would therefore not be ‘anti- productivist’ or indeed ‘anti-farmer’.  Rather it would need to stimulate a new structural adjustment in food production systems equivalent in significance to the post-war Manscholt plan. Or perhaps the writing s of Wendell Berry are a more fitting analogy.

Now, though, it would have a vision for a more diverse and denser mosaic of rural businesses, embedded into their local and regional ecologies. I strongly believe this would gain the political support of the farmer, rural and urban populations. If we keep losing farm businesses and related rural infrastructures at their current rate in many parts of Europe we will be denying  the opportunity and means to make this new paradigmatic transformation.

We thus need to raise as one key guiding principle in this debate the new and urgent  ‘structures’ and ‘infrastructures’ question in rural development.

Join the debate: 

Prof. Terry MarsdenProf. Terry Marsden
He is a TRANSMANGO researcher and holds the established chair of Environmental Policy and Planning in the School of Planning and Geography at Cardiff University. He is Director of the Sustainable Places Research Institute at Cardiff. He is also Dean of the University Graduate College.
Email: MarsdenTK@Cardiff.ac.uk

[1] See for instance :  Horlings, I and Marsden T.K (2014) Exploring  the new rural paradigm in Europe: eco-economic strategies as a counterforce to the global competitiveness agenda. European Urban and Regional Studies, 21, 1 4-20.

[2] See Marsden, T.K and Farioli, F (2015) Natural Powers: from the bio-economy to the eco-economy in sustainable place-making. Sustainability Science, Jan 2015.

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