Can Lancashire feed more people? A new report from Sustain (a national alliance of organisations and communities working together for a better system of food, farming and fishing), suggests that it could if there was investment in local food infrastructure and networks. James Woodward, Sustainable Farming Officer at Sustain, explains the report’s findings.

Mapping Lancashire’s food infrastructure

Sustain’s ‘A Tale of Two Counties’1 report was produced with local farmers and stakeholders. It mapped the local food supply chain infrastructure (processing, storage and distribution infrastructure) across two counties, one of which was Lancashire. 

The aim of this mapping exercise was to understand what is already in place and what gaps need to be filled. In doing so, it seeks to support  farmers and food enterprises to supply more of their produce locally – which we know many now want to do.

Priority areas for investment

The report’s findings suggest that investing in food hubs, dairy processing, storage and on-farm vending machines, mobile abattoirs and electric distribution units are priorities if we are to bolster Lancashire’s local food system.

The county has a wide range of farm types – from vegetable and salad growers to meat and dairy producers –  and much of their produce could (and should) find its way into local markets. However, as in much of the UK, it currently does not.

The UK’s food system is very centralised and consolidated. Just nine supermarkets control over 90% of the food retail market,2 a market worth roughly £200 billion a year.3 This has led to multiple issues, including low farm incomes, low workers’ wages, environmental degradation, poor health and a disconnect between producer and citizen. All of these challenges are very much caused by the power and control supermarkets have over our food. We need to find ways to break that power imbalance and give more of it to producers and consumers if we are to find long term solutions that build thriving local food economies. 

Levelling up

Hey presto, the UK Government has brought out its ‘Levelling Up’ agenda with its goal to invest in local enterprise, jobs and communities. Food and farming should be central to this and the ‘Tale of Two Counties’ report could help with it. 

Levelling Up comes with money that could be used to invest in local food systems and the infrastructure and networks that could support them to grow. We know that a lack of affordable finance is a key barrier to farmers and food enterprises investing in change.

The UK Shared Prosperity Fund is one of these government funding streams and is likely to be the longest running. 

Over the next three years, Lancashire’s local authorities will collectively receive £62.2 million4 from this fund, with each authority getting a slice of that total. While much of the money needs to go to other parts of the local economy and communities, some of it could fund the priority  infrastructure mentioned above. These new enterprises and hubs would create jobs – good ones – and help people gain new skills and make good food a central theme in the local economy, bringing resilience and environmental returns for the local area.

Levelling Up is a key opportunity. Food partnerships, farmers, food enterprises and other stakeholders should start to engage with their local councillors and Members of Parliament to put forward proposals for investing in local food infrastructure. The mapping work detailed in ‘A Tale of Two Counties’ is a starting point, a catalyst, for having these conversations. 

On 15 June, FoodFutures and Sustain will co-host a catalyst event at Myerscough College to start taking forward the report’s recommendations in Lancashire. To learn about and support the outcomes of this event, email ellen@lessuk.org

For more information about Sustain’s work visit:  www.sustainweb.org 

References

1 Downloadable from www.sustainweb.org/publications/mar22-a-tale-of-two-counties/

2 https://www.statista.com/statistics/280208/grocery-market-share-in-the-united-kingdom-uk/

3 https://www.statista.com/statistics/295656/grocery-retail-market-value-by-channel-in-the-united-kingdom-uk/

4 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-shared-prosperity-fund-prospectus/ukspf-allocations



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