SPOTLIGHT ON FARMING: Ag Bill, Covid & Diversity.
From British farmers being championed for their hard work feeding the nation throughout the Covid Crisis, to parliament votes surrounding amendments to UK food standards and hard-hitting discussions about diversity in farming, the UK Agricultural industry has been hitting the headlines lately.
One article that really caught my eye was published in 'Farmers Weekly' back in June. Entitled ‘Young Farmer Calls Time on Casual Racism in Agriculture’ it focused on Flavian Obiero - a pig farmer in East Sussex, known on Instagram as The Kenyan Pig Farmer – and his experiences as a minority in the industry. I reached out to Flavian to see how things have changed for him since the article was published, and get his opinions on the government’s new ‘Agriculture Bill’.
“It seems like an age since I was sat under a wooden shelter with a member of the Farmer’s Weekly magazine team doing an informal interview on my views on the Black Lives Matter movement, and whether I thought the UK agriculture industry had an issue with racism. We covered a lot of different topics off the back of that and as a result, an article was published a few weeks later. Seeing the hardcopy with the title ‘Young farmer calls time on casual racism in agriculture’ was both exciting and nerve-wracking. I knew a topic like this would open a can of worms, but being a relatively outspoken person, I was ready to defend my corner if quizzed. That said, I was taken aback by the amount of ignorance shown by a fraction of readers on social media.
“Initially, I felt angry and the urge to reply to some of the most scathing comments was overwhelming. I decided not to react and instead screenshotted most, if not all, of the negative comments posted. I know this might seem bizarre, but I see these comments as motivation and when I achieve my goals in a few years to come, I will look back at them with a smile on my face.
“Fast forward almost 6 months, the conversation about diversity in the British farming industry is ongoing. There have been more stories in agricultural literature this year covering various topics on minority groups (such as BAME, LGBTQ+) in agriculture. Despite the lack of significant change in physical representation of minority groups, there has been more spoken about personnel diversity in the agricultural industry in 2020 than there has been in the last decade. That alone shows that although there is still a steep mountain to climb, it is doable, and we’ll one day get to the summit.
The Ag Bill and what it means for the industry:
“Typically, I tend to give most things political a wide berth. However, The Agriculture Bill is a different story. It has been described as ‘a transformative legislation that will set out how farmers and land managers in England will be rewarded in future, with public money for public goods’. It was passed into UK law on 11th November 2020. This sounds all well and good on paper, but after you’ve perused the government page, you find yourself asking a lot of questions beginning with “how”. There seems to be a lot of empty promises and not enough concrete plans that farmers can bank on.
“The rejection of Amendment 16 by the government was demoralising to say the least. Amendment 16 would have made it mandatory for free trade deals to only allow food imports that meet UK legal standards. To add insult to injury, the chair of one of the main assurance schemes in the country voted against this amendment. At this point as a farmer, I genuinely asked myself “What is the point?”. We’re all meant to be working towards providing British citizens with food produced at the highest standards of quality and animal welfare, and yet the people that we are paying to police these standards are essentially voting against them! I’m no bloodhound, but I certainly smell a rat with this whole situation. It doesn’t make any logical sense to me that one can on one hand claim to be supporting British farmers and on the other allow sub-standard products to enter to UK market at cheaper prices, undercutting local produce.
On the plus side, one thing that has come out of all this mayhem (Covid included) is the support for local businesses; from butchers and meat boxes to greengrocers and bakers. The ‘Back British Farming’ campaign has taken social media platforms by storm and has gained momentum – long may it continue. We have an interesting few months ahead of us following the completion of the Brexit transition. After all, I’m an optimist, so the glass will always be half full in my eyes.”
Follow @thekenyanpigfarmer and @flaviancooks on Instagram.