Empowering communities and delivering food security

I previously wrote in the Evening News (Food for thought and a little thought for food) in support of calls from the Scottish Food Coalition for a right to food to be enshrined in Scots Law, to address our dependency on foodbanks to provide for people in our wealthy, food-producing nation.

Now public health experts are warning that over a million people in the UK live in 'food deserts', with supermarket dominance of the provision of fresh, healthy food leaving certain areas with less of it available relative to others, and poor, elderly and disabled people disproportionately affected.

Eight of Scotland’s ten worst ‘food deserts’ are in Glasgow, one in Fife, and Granton South and Wardieburn here in Edinburgh also makes the list.

Scotland has no lack of food, only a lack of equal access to healthy and sustainably-produced food - caused primarily by poverty, and a lack of community control of the land that surrounds us.

The news this month that an application to evict tenant farmer, Jim Telfer, from his smallholding at Damhead was ruled unlawful by the Scottish Land Court is to be celebrated, and the case highlighted the ideological conflict between those wanting to protect and enhance agricultural land, and those seeking unsuitable developments.

The landlord in this case wished to sell land for construction of a Film Studio – something Scotland certainly needs, but which cannot be delivered where it involves unlawful eviction.

As my Green MSP colleague, Andy Wightman, has said previously, planning should support the economy, while ensuring land allocation is managed in a way that protects the environment, secures the right to housing and improves health outcomes.

We need to ask, what is greenbelt land really for? Should it not ultimately be about providing food, and maintaining our natural environment and health, rather than what Andy has described as a redundant philosophy to try and contain urban sprawl, pushing up land prices?

Food campaigner Julian Holbrook spoke at a meeting in 2016 to save Jim’s farm, where he called for action to deliver sustainable local food systems, creating employment and a link between land and community.

He said: “This is about land, food and people. What we need to see is a collective action to establish the Edinburgh Food Belt that links farmers, community, consumers and the food and drinks sector. However, it is essential to protect the foundation of existing good quality farmland and existing farmers to see this ambitious and exciting idea established.”

If we are to develop a model of food production that provides for us all, and move away from current environmentally-destructive models, the Food Belt idea – maintaining an area around cities of farms and smallholdings, forests and lakes – for me ticks all the right boxes.

Our communities have the will, and those championing Food Belt proposals have demonstrated they also have the skill, but we need local and national authorities to let them find a way, and deliver the employment opportunities and food security society is crying out for.

This article first appeared in the Edinburgh Evening News.