CHALLENGES and problems that farmers in the UK face are not so different to those faced by farmers in Malawi, a delegation of Farmers’ Union of Wales officials has heard.
Visiting a Welsh organic arable and dairy farm – Allan Saidi a sugar farmer from Malawi – told FUW president Emyr Jones that the challenges of trying to achieve a fair price for their produce in order to provide a brighter future for their children are just the same in Africa as they are here in Wales.
The delegation was joined by the deputy minister for farming and food, Rebecca Evans AM, as they explored FUW Ceredigion county chairman Aled Rees’s150-acre organic dairy farm at Trefere Fawr, Penparc, Cardigan.
Following the visit the deputy minister for farming and food, Rebecca Evans AM said: “It was a pleasure to meet Allan last week and hear about how Fairtrade is transforming lives and helping people out of poverty in Malawi. Becoming the first Fair Trade Nation was a huge moment for Wales. It showed the world that we are an outward-looking, compassionate country which cares about ensuring farmers and food producers receive a fair deal wherever they are.”
“It was an absolute pleasure to show Allan around the farm and hear about the challenges a farmer on the other side of the world faces. It has become quite clear that even though we tend land many miles apart we worry about very similar things –floods, prices, cost of production and how to improve the lives of our families on a day-to-day basis,” said Mr Rees.
“It is easy to forget how fortunate we are living in the western world and take things like running water, safety, health care and education for our children for granted. What Allan and his fellow sugarcane farmers have achieved over the years can only be admired and must be supported in whatever way we can.
“Achieving a fair price for our produce plays a major role in this. Of course we have to take responsibility for running efficient businesses and producing a quality product but if we don’t get paid fairly for our efforts we cannot expand and further invest in the industry,” added Mr Rees.
Speaking after the visit, FUW president Emyr Jones added: “As much as the union and every farmer in the UK want a fair price for dairy, meat and arable produce in the market place we also want to see farmers like Allan get a fair price for his products. The two principles should have equal priority worldwide.”
Mr Saidi, 27, who has been farming sugarcane for over ten years, is also secretary of the Fairtrade Premium Committee – the elected committee which manages projects chosen by Kasinthula Cane Growers’ Association (KCGA) members. The members decide what community projects should benefit from the Fairtrade Premium received, with funds being invested in services such as communally owned agricultural machinery, school buildings and a community leisure centre.
“Malawi’s sugar sector is vital for the country’s economy – in 2013 sugar exports were worth $114m, making it the second most important export commodity after tobacco. Sugar is grown as a mono-crop and is generally the main source of income for smallholder producers, who also grow food crops and keep livestock. Agriculture provides a livelihood for over 85 percent of the population, of which around 90 percent are smallholders,” said Mr Saidi.
“KCG is a smallholder sugar cane project located in an inhospitable region of southern Malawi. Long droughts occasionally result in famine, and the twice-yearly rains often bring floods – in January 2015 many farmers were affected by Malawi’s worst floods for fifty years that killed several hundred people, displaced thousands more and caused extensive damage to crops, livestock and infrastructure.
“Literacy levels are low and poverty is widespread in the region. Most people live in basic mud huts with thatched roofs and few can afford to keep livestock. Families make a living growing maize, cassava or rice, while others earn cash from sugar cane or cotton, or by labouring on nearby sugar plantations. Other challenges faced by farming communities include high input costs, poor rural infrastructure, inadequate health facilities, and a lack of agricultural extension services and appropriate technology,” added Mr Saidi.
FUW policy officer Helen Ovens, who has previously worked with farmers in Uganda, said: “I have seen first-hand the benefits of growing a cash crop -even on a very small scale-alongside crops grown to feed the family.
“Sugarcane is a high value crop, bringing in much needed income into deprived rural communities, and helps to pay for essential services. Allan and his fellow farmers produce a particularly high value product – that being organic, fair trade sugar.The quality of this product, and the real tangible benefits to his community that arise from us purchasing products with a Fair Trade logo should not be underestimated.”
“Farmers across the world need to receive a realistic financial return for their products, whether that be sugarcane from a small farm in southern Malawi, or milk from a dairy farm in west Wales. It has been a pleasure to see Aled and Allan exchange farming experiences, increasing each other’s understanding of their own farming circumstances,” added Helen.
Alpaca settle in on Welsh hills
A HERD of alpaca at Aberystwyth University’s upland research centre welcomed two new arrivals during the Covid-19 lockdown.
One male and one female baby alpaca, known as cria, were born at the Pwllpeiran Upland Research Platform and are settling down to life in the Cambrian Mountains.
They are the first cria to be born on the University’s land and to be registered under the centre’s new stud prefix ‘Peiran’.
Peiran Champagne and Peiran Cosmopolitan join a small herd of alpacas who arrived at Pwllpeiran in October 2019 as part of a new research project.
Scientists want to see whether the South American alpaca is suited to life in the Welsh hills and could provide new opportunities for uplands farming.
These long-necked animals, similar to the llama, are renowned for the quality of their fibre (wool) and are happy to feed on low quality grasses which are often snubbed by sheep.
The research project is being led by Dr Mariecia Fraser at the Pwllpeiran Upland Research Centre, which is part of the University’s Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS).
“These are changing times for Welsh upland farming, with the next round of support payments expected to push for a shift away from primary agricultural production towards nature conservation and carbon reduction. In setting up a research herd of alpacas at Pwllpeiran, we want to test whether the alpaca could offer hill farmers a viable alternative to sheep.
“As well as producing high quality fibre, camelids like alpacas have evolved adaptations to enable them to live off poor quality tussock grasses in the Andes, and are happy to tuck into invasive grasses such as Molinia. These forages grow in abundance on the Welsh uplands but tend to be shunned by native sheep. We’ll be looking at the impact of their grazing and how well they could fit in to traditional patterns of farming here,” said Dr Fraser.
The establishment of the initial research herd is being funded by the Joy Welch Educational Charitable Trust, which was set up by the Aberystwyth alumna in 1988.
Beef calf registrations increase
NEW figures released by the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) suggests that the number of beef calves registered in Wales in the first five months of 2020 is the highest it’s been for several years.
Across Britain there has been an overall rise of 1.2% in calves – both dairy and beef – registered between January and May 2020, compared to the same period last year. In Wales the figure is higher, with an increase of 3.1%.
According to analysis by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) the statistics reflect a range of factors, including a trend of producing more cross-bred calves from the dairy herd.
Some of the beef breeds and cross breeds showing the biggest increases in terms of calf registrations in Wales include the Aberdeen Angus (up 11.7%) and Hereford (up 4.8%), whilst both Charolais and British Blue registrations are up just over 4%.
The 2020 figures are a contrast to the last five years, where BCMS calf registration data has indicated a flat picture in the Welsh beef registrations.
HCC market analyst Glesni Phillips said, “These figures could show a positive sign for the future of the beef industry in Wales, and reflect broader trends in both the beef and dairy sectors.
“This comes despite the beef sector being hit by uncertainty in recent times. A combination of market conditions led to low farm-gate prices last year, and demand fluctuated widely in the early stages of the Coronavirus lockdown as pubs and restaurants closed their doors.
“However, we’ve seen encouraging consumption figures throughout Britain in the second half of the spring, with great support from consumers for home-produced beef, with its high standards of welfare and environmental sustainability.”
One high-profile new entrant into the beef sector is international rugby referee Nigel Owens MBE, who has recently started his own ‘Mairwen’ herd of Hereford cattle in Carmarthenshire.
“Having worked at Wern Farm Drefach when I was younger it had always been a dream of mine to keep my own herd,” said Nigel, who has built up to around 30 cattle so far on a 116-acre holding, “and if anything the lockdown has given the chance to get things up and running more quickly, as we’ve been able to get on with fencing, hedge-laying and developing our soil and pasture.”
Nigel added, “Each breed has its supporters, but from an early age I recall visiting my uncle and aunt’s farm, Pentwyn in Llannon, who had a Hereford bull running with the dairy herd. My cousin Helen and Gwyndaf near Aberaeron who run the Creuddyn Hereford herd have also been a valuable source of advice. For me, the cattle have a calm nature and calve easily. They’ll also produce good-quality meat which is important as we develop the business in future.”
New edition of Welsh meat ‘Bible’ launched
HYBU Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) has launched the latest edition of its ‘Little Book of Meat Facts’, the annual digest of facts, figures and trends for the nation’s lamb, beef and pork industries.
Among the key figures in this year’s edition were that Welsh red meat production was worth an estimated £690 million in 2018, compared with £677 million the previous year.
In 2019, total throughput of cattle and calves in Welsh abattoirs stood at 147,600 head, with total beef production totalling 42,900 tonnes (up from 40,000 tonnes the previous year). Throughput of sheep and lambs stood at 3.3 million head, with total sheep meat production totalling 63,400 tonnes, compared with 60,800 in 2018.
France remained the largest destination for lamb exports, but with important growth in trade with Germany which is now in a clear second place. Beef and lamb exports were mostly to Europe, although with significant trade to other markets in the Middle East, East Asia and Canada.
The Little Book also contains information on what kinds of meat British consumers are buying and from which retailers, as well as data on key industry measures such as carcase classification.
HCC Data Analyst Glesni Phillips said; “We usually launch the Little Book of Meat Facts at the Royal Welsh Show, so that farmers and other stakeholders can browse the latest statistics.
“Of course, this year that’s not possible, so we’re launching it virtually and making it available on our website.
“What all the statistics show is that, despite uncertainty surrounding Brexit and now of course the disruption of COVID-19, the red meat sector is hugely important to the Welsh economy. It’s the backbone of rural communities, and also employs large numbers in auction markets, processing and the supply chain, as well as supporting brands which are symbols of our nation’s high-quality food across the world.”
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