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Green Liberal Democrats - Party Leadership Election Environmental Q&A 9) Farming

June 25, 2015 12:30 PM
By Tim Farron and Norman Lamb

The Green Liberal Democrats have sent the two leadership candidates a series of questions, to inform party members, through their responses, about their green credentials.

In the run up to our annual conference in Manchester on June 27th, we will be publishing their answers, one question at a time.

Q9. Can the candidates comment on the damage done, to water supplies by fertilizers, and to pollinator species by pesticides; and suggest how farming can be adapted to be less damaging to the planet and still ensure that people have access to healthy and affordable food?

Norman Lamb Norman Lamb

Tim FarronTim Farron

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that a third of all food produced in the world for human consumption each year is lost or wasted. Better management might enable some of this food to be used in feeding the starving in the poorest parts of the world. But we do not need to keep using every possible chemical fertiliser and pesticide to boost yields - we could produce less food with no impact on people's ability to feed themselves. As with climate change, global action is needed to identify which farming practices are the most damaging, and act internationally to end those practices. We also have to be open minded and willing to follow the science on GM. When I met with scientists at the John Innes Research Centre in Norwich they insisted that they offer the potential to help the developing world to feed itself.

It is a tragedy that some farming practices in the past, and the present, have a disastrous effect on our wildlife. It doesn't make long term economic sense (you only have to look at China where bee populations are so low they are in some places having to employ people to pollinate crops to realise that). Fundamentally of course this is about much more than economics. The catastrophic loss of wildlife is not only a profound tragedy, it affects our own health - mental and physical and puts our own long term survival at risk.

Yet I'm also positive about our ability to change farming so that we can maximise food production in a way that doesn't destroy the environment. The Green Revolution is an iconic example of that. The scientific advances we've seen in recent years are incredible - and we need to make sure we are investing in research and development in agriculture. Plant and Agricultural sciences need more respect, funding and support.

But crucially, just as we need to make scientific advances, we even more need to make social and policy advances. From talking to farmers in my own constituency, it's clear that the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs needs to get out of Whitehall and talk to people on the ground. Conservationists need to talk to farmers, scientists need to talk to farmers, and politicians need to listen to them all! We need to work together to ensure a good outcome for everybody instead of separating off into different camps that don't try to communicate with each other.