Photo: Mick Lobb/CC
Photo: Mick Lobb/CC

Joe Fathallah, Cardiff West Socialist Party

Over 3,000 farmers and agricultural workers descended on Cardiff on 28 February to protest outside the Senedd (parliament) against the Welsh government’s proposed changes to the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS). The plans would mean that, to continue to receive the subsidy, without which small farms could not exist, farmers would have to give up 10% of their land to wildlife habitat, and 10% towards growing trees. According to the National Farmers Union, this would result in the loss of around 5,500 jobs.

The Labour-controlled Welsh government argues that its measures are necessary for environmental reasons, but this is pure hypocrisy. Large swathes of the South Wales valleys have been shorn of trees and wildlife by forestry companies, with lucrative contracts from Natural Resources Wales (a Welsh government agency). The changes to the SFS must be immediately scrapped and replaced with an increase in the subsidy to fund a transition to environmentally friendly and sustainable farming.

Welsh Tory leader Andrew RT Davies was a speaker at the protest. Rishi Sunak opportunistically posed with farmers protesting outside the Welsh Conservative conference. But the Tories won’t fight in the interests of small farmers and agricultural workers – they are on the side of big business.

Farmers’ reliance on the subsidy to survive illustrates the exploitation they suffer at the hands of the big landowners and agribusiness dominating the industry, and well as the role of the large supermarkets in pushing down wholesale prices.

Almost half of UK farmland is owned by a combination of aristocrats and corporations, according to a 2023 investigation by Farmers Weekly magazine. Socialists argue for the nationalisation of the large agricultural companies which undercut small farmers. This would be along with the implementation of minimum pricing laws, and the nationalisation of the big supermarkets, food wholesalers and manufacturers under democratic workers’ control.

Such a programme, combined with a national plan for agriculture drawn up in consultation with small farmers and agricultural workers, could guarantee jobs in the countryside, and enable a transition to environmentally sustainable agriculture without detriment to farmers or food consumers.