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Research provides recommendations to support the production of sustainable, local and healthy food

A set of recommendations to better support rural microbusinesses to produce sustainable, local and healthy food have emerged from research carried out by the Countryside and Community and Research Institute (CCRI), based at University of Gloucestershire, commissioned by the National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE).

Researchers at the CCRI worked with the Landworkers’ Alliance (LWA) to gain an understanding of the economic, environmental and social impact of food and farming businesses, their challenges and innovation potential.

The research found that while LWA members – farmers, growers, foresters and land-based workers across the UK, rarely employing more than 10 people – do not necessarily identify as conventional ‘farmers’, they are focused on delivering many of the ’public goods’ to which government policy is committed, and as advocated by the National Food Strategy.

The 10 recommendations for state, private and civil society are designed to provide support to these microbusinesses to develop rural food systems, sustainability and innovation.

Dr Charlotte Chivers from the CCRI, lead author of the report, said: “Given the unique make-up of these microbusinesses, which aren’t traditional farmers or food or catering businesses, this group fall between many policy stools.

“At a time of intense debate on how to feed our nation in the wake of the rising cost of living and climate change, their contribution to sustainable, local and healthy food production must be harnessed.

“Our recommendations cover a breadth of measures including eligibility for agri-environment schemes for smaller farms and holdings, provision of affordable rented homes for workers and availability of machinery for small-scale agriculture and food processing and we hope they are a step towards providing the support they need to flourish.”

The CCRI team surveyed members of the LWA in England, Scotland and Wales operating within localised supply chains for the research: Exploring the socio-economic dynamics and innovation capacities of rural food and farming microbusinesses. They found that they are more likely to be new entrants, tend to be younger than their conventional farming peers and run smaller enterprises.

Most operate a portfolio of enterprises diversified mainly into the food system, processing and retailing food rather than selling along the food chain or servicing the agricultural sector.

Dr Chivers added: “In the ways that these microbusinesses operate, these diverse, complex and sophisticated clusters of enterprises are making a distinctive contribution to the rural economy.

“The resilience and innovation they bring to rural areas are essential to the diversity of businesses that help rural areas thrive.”

Tony Little, Resilient Local Food Systems Project Co-ordinator at the LWA, said: “This research shows that small, diverse, agroecological farms – selling direct to customers or through short supply chain food systems – deliver a huge range of social, economic and environmental benefits. Yet they receive little or no government support.

“This work highlights the contribution they can make to addressing some of the biggest challenges we face – including the climate change and biodiversity crises, food security and inequality in our food systems – and strengthens the case for increasing support to this group.”

The research is one of seven projects funded by NICRE to further explore rural enterprise and expand its portfolio.

Photo credit: Karen Robinson