The Fife Fermenter: a Five-Year Vision for a Scottish Grain Hub

Our recent experiences during the pandemic have demonstrated how important local food chains are to resilience and wellbeing. There’s a huge opportunity for Scotland to take the lead in this area. Scotland The Bread are joining Nourish Scotland in calling for Scottish Government commitments to a National Food Plan and to monitor food security in Scotland.

A commitment to a National Food Plan was provided for in the proposals for the Good Food Nation Bill. This Bill was delayed due to the pandemic, but there remains a need for legislators and policy makers to take decisive action to redress the inequality in our food system. The problems that were set to be confronted by the Good Food Nation Bill have not been delayed, and that is why change is needed now.   

Food and agriculture are intrinsically linked, and a National Food Plan that recognised the interrelated issues of health, environment and social justice would help build the Scotland we all want to see emerge from this crisis.

With this in mind we have drawn up a five-year vision for a Scottish grain hub to help push forward these aims, provisionally called ‘The Fife Fermenter’. This is founded on four needs:

  1. Scale. We need to increase the scale of our operations to create demand pull (e.g. via public procurement) that will bring credible environmental and public health impacts along with food-chain resilience.
  2. Nutrition. We need more research and data science to build a ‘people nourished per hectare’ model supporting field-to-fork chain growth.
  3. Innovation. We need product development facilities to innovate and stimulate new food products based on our grains.
  4. Outreach. We need partners to adopt our best-practice models and implement them whilst we deliver pump-priming funding and share our know-how in support.

And introduces the activities we have planned to address these:

  1. Research & Development. Agronomy and data science to inform ‘people nourished per hectare’ metric and best-practice dissemination and licensing.
  2. Outreach. Using our evidence to initiate additional farm-based models in locations in Scotland leading to more land growing genetically diverse grain organically.
  3. Field to Fork. Creating additional field-to-fork supply chains and connecting to public health initiatives and building resilience.
  4. Small to Medium-Sized Enterprise Innovation. Supporting new sustainable food products based on our grains to provide economic and social value.

Click on the image below to open a PDF presentation introducing this vision, founded in the past five years’ work and looking ahead to our future ambitions alongside the real-world positive impacts that would be created by their realisation. Importantly, the final slide outlines how you can help us make The Fife Fermenter happen.

The Independent Advisory Group established by the Scottish Government to advise on the post-pandemic economic recovery has recommended in the Higgins Review that they adopt the four returns thinking we’ve already adopted in The Fife Fermenter vision. That makes it a ready project for direct government intervention rather than wait for the delayed-again Good Food Nation. We’ve updated our call to action to suggest that you ask your MSP to support The Fife Fermenter as a pathfinder project to demonstrate a four returns approach as part of Scotland’s economic recovery.

With thanks to Nourish Scotland for the following outline of the importance of a National Food Plan and of monitoring food security. This was circulated to urge MSPs to support both these aims in the form of Amendments tabled by Colin Smyth MSP to the Agriculture (Retained EU Law and Data) (Scotland) Bill. This vote was regrettably not supported on the 17th June 2020, and we are now calling on MSPs to explain why not, and how they plan to deliver a Good Food Nation for the people of Scotland.

Monitoring Food Security

Monitoring food security can fortify the resilience of our food system by allowing the Government to proactively identify and mitigate threats to our food security. It can also help to analyse and address the conditions that have given rise to high levels of food insecurity.

Food insecurity is a national crisis. There have been significant increases to food bank demand and the COVID-19 outbreak has further magnified the issue. The Trussell Trust has reported that their networks have experienced a 47% surge in overall food bank use in Scotland in April 2020. The Independent Food Aid Network reported a 175% surge in demand for emergency food parcels across the UK in April 2020 compared to April 2019.

A National Food Plan

National food policy has historically taken a siloed approach with government departments creating separate strategies according to differing priorities. This has led to a deeply flawed food system with farmers producing commodities for export, rather than food for nourishment. Trading as Scotland The Bread, the Bread for Good Community Benefit Society has demonstrated how Scotland could grow its own wheat for breadmaking rather than rely on imports. We have also shown how highly nutritious Scottish wheat could help address the Nation’s nutrition deficiency. Other points that have been made in support of a National Food Plan include:

  • Many are unable to afford food and consuming processed goods, high in fat, sugar and salt content, resulting in increased incidences of diet-related illness.
  • Food production, consumption and waste are responsible for a large portion of global greenhouse gas emissions (agriculture and related land use account for a quarter of Scotland’s emissions) and food production is one of the key drivers of biodiversity loss.
  • Wages in all parts of the food system, from agriculture to manufacturing and services, remain amongst the lowest and jobs in these sectors the most precarious. The current crisis has heightened the vulnerability of these individuals – and the families who depend on their wages – with thousands facing job losses and low levels of statutory sick pay resulting in increasing numbers turning to food banks.
  • Long and complex supply chains have weakened Scotland’s resilience and, coupled with limited local supply chains, this has left the country vulnerable to disruptions in global supply.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these issues and highlighted how they are linked. It has also shown the inadequacy of a fragmented approach to food policy to deal with urgent problems.

A national food plan would take into consideration the full spectrum of issues related to food, from farm to fork to waste. It would provide clear leadership that businesses and communities can respond to, and instil national values into decision making for the future of the food system. A coherent national approach could turn Scotland into a world leader on food governance and ensure that our country is resilient in the face of unexpected disruption.

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