|"In the fifty years
between 1948 and 1998, the world population has more than doubled, while world output has
increased eight-fold (ref:World Trade Organization),
yet still we cannot satisfy the basic needs of millions on this planet - a third will
never make a phone call.
Man's ecological footprint is now
outpacing many of the natural phenomena that govern our world.
Half a billion people live in countries that no longer have enough
land to grow their own crops - by 2025 that number is likely to increase five fold.
The UN project that the global population will rise to 9 billion by
2050, by which time 90% of the world's population will live in developing countries. So
the coming century, in the lifetime of my and your grandchildren, will decide the fate of
However, I see grounds for real hope. In Bideford East Primary
School, the youngsters were given a range of options to rank in terms of importance. The
environment scored more than all the rest put together. These were children from large
housing estates - those children have these views despite the fact that we live in a
society in which the power of the market is directed at urban values.
I have lived near Holsworthy,
at Holsworthy Beacon, down the end of a long farm lane on a livestock farm all my life. We
need to bridge the gap between town and country. What has been ignored is that the crisis
in rural Britain is a spiritual crisis. Farmers and those who work on the land find their
skills count for little in the market place. 17,500 left the industry in 2002 - equivalent
to the closure of a factory such as Longbridge* - yet they left quietly, unnoticed
by the press.
(*Longbridge is a car
manufacturing plant in the British Midlands. The threat of job losses at the plant in 1999
caused an outcry and occasioned government intervention in the form of an undisclosed
amount of financial aid. More here)
Land is a source of knowledge and wisdom - countryside is our
greatest work of art - it gives you a sense of place. I feel that sense of place on my own
farm, where five generations of my family have harvested crops for over 100 years.
There is an old Chinese proverb which says that the most important
step in a journey of a thousand miles is the first step. That first step is in a more
sustainable agriculture. We need agriculture to manage the countryside - the loss of 40%
of our farmland birds in the past 30 years is unacceptable. Look at the success of the
Cirl Bunting in South Devon by encouraging farmers, amongst a range of options, to simply
grow spring cereals.
Samuel Coleridge said on 11 December 1831:
"If men could learn from history what lessons might it teach
us. But party and passion bind our eyes and the light of experience gives us a lantern on
the stern which only shines on the waves behind."
We need a light that shines on the waves ahead.
Let our watchword be stewardship - not ownership - for we have to
leave it all behind eventually."