My wife, Ruth,
and I are working with Schumacher College at Dartington, Devon, to
establish a "College for Enlightened Agriculture". The
launch and first course is in late September.
This is part of
our Campaign for Real Farming. Associated with it is our
new Fund for Enlightened Agriculture, and the annual Oxford Real
Farming Conference - the antidote to the official Oxford Farming
Conference. It's held every January.
What we now have
imposed on us by the powers-that-be - the complex of big
government, banks, and hi-tech farmers - is designed to maximise
profit in the short term. They don't ask questions about how much
we need, or how much we can produce. All the emphasis is on
productivity: grow monocultures; put on loads of fertilisers; get
rid of labour; go for economies of scale, big machines, the
bulk-buying of chemicals.
result? Massive piles of surpluses, mass unemployment, bad
food. It's a hideous, destructive system, but it makes money in the
short term. The powers that be are not going to change their mind.
We've tried talking to them, but they won't do it differently,
because their own power would be compromised if control was
If we want the
world to be different, and food to be sustainable, we have
to create it for ourselves. We're creating an agrarian renaissance,
a grass-roots-led movement, small mixed farms and markets.
France and Italy
are now losing their family-farm traditions. Spain is the
worst. Eastern Europe, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Turkey . . .
-their greatest asset is their agriculture. It's fabulous, the
basis of very good societies, wonderful cuisine, all using
excellent ingredients. But they have been forced to abandon this in
favour of monocultures. Poland has wonderful small piggeries, but
they're now acquiring huge pig factories: one million pigs in one
plot. It's done with American money, supported disgracefully by EU
The reason for
keeping pigs was originally for churning up ground, and
using waste to manure ground. Their meat was a bonus. Now, all the
assets are lost, and the pigs eat specially-grown soya flown over
from Brazil. Their sewage is a huge embarassment, thrown into
rivers. We ought to be very, very angry about this - much more so
than we seem to be.
questions: What do we need as a human species? What do
other animals need? What is it actually possible for the world to
produce? The hope is that the possibility exceeds the need.
Then there's a
moral question: What is it good to do? Some people think
sustainable food production isn't a good thing to do - or behave as
if they don't.
Nature is very
productive and very resilient. It's been sustainable for
the past 3.8 billion years by being very diverse, tightly
integrated. It makes use of what's around. It doesn't use fossil
fuels: it leaves them in the ground. How does that translate into
The myth is that
small farms can't feed the world. Half the world's food is
still produced by small mixed farms, not helped by governments.
Twenty per cent comes from fishing and back gardens. Industrial
food only produces thirty per cent. It's a most horrible con, a
scam. It beggars belief that elected governments like ours can tell
us so many things that are completely untrue. Look at the
So we're trying
to create a people's takeover. Everyone can become
involved. As best you can, try to avoid supermarkets. People are
even setting up farms and markets in north London. Communities
could buy their own farm: you can do a lot with ten acres, which
might cost you £100,000. Work it yourself, or employ a market
gardener. We're writing a book, Eight Steps Back to the
Land, about how an ordinary person could become a farmer in a
village, town, or a community-owned farm.
The Church could
be a seriously big player in this. I've talked to a number
of clergy about it. It has a lot of land, but uses it shockingly
badly. It's managed by the Church Commissioners, who see it as
their brief to make money. They're not interested in the social
values of the land they're administering. If they applied morality
to their land use, they could make a huge difference.
will inevitably mean a rise in prices. But only about 20
per cent of what you pay for your food goes to the farmer, and he
is massively in debt for his machines and fertilisers; so ten per
cent of that just goes to the banks. In a local market, 60 per cent
goes to the farmer, who doesn't need capital investment; so, in the
longer term, food should become cheaper.
Forty years ago,
we spent about the same on food as now, but most of the
money went to the farmers. Now, most goes to the middle people.
Farmers are absolutely essential because they produce our food, but
the middle men aren't.
We cannot put the
world to rights, or any particular aspect of it, without
digging deep: to the politics and economics that shape our lives;
and then beyond them to the grand ideas and assumptions that
underpin the economic and political dogmas. We find when we do that
the most profound questions are those of metaphysics, which, alas,
has gone missing from Western thinking, except within the context
of particular religions, when it is linked to theology.
Why Genes are
Not Selfish and People are Nice explores these deep
ideas, and concludes that most, if not all, of them are
wrong, which is why the world is in a mess, and suggests
alternative versions that are more likely to be right.
I don't have a
conventional, or specifically Christian, view of God. But
I do discuss the absolute importance of transcendence, an appealing
version of which includes the idea that there is an intelligence
embedded in the universe, or behind the universe, which may indeed
lead to an agenda. Nature is obviously wondrous, and, in the end,
is clearly beyond our ken. It must be seen at least to be sublime,
and, beyond that, to be divine (even without a specific idea of
God) and to be revered. Coleridge expresses it well, and I love
Rudolf Otto's word "numinous".
I am a biologist
by education, and, like many biologists, even some of
those who claim to be "atheist", I have always seen nature in this
light. All the 17th-century founders of recognisably modern science
were devout, and saw science in the way that Bach saw his music:
"for the glory of God" - specifically, as a way to engage with the
mind of God. Science for them, and for their medieval predecessors
(both Christian and Islamic), was an act of worship. The present
bleak, mechanistic view is, of course, a disaster for nature and
for all of us, but is also a sad betrayal of what science ought to
I don't claim to
have experienced God. I constantly feel, for want of a
better word, the sublimity of nature.
I wrote Good
Food for Everyone Forever because the UN tells us
that the human population should stabilise in 2050 at around 9.5
billion. So, if we can feed 9.5 billion, we have cracked it. The
best-informed sources, as opposed to hyped-up government reports,
tell us that the world already produces enough to feed 14
The trick is to
design farming specifically to provide good food without wrecking
the rest - what I call "enlightened agriculture", or "real
farming". But present policies are designed instead to maximise and
centralise wealth, which is a quite different ambition.
If we succeed in
our present plans, we will have helped to install
enlightened agriculture as the global norm. It would be good to be
remembered as part of that.
My life is very
conventional, in a middle-class English sort of way. We
do, however, eat better than most. Where we live in north Oxford we
have access to very high-quality local food, including a local
micro-dairy with 17 Ayrshires.
Family has always
been very important. I have three grown-up, married
children, and four granddaughters.
As a child, I
wanted to write about animals and plants. This is what I
I was very
strongly influenced by a primary-school teacher, Miss
Crichton, who went off to be a missionary, and by a
biology teacher, Doug Hillyer, who was a fine scientist and also a
Welsh lay preacher.
I last got angry
about a recent speech by the Secretary of State for
Agriculture, Owen Paterson, who, like almost everyone in
positions of influence in British agriculture, knows nothing about
it. Among other things, he told us that we should be export-ing
biotech, GMOs, not because they will do anybody any good, but
because it will make a few businesspeople richer.
I'm happiest with
family, and friends, and nice scenery, and falling asleep
in front of the telly.
How about being
locked in a church with Rowan Williams? He is one of
religion's great thinkers, who rises above theological
Colin Tudge was
talking to Terence Handley MacMath.
Good Food for Everyone
Forever is published by Pari Books, and Why Genes are Not
Selfish and People are Nice by Floris Books.