The Covid-19 crisis has exposed the fragility and vulnerability of our globalised food system and our reliance on long, just in time supply chains. Panic buying led to empty super market shelves, supply chains have been broken, and our reliance on imports has left us at the mercy of international markets. Many farmers are facing unprecedented challenges, with collapsing milk prices and difficulties in finding labour, and this on the back of a long and difficult winter punctuated by devastating floods. The crisis has brought into stark focus the importance of food, but also the inequalities inherent in our food system. Many are struggling to access and afford basic provisions and are turning to food banks.
The crisis has been years in the making, as Tim Lang sets out in his new book, Feeding Britain. In that book, he states that only eight corporations control 90% of our food supply. Farmers only receive 5-6% of the value of food sold, and the UK only produces 50% of the food that it needs. All of that needs to change. We need to value farmers and growers more and massively increase our own food production to nearer 80% by growing more of our own fruit and vegetables. All of that can be done through shorter, localised food chains based on the principles of food sovereignty whereby individuals and communities everywhere have control over their own food supply.
The empty supermarket shelves have led to a big increase in demand for local food but many agroecological producers and community food businesses have had to stop taking on new customers due to lack of resources, staff and supply chain difficulties. With the disappearance of the restaurant and catering trade, others are having to quickly restructure their businesses into new retail markets. We want to try and do something to help these organisations through this crisis, both ensuring that they are able to survive, but also helping them to meet growing demand by developing new routes to market and scaling their operations for the long term. We have therefore launched a new emergency Small Loans Programme and have made £120,000 available in £5,000-£20,000 unsecured loans. We are waiving all fees and offering interest and capital repayment holidays. We have changed our assessment processes so we can make a quick decision, and hope to get the funds transferred within 14 days of application. The focus for this funding will be on established community food businesses and agroecological producers and it can be used for anything that helps them navigate this crisis. The investment could be used for working capital to develop new routes to market or to scale up production to meet growing demand. It can be used for recruiting more staff, investing in IT and delivery vehicles, new processing facilities and equipment.
The programme is open until the 30th June. More details and the application form can be found here.