In July this year, I attended a symposium of the International Farming Systems Association (IFSA) and a SUFISA (see more here) partners’ meeting in the UK. Yes, it was the first of many activities for me this year. The first time in the UK, first time at a conference during my PhD, first time of traveling through the Brussels Airport after that horrendous terror attack and of course, the first time of traveling a long distance on a Sunday.
The expectations for all these first-time activities were massive but the main focuses were the reasons for my travel, to participate in SUFISA partners’ meeting and the IFSA symposium. I finally arrived in the UK on Sunday 10th July in the evening. First, it was the SUFISA meeting and then the IFSA symposium. All too soon, the short but intensive SUFISA meeting came to a close on Tuesday and all attention turned to the IFSA symposium. It was a well-organized symposium, well attended, a great opportunity to interact with many researchers with same visions and objectives, good foods and much more. It was also the time for non-native English participants to change their English accents and to adjust their ears to that slick British English. I found that quite funny but after all, if you go to Rome, you do what the Romans do.
As part of the symposium, there was a field trip with six options to choose from. Honestly, just by looking at the topics from the six options gave me no motivation but I had to choose one by the way. So I settled on a visit to an organic Silvopastoral Agroforestry (in Shropshire, UK, more here) and a Forestry (Llandegela, Wales) land management systems. Your guess for my choice might just be right. There were two reasons. Firstly, the opportunity to visit a place in Wales for the first time and secondly, to see how a silvopastoral agroforestry system works.
Agroforestry is the integration of valuable forest trees and shrubs with food crops or pastureland while a silvopastoral system is a land-use system whereby trees, perennial ground cover crops and livestock are produced on the same piece of land.
Silvopastoral agroforestry (Source: Shropshire Agroferesty project)
We started our trip early in the morning on Thursday and to the silvopastoral farm. This was about 40-acre farm with about 70 Cattle integrated with over 50 leguminous tree/shrub species, in a nicely spaced-out rows. It was a well-managed farm layout on a beautiful landscape.
And behind this state of the art agroforestry system was a passionate 64-year man, Mr. Aspin Peter. Our tour with him for almost one and half-hours was never a boring one. His compassion, jovial utterances and in-depth knowledge in his field amazed all the participants of the trip. In fact, we exhausted our time without any hint we had spent that much time with Peter.
Participants asked questions during the guided tour to clarify how Peter managed to achieve the successes in his farm. There came in the issue of agricultural subsidies to farmers. Peter was asked about his impression about subsidies from the Government as a way of maintaining and sustaining his agroforestry farm. And to my surprise, he thinks subsidies are for lazy farmers and it is a disincentive to innovation. Thus, he believes subsidies allow farmers to sit back and depend on government for the survival of their farm businesses. But without it, they may be forced to think outside the box and come up with innovative measures to improve and keep their farms running. Is this really the case? It was the first time of hearing this from a farmer as well. I know farmers like subsidies but whether it is always an incentive was not something I had given a second thought. Peter made me pause to think about that.
Visit again next time where I take you through the rest of the trip and provide an extensive discussions on agricultural subsidies and farmers’ innovation.