Big Potential for Horticulture in the Heart of Wales

Calon Cymru — the Heart of Wales — suffers from a lack of economic activity and from an exodus of young people and an inflow of retired folk. Calon Cymru Network, a community interest company set up to foster low-impact development in the region, sees horticulture — producing fruit and vegetables — as an essential part of regeneration. Wales produces hardly any fruit or vegetables, but could do so in the corridor of the Heart of Wales railway. There is big potential, as AMBER WHEELER suggests below.


The Heart of Wales corridor

Present population of the corridor is 35,000, with potential to double in 10 years to 70,000.

35,000 people’s fruit and vegetable needs (at 5 a day excluding potatoes), and including 35% food waste from farm to fork (a typical level, which should be much lower) = 0.2 tonnes/per person/per year = 7,000 tonnes per year, rising to 14,000 tonnes  in 10 years time for a population twice as large.

Achievable yields in Wales = at least 10 tonnes/hectare average for mixed fruit and vegetable cropping.

10 tonnes per hectare/per year from 700 hectares could yield 7,000 tonnes, and from 1,400 hectares, 14,000 tonnes.

Calon Cymru Network is concerned with a 130 km length of the corridor, 4 km wide, containing about 36,400 hectares of undeveloped rural land of all types.

To be able to grow 100% of the corridor’s current fruit and veg needs would require 2% of the rural land, rising to 4% if the population doubled. Hardly any land is used for these purposes at present.

Obviously this is a simplification, but the Heart of Wales corridor could support a larger population and produce much more of those people’s food needs.

And this is one of Calon Cymru Network’s ambitions.










Unfed Cityworld

Flows of migrants from country to city will, if unchecked, leave insufficient people to grow our food. Few policymakers see this as a problem, as they assume that farming will become more and more mechanised, and that synthetic fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides will carry on substituting for rotations, hoes and companion planting.

Villages far from cities are often ghettos of the elderly, who may be proficient in food production but whose skills die with them. The greying of the world’s rural heartlands poses a huge question: should the long food supply chains ever rupture, for lack of fuel, water, soil, or any other essential input, there would be major trouble in the cities. The global population is expanding by some 81 million a year, while water and soil are depleting, and the supply of fuel for the whole urban superstructure is precarious.

A spate of TV programmes about the ‘real’ Brazil, shown before the 2014 football World Cup kicked off in Sao Paulo, showed viewers shanty-town favelas; families gleaning rubbish for saleable recyclables; guns, drugs and prostitution. Yet Brazil is not a ‘poor’ country. The World Bank classes it as ‘upper middle income’ with GDP of US$2.253 trillion in 2012, $11,338 for each of the 198.7 million population. One of its big cities, Curitiba, home to 1.8 million people, is a famous exemplar of sustainable design, admired for its Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) network, its recycling rate of over 70%, its parks designed for leisure and to absorb floodwaters, its live-work homes, its encouragement for agriculture outside the city, and its city leaders’ capacity for problem-solving.[i]

The world would need 45 new Curitibas every year just to house the extra population. China has a plan to meet the challenge, building what are called ‘eco-cities’ but which are planted in often inhospitable landscapes, and require long, energy-intensive supply lines. The building boom is no respecter of topography – at Lanzhou in Gansu province, north-west China, the plan is to flatten some 700 low mountains to create the space for a desert metropolis.[ii]


Foshan, China: trying to cultivate polluted soils next to a factory. Farmers in China have no rights over their land, and so local government administrations, keen to make money from land dealing, can and often do expel them. Photo: South China Morning Post, published in ‘Toxic soil pollution report sparks new fears over safety of mainland’s home-grown food’,, April 18th 2014 

One billion Chinese people are expected to live in cities by 2030, leaving only 300 million in the (much damaged) countryside. Unless there is land reform, there is little chance of farmers being able to feed the massive urban population. That is a major reason for Chinese organisations buying up arable land all over the world, including Brazil.

McKinsey & Company’s Global Institute advocates concentrated cities in China, building over 7%-8% of arable land by 2030. Dispersed cities, McKinsey argued, would cover more than 20% of arable land over the same time span.[iii] As China has only 7% of the world’s arable land, just 0.09 of a hectare per person, there is scant scope to lose any more at all. Each year since 2000, about 1% of China’s meagre total has been covered by factories and other industrial developments.

Moran Zhang lists the ailments afflicting China’s crop-growing land:

  • One-fifth of it has polluted soils.
  • Over-use of nitrogen fertilisers is turning land acidic.
  • Farmers lack incentive to improve their land, because they have no rights over it. All land belongs to the state, and local governments derive more than a quarter of their revenues from land grabs – taking land from farmers and selling it to developers. Farmers are offered minimal compensation, about 2% of current market value, and with this they have to find new homes, new ways of making a living.[iv] Disenfranchised farmers have little choice but to become city dwellers.[v]

Who will feed them and the other hundreds of millions in China’s cities? How? To rely on unfettered exports from countries in Latin America and Africa, where most of the 2.7 billion hectares which could be pressed into service for crop production are located, is surely unwise because of the negative consequences – loss of plants and wildlife in habitats currently rich, the adverse impact on climates of vegetation loss, rising demand for food from the local, fast-expanding populations, the energy costs of moving food around the world.

Ex-farmers will be living in Chinese cities, in homes currently empty – there are ghost blocks aplenty, the outcome of speculation – and in homes yet to be built, usually flats without gardens. Few planners appear to be paying attention to questions of sustainable food production, to the additional rural populations necessary to farm in ways which do not deplete soil or water, or to homes and supplementary livelihoods for these populations. Even talking about a reversal of the migration to cities is often judged as quaintly old-fashioned, even Luddite.

Pat Dodd Racher

(Extract from a chapter of a book to be published in coming months)

[i] It’s ironic, though, that manufacture of vehicles and vehicle parts is a key element of Curitiba’s economic base. German, Japanese, French and Chinese auto firms have chosen the city as a base. The young, dynamic workforce is an attraction for manufacturers and good for city finances, because these are taxpayers. Only 6% of Curitibans are aged 65+! Information from the Brookings Institution, ‘Curitiba metropolitan area profile’; ‘Sing a song of sustainable cities’, TED talk by former city mayor Jaime Lerner; and slides at

[ii] ‘China to flatten 700 mountains for new metropolis in the desert’, by Jonathan Kaiman,, December 6th 2012.

[iii] ‘Preparing for China’s urban billion’, McKinsey Global Institute, March 2009.

[iv] ‘7 reasons why you don’t want to be a farmer in China’ by Moran Zhang,, August 22nd 2013.

[v] City dwellers have to cope with great pollution challenges of their own. In Lanzhou, 2.4 million people were told not to drink the tap water in June 2014. It was contaminated with benzene. Source: Xinhua News Agency, June 12th 2014.

How the Eucalyptus Tree Empties Wells and Feeds Forest Fires in Portugal

Once upon a time in the mountains of southern Portugal, a British sociologist and apprentice peasant, Robin Jenkins, arrived in a hamlet called Alto. The year was 1976, a quarter of a century after a surfaced road had, for the first time, connected Alto to the little town of Monchique and thence to the World Outside.


Dilapidated property for sale in the Monchique Mountains. The price of €790,000 for 6.26 hectares is set to appeal to the dreaming foreigner who has no need to live off the land — which can no longer feed a local population.  Photo:

Slowly the apparent opportunities and real demands of the World Outside reached Alto. Subsistence farming was replaced by cash crops, the most demanding of which was the eucalyptus tree. Robin Jenkins wrote about the transformation, which worried him deeply, in ‘The Road to Alto’.*

The new eucalyptus trees thrived on the mountain slopes, and after 10 years initially, then every six or so, each tree that is felled yields about 10 metres of timber. That is 25,000 metres from the 2,500 or so trees on one hectare. The timber left on lorries travelling on the road, and cash rolled in.

Unfortunately eucalyptus trees are extremely thirsty, and their roots syphon up the underground water, until springs and then wells dry up and farming is no longer possible.


“Ten per cent of the Portuguese state has gone up in smoke in less than a generation” —, ‘Monchique and Eucalyptus in Portugal’, December 20th 2013. Photo:, April 24th 2009, ‘Algarve: governo duplica equipas de sapadores florestais’. 

The oils in eucalyptus trees are flammable, the plantations are dry as a bone, the winds blow in and a small spark becomes a raging forest fire.

Fire have obliterated thousands of hectares of eucalyptus trees around Monchique. The wells are empty, and soils where food crops used to grow are infertile, damaged by years of over-intensive application of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, products which were carried in on the road.

The peasants, who used to understand that they were part of the ecological balance which enabled them to survive, generation after generation, have mostly gone to the towns. Their mountains have been invaded by tourism, but tourists are afraid of forest fires.

The word ‘peasant’ is a colloquial term of abuse. There is no modern respect for knowledge which successfully sustained enduring local economies. Our modern knowledge has resulted in damaged soils, depleted water supplies, and raging forest fires. Clever, eh?

Pat Dodd Racher

* ‘The Road to Alto’ was published by Pluto Press in 1979.

More information about eucalyptus and forest fires in Portual from:



The Erasure of Rural Wales Edges Closer

Reblogged from West Wales News Review

Policy to Revitalise Rural Areas — Where Is It?

Llansawel Show was yesterday. Sheep, poultry, ponies, giant vegetables, odd vegetables, flowers, jams, cookery, arts and crafts. Burgers (local), beer (from local pub), ice cream (local). The weather was kind, all in all a very pleasant afternoon. Most people, certainly most older people, were chatting and conducting the business of the day in Welsh.

One field to the east is Llansawel School. The word around the village is that the school will close in 2016, and under-11s will be bussed to Cwmann on the outskirts of Lampeter, between 12 and 13 miles from Llansawel village along twisty roads. The AA calculates that the journey is just on half an hour, without any stops. Add in the numerous stops made by school buses…. You get the picture.

Read on:

Our Rur-urban Future

Thought-provoking from New Economics Foundation:

Is This Our Farming Future?

Photographs by Patrick Racher and Patricia Dodd Racher, September 2012. Farm photographs taken at Muckross Farms, Killarney, Kerry.

Much of our best farmland has been built on. We are going to need to produce more food in future, because we will not be able to rely on importing food from the rest of the world. Droughts, floods, erosion, the onward march of deserts, declining availability of the fossil fuels powering agriculture and all the rest of our economic activity, mean that we will struggle to feed 7 billion people, let alone 9 or 10 billion. Somehow, we will have to use poor land more effectively and in sustainable ways. These photos from South West Ireland suggest some of the challenges ahead.

Bantry Bay from the Caha Pass: steep slopes, scant soil, not the place for machinery.

Upper Lake, Killarney. Could more fish be produced from lakes?

This farm would have been 40 or 50 acres with a dozen cows, and some pigs and hens, and probably geese to fatten for Christmas.

Sixty or seventy years ago, life on small upland farms in Ireland was a) simple and (b) very hard work. No car and often no tractor, no mains water, no electricity. How would we cope in such circumstances again?

Vegetables were grown in small, sheltered plots: cabbages, onions and of course potatoes. In wet 2012 blight has affected potatoes badly.

Each farm kept a few pigs. Small farm life was and is a 24-hour responsibility.

Free-range hens must be protected from predators.

Farmyard manure is vital to maintain soil fertility, but spreading it without tractor-drawn machinery is a slow process — and would you want a muck heap outside your front door?

Keeping a wood or peat fire alight requires constant attention.

The working horse (more cob-like than this one) could make a come-back as fuel costs continue to escalate — but a single horse needs up to four acres of pasture.

1930s farm kitchen without a fridge. For the women of the family, it’s a day of chopping peat into small bricks, lighting the fire, fetching water from a well, cooking, hoeing the vegetable garden, looking after the animals and making produce to sell like butter and cheese.  This way of life, which is far more sustainable than energy-intensive agriculture, requires skills that most of us have lost and which are generally not taught in schools. 

Chilling Vision of Corporate Coups d’Etat

When corporations have politicians working for them: coup d’état in favour of Monsanto

The other day I heard a financial analyst talking about ‘corporates’ and ‘sovereigns’, by which he meant corporations and countries. He spoke as if they were merely different branches of the same economic tree, interchangeable as far as investors are concerned. The power of ‘corporates’ is chilling but too rarely questioned. The story of the coup d’état in Paraguay on June 22nd 2012 should do more than alarm us.

The story is about Paraguay, cotton and Monsanto, the US-based agrochemical and biotechnology corporation, noted for herbicides and genetically modified (GM) seeds.

Paraguay is a landlocked county in South America, with Argentina to the south, Bolivia to the north-west and Brazil to the north-east. Agricultural products are the main exports, chiefly soyabeans, cotton, meat and edible oils.[1] Between 1954 and 1989 the government was in the hands of General Alfredo Stroessner, a repressive dictator. Elections in 1993 resulted in a right-oriented government of the ANR-PC, Asociacion Nacional Republicana-Partido Colorado, which continued in power until 2008, when Fernando Lugo of the APC, Alianza Patriótica por el Cambio (Patriotic Alliance for Change) was elected to the presidency. The APC is more progressive than the ANR-PC, which in Paraguayan terms means a degree of willingness to listen to the majority of inhabitants, who are very poor.

Fernando Lugo was far too progressive for Monsanto and the dominant landowners. His government would not go along with Monsanto’s wish to introduce GM cotton, and what is more, was considering whether to give some land rights to former small farmers, who had been cleared out of the way by estate owners as they sought to maximize the production of soyabeans, cotton, meat and edible oils for export. The official block to GM cotton may have taken Monsanto by surprise, because its GM soyabeans have spread all over the country since receiving Paraguayan government approval back in 2004.

A great deal happened in June, detailed by Idilio Méndez Grimaldi in an article on, dated June 23rd, called ‘Monsanto golpea en Paraguay: los muertos de Curuguaty y el juicio politico a Lugo’ (Monsanto’s coup in Paraguay: the dead of Curuguaty and the impeachment of Lugo). The article tells us that back on October 21st 2011 the Minister of Agriculture, Enzo Cardozo, wanted to allow a GM cotton from Monsanto, Bollgard BT, to be sown in Paraguay. There was, however, dissent within the government, and Miguel Lovera, director of SENAVE, Servicio Nacional de Calidad y Sanidad Vegetal y de Semillas (National Service for Plant and Seed Quality and Health) refused to add Bollgard BT to the register of seeds approved for commercial use, because he needed but did not have permission from both the Health Minister, Esperanza Martinez, and the Environment Secretary, Oscar Rivas.

The Paraguayan equivalent of the Confederation of British Industry, the UGP, Union de Gremios de Producción (Union of Production Organisations) mounted campaigns against Miguel Lovera, and also against Esperanza Martinez and Oscar Rivas, to try and force them aside or to make them approve Bollgard BT.

It all came to a head in June. On Thursday 7th, when the UK was recovering from the Jubilee celebrations, the Paraguayan newspaper ABC Color carried an exposé in which a SENAVE employee, Silvia Martinez, accused director Miguel Lovera of corruption and nepotism. Silvia was the wife of one Roberto Cáceres, who represents agrochemical and agribusiness companies, according to Idilio Méndez Grimaldi in his subsequent account of events.

The next day, Friday June 8th, ABC Color published a feature listing 12 reasons why Lovera should be dismissed. The state vice-president Federico Franco, and his political colleague Enzo Cardozo – the Minister of Agriculture who was so keen to have Bollgard BT approved – backed the campaign to oust Miguel Lovera.

A week later, Friday June 15th, at the annual trade fair organised by the Ministry of Agriculture, minister Cardozo  told the press that a group of investors from India’s agrochemical industry had just cancelled a project in Paraguay because of the (alleged) corruption in SENAVE. The identities of the investors were not divulged.

The same day, at Curuguaty near the Brazilian border, 240 kilometres from the Paraguayan capital Asunción, a Special Operations police unit, trained in Colombia, came to evict ‘squatters’ from a 70,000-hectare estate owned by Blas Riquelme, a former president of ANR-PC and owner of multiple businesses including supermarkets. The ‘squatters’ maintain that Riquelme obtained the land illegally and that it should be theirs.

It was to prove a deadly eviction. The Special Ops unit was ambushed by snipers and six police were killed. One of them was Erven Lovera, the brother of Lt-Col Alcides Lovera, president Lugo’s security chief. The police opened fire and shot dead 11 of the squatters. They injured over 50 more, perhaps as many as 80.

There are suspicions that the ambush was pre-planned by persons determined to get rid of both SENAVE’s Miguel Lovera and president Lugo. If this was the plan, it worked.

President Lugo was already weak and had attracted widespread criticism. A former bishop, he fathered at least two illegitimate children, and since his election in 2008 had made 74 overseas trips, the latest taking the last two weeks of May, when he went to Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and India to try and drum up export business for Paraguay which, he would say, is a nation of six million with the capacity to feed 60 million.[2] This agricultural potential explains the close interest in the country taken by Monsanto and other global agribusiness and agro-technology companies.

The Paraguayan Senate acted quickly to impeach president Lugo. On Friday June 22nd, vice-president Federico Franco, of the centre right PLRA, Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico, was elevated to the presidency. Five days later, on June 27th, the announcement came that Miguel Lovera had been sacked. [3]

Monsanto barrier dismantled!

This is a short summary of the events, in which the UGP, the Paraguayan CBI, is thoroughly mixed up, and so is the Zuccolillo Group, publisher of ABC Color and with many other business interests, including property development, shopping centres and, importantly, partnership in Paraguay with the agribusiness giant Cargill. The boss of the Zuccolillo Group is Aldo Zuccolillo, a vice-chair of the press freedom committee of the Miami-based Interamerican Press Association.

June 2012 in Paraguay, with its black propaganda, dead bodies, and removal of the elected president, eases the way for Monsanto to reinforce its dominance in seed sales, and is a harsh blow for the rural poor, for whom Lugo was the first president to show them concern.

Corporates and sovereigns, forming unholy alliances to enrich the elites in each.

[1] Whitaker’s Almanack 2011, p.968.

[2] Several news items on the South Atlantic news agency MercoPress,, report on Lugo’s career.

[3] ‘Federico Franco mantiene a la ministra de la mujer’, UPI Español,