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.










Grim Now, Grimmer Later: Time to Act

Official launch on Tuesday July 7th — ‘Solving the Grim Equation’, published by Cambria Books and written by me, Pat Dodd Racher

Upstairs at The Angel, Rhosmaen Street, Llandeilo, at 7.30pm.

Author and One Planet Council patron David Thorpe will lead a question and answer session and discussion.

The Grim Equation means that increased consumption now will result in lower consumption in the future.

Exciting pioneer projects in Wales show that families can reduce consumption dramatically and use less energy, and still live happily. Pioneers have had to battle against hostility in local government, but thanks to the Welsh Government’s ‘One Wales One Planet’ policy the chances of projects being approved are increasing.

The One Planet Development policy, and guidance in Technical Advice Note 6, and the establishment in Wales of the One Planet Council, can give Wales a leading role in the inevitable One Planet future — because we have only one planet on which to live.


The longer we wait, the more uncomfortable the fall

Solving the Grim Equation

The cover of the print version of ‘Solving the Grim Equation’, written by me, coming soon from Cambria Books


Prepare — fast — for a very different future

Outdated Concepts Dominate Planners’ Thinking

‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’, the classic 1961 book by Jane Jacobs, is probably even more relevant today — the mark of a great book. She emphasises that visual order is very different from functional order, a lesson which our planners and politicans have not heeded:



Now We Value the Proceeds of Crime for Adding to National Income!

Here’s an extract from ‘Solving the Grim Equation‘, soon to be published by Cambria Books. Do we really want to live in a society which values crime for its contribution to national productivity, which prioritises the demands of big international corporations, and which hides crucial discussions under the convenient cloak of ‘confidentiality’?  


TTIP and Benefit Lies

“Business as usual, only more so, remains the dominant paradigm of in-power politicians and civil servants. ‘Growth’ is the watchword, and the quest for growth is a significant force behind the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), not yet in being at the time of writing, but looming.

TTIP, a proposed ‘open market’ trade deal between the USA and the European Union, has near miraculous status in the minds of its proponents. Take this paean from an EU question-and-answer document:[i]

‘European companies, workers and citizens would benefit enormously from a more open US market. The EU has many highly competitive firms producing top quality products and services, including many world leaders and top brands. In agriculture, for example, US plant health regulations ban European apples, while their food safety rules make it illegal to import many European cheeses. Getting rid of tariffs and other barriers to trade will enable European producers to sell more to the Americans: that is good for business and good for jobs. Removing EU barriers to US products and investment will mean more choice and lower prices for people here in Europe. What is clear is that both sides will gain from further opening up their markets to trade and investment. It will be a win-win situation.’

Win win for whom, the reader wonders. In 2013 the European Commission asked the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)[ii] to investigate the pros and cons of TTIP, and the CEPR’s figures indicated financial benefits. As far as the EU Commission was concerned, the CEPR was likely to be a safe pair of hands, and so it proved. The centre receives funding from a long list of banks, including central banks and commercial banks from around the world, and calls upon a network of academic economists to lead research projects.

Academic economists have long prioritised theory over the messy reality of the real world. Particularly, they are reluctant to worry about resource unavailability, on the basis that if one commodity is unattainable, clever humans will find another to substitute. The CEPR asked if TTIP would result in economic growth, and concluded that yes, it would, and is therefore highly desirable.

TTIP is about ‘harmonising’ regulations, which tend to slip towards a lowest common denominator, and also about protecting corporations from governments which change – strengthen – the regulatory environment. The protection will be in the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system. This means that foreign companies, or multinationals whose operations in a territory are (even if nominally) controlled from outside the borders, are at liberty to sue governments who do anything likely to threaten the future flow of profits. ISDS cases in the TTIP would be heard in camera by a panel of specialist lawyers.


Too Much Secrecy

The negotiations for TTIP are proceeding in secret. The EU Commission justifies this as follows:

‘For trade negotiations to work and succeed, you need a certain degree of confidentiality, otherwise it would be like showing the other players one’s cards in a card game.’[iii]

This is a weak argument. A trade agreement with the potential profoundly to change European societies – weaker environmental protection, lower wages resulting from more ferocious competition, the likely introduction of technologies such as seeds-and-chemicals packages, to which many people object – is rather more serious than a game of gin rummy or whist.

TTIP may be profitable for the world’s big corporations, their owners, lawyers and advisers, but the very concept of ISDS, privileging capital above all other considerations, is profoundly regressive. There are voices against TTIP, although they lack the clout of TTIP’s cheerleaders. The Austrian Foundation for Development Research, Vienna produced a report called ‘Assessing the Claimed Benefits of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership’,[iv] which is more balanced and draws out disadvantages, such as the compensation payments governments would have to make to corporations if they strengthened regulation, the loss of income to governments when tariffs are abolished, welfare costs if workers become unemployed, and lower tax revenues. The report concludes:

‘Last but not least, an investor-to-state dispute settlement mechanism, if included in TTIP, could lead to compensation payments by governments and have a disciplining effect on future regulation in the public interest. A qualified public debate on the need for such an arbitration mechanism as currently proposed, and a discussion about alternative forms of international investment arbitration, which is both transparent and equilibrated in its treatment of investors’ rights and the prerogatives of public policy, is urgently needed.’[v]


It’s All for the Mega Corporations

The Centre for Economic Policy Research, happily assuming minimal drawbacks, reckoned that TTIP would bring €119 billion to the EU and €95 billion to the USA, which would equate to €545 for a family of four in Europe and €655 for a family in the USA. Equivalence is not actual income, though, and it is possible that families would not see any of the claimed benefits. The aim is not to make all families more prosperous, but to open doors for business. Even before TTIP, tariffs between the EU and the USA average less than 3% — and even more to the point, at least a third of transatlantic trade is intra-company, i.e. companies sending their own goods from one side of the Atlantic to the other, for whom the removal of tariffs has immediate cash flow benefits.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has lessons for TTIP. NAFTA, a deal between the USA, Canada and Mexico introduced in 1994, has increased the power of major corporations, free to move capital and production wherever they want, a freedom which intensifies job insecurity and damages conditions for workers. Free markets, however, are still in vogue among the upper echelons of governments around the world.


Illegal Activities Valued for Contributions to National Income!

The world’s unfettered free markets are hardly bastions of ethics. The dry-sounding ‘Changes stemming from improved comparability of Gross National Income measurement’, published by the UK’s Office for National Statistics on May 16th 2014, includes these startling, shocking sentences:

‘…illegal activities (e.g. prostitution and production of drugs) fall within the production boundary of national accounts. The sources and methods used need to be reviewed in order to ensure that illegal activities are properly included in the national accounts. The UK already includes estimates in the national accounts for smuggling of alcohol and tobacco, so this reservation will be addressed by including prostitution and drugs within the national accounts framework.’

The announcement was one of a number from statistics offices in the European Union, as members moved to harmonise a way of inflating economic growth by estimating the amounts changing hands illegally! Criminal activities such as drug pushing are good for the numbers, because buyers who are addicted will pay the price asked, even if they have to turn to more crime to get the money. Governments evidently value crime as a pillar of economic output.

Is this the end of ethics in government? How can politicians expect people to behave ethically when criminal activities are valued for contributing to national income? The European Commission pushed member states down this road when in December 2013 it included the proposals in the ‘European System of National and Regional Accounts’. This shows the Commission’s priorities – economic growth above all other considerations. Maybe the European Union is not such a force for social good after all.

Complaints in the media were muted and, it seems, short-lived. For the mainstream media too, the imperative for economic growth is unquestioned. Nearly all activities, including childcare — parents paying other people to look after their children while they work to earn the money to pay the childminders – have already been monetised, prompting the powers-that-be, in a desperate gamble, to co-opt the underworld.

The UK’s boost to gross domestic product from the addition of illegal activities was thought to be £10 billion, about £155 per man, woman and child. The £10 billion figure is, of course, only a guess as no one really knows. The figure is probably inaccurate as well as reprehensible.”


[i]  European Commission,

[ii] ‘Estimating the Economic Impact on the UK of a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) Agreement between the European Union and the United States’. Final project report by the Centre for Economic Policy Research, March 2013

[iii] European Commission, as above.

[iv] ‘Assessing the claimed benefits of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership’ by Werner Raza and Bernhard Tröster, Austrian Foundation for Development Research, Vienna, 2014,

[v]Part V, Conclusions and policy recommendations,



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:



Chancellor Caught in Debt Trap

From Surplus Energy Economics: