The Prince of Wales has warned that the current approach to food production will lead to a “dead end” and threatens the very survival of rural communities.
He said that “precious landscapes” were being slowly diminished in the name of efficiency, warning that if small family farms go under, it will “rip the heart” from the British countryside.
The Prince has long been concerned about the impact of intensive industrial farming, the hidden costs, the damage to soils and water courses and the carbon emissions that lead to global warming.
In an essay recorded for BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he singled out for praise England footballer Marcus Rashford, who campaigns against child hunger, and chef Jamie Oliver, who promotes education on a balanced diet.
But he said that for 35 years, he had watched with increasing concern as food production has destroyed the soil that grows it.
“Such has been the damage to the natural systems we depend upon, we must achieve profound and rapid change to reverse it,” he said.
“With roughly half of all the habitable land on Earth used for agriculture. I cannot think of a sector more central to the survival of the planet.”
He added: “How we produce food has a direct impact on the Earth’s capacity to sustain us, which has a direct impact on human health and economic prosperity.
“But our current approach will lead to a dead end, no matter how cost effective intensive food production appears to be.”
Prince Charles with FarmED founders Ian and Celene Wilkinson in Chipping Norton in June
Credit: WPA Pool/Getty Images
The Prince repeated his passionate belief that nature must be put back to the heart of the equation, warning that as we profit from nature, so it profits from us.
“Our current approach is forcing many small family farms to the wall,” he went on.
“If they go, it will quite simply rip the heart out of the British countryside and break the backbone of Britain’s rural communities.”
The heir to the throne called for more support for a diversity of farms, in order to help them make the “profound and rapid change” he said the crisis now demands.
He also mentioned Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of the Leon restaurant chain, whose review of the nation’s food system, and the link between production and environmental degradation, is due to be published tomorrow.
“Not a great deal has changed in the last 35 years, but I’m increasingly confident we can achieve the transition, particularly when I meet the next generation," he said.
“Farming can play a big part in protecting the planet. From field to fork extraordinary work is being done to try and build a better food system for everyone.
“Be it Jamie Oliver, promoting education on a balanced diet, Henry Dimbleby’s ambitions for safe, healthy and affordable food or Marcus Rashford, whose mission off the football field is to tackle child hunger. “
The Prince expressed hope that soil and biodiversity would be a focus at COP26, the United Nations conference in Glasgow this November.
“Put simply, we all need the conference to succeed,” he added.
“The security of nature’s entire life support system is banking on it.
“Only by benefitting nature can we benefit people and that will ensure the future of our living planet.”
The Prince is passionate about organic farming practices and is currently in the process of converting the 21,000-acre Sandringham estate into a fully organic operation.
When he took over the management of the Norfolk property from his late father, the Duke of Edinburgh, in 2017, only 10 per cent of it was run organically.
But he has steadily changed practices, introducing a flock of 3,000 sheep, providing natural fertiliser, new trees, and other crops.
“It has always seemed to me somewhat logical to embrace a farming system that works with nature and not against her,” he told Country Life magazine in May.
Last month, the Prince opened a new centre for farm and food education, speaking of his long-held belief that society should only take as much from nature as it puts back.
He told the staff at FarmED, in Shipton-Under Wychwood, Oxfordshire, that they were doing a critical job in reminding people of the importance of regenerating soil and capturing carbon.
“If we could regenerate much more of the soil around the world we couldn’t capture at least 70 per cent or something of the carbon emissions,” he said.