DAVY MCCRACKEN

The Press and Journal (Inverness, Highlands, and Islands) - - NEWS -

The Scot­tish Govern­ment re­cently pub­lished re­sults from an in­de­pen­dent study into Scot­tish public at­ti­tudes to the en­vi­ron­ment, agri­cul­ture and ru­ral de­vel­op­ment.

The need for the work arose from one of the rec­om­men­da­tions by the Agri­cul­tural Cham­pi­ons, that “fu­ture poli­cies must be guided by real ev­i­dence about what the public val­ues”.

The team con­duct­ing the study gath­ered ev­i­dence in four main ways. Firstly, they re­viewed what had been pub­lished pre­vi­ously on the topic of at­ti­tudes to­wards agri­cul­ture, food, en­vi­ron­ment and ru­ral poli­cies.

They then in­ter­viewed cit­i­zens with spe­cial di­etary needs. These ex­plored is­sues of cost, au­then­tic­ity, health, qual­ity, and en­vi­ron­ment when con­sid­er­ing food con­sump­tion and pro­duc­tion in Scot­land.

The in­ter­views were de­signed to ex­plore the per­spec­tives of groups who are typ­i­cally un­der-rep­re­sented within ex­ist­ing data sources on the is­sue of food pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion. This in­cluded those with spe­cific di­etary re­quire­ments (cov­er­ing ha­lal, kosher, ve­gan, veg­e­tar­ian, gluten­free, dairy-free and sugar-free di­ets) as well as those on low in­comes.

The re­searchers then car­ried out an on­line sur­vey of 2,345 peo­ple over 16 years of age, to gather data on at­ti­tudes to­wards a range of en­vi­ron­men­tal, agri­cul­tural and ru­ral com­mu­nity is­sues.

Fi­nally, they held two Cit­i­zens’ Fo­rums to take par­tic­i­pants through an in­ten­sive process of learn­ing, de­vel­op­ing dia­logue and de­lib­er­a­tion over the is­sues.

The find­ings sug­gest public sup­port for farm­ing is grow­ing, with 83% of Scots be­liev­ing that farm­ing pro­vides an es­sen­tial public ser­vice, and 86% be­liev­ing that the in­dus­try is crit­i­cal to the suc­cess of the Scot­tish econ­omy.

The re­search also iden­ti­fied seven key prin­ci­ples for fu­ture agri­cul­tural pol­icy that the public would sup­port: En­sur­ing high-qual­ity food pro­duc­tion; pro­tect­ing an­i­mal wel­fare; ad­vanc­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion; keep­ing the land healthy and pro­duc­tive; sup­port­ing the ru­ral econ­omy and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties; rais­ing the pro­file of the agri­cul­tural sec­tor; and pro­vid­ing fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to the sec­tor.

I was im­pressed with the par­tic­i­pants’ de­sire to know more about how agri­cul­tural sup­port pol­icy works in Scot­land. But some of their ini­tial mis­con­cep­tions also em­pha­sised how im­por­tant it will be to en­sure that we all con­tinue to raise the pro­file of the agri­cul­tural sec­tor – and the wide range of ben­e­fits it pro­duces – among the public post-Brexit.

AGRI­CUL­TURE: Re­search find­ings sug­gest public sup­port for farm­ing is grow­ing

Pro­fes­sor Davy McCracken is Head of Depart­ment of In­te­grated Land Man­age­ment and Head of Hill and Moun­tain Re­search Cen­tre at SRUC.

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