This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Using the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach in the Peak District Farming Community
Acknowledgements Executive summary 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 Introduction Background Context of the project The Sustainable Livelihoods Approach How can the sustainable livelihoods approach benefit farming families? Peak District farming Farming Lives Project Sustainable Livelihoods Approach tools Considering farming livelihoods in terms of assets The relationship between assets The Livelihoods Ladder Considering gender Lessons from this project Recommendations for the Peak District How could the SLA be applied within other UK farming communities? Conclusions References
2 3 5 6 7 10 12 13 14 17 17 28 30 33 34 35 37 38 39
This report is a joint production between the National Farmers Network and Oxfam GB. It was written by Val Ponder and Ann Hindley and edited by Carol Evans and Ann Hindley. It was based on work carried out by Janice Walton, Jo Williams and John Moseley. We would like to thank: The farming families who took part in this project Bakewell Agricultural Centre for hosting us during our surveys Oxfam GB for providing training in SLA tools and ongoing support throughout the project Rachel Roland, Centre for International Development and Training, University of Wolverhampton for her valuable advice and support during the initial development of this project This pilot project was made possible by funding from: Oxfam GB Big Lottery ‘Awards for All’ fund Peak District Rural Deprivation Forum
For further details and copies of this report please contact: Val Ponder through the National Farmers Network website: http://nationalfarmersnetwork.org.uk Or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTE: In order to protect the identity of participants all names have been changed
NATIONAL FARMERS NETWORK The National Farmers Network is a network of local family farmer groups, organisations and networks across England. They come together to exchange ideas and good practice. These are challenging times for farmers and family farmers are the most likely to be affected. But we believe that by working together we can help bring about positive changes to farming livelihoods and work towards a thriving family farming sector.
This Farming Lives project was carried out in recognition of the immense challenges faced by the farming community over the past fifteen years. It was preceded by a piece of research into the position of hill farmers in the Peak District which led to the development of a National Farmers’ Network. The subsequent consultation of farmer-led groups revealed feelings of powerlessness amongst farmer members, a perceived lack of government support and hardship caused by trying to earn a living through farming. As a result, Oxfam agreed to fund a pilot of the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach within the Peak District farming community. It was carried out in a context of declining agricultural income in the UK and a change in public funding arrangements which has had serious consequences for farming communities. This, along with rising costs, has led to increased stress levels among farmers and a decline in the interest of younger members of the farming sector to work in farming. The Sustainable Livelihoods Approach (SLA) has been extensively used in international development. Practitioners use a livelihoods framework to help them understand the complexities of people lives and the circumstances within which they conduct their livelihoods and a set of principles to guide action to address and overcome the barriers to improving the sustainability of livelihoods The SLA is unique in that it places people at the centre of the influences and interactions that affect their lives. It was proposed that the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach could offer a number of benefits to farming families in the Peak District. Project facilitators worked with sixteen farming families to conduct an analysis of their livelihoods using a number of participatory tools, including time lines, assets pentagon, semi structured interviews and a livelihoods ladder. Using these tools, facilitators were able to build up a picture of financial, social, physical, human and natural assets. Surveys were also conducted at Bakewell Livestock Market to collect additional data. A total of seventy-seven farmers took part in the surveys, providing valuable data on the challenges facing farmers and their coping strategies. Financially most families were facing difficulties and relied on off farm income to supplement the business and on diversification. There was evidence of a high level of resourcefulness and a number of strategies had been adopted to adapt to the situation. Financial issues were compounded by the lack of ability to plan for retirement. In terms of human assets, health was seen as most important, although most carried on whatever their state of health. There was little evidence of mental health issues. There was failure to acknowledge and value the skills they had in relation to farming. Children were encouraged to become better educated which then led them outside farming. Access to clear information was highlighted as lacking by some. Overall, participants had confidence in running their own business and understanding the land and livestock. Most families demonstrated strong inter and intra generational linkages. This could, however, cause tension and breakdown because of close physical proximity both at home and at work, which could have a detrimental effect on the business. Community activity tended to be a female reserve as men claimed not to have the time. Isolation was becoming more of an issue as more family members worked away from the farm.
The landscape and the environment were seen as opportunities to promote tourism and take part in environmental schemes, although only a minority of farmers were able to take up these opportunities Farmers had experienced a number of shocks over the previous ten years both farming and family related. The most difficult to cope with were the livestock disease outbreaks. This has been followed by a sudden increase in input prices which has cancelled out increases in livestock market prices. A number of strategies have been adopted which provide short term relief but will have long term impact. The social, economic and legislative environment has eroded both profitability and farmers’ status as food producers. Reduced subsidy levels are creating a general cause for concern. This is accompanied by increased levels of bureaucracy which was seen as restrictive. Public perceptions of farming have over recent years become increasingly negative and this has increased the sense of isolation from mainstream society felt by farmers. The more recent growing interest in local food and food traceability has to some extent reversed this trend and given farmers some cause for optimism. Nevertheless they do perceive the government as having little interest in maintaining a viable food production industry. DEFRA was perceived to impose considerable limitations, with farmers having no ability to influence policy. Planning laws were another limiting factor, especially in the National Park area. Advice services were often limited and inappropriate unless paid for and there was general confusion about grants available. The Sustainable Livelihoods Approach helps to highlight the connections between different assets and how a change on access to one can impact on access to another. The challenges faced by this project were gaining access to marginalised families and the lack of time that farmers had to take part. The Sustainable Livelihoods Approach offered a new approach which gave farmers the opportunity to talk about their lives and most were happy to do so but constrained by time. Those who took part were genuinely interested in the process which allowed them to refocus their minds away from the negative aspects of their lives towards opportunities to maximise their existing assets. The results of this pilot reassure us that the approach can make positive contributions to farming livelihoods with both individual farmers and with farming groups. Our recommendation is that it is tested further with another farming community but offering long term support.
This report describes the ‘Farming Lives’ project, which took an in depth look at the lives of some Peak District farming families. It examines the lives of these families not only in terms of the farming business but also by taking into consideration all aspects of their livelihoods. Farming Lives began with the acknowledgement that farming livelihoods are multi-dimensional and inter-related, and therefore an impact upon one aspect of the livelihood can have repercussions within other areas. The project was built around the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach (SLA) and our aim was to test effectiveness of the SLA in helping us to understand the livelihoods of the farming families that participated in the project, while also helping those families to identify opportunities for building greater resilience and sustainability into their livelihoods. If this approach is found to be effective, we think that it may be of interest to farmer groups and organisations around the country that work to support farmers through these challenging times.
The UK farming community has witnessed more than its fair share of challenges over the past fifteen years. Not only have profits declined significantly, but the level of bureaucracy has increased, and both the social fabric of rural communities and the general public have grown increasingly disengaged from the farming sector. Any conversation that you may have had in recent years with farmers about farming will no doubt have left you with the impression that they feel undervalued by the population at large, neglected by government and that they are only needed as stewards of the countryside rather than valued as food producers. Hill farmers have been hit particularly badly by the economic downturn in farming as livestock prices have declined considerably. At the same time they have also suffered the consequences of livestock disease outbreaks; Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), two outbreaks of Foot and Mouth disease, Bovine Tuberculosis and more recently Bluetongue disease. This has all occurred against a backdrop of the harsh conditions found in hill farming areas: poor weather conditions, poor quality soil, difficult terrain and isolation. Government has encouraged farmers to restructure their farming businesses, develop diversification initiatives and cut costs. But for many hill farmers, opportunities for change are limited and they see their only option is to learn to live on a diminishing budget. Yet despite the hardship, farming families remain stoical, most are determined to carry on farming, driven by either a commitment to the way of life or the sense that their whole lives are tied into the farm that in many cases has been passed down through generations. In 2005 the Peak District Rural Deprivation Forum, a network that undertook research into the causes of deprivation in the Peak District and sought to influence policy and seek solutions to deprivation, set up the National Farmers Network. The Forum had previously conducted research into the extent and nature of deprivation within Peak District hill farmers. The report ‘Hard Times’ (Peak District Rural Deprivation Forum, 2004) was published from the research. One of the recommendations of the report was that a national network of farmer-led groups should be established to enable groups to link together to share good practice and to advocate on behalf of farmers. The National Farmers Network was established in response to that recommendation. In order to inform the establishment of the network, a consultation of farmer-led groups was undertaken. This revealed that farmers felt powerless, with restrictions and red tape imposed upon them in a top-down manner by bureaucrats who had little understanding of farming. Support and advice available was largely of a business nature and did not take into account the many other dimensions of a farming livelihood. In addition government initiatives lacked continuity; they run until the funding ends and then stop and any benefits developed can be lost. The SLA was developed by international development and aid agencies, including the UK Government Department for International Development and Oxfam, to help them understand the complexities of rural livelihoods in developing countries in order that support and development could be more effectively targeted. We considered that the approach could be used within a UK farming context to help agencies and support services gain a better understanding of farming livelihoods and therefore target resources and support more effectively. Our enquiries revealed no previous attempts to apply the SLA within farming communities in the UK. Oxfam was interested in applying the approach within the UK and was already supporting urban-based projects that were piloting its use within deprived urban communities. Oxfam had supported the establishment of the National Farmers Network and agreed to fund the Network to pilot the use of the SLA within a deprived UK farming setting. The Peak District was chosen as the setting for the project as we had established links with the farming community and the Hard Times report provided evidence of the deprivation within farming families.
Context of the Project Acknowledgement
As in all hill farming areas of the UK the Peak District has suffered a significant downturn in farming profitability over the past ten years. In 2006 according to the Farm Business Survey (Farm Business Survey, 2007) conducted by the University of Nottingham on behalf of DEFRA, the average Farm Business Income (FBI) (profit before farm labour costs are deducted) for Peak District farms was £11,167, compared to £15,322 in 2004. However, in 2006 FBI from agriculture alone demonstrated that farms made a loss of £14,843. It was in fact income from agri-environment schemes, the Single Farm Payment and diversification that raised the total FBI to £11,167. These figures demonstrate how vital public funding is to maintaining a viable hill farming sector. Farmers are entitled to public funding for providing public goods in terms of maintaining and enhancing the environment, protecting wildlife and the landscape. However, the nature of public funding is due to change in the near future, Single Farm Payments are decreasing year on year and will end in 2012. There is unlikely to be a replacement scheme. The current Hill Farm Allowance scheme which is available to farmers in designated ‘Less favoured Areas’ (usually uplands with low productivity) is to be replaced by the Uplands Entry Level Scheme. There are concerns that hill farmers will be worse off under this scheme and some may not be able to qualify for it at all. The present economic situation in hill farming and the fear that the new scheme may not adequately replace the Hill Farming Allowance adds to the uncertainty about the future of hill farming. In Scotland there has been an ‘unmanaged retreat from the hills’ as hill farmers have given up farming and left the land (SAC, 2008), unable to make a living from their farms. There are concerns that we may see similar behaviour in England in the future. This would not only have serious consequences for the environment and landscape but also for rural communities in the uplands. In 2008 there was a rise in the market prices of lamb and cattle and the price of milk received by dairy farmers has also risen. However in the same period farm input costs increased considerably; fertiliser prices doubled, and fuel prices also increased significantly. Higher input costs are likely to wipe out any increase in farming income. Farm Crisis Network is a charity that provides pastoral and practical support to farming people across the UK in times of anxiety, stress and problems which relate to both the farm household and the farm business. In 2007 the services of Farm Crisis Network were in high demand as farmers felt the impacts of a series of disasters during that year, resulting in a 49% increase in ‘new cases’ of which 50% were due to financial problems (Farm Crisis Network, 2008). Economic trends, increasing levels of legislation, the threat of livestock diseases and extreme weather patterns have brought particular challenges to farmers over recent years. Farmers have done their best to adapt. However, they are tied into crop growing seasons and livestock breeding programmes, which make it difficult to overcome these problems and absorb the costs incurred.
Table 1 below depicts a time line, which details the events over the past 12 years that have affected hill farmers: Table 1: Time Line Year 1996 Event BSE identified as the cause of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans Effects • • • • All trade export stopped Cull cattle prices dropped Dairy bull calves worthless Cattle passports and double tagging introduced – increased paperwork
Milk Marketing Board closed
• Milk marketing co-operatives formed • Competition between dairy companies causes milk price war: dairy farmers received lower milk prices • Beginning of difficult times for dairy farmers • Strict movement restrictions imposed • Millions of sheep and cattle culled • Movement restrictions cause welfare problems where stock needed to be moved for lambing etc. • Some farmers give up farming or are forced to give up • Significant rise in stress in farming population • Tourists kept away from countryside with a negative affect on farm tourism • Productivity linked support abolished • Support payments linked to land area • Opportunities for entering environmental schemes provide extra income for farmers • Infected cattle herd have movement restrictions imposed, cattle tested repeatedly until clear • Cattle sales from infected farms restricted resulting in financial hardship • All cattle over 42 days old moving from a 1 or 2 yearly tested herd must have tested negative to a TB test before they can be moved • Farmer has to pay for testing • 26,000 cattle culled due to TB • Outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease in Surrey results in livestock movement and sales restrictions imposed. Livestock prices drop • Bluetongue disease spreads to England from Europe – movement restrictions and protection/surveillance zones imposed
Foot and Mouth disease outbreak
Single Farm Payment introduced
Bovine TB spreading
Pre-movement TB testing for cattle introduced
Foot and Mouth disease and Bluetongue disease outbreaks.
Event Dairy farmers leave the industry at the rate of one a day across UK
Effects • Some farms are merged to create larger farms; however, the national dairy herd size is decreasing. Milk shortages could result if trend continues • Profits decrease • Cost of living increases • Additional cost of buying vaccine. • Implementing vaccination programme additional work for farmers, particularly moorland farmers who have livestock spread over large areas. • Movement restrictions and protection/ surveillance zones still in place. • No immediate solution for farmers 6,000 herds under movement restrictions in July 2008
Livestock prices rise, increase in milk prices but also steep rise in cost of fuel, electricity, fertiliser and livestock feed Bluetongue vaccine developed
Government refuses to implement badger cull in bTB hotspots but forms a bTB eradication group
The Sustainable Livelihoods Approach
The Sustainable Livelihoods Approach (SLA) used in this project is a way to improve understanding of the livelihoods of people and communities. It draws on the main factors that affect people’s livelihoods and the relationships between these factors. It can be used in planning new development activities and in assessing how current activities have contributed to improving the sustainability of livelihoods. The SLA has two components:
a framework that helps in understanding the complexities of people’s lives a set of principles to guide action to address and overcome the barriers to improving the sustainability of livelihoods
The Sustainable Livelihoods framework places people at the centre of the interactions and influences that affect their livelihoods. At the centre of the framework are the personal resources and the assets to which they have access and use. These can include natural assets such as soil and landscape, physical assets such as buildings and equipment, human assets such as their health, skills and knowledge, social assets such as access to social support networks, and financial assets such as savings, pensions and access to and sources of credit. Their ability to access these assets is strongly affected by their vulnerability context, which takes into account trends (for example, economic and political), shocks (for example, disease epidemics and natural disasters) and seasonality (for example, prices, production, and employment opportunities). Access is also influenced by the social, institutional and political environment, which affects the ways in which people combine and use their assets to achieve their goals. These are their livelihood strategies (IFAD, 2008). Diagram 1: The Sustainable Livelihoods Framework
Source: DFID 1999
Source: DFID 1999
SLA has a set of core guiding principles: People-centred: puts people at the centre of development. It starts with an analysis of people!s livelihoods and how they have changed over time as described by themselves, whilst considering the effect that policy and institutional arrangements have upon their livelihoods. It aims to help people
SLA has a set of core guiding principles:
People-centred: puts people at the centre of development. It starts with an analysis of people’s livelihoods and how they have changed over time as described by themselves, whilst considering the effect that policy and institutional arrangements have upon their livelihoods. It aims to help people work towards their own livelihood goals. It highlights the importance of influencing policy and institutional arrangements so that they promote the priorities of the people. Holistic: recognises that people adopt various strategies to secure their livelihoods and that they are affected by many different organisations and institutions, from community based organisations and the private sector to local and national governments and international organisations. Dynamic: recognises that livelihoods are multi-dimensional and are influenced by many different factors. Builds on strengths: builds on what people consider to be the positive aspects of their livelihoods and the opportunities available to them rather than focusing on their problems and needs. Promotes micro-macro links: helps people understand the influences that policies and institutions have on their lives, whilst also stressing the need for policy making to be informed by the people. Partnership working: encourages broad partnership working, including both the public and private sector, drawing on the strengths and resources of all involved. Sustainability: a broad view of sustainability should be taken when using this approach to ensure that people’s livelihood goals are not only achievable but long lasting
How can the sustainable livelihoods approach benefit farming families?
Common complaints heard from UK farmers are that government is not interested in farming and doesn’t listen to farmers, they have their hands tied by legislation and there is little they can do to improve the viability of their farms. Support, in terms of advice and public funding, tends to be accessed by those who have the capabilities and the financial resources to secure them, thereby placing the more marginalised farmers at a disadvantage. Not only do they miss out on these benefits but they are less able to compete with farmers who were able to access them. Farming families, particularly those that are more marginalised, can be so pre-occupied with the day to day challenges of making a living that they have little time to look at their livelihoods objectively, identify their strengths and assets and consider how they could use them to improve their livelihoods. The SLA has the potential to benefit farming families because:
It is different to the advice and support that is currently available in that it puts people first rather than resources or profit It helps us to understand how people live and why they make the decisions they make. This information can help to shape more appropriate policies and services It takes a holistic view of the farming livelihood including the economic, political and social environment in which it operates Not only does it take into account those assets that have a monetary value but also those such as skills, health, social networks and access to credit, all of which are vital to farming livelihoods It aims to help link people to government and support services and it acknowledges the vital part that government and institutions play in farming It considers hardship broadly across all aspects of the farming livelihood and not only in terms of income It aims to help people build resilience into their livelihoods so that when ‘disasters’ occur they are able to come through them and move their livelihoods on once again.
Peak District Farming
The main farming activities are livestock production and dairying. The Peak District is located predominantly in Derbyshire and can be divided into two sections, the Dark Peak to the north, and the White Peak to the central and south western area. The Dark Peak is high terrain and comprises mainly of gritstone covered with peaty acid soils and bogs; the White Peak is lower and an area of limestone covered with pastures and deeply cut dales. The Dark Peak has mainly sheep and beef farms; the sheep graze the rough moorland pasture and beef herds tend to produce store cattle to be sold to lowland farmers for finishing. The White Peak is dominated by dairying, although sheep and beef cattle are also farmed. The number of dairy farms has decreased over the past 10 years as dairying has become less profitable. Most farms are family run and between 100–300 acres in size. Some have diversified into tourism and adding value to their produce. Environmental stewardship schemes are also an important source of income for many farming families.
The Farming Lives Project
The project worked with sixteen farming families over a fifteen month period, undertaking an analysis of their livelihoods using the SLA. We also conducted a survey at Bakewell Livestock Market on three separate market days, interviewing a total of seventy-seven farmers, collecting information on their livelihoods and assets. Whilst the more in-depth work with the sixteen families provided an insight into how these families use their assets the Bakewell Market surveys provided a broad overview of the challenges facing participants and their coping strategies. Our intention was to work with some of the more marginalised and vulnerable farming families in the Peak District as we felt they may gain greater benefit from the project than those farmers who were coping better. However, the more marginalised farmers are notoriously hard to reach due to various factors. Typically they tend to live in more isolated locations, do not take part in the known farming and community networks and are too busy working to speak to visitors, of whom they may be suspicious anyway. We tried a number of different approaches to make contact with farmers. We tried to reach them through local farming groups, through professionals working with farming families, via publicity at Bakewell Market, in the local press and media and through the personal contacts of project staff. The Bakewell Market surveys gave us the opportunity to invite participants and their families to take part in the more in-depth livelihoods analysis and proved to be one of the more successful ways to engage farmers. Although the sixteen families that took part in the livelihood analysis were not the most marginalised; they did have their share of hardship and challenges and so provided an opportunity to apply the SLA and test its effectiveness in identifying both the strengths and the challenges within their livelihoods and providing stimulus to help them move forward. Table 2 shows the types of farms contacted during the project. Table 3 shows the size of these farms.
Table 2. Types of farms in the project Farm enterprises Dairy Dairy, beef and/or sheep Beef and/or sheep Total farms In addition some farms had: Arable Pigs Turkeys Horse livery Holiday lets/caravans Haulage business Care farming initiative Number of farms Bakewell Market Survey Livelihoods analysis 5 6 2 23 49 8 77 16
8 2 2 6 3 3 0
0 1 0 1 1 0 1
Table 3: Size of farms within the project Size of farms (acres) 30-99 100-199 200-299 300-399 400-499 500-599 600-699 1500 Total farms Number of farms Bakewell Market Survey Livelihoods analysis 9 1 24 10 23 3 8 0 4 1 5 0 3 1 1 0 77 16
Three facilitators, two of whom were farmers themselves, were recruited to work with the farming families and conduct the Bakewell Market surveys. They were trained in using the SLA and participatory approaches to community development. They worked individually, visiting the families on their farms and whilst engaging with as many family members as were available. Participatory tools were used to help family members identify and express their own perceptions of their livelihoods and their hopes for the future. Facilitators experienced a number of delays to their visits. Weather conditions and farming operations made it very difficult for participants to arrange visits; at busy periods of the year such as lambing and calving time it was impossible for farmers to take time off to talk to facilitators, while poor weather conditions created even more work for farmers so that they could not predict when they would be free for a visit. If the weather improved they needed to get on with their farm work. Some farmers also worked off-farm and had the additional burden of juggling farming with their off-farm work. Then in August 2007 the Foot and Mouth disease outbreak prevented facilitators from visiting farms, causing two months of delays. As the project progressed it became apparent that it was not appropriate for the facilitators to visit farmers on several occasions over the project cycle, primarily due to the time constraints of the families. It was therefore decided that the facilitators would interview the families only once or twice in order to conduct the SLA analysis. This process highlighted some key issues for the family to consider and gave us a valuable insight into their livelihoods, why they make the decisions they make and how their livelihoods could be improved. Each family was provided with a publication produced by the project, ‘A Directory of Services and Farming Organisations in the Peak District’, to help signpost them to specialised advice and support. The surveys conducted at Bakewell Livestock Market provided further insight into the livelihoods of farming families and provided the opportunity to verify the information collected through the visits to families. We also had a presence at two local agricultural shows, which gave us further opportunities for verification of information.
The facilitators used a number of participatory tools commonly used in community development. Not only did these tools enable us to gain information about the livelihoods of participants, but we were also able to evaluate how appropriate they were for a farming situation and gauge the participants’ reactions to these tools. None of the participants had previously experienced participatory tools.
Table 4: Tools used in the analysis Tool Who’s in the house Description Participants identify who lives within their household, where they go when they leave the house (work, market, social events) and who visits the house Participants are asked to identify a significant point in their past and to plot events from that point up until the present. What it tells us Builds up a picture of social networks, whether or not the household is isolated or has interests outside the farm Builds up a picture of how the livelihood has evolved historically and the participants’ perceptions of significant events and the impact they had on their lives. Helps us to understand how changes in certain aspects of peoples’ livelihoods can impact upon other aspects. For example a fall in income may impact negatively upon health or social networks. Also can lead discussions into establishing what risks people are taking, what strategies they are using to cope, what they can do for themselves to improve their situation and what can be done by authorities. Clearly demonstrates the assets that participants have and demonstrates those which are weak or unavailable. Can also help show the interconnectedness of assets and how changes in one asset can influence other assets. Helps to bring out issues not raised by other tools and allows the participants to explore points that they wish to raise. Helps to determine how secure and resilient peoples’ livelihood strategies are for maintaining and increasing their assets and how they may move from one rung of the ladder to another during their lives
Used in relation to the past and the present. Participants are asked when their lives have been OK or not OK. Can be used in conjunction with the timeline to determine how events impacted upon their lives (positively and negatively) and if and how changes in certain assets had changed their stock of other assets.
Five different asset bases: human, social, physical, financial and natural are set out diagrammatically in a pentagon shape. Participants are asked to identify their assets and they are placed within the appropriate section of the pentagon
Semi-structured Using a framework of general topics for interviews investigation the facilitator asks open and flexible questions. The conversation is two way allowing the participant to also ask questions and raise issues. Livelihoods ladder (developed by Orr et al. 2006) The ladder has four stages: surviving, coping, accumulating and adapting. Participants are asked to determine the position they see themselves on the ladder and their reasons for putting themselves there
Considering farming livelihoods in terms of assets
Using the participatory tools we were able to build up a picture of the assets that the sixteen participating families had available to them as identified by themselves. The Bakewell Livestock Market survey provided additional information on assets as well as verifying information already collected through on-farm visits. Below we discuss this information under the five asset categories: financial, physical, human, social and natural. Financial assets “We’re always scritching and scratching to get by”
For most families keeping their farms financially afloat was a constant battle. Their situation had become particularly difficult during times of shocks such as livestock disease and poor weather. Few families relied only on farm income; in the majority of families some members had off-farm employment, undertook contractual work for local farmers and council or had started up diversified businesses. Older farming couples used their state pensions to subsidise their farming income. Most families, particularly those with more then one generation living/working on the farm, had considered their options for improving their financial income from every angle; there certainly didn’t appear to be a lack of willingness to take on additional work or start up new business initiatives. Many had sought advice, applied for appropriate planning permission and had researched their ideas. However, in all of these cases they had come up against barriers such as having planning permission refused, lacking investment capital or unable to find work that is flexible enough to fit in with their farm work. Only two of the sixteen families interviewed on-farm and only fourteen of the seventy-seven farmers who took part in the Bakewell Livestock Market survey had diversified. Those families who had diversified had mainly set up tourist related businesses such as a small caravan site, holiday cottages and one family had established a bunk house. Horse livery was another common choice. Two families had set up haulage businesses, two had farm shops, one had set up a care farm initiative (see case study 1), there was also a cattery, a mobile DJ, a welding business and one who sold meat directly to the customer. Nearly half of families had at least one member employed off farm, part-time or full time. Jobs ranged from low paid work in the tourist and catering industry and manual work to better paid office based job, civil service and NHS jobs. Grant funding has been available for diversification initiatives, from regional development agencies as well as some other local funding streams. However, few families had applied for grants; the need for matched funding was given as a significant reason by many that had investigated diversification option but had not made an application. The process is long and complex so it is possible that most farmers would not have the time or the experience to go through the application process without investing in professional help. “We used to get paid a grant to repair dry stone walls on our farm. It was useful work in the winter months, but they’ve stopped the grants now”
It is common for neighbouring farmers to help each other out, especially during peak work periods
such as during haymaking and silage making. Not only does this save on hiring labour but it also saves on the amount of machinery each farm needs as neighbours bring their own tractors and trailers etc. It is possible that there is an informal economy although this was never mentioned by any participants. Undertaking casual work and hiring causal labour does go on so it is possible that some of this may be ‘cash in hand’. Some families had taken out loans or mortgages to purchase additional blocks of land as they came up for sale; increasing the farm size gave them more options and as land prices have risen significantly over the previous two years this is considered to be a sound investment, despite the pressure that repayments give them. A bank overdraft facility is crucial to farmers and although the size fluctuates throughout the year, overdrafts tend to be uncomfortably high. Delayed receipt of Single-Farm Payments and movement restrictions that stopped farmers selling their livestock placed considerable pressure on overdraft limits. Farmers usually receive a limited credit facility from the farm suppliers (livestock feed supplier, fertilizer supplier) they have accounts with. The short delay between receiving the goods and having to pay the bill helps them to manage their cash flow. Farmers who considered themselves to be surviving or coping tended not to have private pensions and would rely upon their state pension when they eventually retired. There was little money to spare to put away for retirement. Some had considered their pension options; selling land/cows to pay for their retirement is a common strategy. But this is not an option in families where the next generations wish to take over the farm, or for many tenant farmers. Retirement is not something that automatically happens when they reach 65 years old anyway; many continue to work until poor health forces then to stop. Succession is an issue that families avoided, partly because of the financial complexities. Where this topic was raised parents wanted to be fair to all of their children. However, where only one child wanted to farm other children may expect a settlement from the farm, which the parents or the succeeding child would have to find, possibly making the farm unviable. One family considered themselves to be better off since the man’s father had died and he had gained full control of the farm’s finances. Most families expressed concern about the lack of profit in farming, but in the majority of cases this concern was in relation to paying the bills, keeping their farm going and being able pass on a viable business to the next generation. It was not mentioned in relation to their own personal desires for more spending money. In fact families tended to accept that it was necessary to cut back on their living expenses in order to continue farming. Most farmers showed a high level of resourcefulness and have the skills to make things themselves. The ‘make do and mend’ approach and having low expectations in terms of financial rewards seems to be a significant strategy for coping with tight finances.
Financial assets were weak in most families but particularly amongst those families who were more dependant upon farming for income. Most families had considered other possible income streams such as diversification or off-farm employment and about two thirds of families had adopted one of these strategies. Debt (over-draft, loan or mortgage) was a common and accepted tool for managing the farm finances although where there was a high level of debt it could cause worry and stress. In times of financial up-turn, there is a need to re-invest. However, a new tractor does not improve the standard of living of the family. Retirement planning tends to be weak or non-existent in families that are just surviving or coping. Lack of spare money to put into pensions can lead to the issue just being avoided Succession planning has complex financial issues and therefore may be avoided. The resilient and resourceful nature of farming families and their acceptance of cutting back on their standard of living helps them get through the leaner times.
Human assets Of all the human assets, health was the most critical. Although most participants were in good health, they were very conscious of how the smooth running of their livelihoods relied upon them remaining in good health. The nature of farming (good livestock husbandry is vital and the timeliness of operations critical) means that jobs cannot be left for another day if those responsible for them are unwell or injured. If it was physically possible to do so they got on with those jobs. If they were incapacitated then either other family members were called upon or neighbours came in to help out. However, farmers recognised that this situation stretches everyone and can cause extreme stress and overwork. In such circumstances, usually only the bare minimum gets done and on farms where there is already hardship this can cause further financial setbacks. Of those participants that had suffered health problems, joint problems (arthritis, rheumatism) were mentioned due to wear and tear from years of physical work in all weathers. However, except where they cause significant disability, they are generally regarded as part of life for farmers, an occupational hazard, and therefore not highlighted as a significant problem. Similarly back problems are also regarded as an occupational hazard although they were the cause of a great deal of pain for sufferers who had to just get on with the work. “My wife doesn’t come to market any more – it’s too depressing for her to see what has happened to the old farmers – they’re on their knees”.
Injuries also occurred from time to time amongst families, usually caused when handling animals. When they occurred they usually put the family into crisis initially, particularly when the injury occurred at a busy time (e.g. lambing time) or to a key worker (e.g. herdsman). Only one participant claimed to have mental health problems and this had considerable impact on the running of his farm and his ability to cope on a day to day basis, consequently the viability of his farm appeared to be in decline.
Stress and depression is known to be a significant problem in farming families and is more significant in times of crisis (e.g. when in financial hardship or dealing with the impacts of livestock disease) (Farm Crisis Network, 2008). It is possible that there were other participants who had suffered from mental illnesses but they were unwilling to reveal this to us or did not recognise the symptoms they had suffered as mental illness. There was a general lack of recognition amongst participants of the skills they had, particularly the (hidden) skills related to farming, e.g. business and countryside management skills. These transferable skills were not acknowledged in many families; they considered themselves to “only know farming”. Yet some families had successfully used the skills of members to start up diversification businesses or take up off-farm employment, such as horse livery, a part-time welding business or HGV work. Case study 1: Using skills and experience to take on new challenges George and Margaret are tenants of a 150 acre farm. It used to be a dairy farm but when George turned 50 nearly ten years ago they decided to give up milking as their children did not want to farm. They now breed and rear Aberdeen Angus cattle and rare breed pigs, selling the meat through the farm shop that they have set up. The farm is a registered care farm and they have founded a charity, which over the years has provided education and training in life skills on their farm for adults and children with learning disabilities and children who are in danger of exclusion from school. Recently they have also set up a tea room. They do not take what might be considered ‘a proper wage’ out of the farm business and despite being always short of money, Margaret says “I think we live a millionaire’s life”. She enjoys the hard work and the challenges and the fact that she is surrounded by countryside and livestock.
The skills of family members, particularly children who had moved away were called upon where relevant, for example, helping to fill in grant application forms. Women were in many families were recognised as being ‘good’ at computer work, book keeping or handling the finances and so took responsibility for the office work. In two families women had been involved with a local farming organisation, the Farming Life Centre that arranged visits to farm diversification projects to share ideas and encourage participants to look at their own diversification possibilities. Both women considered these visits to be positive and inspirational. Most of the older generation interviewed left school at the earliest convenience, cutting short their education due to farm commitments. However, in general they have encouraged and prioritised their children’s education, who tend to have higher qualifications than their parents and for some children this has translated into a desire to move away from farming and into a career elsewhere. In some families this has meant that there is no one to take over the farm and they will have to sell up/give up the tenancy once the parents retire. Nevertheless in more than half of families interviewed there was one member who had shown interest in taking over the farm. Access to clear information was highlighted by some as a problem. One farmer also told us that “there are plenty of people out there who want to tell you what to do”, intimating that advise tended to be imposed, ‘top down’, rather than having regard for the specific needs of the farmer. They
received plenty of literature from DEFRA informing them of new legislation and changes to existing legislation, but frequently it was confusing or unclear. Around half of families had no internet access, which limited their ability to find the information they needed. However, a significant number of participants regularly used the National Farmers Union’s advice hotline, a signposting service to sources of help and advice. Most participants did not demonstrate a lack of self-esteem, but rather came across as being proud people. During discussions, they showed themselves to have confidence, which seemed to come from running their own business and having a deep understanding of the land and livestock that they farm.
Human strategies: G Tended to carry on with work in spite of health problems G Little evidence of mental health problems, but they may be hidden or possibly too busy working to acknowledge them let alone seek help. G Tend not to acknowledge the valuable farming related skills they have and their transferability. However, more distinct skills such as welding or HGV licence were more likely to be used to bring in additional income. G Parents tended to encourage their children to become better educated than themselves, although that did mean in some cases that the children had followed careers outside farming and there was no one to take over the farm G Information was available to those able to seek it out. Official information could be confusing and advice narrow and not entirely appropriate for the needs of specific farming families.
Social assets In most families there were strong linkages between the generations and the different family branches. Dependence on one another seemed to be taken for granted and the dynamics of this support/dependence relationship changes over time; adult children relied upon their parents for accommodation and then childcare; as time went on the parents relied upon their children to do the more demanding tasks such as routine milking and eventually required more support for their personal care. In some families three generations of the same family live on the farm and in a small number they shared the same house. For some, living in close proximity worked well, with all members having defined roles. Conversely this type of situation caused tension in a minority of families, in two cases resulting in a breakdown of relationships between generations. Although we were only aware of two families where this situation had arose, it is possible that there had been times when it had occurred in other families but the situation had been resolved. Triggers in the cases identified were when children marry and bring spouses onto the farm and then go on to have children. This can change their expectations of their roles within the farm and their needs in terms of income and housing. There were also indications of a power/responsibility struggle between the generations; children, who work within the family farm, tend to expect greater responsibility as they grow older. Some parents seem reluctant to hand over or share responsibility. This caused particular tensions when the parents remained in control of financial and business decisions. Where this occurred there were indications that the bad feelings this caused within the family held back or prevented developments that may have improved the farm profitability.
Case study 2: A family farm with an uncertain future John and Heather Baxter started married life living and working on John’s parents’ farm. The farm was small and there was very little income. Heather found employment to help subsidise their income until eventually they managed to secure the tenancy of a local dairy farm and moved there with their three children. After a few years the farm came up for sale and they were able to buy it, taking on a substantial mortgage and have since bought and rented further land. Their two sons are now partners in the family farm; both now have their own families, and live and work on the farm. Although they now have a substantial acreage, they have a mortgage, loans and a large overdraft to service, so money is tight. John and Heather’s two daughters-in-law have added a new dynamic to the family unit and they do not appear to be happy with their lives on the farm and the family setup. The shortage of money and living in such close proximity to the in-laws has fuelled their discontent. There has been a series of arguments recently, which has caused stress and worry amongst the family. The farm’s financial situation means that the farm cannot be split up between partners for several years to come. John is approaching retiring age and because of health problems may not wish to carry on working for long after that time. If the current situation within the family isn’t resolved then the only option may be to sell the farm when John retires. After their hard work and struggle to build up the farm both John and Heather would be reluctant to do this as it would deny not only their sons but also their grandchildren of the opportunity to farm.
Nevertheless many families did have agreed and clearly defined roles for family members, according to the skills and the interests of the individual. This was most evident in families where some members worked off-farm, and on farms which had diversified. Marriage breakdowns were rare within the families. Although we did not explore the reason for this, it is possible that as family life is so intrinsically linked to the farm, the commitment to keeping the farm going follows through into the marriage. Participation in social groups outside the family depended very much on the will, interests of the individual and time availability. Women were more involved in local community life than men, through schools, the church and community groups. Some of the women interviewed attended events and courses organised by the Farming Life Centre, near Buxton, which provides a range of services for the local farming community. Men’s social life was generally focused around farming; meeting up with friends on market days at Bakewell Livestock Market or attending NFU meetings. Long hours worked during busy periods left little time for socialising even at market. Children were able to attend clubs and activities but this required a level of commitment from parents, who had to drive them there and pick them up. With some family members working away from the farm, those remaining on the farm have tended to become more isolated. However, this was not highlighted by participants as a problem. Nevertheless the solitary nature of farming may have been seen as a disadvantage to those younger family members who had left the family farm. This possibility was not explored in this study.
Social strategies: G Highly reliant upon the extended family for support and care G Living and working in close proximity to the family can cause tension and breakdown of relationships between family members. Ultimately, if not resolved, this can have a detrimental effect on the viability and resilience of the farm business G Marriage breakdowns rare G Women tended to participate in community life more than men; time availability was a constraint to socialising G Solitary nature of farming did not seem to be a problem to those involved but potentially could have contributed to the decisions of those family members who decided to leave the family farms. Physical assets Farming families who own their farm find themselves in the situation of owning a valuable asset, their farm, and yet on a daily basis they struggle to make ends meet, and the business may even lose money in some years. On a personal level they may be living close to the poverty line. If they sold their farm they could be quite wealthy. But that would mean giving up their livelihood, a farm that may have been in the family for several generations and possibly livestock whose bloodlines had been improved over many years. Consequently, families that consider selling their farms have to make some difficult decisions. Peak District farms can fetch high prices, particularly if they are split up and the house and a few acres are sold to lifestyle buyers. There is also a good market for parcels of land as some farmers look to increase their acreage as a way of improving the viability of their farms. As one farmer interviewed said, “the house isn’t worth five pounds as long as we need a roof over our head”. One vital benefit for families that own their farm is that they may be able to use their farm as collateral to secure mortgages, loans to develop and grow their business and to secure an overdraft. A further irony is that although their land and property may be a valuable asset, they can also cost a considerable amount of money in maintenance, running costs and repairs. This is particularly the case for farmhouses, which are generally old, costly to repair and maintain and energy inefficient. Participating families tended to prioritise investment in the farm rather than the house. Traditional farm buildings can be a money making asset if converted for non-farming uses such as holiday lets. However, this requires planning permission as well as a considerable amount of investment, which may not be available. They are generally unsuitable for modern farming usage and without investment may fall into disrepair. Although some of the families interviewed had developed their farm buildings and received an income from them, most had not for various reasons; they did not have access to the investment required, their buildings were unsuitable, they were unable to get planning permission or there was no market for converted buildings. Tenant farms are also assets as the tenant has the legal right to farm the land. The value to the tenant depends upon the nature of the tenancy (whether or not it can be passed on to the next generation) and the length of the tenancy. One farmer interviewed commented that there was a rise in the number of farms being let on short (five or six year) tenancies agreements, which discouraged tenants from developing, improving or investing in them. Consequently, these farms may be run down over the tenancy period.
Livestock, machinery and equipment are all vital farming assets, but taken for granted by many participants, who considered them to be part of their livelihoods and part of their family. Some saw them as their pension plan; assets to be realised when they sold up. However, this conflicted with any aims they had to pass on the farm to the next generation.
Physical strategies: G Selling the farm could release significant capital, which could solve financial problems, but financial, family and emotional ties to the farm usually prevents this decision being made. G Property may be used as collateral for securing loans and mortgages for buying up more land or developing new initiatives G Farms, especially traditional building and farm houses require maintenance which can be a drain on finances – property improvements do not always bring additional income. G Farm tenancies are also assets, although their value depends upon the nature and the length of the tenancy G Livestock and machinery were not generally viewed as assets but part of the fabric of their livelihoods, although some saw them as their future pension plan
Natural assets All participants appreciated where they lived; the landscape, the views and the environment they lived in and wouldn’t want to swap it despite its challenges and lack of services. For some the natural assets around them brought financial rewards in form of income from tourists or because they had entered environmental stewardship schemes and received grants for looking after and enhancing the environment. They tended to be aware of the wildlife around them. One farmer mentioned that tourists discouraged wildlife; during the 2001 foot and Mouth disease outbreak, when visitors kept away from the countryside, he noticed that the wildlife came back. Rainfall was generally not mentioned as an asset, although it was considered a problem when it fell at the wrong time such as during hay making. Natural strategies: G Landscape and environment can bring financial rewards from tourism and environmental schemes G In general have to work with natural assets and use them as effectively as you can G Weather can be an asset or a problem
Shocks, trends and seasonality According to the SLA framework the ability of the farming families interviewed to access the assets they identified was influenced by their vulnerability context, which takes into account shocks, trends and seasonality. They can use their assets in combination to build resilience into their livelihoods. However, effectiveness will depend upon the severity of the shocks, trends and seasonality and the assets available to them. Here we consider how the families felt they were affected and their ability to recover.
Shocks: The families we interviewed identified livestock diseases (BSE, Foot and Mouth disease, Blue Tongue disease and Bovine Tuberculosis) during the period 1998 to 2008, abnormal and untimely weather conditions (rainfall during silage and haymaking) during 2007, and the sudden escalating costs of inputs (livestock feeds, fuel and fertilisers) during 2007/2008 as the most significant shocks they had experienced. Some families had experienced shocks within their families, such as illness, injury or death of a family member. However, they didn’t consider these personal shocks to be as damaging as those inflicted on them from outside their family and their strong social assets (family and neighbours rallying round) had helped them recover. Almost all families spoken to highlighted the periods of livestock disease outbreaks as the most difficult for them. All outbreaks caused stress and uncertainty. However, the level and the nature of the impact varied according to how each individual farm was affected; whether or not their livestock contracted the disease (for example Bovine TB) or whether they were affected by the repercussions; movement and consequently marketing restrictions, export ban and consequently a dramatic drop in income (as in for example the Foot and Mouth disease outbreaks). All families had recovered sufficiently to continue farming, although their experiences of the disease outbreak had in some cases been the catalyst for a change in the direction of the farm business, for developing diversification enterprises or, in the case of younger family members another reason why they should choose a career outside the family farm. The sudden increase in input prices was unexpected by farmers and although it has come at a time when livestock market prices had risen, it has effectively cancelled out any increase in profits they may have enjoyed and heightened the level of uncertainty about future profitability. Fertiliser prices more than doubled over a 12 month period during 2007/2008. Fuel and livestock feed costs also soared. Nearly all farmers mentioned increasing input prices as a significant challenge that had made managing the money and budgeting for the future difficult. One farmer had reduced his fertiliser application rate to save money as a knee jerk reaction to the price inflation. Although no other farmers admitted to doing this it may be one way that farmers try to reduce input costs in the future. This strategy could have implications for the productivity of their farm if more sustainable methods of maintaining soil fertility are not adopted to replace fertiliser inputs. More generally the impact of sudden increases in input costs had forced farmers to change their livestock buying and selling habits. Strategies included selling cattle sooner than they would otherwise have done to avoid higher feed costs and to realise some money to keep the overdraft below their agreed limit, or delaying buying store or replacement stock. These strategies may help the cash flow in the short-term but ultimately would have had negative impacts upon overall profitability of the farm. Trends Looking back over the years, people interviewed felt that the social, economic and legislative environment in which they farmed had changed significantly and had not only eroded the profitability of their farms but also their status as food producers. They also felt that they were so constrained and overwhelmed by red tape that they could not get on with the job of farming as well as they should. The change in 2005 in farm subsidy provision to the Single Farm Payment Scheme, from being production based to area based, with an increasing emphasis on funding through environmental
schemes, had brought about reduced stocking rates on farms, and also reduced the level of subsidy that many received. Subsidy levels are also decreasing year on year and from 2013 the availability of subsidies is uncertain. Participants did not indicate that the possible end of subsidies as a problem in itself but along with low livestock prices and higher input prices there was a general cause for concern over how they would be able to manage to make a living in the future. Increasing levels of bureaucracy, perceived unnecessary changes in government imposed regulations and ever increasing levels of paperwork that it generates for farmers were considered as both restrictive on their ability to get on with farming and an interference. Nevertheless, as one farmer stated, “farmers know how to work the system”, intimating that they had developed ways of getting around certain rules and regulations. One example given concerned the six day stand-still rule imposed under livestock movement restrictions. For bio-security reasons when an animal is moved onto a farm holding then livestock cannot be moved off that holding for the following six days. Many farms are split into more than one registered holding, each with its own registered holding number. Animals brought in may be registered as going to one holding, whilst any that are due to leave the farm within the six day period are registered as moving from another holding number. “Government only want us as park-keepers”
Older farming family members spoke of the change in the public perceptions of farming and farmers, of government not being interested in farming and even running the farming industry down. They felt they are no longer seen as providing a vital service as producers of food and that government has little interest in maintaining a viable food producing farming industry. In fact it is now common government practice to refer to the ‘land based’ industry rather than farming. Nevertheless, some felt there was cause for optimism. Recently, the rise in food prices caused by lower global food stocks had, some felt, woken the public up to the link between farming, production levels and food prices. This had triggered a growing appreciation of farming. The rising interest in local food and ‘food miles’ would also benefit farming. Seasonality Farming by its very nature is affected by seasonal fluctuations in production and income. The fluctuations in the tourist season add a further impact upon the livelihoods of the families that have diversified into tourist related initiatives. However, farmers are used to these seasonal changes and they use their bank overdraft to cushion dips in income and rises in expenditure. Policies, institutions and processes and how they affect farming livelihoods The policies, institutional and processes element of the SLA framework considers a range of issues associated with participation, power, authority, governance, laws, policies, public service delivery, social relations, institutions and organisations. These issues are significant as they can influence the extent to which livelihoods are helped to progress or hindered. Government and specifically DEFRA, was considered to be main cause of limitations on their livelihoods. Increasing and changing legislation not only created more red tape and paperwork but it also increased the farm work load. Rounding up livestock for double tagging, TB testing and Blue
Tongue vaccinations (not compulsory but encouraged by DEFRA) not only increases the workload on farms that are frequently under-staffed, but it can also be impractical and difficult to implement on extensively grazed moorland farms. Generally farmers felt that they were on the receiving end of policy and had no ability or opportunity to influence it. “Rules and regulations are made by civil servants sitting in offices who have no idea about farming” Planning laws can be a limitation for those who wish to diversify and require planning permission to do so, or want to convert buildings for additional housing for family members. It can be a particularly lengthy and costly process for those farming within the Peak District National Park boundaries, where planning regulation are more stringent than outside the National Park area. Planning permission is not always granted and plans often have to be resubmitted, adding to the cost. “We’re not short of people telling us what to do”
Access to appropriate advice was a limitation for some people interviewed. Advice is available from various sources, including the NFU hotline and the Peak District National Park Authority, which has a drop-in centre on market days at Bakewell Livestock Market. However, farmers find it difficult to get advice that is specific to their circumstances. One family spoke of an instance where they had been directed to Business Link for advice on an issue. The advice they received came in the form of a letter and was totally inappropriate for a farming business. The DEFRA funded Farm Business Advice Service has recently been re-established. In the East Midlands farmers can apply for one half day of free advice from a consultant, who will provide advice specific to their farm’s needs. However, advice over a longer term appears to be only available from independent consultants and has to be paid for.
“There are too many advisors and not enough people talking to farmers to find out what they really need and helping them get it”
The confusion and lack of knowledge of what grants were available to the farming sector has resulted in little grant funding reaching those farming families that could potentially benefit most from funding. Grant fund applications are generally time consuming and complex and little support is provided by funding bodies to ensure applicants receive the help they require to help them apply. Three farmers mentioned that they had received support during difficult times from Farm Crisis Network, which had helped them through that period of their lives.
The Relationship between Assets
A significant feature of the SLA is how is helps us to visualise the interconnection between different assets and specifically how a change in access to one asset can impact upon access to another asset. An example regards a family who were unable to participate in the Farming Lives project due to time constraints. The family was contacted during a period of particularly wet weather (external shock). They were unable to get on with silage making due to wet weather and the muddy conditions made the cows extremely dirty, which prolonged each milking session as the cows udders had to be washed off thoroughly before they could be milked. The farmer was working on his own as his wife had recently had an operation and was temporarily unable to work (reduced personal asset – health). During his wife’s recuperation he also had to care for their children, including taking their disabled daughter to hospital for appointments regularly. The family was struggling to cope and appeared to have no family members to call upon for support (few social assets). A further example concerns a family where the wife sought off-farm work to supplement the low farm income (financial asset). Not only did she bring in additional money, which helped them to continue farming during financially difficult times, but she also learnt a range of new skills, which she was able to apply within their farming business to develop new initiatives (personal asset – skills and education). The experiences she gained through work also helped to bring a flow of new ideas into the family farm, which could be explored and where appropriate adapted to help them develop new ways of working. Diagram 2 summarises the various assets around the pentagon.
Diagram 2: Assets Pentagon
G Extended family intrinsic to the functioning of the farm: childcare, unpaid labour, social activities. Often live with or next to parents and care of one another the accepted norm G Can be isolated from society, although women less so as they tend to be involved in village, church and school activities. G Women often seek off farm employment – can open up new social opportunities G Men - depends upon workload but tend to socialise on market days, sometimes go to the pub or NFU meetings.
G Soil: thin and not the best quality G Landscape and views: fortunate to live in such a nice environment, although can mean remoteness from services and isolation. Can bring financial rewards if diversified into tourism, if not can be an inconvenience as it attracts too many tourists. Can offer opportunities to enter environmental schemes G Wildlife: see more wildlife than most people ever get to see G Fresh air: no air pollution here G Rainfall: essential but too much at the wrong time can cause delays in farming operations and loss of income G Wind: perhaps a source of energy, planning laws permitting
G Health: important but have to carry on regardless G Ability to do manual work G Mental health issues and stress particularly in bad times G Skills: running a business, women tend to have good administrative skills. Tend to underestimate their skills and think they are only good at farming as that is all they have done. Resourcefulness in overcoming problems. Stoicism - usually able to take a long term view when faced with difficulties G Children may use their education to move out of farming G High self esteem – proud G Relationship breakdown uncommon
G Owner occupiers: high capital assets (land, house, buildings) but this capital is locked up, although can be used as collateral to secure loans. G Land has increased in value G Tenant farmers: pressure to pay the rent G Access to large working overdraft G Turn-over is relatively high but profit margins are so tight there is little available for living expenses. G In higher profit years there is usually machinery in need of replacement G Pension/retirement home: many have not had the funds to make retirement provisions G SLA and environmental scheme payments
G House: usually beautifully situated, but may be mortgaged. Large farmhouses can look desirable but expensive to maintain and heat – usually the farm comes first in terms of time and money G Land: may be mortgaged G Machinery, tools, tractor, car: may be purchased with a loan G Farm buildings: vital for livestock and storage, traditional buildings can have potential for conversion for diversification projects, although usually need considerable investment and planning permission
The Livelihoods Ladder
People select and adopt livelihood strategies in accordance with the assets they have access to and their aspirations. Access to assets also determines the level of choice and flexibility they have over livelihood strategies. We used the Livelihoods Ladder, adapted from Orr et. al. (2006) to ascertain the level of choice they had over their livelihood strategies and the outcomes. The people interviewed were asked whether they felt that they were ‘surviving’, ‘coping’, ‘adapting’ or ‘accumulating’ in livelihood terms. Identifying where people felt they were on the livelihoods ladder enabled us to characterise each level in farming family terms and identify some typical farming strategies and outcomes for each level of the ladder. The livelihoods ladder can be a useful tool in identifying ‘entry points’ for positive interventions for improving the livelihoods of farming families. The Livelihoods Ladder is unique compared with other wellbeing/wealth ranking tools in that people are placed at levels on the ladder according to their own perceptions. Individuals may see their position differently to how others see them, depending upon how they cope with their circumstances and perhaps whether they are ‘a glass half full’ or ‘a glass half empty’ person. People will not necessarily remain at one level on the livelihoods ladder but may move up or down as circumstances within their lives change. Members of the same family may place themselves at different levels of the ladder because they have differing levels of access to assets within their livelihood. Table 5 shows the characteristics, strategies, assets and outcomes of each level of the livelihoods ladders as determined from the interviews we carried out. Table 5 The Livelihoods Ladder
Characteristics: G Life is going well and improving. G Have built up their farming business and are reaping the rewards. G Mainly older farmers, nearing retirement, some middle aged farmers who have made their money outside farming Strategies: G Have diversified into non-farming businesses such as tourism and haulage. G Have embraced new technologies, including information technology. G Children have grown up and either pursue professional careers or are working in the family business driving forward the diversified businesses. G They know how to make the ‘system’ work for them Assets and Outcomes: G Diversified businesses ‘cushion’ the impact of poor returns on farming and allow families to remain in farming living on their farms G Have sufficient capital to grow their businesses and make improvements to their buildings and house G Are able to employ staff and therefore can take holidays. Most farming families interviewed had not reached this category
Characteristics: G Life is improving and people are working towards their aspirations G Are optimistic about their future and are looking for opportunities to make long term improvements to their livelihoods G The resurgence of consumer interest in where food comes from, food miles and food security gives them cause for optimism and a feeling of being more valued than previously Strategies: G Women work off-farm or take on more responsibility for the farm whilst the men go out to work or are focused on developing farm diversification business G Have strong social networks G Involved in community: PTA, Parish Council etc G Improving their skills by taking up training relevant to new challenges G Have off farm employment or are looking for diversification opportunities G May have recently inherited their farm from parents and now have a free rein to move their plans for the farm forward G May be involved in environmental schemes Assets and Outcomes: G Are owner-occupiers or the family have been tenants across generations and having enjoyed security of tenure, have had the confidence to invest in their farm G Capital assets can be used as collateral for loans G Have the capabilities to access relevant information for new initiatives G Are less inclined to be stressed Few farming families interviewed were in this category
Characteristics: G People are getting by and feel that they will be ok in the future, although no better than they are now G May be more than one generation and more than one branch of the family taking an income from the farm G Feel that policy and legislation will not let them better themselves, although the resurgence of consumer interest in where food comes from and food security may be reflected in the market to allow them at least to carry on farming G Feel unsupported and marginalised by government policy and hindered by red-tape and paperwork. Strategies: G Engage in low paid jobs off-farm G Rely upon family support network for childcare and may care for elderly parents G Take on ‘cash in hand’ work G Collaborate with neighbours to help each other out in times of crisis/heavy work load G ‘Make do and mend’ attitude G Work long hours and have difficulty in getting away for a break Assets and outcomes: G Usually have a large overdraft to manage G Shocks such as ill health, livestock disease, sudden increase in input prices can cause difficulties and knock on effects but they have sufficient assets to draw on to see them through the recovery period G Determined to carry on despite lack of government support G Those with no children interested in taking over the farm look to sell up/give up tenancy as retirement draws near Most farmers interviewed considered themselves to be in this category
Characteristics: G People feel that their life is a struggle and may always find it hard to get by G Often isolated G Poor access to local services and available grants G Have difficulty finding their way through red tape and bureaucracy G Feel powerless when circumstances stacked against them, which can cause stress G Lack confidence to address issues G May keep working well into retirement age Strategies: G As farm profitability has declined they have learnt to live on a tighter budget G Few or no off-farm or diversification opportunities and no capital to invest in them G In times of financial crisis may resort to selling livestock early to realise some money and reduce input costs G Work long hours and rarely get a break G Selling up/selling off some land/giving up tenancy may be a regular consideration and maybe the only way to retire Assets and Outputs: G Mental and physical health may deteriorate but may be reluctant to seek help G May be entitled to benefits but too proud to apply for them or unaware of entitlements G Children may not see a future in the farm and seek off-farm employment Some of the families interviewed placed themselves in this category
When using the sustainable livelihoods approach it is usual to consider gender. In this project both men and women took part in interviews. As far as the on-farm visits were concerned there was an equal split between the number of men and women taking part. During the Bakewell Livestock Market surveys seventy five percent of participants were men. However, this is probably a reflection of the fact that it is generally the men’s role to bring livestock to market rather than evidence of a lack of participation by women. In general we found that women and men within farms worked well together. Usually they had their specific roles and jobs to do and appeared to be united in working for a common cause – their farm. As farming has become more technical and diversified over the past 20 years, generally women’s roles have become more specialised, particularly in relation to administrative work and compliance. Certainly the ‘office work’ was considered to be the domain of women. Similarly, where farms had established diversified business opportunities, these were either managed by the female members of the family or they very heavily involved in them. A further trend over the past 20 years has been for few people to be employed on the farm (both family and non-family members). This has given women members of the family additional work as they are called on to help keep on top of the farm workload in addition to any other work they may do. There was a tendency for women to be more involved in the local community more than men, often as members of committees. Men felt that they did not have the time to get involved in most cases.
Lessons from this Project
As a pilot project one of the aims was to determine whether the SLA has the potential to make positive contributions to peoples’ lives within UK farming livelihoods and therefore should be disseminated more widely. Here we will consider the lessons we have learnt. This project had a number of challenges, two of which had a significant impact on the project implementation. Firstly, it was difficult to access the most marginalised farming families, which we felt would potentially have had most to gain from this project and which would give us the opportunity to test the approach most effectively. Reasons for us not being able to access these families include their lack of time to give to a project that they did not know anything about and possibly suspicious of, and they did not associate with the farming networks that we had links to. Secondly, farmers are time poor. There is a constant stream of work to be done on their farms, many cannot afford to employ staff as they did in the past and many families have members working outside the farm, also adding to the work pressure. The weather plays a significant role in the work load at certain times of the year. When weather conditions are unpredictable or extreme, farmers could not commit time or make plans to meet project staff in case the weather improved to give them a window of opportunity to get on with their work. Farmers are used to being given advice, frequently in a top-down manner so they were not used to the type of approach used in this project. The SLA was a different concept to take on board. However, given the opportunity to talk about their lives, their farms and their livelihoods, nearly all the people we interviewed were happy to talk to us and appeared to enjoy the experience. We did not offer advice, however, this approach enabled them to stop for a while and look at their livelihoods and what they had available to them. The time constraints on the families did not allow us to work with them over several months as we had intended, as they considered their options for developing their livelihoods and where possible building in greater sustainability. Had we been able to continue our visits over time we feel that there would have been opportunities for doing this. Even though this was a new approach to those taking part, they appeared genuinely interested in the process, for example filling in the asset pentagon and debating over which assets went in which segment of the pentagon. Also, in most cases, discussions about their assets refocused their minds away from the negative aspects of their lives on to the positives, enabling them to appreciate how many assets they actually had. In some cases this acted as a trigger for discussions about opportunities to maximise their use of existing assets and given more time may have had a similar effect on other families taking part. It could also have provided opportunities for considering how they may build upon their weaker assets to help strengthen their livelihoods.
Recommendations for the Peak District
Farming Lives highlighted some significant issues that impact upon Peak District farming families, which with positive and appropriate interventions could be addressed. Succession Planning A significant numbers of families do not have plans for succession in place and where they do have they are not always agreed and put in place in time to prevent bad feeling between family members. Succession planning can cover a range of points; passing on legal entitlement to property or tenancies, sharing out of available accommodation, delegation of responsibilities including decision making, retirement plans for senior members of the family and handing over a share of the farm worth to family members who do not remain on the farm. These are clearly complex and sensitive issues and can be especially difficult to deal with when resources are limited and there are several branches of the family to share them amongst. Yet if these issues are not resolved the outcomes can mean that the farm operates inefficiently, individuals do not get the opportunity to use the skills for the benefit of the farm and are not able to grow into roles of responsibility gradually. It can even cause a break-down in family relations and stress, which can be detrimental to the farm as well as family members. Families may require support, advice and mediation to help them through the process of succession planning. This could take different forms; legal or accountancy advice may be required or they may be a need for mediation or pastoral support. We recommend that there should be an awareness raising of succession issues through a series of meetings or workshops and information packs. This could be followed by making a mediation service available to farmers who could benefit. Access to Information There appears to be a lack of awareness of grant funding that is available to farmers as well as confusion about how farmers can qualify for grants. Clear and up to date information should be made available to farmers of both regionally dispersed EU funding streams and grants provided by local sectors and service providers. There are a number of support initiatives working in the Peak District, but there is not a central information point where farmers can go to find out about them. Initiatives are often short term and finish before many farmers get to hear about them. A central information point, giving clear information, with effective lines of communication going out to the farming community, including the most isolated would help to disseminate information on initiatives, grant funding and good practice. Cohesive Communities Farming families work together to help each other out; providing mutual support through difficult times, as well as promoting cohesiveness within the farming community. This is a strength that could be developed if facilitation was available to nurture collaborative initiatives that would improve the viability of farming livelihoods. Support Services Facilities have been developed at Bakewell Livestock Market to meet the needs of farmers coming to the market. These services are valued and well used by farmers. The Farming Life Centre has developed a number of initiatives, addressing a range of needs within the local farming community, including sharing good practice and addressing health and social needs. Facilities and initiatives provided are valued by the farming community. However, they rely upon the provision of time limited funding. Successful support services should not be curtailed when funding runs out as this
often results in the loss of vital skills, knowledge and momentum. Funders should work with local organisations to enable continuity of successful services. Many farmers complained that government agencies and service providers do not understand what farming lives are really like, particularly in hill farming areas. This report gives an insight into the livelihood of the farming families in the Peak District – it may help to give those in local and regional government agencies a clearer understanding of Peak District farming lives and how service provision and policy can reflect the issues facing farmers. Resourcefulness The people that took part in the project were very resourceful and generally there is a strong sense of cohesion within families that enables them to work together for the benefit of their livelihoods. More broadly we found there was a sense of a strong farming community with a proud heritage. There was also an uneasy feeling that farming was in decline, but they were ready to stand up for hill farming and amongst some there was a small ray of optimism for the future.
How could the SLA be applied within other UK farming communities?
Our experiences of this pilot project lead us to believe that the SLA can make positive contributions to farming livelihoods if applied over time in the correct manner. The approach requires sensitivity in its application as well as an understanding of the farming community and its challenges. We believe that the approach can be most effectively be applied by organisations that are integrated within the farming community and are already proving support services, who are familiar to and trusted by farming families including those who are most marginalised. If used along side other support provided it may be possible to overcome the time constraints experienced by farmers. By using the SLA to identify areas of their lives where positive interventions are needed, farming families may be helped to move their lives forward. The SLA may also have an application within farming groups, where farmers are coming together to collaborate in some way. Applying the SLA may help to identify the assets of the group, support and intervention required and development opportunities. Feedback from families that took part in this project suggested that the SLA is an acceptable approach to use. We therefore recommend that it is tested further within another farming community by a farming support group that has links with marginalised farmers through its existing work. We suggest that its potential lies in using the approach when working with families over a long period of time and we would be interested to learn of its effectiveness when used in long term support.
We set out to test the potential of the SLA to support farming families in building more sustainable farming livelihoods. We had identified shortcomings in the advice that is available to farmers, which tends to focus on the financial or environmental aspects of farms without considering the social, cultural and human elements of farming. By placing people at the centre, this approach gives the opportunity to consider all elements of farming livelihoods and so identify the most effective points within their livelihoods for intervention. Our findings suggest that the SLA has potential to be an effective approach for application within the farming sector and we hope the lessons we have learnt will encourage other farming organisations to apply the approach within their farming communities. In the Peak District farming community we found resilience and resourcefulness that has helped to bring farming families through some very difficult times. Their ability to compromise, cut back and develop various other strategies to enable them to continue farming, will hopefully get them through current difficulties. We also found a certain amount of optimism for farming; that prospects will improve as the public are taking a renewed interest in food and farming. As one farmer said, “for those who can get through the bad times farming will come good”.
DEFRA Farm Business Survey Government Office region reports 2006/07 Rural Business Research, viewed 14th November 2008, http://www.farmbusinesssurvey.co.uk/regional/index.asp DFID (1999) Section 2: Sustainable Livelihoods Framework. In: Sustainable Livelihoods Guidance Sheets Department for International Development, London Farm Crisis Network (2008) FCN Case-work Evaluation Summary for 2007 Farm Crisis Network viewed 15th November 2008, http://www.farmcrisisnetwork.org.uk IFAD Sustainable livelihoods approach, viewed 15th November 2008. http://www.ifad.org/sla Orr, S., Brown, G., Smith, S., May, C., Waters, M. (2006) Assets, vulnerabilities and livelihoods: an analysis of households in Thornaby-on-Tees. Church Action on Poverty, Manchester Peak District Rural Deprivation Forum (2004) Hard Times: A research report into hill farming and farming families in the Peak District Peak District Rural Deprivation Forum, Hope Valley SAC (2008) Farming’s retreat from the hills Rural Policy Centre, Scottish Agricultural College, November 2008, http://www.farmcrisisnetwork.org.uk IFAD Sustainable livelihoods approach, viewed 15th November 2008. http://www.ifad.org/sla Orr, S., Brown, G., Smith, S., May, C., Waters, M. (2006) Assets, vulnerabilities and livelihoods: an analysis of households in Thornaby-on-Tees. Church Action on Poverty, Manchester Peak District Rural Deprivation Forum (2004) Hard Times: A research report into hill farming and farming families in the Peak District Peak District Rural Deprivation Forum, Hope Valley SAC (2008) Farming’s retreat from the hills Rural Policy Centre, Scottish Agricultural College,
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.