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Farming syndicates face loss of land in efficiency drive

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Groups of small-scale farmers may be prevented from using government land on St Helena under proposals in the island’s draft agriculture policy, it appears.

It gives farming syndicates some of the blame for poor food production on St Helena.

The draft blueprint says a shortage of good farming land is an issue on the island – along with the way it is used. 

The paper proposes reforms to the tenure system for allocating Crown land, “in order to remove multiple tenant/grazier practices under the current syndicate system”. 

Instead, it says, government fields and pastures should be let directly to individual businesses, rather than groups of growers acting together.

It does not say whether existing syndicates might be forced off land they already use, or whether the reforms would simply prevent them taking on new land.

But in another section, the draft policy says small-holders must be recognised for the part they play in island culture and food production.

The syndicate system enables individual farmers to take on small parcels of land, similar to the allotments provided by local councils in the UK. The difference is that growers get together to negotiate for the land, rather than applying individually for small plots.

The report hints that the system can mean some of the island’s farmland is not put to good use, referring to “varying levels of commitment” to farming on Crown land.

It says the syndicate system causes loss of the benefits of buying and selling on a large scale, and “fragmentation of potentially commercial pasturelands”.

Monitoring could ensure that the limited supply of Crown land is put to the best use – with enforcement systems to make sure of it.

Selling off Crown land has already been ruled out, in order to ensure ground is always available for agriculture on lease for a long or medium term.

Existing tenants would be favoured when a lease came up for renewal, “as long as the land is in productive use”.

The report also blames poor livestock production on “erratic animal breeding programmes with variable standards of husbandry”, and increased cost of imported feeds. 

Strategies have been put forward to breed animals that will sell, and remove “tariff barriers” on feed imports.   

The draft policy paper says: “Whilst it is a national desire to increase production of products in which we hold a competitive advantage, including meats and eggs on the animal production side, the most critical challenges the sector faces is low productivity and profitability.”

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