I am so pleased that my wife and I have had a chance to meet so many of you as part of launching this venture. I can’t thank you all enough for all of your interest and enthusiasm. This all began when I was at university at Aberystwyth, 40 years ago next year and I used to travel around different parts of Wales.
I remember discovering that at that time around 23 to 25 per cent of the population worked on the land. It is now about 18 to 19 per cent now I believe. Nevertheless, Wales has probably the highest percentage of people working on the land than anywhere else in the UK.
The relationship between rural communities and the landscape and the culture and language of Wales is so critical. And one of my greatest concerns is the future of these communities. It always seems to me that if we lose the connection between the land and the production of food we are, I think, in a very bad way.
That is why I have pursued a series of farmer’s marketing initiatives in other parts of the UK to ensure that family farms can continue.
As I said to James Raw earlier today I am really doing this for his son, who I saw this afternoon in his father’s and mother’s arms. The Raws have been on their farm for seven or eight generations now. I want to ensure a decent future for their sons and daughters and everyone else’s.
I am thrilled to have so many representatives from authorities, county councils and other organisations, including pro bono contributions from caring banks and caring lawyers.
I do know that in many ways Wales is ahead of the game in terms of agriculture, with countless initiatives underway and numerous examples of enterprise being shown by all sorts of people throughout the rural economy. I just felt that this venture would be of real use to provide an integrated approach.
The vision found ready partners in the local authorities of Powys and Ceredigion, the Countryside Council for Wales and the Welsh Assembly Government, who have been really enthusiastic, along with a range of other local stakeholders and my own group of charities, had already been working on a variety of rural development strategies and swiftly came together to form the initiative we are promoting today.
I am particularly grateful to Sir Bernard and the Ashley Foundation for taking such an interest and allowing us to use this marvellous hotel which I have never seen before, and being pivotal in today’s events.
So, as you know, after a feasibility study looked at the whole issue, a pilot lamb product was launched last September. A founding group of nine farmers was recruited and they swiftly developed a positive relationship with food processors Dunbia, again without whom we couldn’t have done anything, and the Co-operative Group, with whom we have been working very productively, in what has been a very tough time for the sector. I am so pleased that both new contracts are about to be signed that will see Cambrian Mountains lamb carried in the Co-op’s premium range throughout the UK. The Co-op Foundation is also making a contribution to the initiative’s costs, showing, if I may say so, exactly how a strong socially responsible company can add value to communities.
We are looking at new product ranges, and further working groups being established to consider how the tourism and environmental dimensions of the initiative can be developed. This is of huge importance – to look at the whole picture. I am particularly grateful to CADW for providing some funding to start work on characterization of the whole area’s traditional buildings – something we have done in the North Highlands to great effect. A thorough inventory is a wonderful source and you can sometimes find new uses for these buildings and bring them back to life.
I have a huge list of thanks that I will never get through. The steering group which has led the marketing work so far, ably chaired by Gareth Rowlands with Wynfford James as project manager, has made a great contribution. I am delighted to say that Peter Davies has agreed to chair, and with him there I am sure it will be successful. Ministers Elin Jones and Jane Davidson have been most supportive as have their senior officials Huw Brodie and Matthew Quinn, without whom I don’t think we would have got very far and Huw Davies and Eirwen Williams, who helped with the feasibility study.
Some of you will have seen, the watercolour I have attempted which I hope will help as the whole venture goes forward. I look forward to seeing immense progress and I will pay close attention in my usual interfering way. It gives me great pleasure to launch this initiative which will hopefully make a difference to future generations of farmers and help care for a very special part of Wales.