EMPLOYMENT AND TRAINING

One of the greatest challenges for developed, technologically adept societies is that of occupation. Primary industries require less workers than ever before, hence the burgeoning service sectors of the past 20 years. The question of how people should occupy their work and leisure time cannot be answered for every individual by strict adherence to the narrow definition of value existing within market economics. Despite the virtual absence of UK organic produce on a commercial scale, there is undoubtedly a considerable "green economy" below the level of commercial viability, which represents a vital potential of untapped resources. COST OF JOB CREATION Compared to other sectors, the cost of creating new employment opportunities within the organic horticulture and even agriculture sectors could be a fraction of the sums invested to subsidise and incentivise capital-intensive industries to create new employment. In addition, although there are no long-term guarantees in any given sector, the prospects for permanent occupation in successful organic enterprises are currently good. FUNDING. It is possible to make out a special case for public investment in measures to meet the apparent demand for locally- grown organic food from a number of perspectives. On the broadest scale in the U.K., there is currently an enormous mismatch between subsidies to conventional agriculture [£2,700,000,000 p.a.1996 figures] compared to what is available to support the development of organic capacity [£1,000,000]. The imbalance between demand and supply is met by imports from all around the world where the organic sector constitutes a much greater proportion of many other countries' agricultural outputs.
Taking into account the long delays between investment and returns, there is justification for the idea that customers of organic produce might be willing to pay for their produce [or part of it]at the time the producer has to commit funds [for seed and cultivation etc.]. Arrangements that attempt to support the organic sector, such as organic box and bag schemes, would be justified in requesting greater support from their customers by encouraging covenants or payment ahead of purchase.
SOURCES OF FUNDS. Donors have traditionally been wary of supporting projects with a food-growing component, largely due to the perceived danger of displacing existing trade and markets. Projects with a specific remit or centre of interest, in areas such as education, health and disabled organic food gardening, should be able to raise funds through the bodies dedicated to managing these sectors; education and health authorities and social services. Grant structures exist in these kinds of sectors suitable for supporting organic projects and the special requirements they each have; for interpretation, therapeutic value and accessibility in the case of the above. Considerable potential exists for co-ordinating approaches between these various sectors to optimise use and minimise duplication of facilities. One of the most common stipulations on donated funds is often the requirement to publicise the improvements achieved by donations. Donors should be aware that this should be handled sensitively, without jeopardising the project. There is a danger that over-exposure could generate unwelcome interest, either from wanton vandalism or alternatively simply by swamping a small organisation with more participants than it can comfortably manage. The timescales involved in funding food-growing projects need to be realistically synchronised with their requirements. As has already been pointed out, they are often long-term commitments, which need sustained support over several years. Investments in infrastructure and resources which will enable and facilitate activities in the future are often inadequate or lacking in current project specifications. Sometimes the accountancy-based timescales of fund donors are actually detrimental to the success of projects. For instance, spending at the end of the financial year [March] is too late to start a new project or be useful in ordering and planting fruit and nut trees. Grants distributed by Sheffield's Healthy Gardening Group are specifically timed to coincide with the planning stages of gardening projects; in February and September, to cater for activities in the seasons subsequent to those dates. PROJECT ASSESSMENT. Fund donors have a requirement for expertise in assessing the suitability of projects, taking into account their stated aims and objectives. It would be desirable that these judgements are based on the experience of active practitioners in this field or by administrators who have practical organic experience. Sites with multiple and interlinked activities are hard to evaluate and recognise what should be prioritised, especially to the inexperienced eye. Assessors would also be required to establish a strategic overview of the state of organic development in a given area, so that capacity is not duplicated and to help direct development efficiently. Projects themselves should be primarily human-centred and controlled as directly as possible by the individuals involved.


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