For over four years now, I have been privileged to work as Chief Executive for Rural Support in Northern Ireland. Established as a charity in 2002, Rural Support is a regional charity providing support to farmers, farm families and rural dwellers across the province. I am honored to be working for such a great organisation and with an excellent team of staff, mentors and volunteers. I currently sit on a number of steering committees including an initiative called 'Farm Family Health Checks' and a group of statutory and community/voluntary sector organisations called 'Suicide Strategy Implementation Body' of which I am vice-chair.
I grew up on the family farm in Mid-Ulster and later chose to study Geography at the University of Ulster Coleraine followed by a Masters in Communication at Loughry College Cookstown. I lived and worked in New Zealand for a few years before returning home to study. In 2008, I completed my PhD with Queen’s University Belfast examining ‘Rural Restructuring and Information Systems’. After completing this research, I worked in international aid and development and then returned to Northern Ireland to work on a social justice programme with the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland.
Having built a house on the family farm two years ago, much of my spare time now involves helping my father on the farm and spending time with my family. I am delighted to have been sponsored by the Thomas Henry Foundation and I’m incredibly grateful for this opportunity. I look forward to the adventures ahead.
Securing farmers’ resilience in a changing world
The Thomas Henry Foundation
Farmers’ health and wellbeing have attracted increased, widespread attention in recent years. This has been dramatized by reports of high levels of stress and suicide among farmers and in rural communities. Farmers in the modern world experience the same challenges as everyone else, but these are often compounded by the special characteristics of farming.
These factors equally impact on how stress is experienced. This report examines the key and emerging issues impacting on farmers and farm families and the support provided to resolve stress and promote resilience. The research centres on an extensive, investigation of farmers and farm families in the face of rapid change. It was undertaken over the period from March 2017 toSeptember2018, and involved study visits to 13 countries, including participation in the Nuffield Global Focus Programme, and over 80 face-to-face interviews and facilitated group meetings. This was backed by a review of the published literature, including government reports on issues related to rural restructuring and farmers’ health and wellbeing.
The repeated theme identified is farmers and farm households’ aspiration to secure a viable farm business and to meet the needs of their families. What varies is the nature of individual responses, the willingness and capacity of farmers and farm households to adapt, farmers’ level of inter-personal relations, access to support from others and the nature of the support systems and policies available. There is also an increasing understanding of the nature of the support required.
Individuals, in particular farmers themselves and farm families are identified as the primary factor in supporting adaptive change and specific initiatives are identified that support resilience. Several key shifts in thinking are emerging on best practice. Challenges facing farmers can no longer be addressed by solely focusing on current business issues. Assuring farmers and farm household health and wellbeing are top priorities and prerequisites to address financial or production concerns. A holistic approach that incorporates long-term social and mental health issues as well as environmental and financial matters is now recognised as integral to resolving any immediate, shorter-term needs. This is central to farmers’ well-being and their resilience and is an emerging component in the strategies used by support organisations to help farmers and farm families to survive and thrive.
This report concludes by stating that, ‘farmers’ resilience is everyone’s business’. A series of recommendations to farmers, governments, the private sector and NGOs including farm support organisations are provided.