Rural prosperity sounds twee but is central to the wellbeing of the whole nation and the economy, says Mark Price

To the casual observer it may seem like a bucolic existence. An isolated farmhouse perching on a remote hillside conjures up a rural idyll. But sadly, behind the picturesque image is too often a daily struggle for survival.

The long-term future for many of Britain's smaller farmers, particularly those in the uplands, is looking very bleak indeed. Many farmers working these picturesque but incredibly hard-to-work farms are struggling to make ends meet.

Farmers in upland areas such as the Cumbrian Fells, Yorkshire Dales and the Highlands of Scotland last year earned on average just £6,000.

It's a measure of the seriousness of the situation that the plight of our most vulnerable farmers has resulted in a ground-breaking alliance between some of the top UK food businesses many of them rivals in the day-to-day run of things. Last week I was proud to stand alongside senior representatives of Asda, Birds Eye, Country Life, Duchy Originals, Booths, Ginsters, Hovis, Jordans, M&S, McDonald's, Morrisons, Müller, United Biscuits and PepsiCo at the launch of The Prince's Countryside Fund in partnership with Business in the Community. The fund, which has already raised £1m, is the brainchild of The Prince of Wales who has a long-held commitment to the wellbeing of rural communities.

All the companies involved that have signed up have made a contribution to the fund, which will be channelled into projects helping to create a vibrant and economically sustainable future for rural Britain. In return, they get to display the fund's logo on selected lines.

Money raised will provide grants to projects that will improve the resilience and vibrancy of British farming and local rural communities while supporting farming crisis charities through a dedicated emergency funding stream.

But why should the plight of our smaller farmers and their communities matter to food retailers and manufacturers? It matters not just because they have an important role as guardians of the British countryside. For a food retailer like myself, it also makes sound commercial sense. In an era when international food security is going to be a dominant issue, supporting British farmers is vital in ensuring that retailers can give customers the best British food today and in the long term.

We also need to urgently reconnect consumers with where their food comes from, and how their buying decisions affect local producers. The intention of all those on board is to inspire other businesses and the general public to get involved and recognise the importance of the countryside to the nation's well-being and the wider British economy. This way more can be done to improve the long-term viability of hard-pressed rural areas.

I believe we can make a difference for the better and I would urge other food businesses and retailers to join this vital initiative.

As the Prince of Wales said at the launch: "The door is now firmly open for additional companies, tourist businesses, hotels, shops and other supermarkets who share a determination to see a thriving British Countryside to contribute to this fund."

If we allow a national asset of incalculable value to fall into terminal decline something we treasure will be lost for ever. And we in the food industry cannot stand back and let that happen.

Mark Price is MD of Waitrose.