UK | RSA Report finds ‘Our Future in the Land’ should be Agroecological

 

Postcard from 16 July 2030 from Field Guide for the Future

One of the few bright spots of Brexit is the opportunity the UK now has to rewrite its agri-food and rural rules. To the surprise of many, DEFRA Minister Michael Gove became something of a visionary. His appointment of Tony Juniper, formerly of the World Wildlife Fund and Friends of the Earth, to chair Natural England last year is an example of how the Brexiteer managed to think outside the box.

More importantly, the UK Agriculture Bill, currently winding its way through the Parliamentary process, had some very encouraging elements. 

While wary of some of the gaps in the bill, Vicky Hird, campaigner with UK policy platform Sustain lists these as “possible new supply chain regulation and financial support for delivering publicly useful outcomes including: improving the environment; public access; maintaining or restoring cultural and natural heritage; animal health and welfare; and mitigating or adapting to climate change”   

The report builds on the Public Value Framework implemented by government to give it a more systemic perspective to further a sustainable food and farming transition.

Now, Theresa Villers has taken over in DEFRA, and moreover, Boris Johnson has already made soundings towards the US regarding Genetic Modification, the future direction of British agriculture is again in flux.

In this light, the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) report, called “Our Future in the Land” makes for very interesting reading.

The RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission “was established in 2017 to think afresh about where our food comes from, how we support farming and rural communities and how we invest in the many benefits the countryside provides.”

“I’m a farmer and I can’t afford to buy the food I produce. How ridiculous is that?” says James, Peak District sheep farmer interviewed for the RSA report.

The process used to come up with the “Our Future in the Land”” report was quite thorough, with meetings held all over the UK,further research with farmers, young people and communities on particular emergent issues was conducted, and over 1000 policy proposals analysed.

“We learned early on that sometimes our questions were not necessarily the questions that mattered in the communities we visited.” So says the accompanying “Field Guide for Action”.

This is what was most interesting about this approach – communities and farmers in communities were able to in part shape the process. “In Cumbria, the group focussed on resource and activity mapping, making it more visible to the community itself; in Lincolnshire, on soil improvement and farmer learning; in Devon, the leadership group picked a number of topics: farmer mental health, grasslands, biodiversity, young people in farming.” 

The research and consultation process of the report.

Similarly specific areas emerged in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, while 20 farmers were also interviewed to find out how they think about health and wellbeing.

Three Calls to Action emerged from the process:

  • Healthy food is everybody’s business – good food must become good business.
  • Farming can become a force for change, leading the 4th agricultural revolution towards agroecology.
  • The countryside can work for all, as a powerhouse for a new regenerative economy.

Much of this may sound too broad and generic, but there is already something interesting in the  words chosen – especially agroecology.

These buzz words refer to more holistic approaches to land and landscape management, approaches where the integrated, multivarious nature of farming is taken into account.

“We are persuaded that the principles of agroecology best sum up how farming will need to change globally” the authors say. And they use the UN FAO definition of agroecology: “an integrated approach that applies ecological and social principles to the design and management of food and agricultural systems. It seeks to optimise the interactions between plants, animals, humans and the environment and the social aspects that need to be addressed for a sustainable and fair food system.” 

Ten aspects of agroecology according to the FAO

So far, so jargony, but this recommendation could make farmers sit up straight in their seats: 

“Establishing a National Agroecology Development Bank to accelerate a fair and sustainable transition.” 

If policy and then state supports, as well as development bank funding emerge to help farmers adjust farming practices, that would add substance to the soundings.

A version of this article also appeared in the Irish Examiner farming.

Read the reports

RSA report Our Future in the Land 

RSA Report Field-Guide for the Future 

More on the UK’s food and farming future

UK | A Bumpy Ride for the New Agriculture Bill

Book Serialisation | Creating a New British Farming Food and Rural Policy

Oliver Moore
About Oliver Moore 185 Articles
DR. Oliver Moore is the communications director and editor-in-chief with ARC2020. He has a PhD in the sociology of farming and food, where he specialised in organics and direct sales. He is published in the International Journal of Consumer Studies, International Journal of Agricultural Resources, Governance and Ecology and the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. A weekly columnist and contributor with Irish Examiner, he is a regular on Countrywide (Irish farm radio show on the national broadcaster RTE 1) and engages in other communications work around agri-food and rural issues, such as with the soil, permaculture, climate change adaptation and citizen science initiative Grow Observatory . He lectures part time in the Centre for Co-operative Studies UCC                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Oliver voyage beaucoup moins qu’auparavant, pour ce qui concerne son activité professionnelle. Il peut néanmoins admirer par la fenêtre de son bureau les mésanges charbonnières et les corbeaux perchés au sommet du saule dans le jardin de sa maison au cœur de l’écovillage de Cloughjordan, en Irlande. L’écovillage est un site de 67 acres dans le nord du Tipperary. Il comprend d’espaces boisés, des paysages comestibles, des lieux de vie, d’habitation et de travail, ainsi qu’une ferme appartenant à la communauté. Les jours où il travaille dans le bureau du centre d’entreprise communautaire, il profite d’une vue sur les chevaux, les panneaux solaires, les toilettes sèches et les jardins familiaux.  Ce bureau au sein de l’écovillage constitue en effet un tiers-lieu de travail accueillant également des collaborateurs des associations Cultivate et Ecolise, ainsi qu’un laboratoire de fabrication (« fab lab »).  Oliver est membre du conseil d’administration de la ferme communautaire (pour la seconde fois !) et donne également des cours sur le Master en coopératives, agroalimentaire et développement durable à l’University College Cork. Il a une formation en sociologie rurale : son doctorat et les articles qu’il publie dans des journaux scientifiques portent sur ce domaine au sens large. Il consacre la majorité de son temps de travail à l’ARC 2020. Il collabore avec ARC depuis 2013, date à laquelle l’Irlande a assuré la présidence de l’UE pendant six mois. C’est là qu’il a pu constater l’importance de la politique agroalimentaire et rurale grâce à sa chronique hebdomadaire sur le site d’ARC. Après six mois, il est nommé rédacteur en chef et responsable de la communication, poste qu’il occupe toujours aujourd’hui. Oliver supervise le contenu du site web et des médias sociaux, aide à définir l’orientation de l’organisation et parfois même rédige un article pour le site web.  À l’époque où on voyageait davantage, il a eu la chance de passer du temps sous les tropiques, où il a aidé des ONG irlandaises de commerce équitable – au Ghana, au Kenya, au Mali, en Inde et au Salvador – à raconter leur histoire.  Il se peut que ces jours-là reviennent. Pour son compte Oliver continuera de préférer naviguer en Europe par bateau, puis en train. Après tout, la France n’est qu’à une nuit de navigation. En attendant, il y a toujours de nombreuses possibilités de bénévolat dans la communauté dans les campagnes du centre de l’Irlande.