Farmerama – the #ORFC20 official media partner

The Farmerama team is at the 11th Oxford Real Farming Conference (8-9 January), where we are excited to be the official media partner. This is a highlight in the calendar every year, and a chance to share so many stories of hope for the future of our food and farming, and to meet and reconnect with the people behind a new regenerative paradigm – those instigating change for a better future for all. 

As extreme weather events capture global attention again this month, conflicting views and opinions are cast on the future of agriculture and its role in the climate crisis, and as we undergo an independent review of our entire food system, it could not be a more poignant time for ORFC. 

20/20 is the year for clarity of vision.

Now is the time and the place for radical discussion about the future of our food, our farming, our environment, and our health. To follow are a few of the topics we’re looking forward to covering. 

Regenerative agriculture as a part of the solution to the climate crisis. A key challenge we face today is getting people to believe that we are part of a natural world. We must acknowledge that we are part of the ecosystem and embrace regenerative farming to ensure that we nurture the habitat we live in.  

Regenerative agriculture has the promise of rebuilding thriving ecosystems, providing clean water, producing nutrient dense food, preventing flooding/superfires, not to mention the added benefit of sinking carbon below ground. It could also mean more and more people become inspired by farming and want to be involved. 

We are also excited to learn about people working to build new definitions of success, new approaches to land ownership and business models that are regenerative by their very makeup. The economic and business structures that have served many people for the last few centuries are based on the extractive mindset which doesn’t fit with our new regenerative paradigm. 

What are the business structures and social change we need to build regenerative agriculture that truly serves people and planet, not just lining the pockets of shareholders? The talks looking at land ownership and alternative ownership models/succession plans really speak to this, as do discussions of land ownership across racial divides.

We’re looking forward to seeing the many friends from our latest series, CEREAL, where we spoke to the British farmers who’d become disillusioned with modern wheat varieties and commodity crops, and discovered the benefits of growing heritage varieties using regenerative agriculture methods. Many are speaking on panels about the new grains movement and alternative models and supply networks they’ve created. 

Championing biodiversity was a big part of our last series, and we’ll explore this in more detail at ORFC, looking at biodiversity in practice – from Agroforestry to Silvopasture, as well as diversity of people on the land.

Of course, we’re interested to hear more about animal farming as a key part of regenerative agriculture too. So expect a lot to come!

This blog first appeared on the Farmerama website

Into the storm

This year’s Oxford Real Farming Conference is being held during what promises to be a dramatic year for British agriculture.

For better or worse, the Brexit die will be cast this month, and we will go straight into negotiations with the European Union and the United States. The outcome may have major implications for how and what terms we trade with both major partners, with potentially dramatic long-term effects on British farming. In parallel, the replacement of the Common Agricultural Policy will take firmer shape, and new policy opportunities will open up. 

It is absolutely crucial that all of us who believe in sustainable, environmentally-friendly, higher-welfare farming work together as we enter this time of transition. The global wind of change is swinging behind us, with increasing recognition that farming based on intensification and low-quality mass production is an unsustainable option with very dangerous outcomes for climate change and the environment. Agroecology is becoming progressively mainstream, with a recognition that farming divorced from the environment around it – and the supply chain on which it depends – is not a solution that will survive. It is exactly the right time to rethink our food and farming systems and make Britain a world leader in moving towards a sustainable future.

But there are risks too.

Short-term thinking and political imperatives may drive Britain into compromises with sustainability and welfare in order to seal trade deals which sacrifice the longer term for the dangerous appeal of quick fixes. Deals which allow Britain to fall behind in quality and welfare standards in thrall, to the deceptive appeal of simple free-trade agreements, would ultimately undermine much of British farming. We must not present farmers with a stark choice between working in a shrinking niche or pressing for lower standards.

As a charity, Compassion in World Farming is party apolitical. But it is objectively true that outside the European Union we will have both greater opportunities and greater dangers. It will, for example, be possible to end the cruel live export trade, removing a stain on the reputation of British agriculture. Equally, it will be possible to deviate from European standards on antibiotic reduction, in the pursuit of the elusive charms of an open-market US trade deal.

The Oxford Real Farming Conference is a unique institution, bringing together so many diverse strands of creative, positive thinking about agriculture. Compassion in World Farming is proud to be a co-sponsor of the event, and we participate not merely to support the general message but also to learn from the sessions and draw conclusions on which approaches offer the most promising ways forward – not only for British farming but also from the other countries across the world where we work to raise standards. Environmentally supportive farming needs to be a global goal, so that British farming is in the forefront of a worldwide trend as it gathers speed.

What do we want? Sustainable farming, so we have a thriving industry into the future. High welfare, so we can ensure animals on British farms a decent life. Support for high-quality farming, for human health and environmental protection. Clear labelling of means of production, so consumers can choose the best.

These are the principles which ORFC participants share. In the coming days, let’s talk about how we make them the British reality.

 

Agricology in Practice

Agriculture has huge potential to be part of the solution to enhancing biodiversity, addressing climate change and supporting and enhancing natural resources, whilst also building vibrant and resilient farming businesses.  

At Agricology we envision a vibrant future for UK farming – where all farmers and growers are using agroecological practices to create healthy, productive and resilient farming systems. Agroecological approaches have the potential to improve farm business efficiency and deliver favourable environmental outcomes. 

This transition means replacing inputs with knowledge to work with and enhance the ecological processes within a farming system.      

Agricology is a community of farmers, growers, researchers and advisors sharing knowledge and experience with agroecology in practice, online and in the field.  Our aim is to stimulate and encourage farmer-led innovation.  See our website or our twitter channel @agricology to learn more. 

This year Agricology returns to ORFC hosting the Agroecology in Practice Room (Assembly Room) and discussions in the St Aldates room, together with the PFLA and Soil Association. These sessions will dig deeper into a range of agroecological  practices on a mixture of arable, horticultural and livestock farms, with researchers and farmers sharing their knowledge from experiences in the field. Come and join us! 

We will kick off the two days at a session exploring the benefits of pulses in crop rotations  at 12 -1pm in the Assembly room.

With increasing demand for plant-based protein, there is a growing potential market for UK-grown pulses which deliver a range of beneficial agroecosystem services including nitrogen fixation and habitat for pollinators and natural enemies but also face challenges in the production method and route to market. This session will bring together  George Young, Fobbing Farms, Christine Watson, SRUC – Scotland’s Rural College, Steve Belcher PGRO , Katie Bliss, Organic Research Centre and Josiah Meldrum, Hodmedod’s 

From 14.30 – 15.30 Rosemary Collier, University of Warwick  and Adam Keeves, Organic Growers Alliance  will tackle the Impact of Climate Change on UK Horticulture, presenting experiences from UK growers and model examples of the changes to come, with specific detail on insects. The session will aim to highlight the issues growers should pay attention to, but importantly present techniques to build resilience in organic systems. Join for the break out session afterwards in the St Aldates room to share ideas on how you are and could be enhancing resilience. 

On day two, we look at the Future of Agroecological Weed Management integrating an ecological and technological perspective with insights from Chloe Maclaren, Rothamsted Research, Nicola Cannon, Royal Agricultural University (RAU) , Sarah Cook, ADAS and farmer Mike Mallett, Maple Farm Kelsale who will share some insights on creating a weed resilient system to see how all this can work in practice. 

Finally, if you want to get to Know your soils better – bring along your soil analyses at 14.30 to the St Aldates room – Becky Wilson Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit, Jonathan Leake University of Sheffield and Mark Measures EIP-AGRI Soils will delve into the Soil – discussing methods of soil analysis (chemical, biological and carbon) and how to utilise the results to inform adaptation in management practices.  

We look forward to meeting new and familiar faces throughout the event – in addition to the sessions, we will be hosting break-out discussions (see the ORFC20 programme) and a stand in the main hall. 

How to access Agricology content after #ORFC20

Not got a ticket / worried about the clashes?! Fear not – we will be filming the sessions which will be available after the event on our YouTube channel!

For more information about agroecological farming practices visit our website and browse over 600 articles, blogs, farmer profiles from research and practice. You can sign up to our newsletter and follow us on social media @Agricology for all the latest! 

We would also love to hear from you – share your ideas and experiences, suggest topics we should cover or share videos, tweets and questions.  Email us on enquiries@agricology.co.uk 

The ORFC 2020 programme is out

We’re delighted at last to release the programme for the 11th Oxford Real Farming Conference which will take place on 8th and 9th January 2020. Thank you all for your patience as we’ve confirmed speakers, juggled rooms, and generally got all the details finalised.

We have some incredible sessions lined up including discussions and workshops exploring:

  • Climate and how a food system based on agroecological or regenerative techniques can help stabilise our changing planet and feed its population;
  • The production and consumption of meat and dairy and whether recent claims regarding the merit of an all-plant diet are justified (including new research from Oxford University into methane emissions);
  • The vast inequality of land ownership in the UK and how we can challenge and change this, with radical estate owners, campaigners and politicians;
  • Diversity in farming in the UK and what we can learn from the way other cultures approach and produce food.

As always ORFC has attracted an incredible array of speakers. This year we are particularly pleased to welcome international speakers:

  • Leah Penniman, Farmer and Founder of Soul Fire Farm in New York;
  • Ben Hartman from Clay Bottom Farm in Indiana, author of The Lean Farm;
  • Alfredo Cunhal, Agricultural Scientist and Silvopasture farmer from Portugal;
  • and Nicolas Supiot, one of the most well-respected peasant bakers in France.

There will of course be the usual line-up of dinners, entertainment and general revelry – we very much look forward to seeing you there.

For all those who missed out on tickets, our Waitlist is still open but we are sorry to say that it looks very unlikely that we will be able to release any more tickets. As ever we will be recording sessions; and even more will be filmed than in previous years.

Please note the programme may be subject to change. The deadline for ticket refunds is 1st December 2019. Please do get in touch if you have any further questions.

ORFC 2020 tickets go on sale today – buy yours now

This year’s Oxford Real Farming Conference will take place on 8th and 9th January at the Oxford Town Hall, St Aldates Church and Parish Centre. The programme for 2020 will be one you won’t want to miss, with discussions and workshops hosted by an incredible range of speakers and organisations from across the UK, Europe, Africa and the United States.

Tickets for the two-day conference cost £60 for farmers and £80 for everyone else. There are also bursary places available.

Among the many speakers and presenters, we will be welcoming:

  • Leah Penniman – farmer, author and activist based at Soul Fire Farm in New York
  • Alfredo Cunhal – silvopasture farmer and agricultural scientist from Portugal
  • Gail Bradbrook – co-founder of Extinction Rebellion
  • Ben Hartman – no-till expert and founder of the Lean Farm School in Indiana
  • Henry Dimbleby – Leader of the National Food Strategy

Having received over 250 session proposals this year, we are slowly putting together an impactful programme and will contact everyone involved in the next few weeks. We hope this will offer you all plenty of opportunities to learn from practical on-farm solutions, take part in critical discussions about the food and farming system, and take some time to be inspired by new and radical ideas.

Standby for discussions around the future of agroecology, achieving the UK’s net zero carbon target, how to influence food policy, radical ways to access land, increasing diversity in farming, and advice on making food and farming businesses more efficient. Alongside these broader discussions, there will be plenty of hands-on sessions covering everything from compost to weed control to agroforestry.

In addition to our usual bursary places – which you can apply for here – we are delighted to announce that we will also be offering diversity bursaries, thanks to a grant from the Lush Foundation. These can be applied for here and are to encourage farmers and those involved in food production from a wide range of diverse backgrounds to attend. Please apply by 29th September.

Also, to help parents and carers of young children, we will be offering a limited number of childcare spaces. Babies and crawlers are still welcome in the talks but for older children you now have an option if it is difficult to find childcare cover at home. Childcare facilities will be situated in the main Town Hall – not far from the majority of sessions. You will need to book places in advance – we may need to prioritise if these are very popular. Please email us by 29th September if you are interested.

Once again, we are very much looking forward to welcoming all our delegates to what has become, for many, a highlight in their year. ORFC 2020 promises plenty of opportunities to network with old friends as well as make new contacts; but most of all, it is committed to providing a space for the UK’s food and farming movement to gather and set a radical agenda for the year to come!

Don’t miss out on your tickets – book them now!

ORFC 2020 Call for Ideas

The call for ideas and session proposals for ORFC 2020 is now closed. Tickets will go on sale on 16th September 2019.

Now is the time to submit your ideas and session proposals for ORFC 2020 [now closed]

As usual, ORFC 2020 will bring together farmers and growers with scientists, economists, activists, and anyone else with a keen interest in agroecology, food sovereignty, economic democracy and everything in between. We will be offering a mix of practical and on-farm advice, new techniques for best practice in agroecological farming, discussions around our global food system and the economic and trade policies that affect British farming and much more. As always, the success of the conference is down to those who attend and we want to continue to put our delegates and supporters at the heart of everything we do.

Therefore, we are looking to you for the following:

1. Proposals for sessions
By proposing a session you are committing to taking on the bulk of its organising; we will want you to suggest who the speakers could be, any possible chairs and how the audience will be engaged and encouraged to participate in the session.

2. Ideas for speakers / topics / themes you’d like to feature at ORFC 2020
Perhaps you don’t feel able to organise a session but would still like to let us know about someone you’ve heard speak who has inspired you, or suggest a particular topic that you would like to explore at ORFC 2020. Whatever you would like to feature at ORFC 2020, please get in touch and let us know.

3. Thoughts on how we can run sessions with new formats at ORFC 2020
We are still looking to move outwards from the usual panel discussion or keynote speaker format (whilst recognising the value that these sessions can bring). If you have an idea for a different format, and/or you are willing to run sessions which use different formats, please share the details with us.

We are hugely thankful to everyone who gets back to us about the conference. Unfortunately, we receive many more proposals and ideas than we are able to honour. We also receive many similar ideas and may suggest ways in which you can join together with other delegates to host a session.

The deadline for submissions is Friday 16th August 2019 and we look forward to hearing from you.  Please complete this online form.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss your idea with us before making a submission then please do not hesitate to get in touch.

ORFC 2019 Highlights

Thank you to our incredible speakers, delegates, funders, sponsors and partners for making our tenth annual conference so wonderful! Here’s our #ORFC19 highlights video, and we look forward to creating next year’s conference with you all.

We would also like to thank Tim Bearder for once again putting together this brilliant film!

Gove continues to lack clarity on Agriculture Bill

While the organisers of the Oxford Real Farming Conference welcome the Rt. Honorable Michael Gove MP and thank him for his forthright session at ORFC 2019, there is some frustration on the continued lack of clarity on the role of agroecology (including organic) within the Agriculture Bill.

The session – entitled “The future of farming: Brexit and Beyond” was held on Thursday 3 January, and chaired by Kerry McCarthy MP for Bristol East and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology – saw frank questioning from the attendees and upfront responses from the Defra Secretary.

Colin Tudge, ORFC co-founder said: “While Mr Gove says all the right things and is enthusiastically knowledgeable on a wide variety of issues that are important to the ORFC, he remains difficult to pin down on vital details, such as why agroecology and organic farming continue to be omitted from the Agriculture Bill, despite widespread support for its inclusion and his personal support for the environmental protections whole-farm systems bring.”

During the session, Kerry McCarthy MP asked the question on everyone’s minds: What assurances do farmers have that Mr Gove’s commitments to sustainable farming will be upheld if there are no references within the Bill?

The Environment Secretary responded: “One of the ways we think it’s possible to get the Bill on the statute book relatively rapidly is by making it clear we are not attempting – in this government – to dictate what every future government should do in terms of agricultural support.”

There was a recent amendment tabled in November 2018 which, among other linked issues, called for an overt reference to agroecology, particularly with regards to the idea of whole farm agroecological systems.

For conference participants, the question remains – does Defra see the mere mention of agroecology or organic farming as a barrier to passing the Agriculture Bill quickly?

Agroecology and organic farming provides the type of sustainability and resilience vital for a safer future. Mr. Gove offered assurances that initiatives such as the 25 Year Environment Plan and the Climate Change Act will champion these practices. However, participants do not believe these assurances offer enough clarity on the incentives, support and enforcement required.

-ENDS-

For more information and interviewees, please contact: press@orfc.org.uk or

Katharine Mansell – 07814 455639 / Megan Perry – 07761 80434

NOTES FOR EDITORS

  1. You can access the full session on our YouTube livestream archive, it starts at the 1:34:00 mark: https://youtu.be/9mBabM2-aC0
  2. http://www.campaignforrealfarming.org/2018/12/agric-bill-labour-leadership-backs-agroecology-amendment/ and https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/agriculture/documents.html
  3. Agroecology definition per the UN FAO: http://www.fao.org/agroecology/overview

Conference quick links:

ORFC funders, sponsors and partners:

The ORFC would like to thank the following funders, sponsors and partner organisations, without whose support this event would not be possible: Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Riverford, Compassion in World Farming, Lush, A-Team Foundation, the Soil Association, Agricology, Cotswold Seeds, Triodos Bank, Landworkers’ Alliance, the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association and Sustain.

About the Oxford Real Farming Conference (www.orfc.org.uk):

In 2009, agricultural writer Graham Harvey (now of Pasture Promise TV) invited Colin Tudge and Ruth West (founders of the Campaign for Real Farming) to help establish a new kind of farming conference. The conference, first held in 2010 as a much-needed alternative to the concurrently-running Oxford Farming Conference, provides an innovative environment for some radical discussions on some of the biggest issues facing our society today. ORFC delegates are those from across food and farming, with an interest in new agricultural models. They represent those who are interested in meeting global food system challenges in original, environmentally sustainable ways. The point of the ORFC is not simply to challenge the status quo but to look ahead — to ask what the world really needs, and what really can be done.

Photograph: Hugh Warwick 

Has ‘alternative farming’ become the mainstream?

As the Oxford Real Farming Conference gears up for its tenth year, the very values that set it apart from the Oxford Farming Conference, have also seen it soar in popularity over the last decade.

Taking place on 3-4 January 2019 in the Oxford Town Hall and St Aldate’s Parish Centre and Church, the 2019 Oxford Real Farming Conference will be the biggest yet. The conference – which had to take on additional venues this year to accommodate demand and long waiting lists over the last two years – sold out of tickets in December, and is set to welcome 1000 delegates, with hundreds more on the waiting list.

Tom Simpson, ORFC Conference Manager said: “We’re so delighted to see that enthusiasm for the Oxford Real Farming Conference growing year after year, and believe it reflects the changing mindset in what good farming, food production and land stewardship looks like. The status quo is rightly being challenged.”

This year’s programme tackles key issues that have dominated news headlines over the past year, such as the Agriculture Bill and life after Brexit, rewilding and problems of pollution – from chemicals to plastics – and how farmers can become more resilient in the face of climate change.

ORFC co-founder Ruth West, said: “During these uncertain times, we find that agroecology increasingly offers some certainty in how you manage your land and business. Its power lies in the ability to tackle problems holistically and proactively, as well as providing some vital resilience in the face of shocks like extreme weather or Brexit-related impacts on supply chains.”

Practical sessions are always a key part of the conference and this year some timely skills are being explored, including agroforestry, soil management, pasture regeneration, mulching, drought resilience, business advice and more.

Tom added: “We have our usual diverse crowd of delegates, which is made up of around 50% mud on the boots farmers, and a mix of activists, food producers, and new entrants. We have 240 speakers – of whom more than half are women – and over 100 sessions. We’re celebrating our tenth birthday in style.”

The conference is open to all who are interested in working towards a more sustainable food and agricultural system, from farmers and growers to scientists and policy-makers.

-ENDS-

For more information and interviewees, please contact: press@orfc.org.uk or

Katharine Mansell – 07814 455639 / Megan Perry – 07761 80434

NOTES FOR EDITORS

QUOTES AND ORGANISATIONS AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEW:

  • Simon Crichton, Food, Farming and Trade Team Manager, Triodos Bank UK: “2019 could herald landmark progress on the journey to put sustainability at the heart of food and agricultural policy. We hope to see more pioneering work across the organic, biodynamic and sustainable sectors in terms of continuous improvement, innovation and diversity – all work that Triodos Bank will be proud to support. The Oxford Real Farming Conference brings us all together to explore these ideas across a varied and inspiring line-up of sessions and debates.”
  • Robert Reed, Project Manager, A Team Foundation: “The energy of the Oxford Real Farming Conference carries you through the year. It galvanises the movement and therefore, plays an important part as we change the food system for good”.
  • Liz Bowles, Head of Farming, Soil Association: “The Oxford Real Farming Conference is always a fantastic and inspiring way to start the year, a coming together of likeminded people interested in working towards a more sustainable food and agricultural system. But with continued uncertainties over the impact of Brexit on food and farming and the ever-looming crisis of climate change, this year’s conference feels more urgent—and necessary—than ever. The Soil Association is proud to support the 10th Oxford Real Farming Conference and to help make this important event happen.”
  • Caroline Mason, CEO, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation: “The Esmee Fairbairn Foundation is very proud to support the Oxford Real Farming Conference 2019, and it seems important that we do so at a time of heightened interest in the future of food and farming in the UK.  We’re delighted that the conference attracts such expert speakers and session leaders from across the spectrum of sustainable food and farming interests, and we’re confident that the conference offers something for everyone in terms of learning. But,  as importantly, we recognise the value of the conference as a unique convening and networking event, bringing committed and inspiring people together to consider and debate some of the most important issues of our time.”
  • Jim Twine, Managing Director, Organic Herb Trading Company: “We volunteered to sponsor the Oxford Real Farming Conference for three fundamental reasons. Firstly, unlike many other conferences it is not a talking shop – it is a conference of tangible outcomes and the art of the possible. Secondly, everyone is made to feel very welcome – which must be vital at a time when we need unity more than ever. And lastly, the conference is now leading the policy debate in terms of the future of food and farming the UK and beyond.”

Conference quick links:

ORFC funders, sponsors and partners:

The ORFC would like to thank the following funders, sponsors and partner organisations, without whose support this event would not be possible: Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Riverford, Compassion in World Farming, Lush, A-Team Foundation, the Soil Association, Agricology, Cotswold Seeds, Triodos Bank, Landworkers’ Alliance, the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association and Sustain.

About the Oxford Real Farming Conference (www.orfc.org.uk):

In 2009, agricultural writer Graham Harvey (now of Pasture Promise TV) invited Colin Tudge and Ruth West (founders of the Campaign for Real Farming) to help establish a new kind of farming conference. The conference, first held in 2010 as a much-needed alternative to the concurrently-running Oxford Farming Conference, provides an innovative environment for some radical discussions on some of the biggest issues facing our society today. ORFC delegates are those from across food and farming, with an interest in new agricultural models. They represent those who are interested in meeting global food system challenges in original, environmentally sustainable ways. The point of the ORFC is not simply to challenge the status quo but to look ahead — to ask what the world really needs, and what really can be done.

The research agenda we really need

16th December 2018

Colin Tudge argues that the British government is spending agricultural research money on the wrong things and not tackling the issues that really matter. What are they really trying to do?

At this stage of history, agricultural research should not at this stage be focused on productivity. The world already produces enough food for 14 billion people – almost twice the present number and 40 per cent more than the UN says should ever be needed – which is easy to check from figures available on the web. (i.e: the world produces 2.5 billion tonnes of cereal per year which is enough for 7.5 billion people (with some leeway), which is roughly equal to the present world population; and cereal accounts for only half our total production of calories and protein).

We, or rather them-in-charge, also need to reconsider the much-vaunted concept of “efficiency”. It should not as now mean “cash efficiency” because cash in reality is a very poor measure of wellbeing, whether of human beings or of the biosphere. Even worse: efficiency in practice commonly translates as calories or cash produced per employee, meaning the fewer workers the better – whereas the priority now in a crowded and over-stressed world should be not be simply to create “jobs” (as in shelf-fillers on zero-hour contracts) but to provide satisfying careers; and farming when properly conceived is among the most satisfying of all, up there with medicine and teaching, or painting and science.

The overall priority now as the natural world dies around us is to create agriculture that is as far as possible in harmony with nature, and enhances human contentment. In other words we should be focused on the components of Enlightened Agriculture (real farming) — Agroecology, Food Sovereignty, and Economic Democracy; plus, specifically, on the elusive but all-important quality of human happiness.

Agroecology requires scientific research into, for example:

  • Organic farming in general – which nowadays receives a derisorily small portion of the government research budget. The research that is done is mostly by private organisations.
  • Agroforestry in particular – which so far as I know does not now feature at all in Defra or BBSRC thinking.
  • Soil – and particularly soil microbiota: microbes (bacteria and archaeans); “protists”; invertebrates; and fungi – including and perhaps especially the all-important but much neglected mycorrhizae!
  • Grazing (and browse); i.e, pasture-fed livestock. In particular, does well-managed grazing lead to loss of CH4 or to net carbon sequestration? General biological principles suggest the latter. e.g: during the Miocene and Pliocene when there were many billions of grazing animals the world grew steadily cooler. The present, almost hysterical attack on cattle is most inappropriate. True, intensive cattle (of the kind the government now favours) must be massive CH4 generators but cattle judiciously grazed are surely good for the biosphere.
  • Mixed populations of cereals and other crops. Inter alia, genetic diversity offers more long-term protection against pests and diseases than specific resistance genes.
  • Pollinators other than honeybees. Flies for example are among the most important pollinators but only a few biologists are taking them seriously.
  • Animal welfare in all its aspects.

None of the above, I venture, is receiving anything like the attention it deserves – and certainly not from government. Taxpayers’ money is spent elsewhere (basically on making life easy for corporates).

Food Sovereignty implies that people (generally meaning communities or societies) should have control of their own food supply – and we should be asking what this means in practice. We can learn in particular from the world peasant movement, La Via Campesina, which first formulated the food sovereignty idea in the 1990s. Britain’s Landworkers’ Alliance is allied to La Via Campesina (and to the Oxford Real Farming Conference).

Economic Democracy implies, in similar vein, that we, humanity, should have control of the economy, and run the economy in ways that enhance our own lives. The concept should be extended to become Green Economic Democracy – meaning that the economy should be geared to the wellbeing both of humanity and of the biosphere. There are plenty of economic models out there and in the history of the world – and indeed in the history of Britain – which suggest ways of achieving Economic Democracy, although green thinking for the most part has lagged woefully behind. It is absurd that we should now be expected to live our whole lives, and to re-shape the biosphere, to fit in with the economic dogma of the day, as if economic dogma had the weight of scientific law or indeed of divine edict. It is doubly absurd not to say suicidal to gear our lives and the biosphere to the demands of the simplistic, brutalist formula of neoliberalism, which simply decrees that if we all compete on the world market with whatever it takes to maximize our own wealth then everything will turn out OK. How can governments and intellectuals who claim to be “evidence-led” support such an idea when the evidence shows so clearly that it is not true? Inequality, hunger, war, mass extinction, global warming – what more evidence is needed? (OK: all of these existed before neoliberalism but the materialism and competitiveness that are the drivers of neoliberalism add fuel to the flames).

To this list of desiderata I would add one more line of inquiry of a social nature – bringing together studies in human ecology, sociology, and mental health (and indeed physical health) to ask: “What forms of farming contribute most directly to happiness”? Is rural life in a thriving rural economy – viable villages, communities – really as good as or better than life in than the city? How much do we really gain from contact with nature and from handling animals and plants? Some would doubtless find such studies whimsical but actually they’re about human values as opposed merely to short-term wealth; and those who think that short-term wealth is all that matters should, I suggest, be kicked into touch or otherwise banished to the naughty step and certainly should not, as now, be put in charge.

In fact, the research priorities listed by Michael Gove in recent talks to Theos and the CLA and pursued so eagerly by BBSRC – gene editing, synthetic protein and all the rest – are all, in the grand scheme of things, marginal. They are trendy and flashy and “challenging” and for those who are good at them (including Britain) they are potentially lucrative. But they do not go to the heart of the world’s problems and the research that would go to the heart of the world’s problems is neglected. In truth we – and especially government with access to all the taxpayers’ money — need to re-think agriculture (and therefore everything else) from first principles. For starters we need to ask: “What are we really trying to achieve? What do we really think is important? Should ‘economic growth’ really be the limit of our ambitions?”

Given that our government along with most other governments seems to be pushing us in quite the wrong directions we might also ask — “Whose side does the government think it’s on?”

by Colin Tudge