Staggeringly, “humanity has wiped out 68% of global wildlife since 1970”, according to the WWF (2020). If that stat wasn’t terrifying enough, it's also been concluded that the annual rate of destruction is increasing. In other words, the eradication of the remaining 32% of global wildlife is speeding up! And the biggest cause cited is agriculture.
Urgent action is needed, and a growing number of voices in international conservation are demanding that humanity should retreat back, returning land to nature to create more wilderness. Today the most common narrative in western conservation is that ‘humanity is systematically destructive, so we need to protect areas from our harm.’
However, regenerative farmer Rebecca Hosking believes this separation argument is too simplistic. Rebecca is keen to show that humans can be a force for good, if only we remember how. As she says, “we can see the rest of life as something to control, or see it as something to protect. In both cases, humans are placed separate from all other species, and therein lies the inherent problem.”
Frances Moore Lappe’s bestselling book, Diet for a Small Planet was published in 1971 and taught America the social and personal significance of a new way of eating. Today, it remains just as relevant, exploring such critical themes as the connection between food and democracy.
Sharing her personal evolution and how this groundbreaking book changed her own life, world-renowned food expert Frances Moore Lappé offers ORFC delegates the opportunity to share in her experiences of meeting farmers and food producers around the world. And what the last 50 years have taught her.
In the 1990s, famine in North Korea killed 3 million people; many surviving children “lacked full cognitive ability”. Rice yields had more than halved, falling from eight tonnes per hectare down to three tonnes due to a misplaced faith in artificial fertiliser and other agro-chemicals and widespread abandonment of grassland, livestock and crop rotations. The soil had died and physically collapsed. Globally, the farming industry remains dependent on these chemicals, leading to widespread decline in soil fertility and structure.
But there is emerging recognition of the soil as a living, thriving ecosystem hosting around a quarter of the world’s biodiversity and providing the fundamental bridge for plants (hence all terrestrial ecosystems) to obtain essential nutrients from the soil. This underground and largely invisible world – a universe beneath our feet – is a vast community of life with its immeasurable intricacies interacting with such complexity that our understanding is still only the tip of the iceberg.
The functionality and productivity of both our natural and agricultural landscapes are intimately intertwined and completely dependent on the ecosystem services that soils provide. Learning from the North Korean experience, this session will focus on giving a broad understanding of the amazing soil bugs that sustain us and how we, in return, can sustain them.
Award-winning inventive singer, folksong collector, conservationist and founder/director of The Nest Collective Sam Lee sings a special show of folksongs inspired by nature and for the Oxford Real Farming Conference.
Singing songs from his repertoire of ancient traditional British folk songs, this concert will dig deep into the numerous stunning songs that connected our forbearers to the land. For 15 years Sam has collected songs from across the UK and Ireland mostly recording the last songs of our indigenous tradition bearers notably from the Irish & Scots Traveller and English Gypsy communities. This oral tradition tells the legacy of our relationship to the natural world and how folk songs have served as devotional means to revere and adore our land and species living on it. Behind every song is a story of how that song carries an ancient wisdom or even a foreknowing of how the land and changes in society have effected the natural order and what that bird or landscape meant to our ancestors.
At this time of multiple pandemics, of police violence, coronavirus, climate chaos, and unprecedented economic crisis, we are being called to put our food and land sovereignty dreams into deeper practice. Soul Fire Farm is an Afro-Indigenous community farm in New York that raises vegetables, fruit, herbs, eggs and poultry for people living under food apartheid, and is part of a growing movement to uphold everyone’s right to land, honor the people who grow our food, and support farmers of colour.
Combining visual storytelling and poetry, Naima Penniman will share Soul Fire Farm's pandemic-response strategies, including provision gardening in urban centers, a reparations map, and solidarity sharing the harvest through mutual aid networks. She will also uplift other Black-Indigenous-People-of-Colour led organisations and movements, past and present, that are working in collaboration with land for food security, climate resilience, and the health of our ecosystems. Join us to learn how you too can help build a food system based on justice, dignity, and abundance for all members of our community.
To put the world to rights – and it certainly needs putting to rights! – we need to re-build our lives around food and farming, particularly around the principles of Agroecology and Food Sovereignty. Radical change is called for, and to bring it about we need to dig deep: re-define our goals (what are we trying to achieve in life?); re-think and re-structure agriculture and the food culture that goes with it; re-think the underlying economy, the science, and way the world is governed; and then dig beyond all that into our deepest moral and spiritual preconceptions – the ideas and attitudes that we take for granted and rarely properly examine. Join co-founder of the Oxford Real Farming Conference, Colin Tudge, as he discusses his new book, The Great Re-Think, with Ruby Reed.
Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition movement, will share ideas from his latest book 'From What Is to What If', exploring how we have allowed our collective imagination to contract and dessicate at the worst time possible. A zero carbon future, with a sustainable, resilient agricultural system, will be achieved, he argues, through creating the best conditions for the imagination and through inspiring examples. The next 10 years need to be many things, but they must also be, and feel like, a revolution of the imagination. Inspired by Rilke's statement that “the future must enter into you a long time before it happens”, his talk will be illustrated by inspiring stories and examples, and also will share some thoughts on how we might set about reviving our collective ability to see things as if they could be otherwise.
Jairo Restrepo is a passionate educator and activist, known throughout South America for his practical support of small farmers as well as his campaigns for their rights in the face of powerful agribusiness. He is unique in that he argues for farmers’ autonomy and self-determination but also teaches an array of practical technologies and preparations to increase soil fertility and transform cropping. He offers tools and inspiration for farmers and activists alike.
In this talk, Jairo will cover the effects of industrial agriculture on our soils, diet and ultimately on our souls. After many years of working as a government scientist, he does not reject technology but wants us to recognise farmers as guardians, innovators, researchers and quiet revolutionaries. He writes, “We don’t want to change technology; we want to transform society, thereby changing the technological proposal. Today the opposite occurs, the dominant type of technology proposes a society subjugated to industry. My dream is to construct a being, an ideal state of a being, so that I shall not be the ideal being of the State".
Drawing from his knowledge of biochemistry, Jairo has developed a set of low-tech practices that help remineralise the soil and increase photosynthesis through the use of biofertilisers. These have been widely adopted throughout South America and are now spreading in Africa, America and Europe. His talk will cover some examples of this work and the impact it has on living systems and human diet.
In this talk, Adilen Roque, National Coordinator of Peasant-to-Peasant Agroecological Movement of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) of Cuba, will explain the history of the peasant-to-peasant methodology, as well as how this methodology helped to spark an “Agroecological Revolution” in Cuba which today includes more than 100,000 peasant families growing healthy food for their local communities, and has made the country more resilient against the cruel 60-year economic blockade imposed by the United States.