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.
Many grass-fed/regenerative farmers have been “going against the grain” for years. There are signs this is changing as more farmers are looking at regenerative techniques, especially with changing subsidies in the UK. US ranchers Doniga Markegard and Will Harris are leading the field when it comes to grass-based farming systems and regenerative land management.
Will Harris took the leap 20 years ago. He is a sixth generation farmer on his family farm in Bluffton, Georgia. In 2000, his farm, White Oak Pastures, was a conventionally-run commodity cattle farm with high levels of pesticides, fertilisers, hormones and antibiotics in use. Today, it is mixed-farming system home to cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry and rabbits, managed using methods that have been around for centuries.
Doniga Markegard has a background in wildlife tracking and permaculture. She has applied those keen observational skills as a regenerative rancher. Her and her family transitioned to direct market grass-fed 15 years ago and they now sell grass-fed beef, grass-fed lamb, pasture-raised pork and pasture-raised chicken. The family stewards 10,000 acres of coastal grasslands on the other side of the US from Will, in the San Francisco Bay Area. She believes in large-scale restoration of western rangelands through mimicking nature, learning from indigenous stewards while producing nutrient dense meats. Her family is featured in the documentary Kiss the Ground, currently on Netflix.
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.
What needs to be in place to change the behaviour of governments and institutions to encourage long-term thinking? This session will look at the approach adopted in Wales – the introduction of a law to protect future generations – through the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. Despite global commitments to climate change and biodiversity from UN member states, passing this act in 2015 thrust Wales into the global spotlight as the only country in the world to have a legal mechanism to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals. Jane Davidson, proposer of the Act and the author of #futuregen: Lessons from a Small Country will debate the key issues with Lyla June, indigenous environmental scientist and community organiser.
The session will be moderated by Leith Sharp, Director and Lead Faculty, Executive Education for Sustainability Leadership, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
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.
Two best-selling Australian authors, Charles Massy and Bruce Pascoe, discuss the similarities between the indigneous farming practices of Australian First Nations people and regenerative agriculture techniques. They will look at how the Australian First Nations people are revitalising many of their traditional agricultural practices, like farming yam daisies, fire-stick farming, fish and eel farming and also, paludiculture: the cultivation of food and animal resources in wetlands.
Migration of young people away from rural areas is taking place across the world, with fragile infrastructure and services cited as some of the key reasons for this demographic shift. Atop of the day-to-day disadvantages that rural youth face, the climate emergency, the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic crisis threaten their futures. How can rural young people be better supported to create the change they wish to see in their rural areas? How can they be encouraged to raise their voices on rural issues? What changes do they think need to keep young people, and attract more to live, work or study in rural areas?
This panel discussion will bring together rural young people from across the world to discuss the realities of being a rural young person, as well as their perspective on what needs to change to transform rural areas and make them inviting and fit for the future.
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.
Three African women, Jennifer Amejja, Edna Kaptoyo and Rita Uwaka, speak about the importance of women’s cultural, traditional knowledge and practice for food sovereignty, agroecology and community forest management. How they grow nutritious food, use and protect medicinal plants, select and exchange seed, establish vital community seed banks, provide livelihoods and support the local economy. Also how they protect forests, many of which are sacred, and ensure replenishment and restoration of watersheds.
Indigenous women are especially threatened by climate change and biodiversity destruction, yet their intimate knowledge makes them uniquely placed to protect and restore critical ecosystems; strengthen traditional food systems; conserve species; and transmit indigenous knowledge to future generations.
However, industrial plantation agriculture, often supported by governments and finance institutions in developed countries, is fuelling landgrabs, destroying local food systems, and accelerating climate change, biodiversity loss and human rights abuses, especially for women. How should we collectively address this critical issue?