Virtually Back in Action

By Robert Lingard

Robert Lingard is the new coordinator of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology for Sustainable Food and Farming. Here he gives a brief update on how Parliament is endeavouring to get back to work after the Easter recess and how the APPG hopes to gain support for key amendments to the Agriculture Bill.

We are now several weeks into a national lockdown, which has seen the continued closure and suspension of much of our ‘normal’ way of life. This has included our parliamentary processes, with associated legislative disruption. That was, at least, until last week, when Parliament returned, albeit in a largely virtual sense with MPs ‘zooming’ into the House of Commons and Peers contributing via Microsoft Teams into the House of Lords – a process which has been dubbed a ‘hybrid’ Parliament.

The significance of this should not be lost, especially as much of the important land-use and environmental legislation – including the Agriculture Bill, Trade Bill and Environment Bill – had ground to a halt due to COVID-19. Weeks when we were expecting Second Readings and Third Readings of Bills have now passed and whilst we still await confirmation of the dates for these important legislative ‘next steps’, we should have a little more clarity when the process for ‘virtual voting’ in the Commons is updated upon – currently expected 11th May.

This is important, as there is work still to be done with the Agriculture Bill, with several amendments tabled just before the lockdown around strengthening support for the ‘whole farm agroecological farm system’. On top of this, calls continue to ensure that this landmark piece of legislation properly ensures public money for public goods, high environmental standards for trade deals; to ensure that farmers in the UK are not undercut by imported food produced to lower standards, deliver strong baseline environmental regulations and a long-term funding commitment, among other issues.

The Agriculture Bill and any associated legislature and funding mechanisms must enable farmers to produce safe, healthy food at the same time as helping our soil, landscapes, rivers and wildlife to recover and flourish, supporting agroecological processes up and down the country to benefit people and places.

Whilst COVID-19 has placed many challenges on farmers and food producers, it has also shown in practice that what many of us have been saying for a long time now is desperately needed – sustainable, local farming practices, with short supply-chains ensuring access to affordable, fresh and nutritious food. It can be done, and there have been some incredible examples of how these processes have continued to support local communities through these recent difficulties. We will ensure that these positive practices are not missed by Parliamentarians when they finally are able to one again scrutinise this vital legislation.

To enable a better understanding, in both stakeholders and supporters, of the processes and importance of agroecology, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Agroecology for Sustainable Food & Farming has recently undertaken an online comms campaign – sharing research and case studies from across the sector. You can find out more and support this effort by following the APPG’s Twitter account: @APG_Agroecology