The A Team's consultation response to Defra's 'Health and Harmony'

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The A Team's consultation response to Defra's 'Health and Harmony'

 

 

It has been announced that Defra has received over 44,000 consultation responses from various institutions, businesses and individuals. Each, has critiqued the Government's vision; Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit. The consequences of which, are going to influence the forward trajectory of agriculture, food, public wellbeing and the environment in the UK.

The A Team Foundation are grateful to have our views heard by Government.  Our advice echoes the sentiments of many other voices, it has been formulated by the experience of our grantees on the ground, and from the knowledge of the wider food movement at large. 

Firstly, we champion agroecology and have expressed with great care its many benefits. And so too, we have flagged the holes that appear in the Government's vision.

But furthermore, we have given emphasis upon how we are in the flux of an agricultural revolution. One that envisions an enlightened food system where food is diverse, nutritiously complete, locally sourced, sustainably produced, and access to it is equal. 

 

"The agricultural bill is evidence that there is no longer a status quo, the time to create a brave new world is upon us. One built on humanitarian, and ecological ideals .... Solutions that we develop now are the bedrock, on which, our future generations will thrive."

 
 

Please take the time to read our consultation response in full (by clicking here or on the image below).  However, If you are short on time, our key messages are below. 

 

Our key messages

  • Agroecology is the answer. We advise Defra to make the UK a world-leading example of the enlightened agricultural practice. When aligned with local supply chains, the rights for worker’s and technological innovation, it is the panacea for our paradigm shift.
     
  • The A Team Foundation requests official recognition that food is not a commodity but a basic human right.
     
  • Apply the four easy-to-implement schemes as proposed by the Land Worker’s Alliance; 1) A Sustainable Farming Transition Scheme. 2) A Local Food Fund. 3) A New Entrants Scheme. 4) Horticulture Livelihoods Payments
     
  • Reinvigorate the Horticulture Sector to make easy gains on healthy and accessible food, healthy food, behaviour change, community integration, strengthening local livelihoods and development of our nutritionally complete food security.
     
  • Diverse, culturally appropriate and nutritionally complete food, should take precedence over establishing export markets for commodities.
     
  • Create short supply chains through supporting horticulture farms in urban and peri-urban locations. This would provide a multitude of benefits for urban society, such as education, engagement, health, urban biodiversity and community cohesion.
     
  • Implement simplified Environmental Land Management Schemes for agroforestry, orchards, and particularly; Community Supported Agriculture.
     
  • To talk about ‘Public Goods’ and resilience is at its most fundamental is to talk about seed and agrobiodiversity. This is a vital area that is not acknowledged through Health and Harmony. 
     
  • We strongly request a reverse of the decisions by BEIS and DEFRA not to extend the role of the groceries code Adjudicator to cover more of the food supply chain beyond direct supermarket suppliers.
     
  • Food labelling must be reformed to a mandatory and uniformed system that champions our high food standards, the nutritional quality, the Public Goods they create, and the method of production.
     
  • Public health is a Public Good, and one that should be delivered by farming and food policy. Although inherently interconnected, there isn’t a focus on how agricultural policy will change the course of diet-related illness in the UK and ease the burden on the NHS.
     
  • All Public Procurement should run through a food assurance scheme, we propose the Soil Association’s ‘Food for Life’.
 


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Why is the Precautionary Principle so vital?

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Why is the Precautionary Principle so vital?

By Robert Reed, A Team Foundation

Sustainable food production is the apex between human and environmental health. Being good custodians of our planet gives the inherent benefit to one’s self also. Clean soil, air, and water should create clean food, diets, and overall wellbeing. This is true even if you reverse the chain; wholesome nutrition requires eating healthy and cooking with clean ingredients.

However, this interconnected perspective is still lost amongst the conditioning from the past. Throughout the world, industries and people, work with a silo mentality; a perspective that sees and works within the parameters of only one self-defined area, and everything external of that is considered void. This is an outdated ‘reductionist’ thinking method, ill-suited for the challenges of the 21st century. 

We, as a species, are at a point in our evolution where holistic thinking is the only way forward. Necessity is the mother of all innovation, and from which, new systems are emerging.

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The natural environment works in a multidimensional continuum (it all arises simultaneously at once, everywhere), and this patchwork of beings all relate to one another – ourselves included (A wonderful video about interconnectivity in nature: How the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park changed the rivers).

Imagine a wing of an aeroplane, there are many rivets holding it together. If the wing lost one or two rivets during a flight, it will be more-or-less secure and its function in-tact. However, there is a threshold, if enough rivets are removed, the wing (and the plane) loses its functionality. This is the basic premise of environmental collapse. The environment we are a part of.

The environment is a network of innumerable species. This network, the ecosystem, is resilient to all the shocks that we humans place upon it. There are many scientists who claim our actions have brought us to the tipping point of the planetary boundaries; potentially driving Earth into a new state of existence.

  Rén - The Chinese symbol for Man

Rén - The Chinese symbol for Man

The Chinese symbol for Man has many entertaining interpretations with unity and interconnectedness as a common theme. Created by two lines, the first is propped up by the latter. I see it as Man being propped upwards by the Earth. Others found meaning in how we as humans should treat each other. Either way, it’s a symbol, but for me, it is one that shows the underlining connection to all.

What we do is what happens to us. If we disregard another (be it the environment or another human), the effects return to the source (dressed in a different form).

Thinking in this manner (holism) is one thing, applying it, however, is most definitely a challenge. The reasons why holistic systems are so beneficial is that they are diverse and complex; ironically, the same reasons why there is such resistance to adopt them.

We cannot say that we know with absolute accuracy, what consequences occur from our individual actions. Impacts go beyond our field of vision and our feedback loops, they are external, eternally rippling outwards.

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Imagine, therefore, a new product - for ease, let’s say a pesticide - is developed and about to be released, one that has a “successful” potency against certain crop-munching insects. As users, neighbours or customers, we cannot personally guarantee its safety and thus, we place our trust in organisations, certifying bodies and national law so that this product doesn’t cause detrimental harm.

Let’s say those institutions didn’t exist, negative consequences could manifest in many forms. Perhaps when the pesticide is mixed with a different ‘on farm’ chemical it becomes a poisonous substance, or, it may obliterate a specific native population of invertebrates (with larger consequences in the ecosystem and food chain). One stat has been playing on my mind recently; we – Europe as a land mass – have lost 33% of our farmland birds. Why? -  Simply, habitat and food; a loss of hedgerows, wooded areas, insects, worms. What if the bird population falls so far that the decline goes beyond a sustainable threshold? What does that mean to the native plants dependent on seed dispersal through avian digestion? What does it mean for predators? What does it mean for other bird life? For our own pleasure in the morning, how sweet will that dawn chorus be? And in time, what does this mean for our own culture? Ad. Infinitum.

This line of thought is exactly why there is a piece of policy legislation in place called The Precautionary Principle. Where there is insufficient scientific evidence available to make an authoritative decision, the Principle suggests to not go ahead as the risk is either unknown or too high – common sense right?

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There is a chance that this piece of policy (along with other environmental protections) may be scrapped during Brexit; opening the doors for the silo thinking. The PP is a preventative against harm when we do not know the extent of the outcome.

In March, the APPG for Agroecology and Dr Rupert Read (University of East Anglia) created briefing papers that highlighted the importance of the Precautionary Principle in Government policy. The briefings inform the ongoing environmental protection debates at the House of Lords, where they are reporting on the amendments to the Government’s EU Withdrawal Bill. There are two papers, one is specific to the House of Lords and the EU Withdrawal Bill, the other focus on the role that the Precautionary Principle has in the context of Climate Change and Animal Welfare.     

The Bill itself omits many environmental safeguards. Debates are already occurring in the House as the overarching dialogue continues until the deadline for reporting; May 8th. There has been an update this week that provides some sense of clarity. On Monday, the Lords defeated the Government. The proposal to make amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill (that would maintain the environmental protections and human rights) was passed. If enough MPs agree with the amendments, the consequence will mean that the Government must revise the initial EU Withdrawal Bill. 

However, there still remains a gaping hole. When the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, proposed his visions for a ‘Green Brexit’. Mr Gove and his team acknowledged a problem, the current regulator, the European Court of Justice, will not be in effect after Brexit and so, Mr Gove proposed a new watchdog to take its duties. The Government maintain the status that environmental protection will be the role of the watchdog, but what is the use of a watchdog that has no teeth?  

The issue is that the watchdog hasn't materialised due to the opposition from other members of the cabinet. They want to be free to arrange international trade deals as they please, in the name of the economy and industry. And this has the potential to leave the environment wide open to negligent practice.

While these debates are ongoing, the APPG still supplies evidence, while also working on the consultation for the Agriculture Bill; another critical piece of policy work. Meanwhile, Greener UK, (a united front by organisations such as Client Earth, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Woodland Trust to name only a few) are still spearheading the efforts to safeguard the existing environmental protections.

Earlier this month, GreenerUK released this blog post; Green Brexit? Not unless the prime minister stands up to her grey ministers, which acutely sums up that current state of play.

The need for enlightenment continues… well, at least Spring has arrived.

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Ambitious Seed Sovereignty Programme takes root in the UK & Ireland

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Ambitious Seed Sovereignty Programme takes root in the UK & Ireland

by Rowan Phillimore, Gaia Foundation

 

As seed and potato fairs and ‘Seedy Sundays’ take place up and down the country, dormant gardens, allotments and fields are about to spring back into life with another growing season. At The Gaia Foundation, a newly appointed team of Regional Coordinators are connecting with established seed producers, budding amateurs and ambitious entrepreneurs each with the aim to increase the quality, quantity and access to organic seed varieties here on home soil.

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The Gaia Foundation’s UK & Ireland Seed Sovereignty Programme took root last year and will run until summer 2020. It is designed to increase the amount of agroecological – organic - seed available in the UK and Ireland. The programme is the result of a number of years’ groundwork including the Great Seed Festival in 2014 and a year-long Feasibility Study in 2015, both supported by the A Team Foundation.

  Ellen Page, Regional Coordinator for Western England

Ellen Page, Regional Coordinator for Western England

The programme will help to web up the UK and Ireland’s existing organic seed sector by connecting growers and encouraging new initiatives and growers to emerge through up-skilling in seed saving and production. There will better access to resources and equipment that support organic seed production, and these will be disseminated through the Regional Coordinators as well as a new dedicated website.

The final Regional Coordinators, each of whom brings with them a wealth of experience and expertise, are Maria Scholten (Scotland), Katie Hastings (Wales), Ellen Page (Western England), Page Dryksta (Eastern England) and Wayne Frankam (Ireland). Wayne will be working under partner organisation the Irish Seed Savers Association (ISSA), who will be actively involved in the programme’s delivery in Ireland, where they are already well established and respected. 

Through this team, led by Neil Munro, the former head of the Heritage Seed Library at Garden Organic, regional ‘hubs’ will emerge where best practice can be shared and replicated. There will also be plant variety trials to assess which seeds grow best locally, across our own diverse landscapes - from the highlands to the lowlands – and conditions. Participatory plant breeding will follow.  

 

Story of Origin – Learning from Canada to spread seeds of change

 

More on the Seed Sovereignty
Programme

It was during the Great Seed Festival in 2014 that the idea for the programme was first conceived, as an audience dedicated to seed and food justice heard Jane Rabinowicz, the then head of The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, present the story of their inspiring programme. The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security is now in its fifth successful year and offers a blueprint for taking seed multiplication and revival to scale.

The Canadian programme is guided by four aims: To increase the quality, quantity and diversity of ecologically grown Canadian seed; to promote public access to seed; to facilitate collaboration within the seed system; and to respect, advance, and promote the knowledge of farmers in seed production. Through these objectives, USC Canada has sought to create “a seed system in Canada that provides a solid foundation for food security, climate resilience and community health and wellbeing.” It achieves this through coordinating trainings and networking, through a small grants programme, through public access to seed through cooperatives and libraries, and through a web extension service offering advice and a database of varieties. 

  Katie Hastings, Regional Coordinator for Wales

Katie Hastings, Regional Coordinator for Wales

Upon hearing about the Canadian programme, there was a resounding echo of interest in rolling out something similar in the UK. A feasibility study was conducted and analysis of the information collected at each stage saw key themes emerge, with perceived potential barriers, challenges and opportunities becoming easily identifiable. The study revealed that there was huge appetite for a UK wide programme and the findings facilitated the design of the programme. The need for regional representation in seed production came out of the study with over 90% citing it as an important aspect. The study also showed 85% of respondents felt training was important, as was the establishment of an online space (89%) and a database (91%).

The Seed Sovereignty UK & Ireland Programme was born.

 

The programme has identified three overarching objectives within which all of the activities have been organised. They are:

  • To support and cultivate regional and national connections and collaboration to provide coherence across the food and seed sector.
  • To support farmers and growers with further skills, resources and information.
  • To foster a more supportive environment for a biodiverse and ecologically sustainable seed system to thrive, leading to an increase in genetic diversity.

 

Much like its Canadian counterpart, it will deliver this through trainings, regional hubs connecting with local initiatives such as seed cooperatives and libraries; through the development of a database and online service, the establishment of a Legal Working Group to demystify seed legislation and opportunities, and support with equipment and expert knowledge wherever deemed useful.

This is the first time that Gaia have been part of such a large-scale programme in the UK and the A Team Foundation are pleased to have supported them to be working alongside such a diverse group of partners from across the food movement – from the Landworkers Alliance to the Seed Cooperative; the Soil Association to the Irish Seed Savers. The food and seed sovereignty movement in the UK is teeming with enthusiasm and experience, and through this programme there will be more support and cohesion – strengthening its resolve and resistance in these challenging times.

"Building on well-founded experiences in Canada this initiative
could be catalytic in improving the availability of good diverse
seed for growers in the UK, I believe, as well as challenging the
dominant mantra in favour of industrial seeds. It is important that
the momentum is maintained. As we have all recognised, the barriers
 to the availability to good diverse organic seed is a severe limitation to
healthy, localised food systems in the UK. I think those leading this programme
 have the convening power, aptitude and competence to help
steer a process that could help resolve this." 
Patrick Mulvany, former Chair of the UK Food Group.
 
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Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics

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Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics

By Suzi Shingler, Campaign Manager for the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics

www.saveourantibiotics.org

In 2009 Compassion in World Farming, the Soil Association and Sustain joined forces to form the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics with the goal of curbing the overuse of antibiotics within the farming industry in the UK and EU. The Alliance now comprises over 60 members representing over 500 EU-wide organisations. It is the only organisation in the UK that acts entirely independently of industry or government, to contribute to actively finding solutions to the misuse of antibiotics in agriculture.

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The Alliance has gone from strength to strength in recent years and has been instrumental in working with farming groups and policymakers, and happily reports that use of antibiotics on UK farms is starting to go down. For many years the general consensus was that the medication used on farms had no correlation to the increasing numbers of people finding that antibiotics were losing their power to treat illness in humans. Times have changed, and we know that we can’t be complacent about what we medicate our livestock with and how often we do it. Antibiotic use in farming does contribute to antimicrobial resistance in humans, and this is now globally accepted. How we tackle it is another matter, and is where the expertise of the Alliance comes in.

The Alliance has been looking with increasing focus on how we can achieve long-term reductions in antibiotic use at a level which poses no threat to human health. In November 2017 we published a seminal new report which argues that part of the reason our antibiotic use remains too high is that we are still relying on intensive farming methods to raise animals for food. Increasingly evidence is showing that farming systems that prioritise an animal’s health, its robustness and ability to express natural behaviours, lend themselves to a lower incidence of antibiotic use. On the contrary, where a farming system focuses primarily on yield and productivity, putting animals in environments which are stressful socially and physically, impairs immunity and by their crowded nature, these environments are more likely to lead to higher use of antibiotics. There is an argument that the system is only as good as the person running it, but we cannot ignore the signs pointing us in the direction of a different farming culture which would be more sympathetic to animals and put a much lesser burden on our increasing levels of antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic Resistance Alliance Battery.jpg

This same report also looked at what supermarkets in the UK are doing to reduce the amounts of antibiotics used in their supply chains. After ranking the publicly available antibiotics policies of the UK’s largest supermarkets, we were delighted when three supermarkets published data about the levels of antibiotics used in their supply chains. This was met with significant media interest and was shortly followed by the breaking news that supermarket chicken has higher-than-ever levels of a resistant bacteria which is becoming increasingly difficult to treat when the infection becomes severe.

Looking ahead, a key priority is campaigning to ensure that when the UK leaves the EU, we do so with the best legislation and trade deals regarding levels of antibiotics used both in the meat we produce and that we import. The heat is on internationally for every country to reduce their use as much as possible, and we remain resolute that welfare must be at the heart of how this is achieved. Thanks to the support from the A Team Foundation, we are making headway on this critical issue at the most crucial and unprecedented time in the history of modern UK law-making.



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Brexit and Enlightened Agriculture: who is doing what

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Brexit and Enlightened Agriculture: who is doing what

 By Robert Reed, A Team Foundation

 

 The month of January is named after Janus, the mythological Roman god of gates, beginnings and transitions. With that in mind, it seemed an appropriate time to write about the political path ahead in light of recent Brexit developments.

In the current tides of popular discourse, using Latin may be overly EU-centric: In an Anglo-Saxon tongue, January was called, “Wulf-monath”; the month of the wolves. Look into that as you will.

Recently, the A Team Foundation kicked off 2018 with the Oxford Real Farming Conference. If the year continues as it has begun, we are in line for an exciting ride. And boy, did the conference permeate with the momentum of change.

The Secretary of State, Rt Hon. Michael Gove MP gave a public Q&A with Zac Goldsmith concerning Brexit, the UK’s farming sector and forthcoming changes. Numerous sites provide an accurate account of his attendance, such as the Soil Association and this article in the Guardian.

Mr Gove’s speech was filled with Brexit and what that means for farmers. In this article, the A Team Foundation will provide you with a summary of the Brexit landscape and importantly, who is doing what for you and Enlightened Agriculture in preparation for Britain leaving the EU.

The food sovereignty movement is in the process of influencing national policy through a joined-up approach. The organisations involved are already hard at work, and a sense of urgency maintains. Everyone is taking focus; this is the opportunity that we have all been waiting for, for so very long.

Defra Ministers have welcomed the Land Worker’s Alliance and the Organic Roundtable (spearheaded by the Organic Research Centre) to work with them in supplying evidence and case studies to inform decisions for the forthcoming Agricultural Bill. On a broader political level, The Real Farming Trust, Sustain, Greener UK and the All Party Parliamentary Group for Agroecology are affecting the democratic processeses of Government. And the RSA has taken a non-political route by launching a commission to develop public engagement and education.

With regards to recent developments, it seems that the Government has adhered to the arrival of January in the same way that most people do, with a New Year’s resolution; a commitment to change oneself for the better. We hope that this New Year’s resolution will last.

 

DEFRA’s 25-year plan.

 

The Conservatives have publicly embraced the notion that they are a green party. This metamorphosis has caught many by surprise and indeed, it is most welcome news. The release, earlier this month, of the 25-year Environment Plan, was announced by Theresa May. The first major speech by a Prime Minister on the environment for 17 years.

As per every landscape of the UK, Brexit has a critical impact on food, farming and the environment. If half of the policies proposed by the 25-year environmental plan comes to fruition, then it would be one of the most significant environmental accomplishments to occur in our time. But with every victory, there’s a taste that’s bittersweet. 

The plan is not without its criticisms, and I write this today as a 30-year-old, I’ll be almost 60 by the time “avoidable” plastic waste is eliminated, which is just not good enough. Also, numerous organisations are criticising the lack of legal underpinning. A lengthy amount of time allows for the changing of the tides. No legal commitment exists to support the enforcement of the Plan’s statements and policies. 

The plan covers a range of topics from plastics, recycling, biodiversity and habitats to climate change and air pollution. Here we have chosen a few highlights:

Soil Fertility.

First of all, the words ‘Organic Farming’ is not mentioned. However, the plan hints to techniques from the organic movement. Soil fertility is a crucial part of the project. DEFRA have rightfully understood the importance of our soil as a fundamental underpinning of food security and a resilient biosphere. The plan suggests improving soil health through the utilisation of trees and widespread application of successful techniques such as installing winter cover crops.

 

Common Agricultural Policy

Michael Gove has publicly stated that direct payments would be phased out after Brexit. In its place, agriculture support will be based on rewarding farmers who deliver “public goods” or environmental enhancements. The plan includes measures to protect water and reduce chemical use.

A transition period is in motion between now and 2024. In that space sits a replica of the existing CAP system. The removal of subsidies for land area payments begin with the higher earners first and a lot sooner than 2024. The UK’s alternative Agriculture Bill is being designed as we speak with proposals submitted through a command paper this Spring.

 

Natural Capital

The Natural Capital Committee is a considerable influence in Defra decision making.  Deiter Helm is the pioneering academic for Natural Capital in the UK. His book, Natural Capital: Valuing the Planet, is a solid piece of work. You can instantly see why policymakers want him around.

Natural Capital is a concept which gives a monetary value to every subject of the environment. It is measured through metrics based on cultural, economic and ecological values to people and the ecosystem.

It allows those who see the world through linear, numerically orientated perspectives to factor in the un-factorable within their bookkeeping. It translates the wiggly and circular world into a language they can understand and work with.

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This use of language brings environmental stewardship and the ecosystem rightfully onto tables of commercial, political and industrial discussion. It has the potential to prioritise sustainability and reward the steward.

Agroecology is an approach that balances production, sustainability, and ecology. Natural Capital will be taking it seriously as the method will benefit the bottom line in the long-term.  

However, Natural Capital will be an influencer in the increase of biodiversity and carbon offsetting.  Upon planning a new development, the ecology of an existing site is compensated by creating an equivalent elsewhere. Offsetting an area that has a substantial cost (let's say, ancient woodland) is not a problem for those with deep pockets. Offsetting cultural and atmospheric integrity, however, is different.

How far will this go? One day, will there be Japanese investor capitalists thronging money into land within The Mendips in the hope that a newly built shopping centre in Birmingham will need to offset its carbon and biodiversity? Have we honestly lost the connection to value while only knowing the cost? How does the poetic spirit of the natural world translate to numbers on an excel spreadsheet?

 

The Polluter Pays Principle.

Lastly, on a bit of a tangent from food and farming, the plan develops an appetite for a greater emphasis on the polluter pays principle (Whereby the costs of environmental pollution lie with those responsible for it). Which as a factor is helpful. Although, with the removal of the precautionary principle from the EU withdrawal bill (a policy maker’s tool to manage risk where scientific understanding is incomplete; if the unknowns are big then don’t), it seems Defra are more interested in focusing on the cure as opposed to prevention.

“The Precautionary Principle reminds us of our responsibilities as stewards for our bequeathed wondrous nature, to which we give no voice and towards which too often we turn a deaf ear. It jolts us into giving proper attention to the living worlds of all future generations, both human and natural, for whom at present there is no reliable political representation”. Rupert Read

 

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology

 

The APPG on Agroecology is a group of parliamentarians that provide a voice for Agroecology in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Members range across the entire political spectrum and are co-chaired by Kerry McCarthy MP and Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer.

The group supplies a platform for agroecological experts to present their ideas and research findings to MPs, peers, the media and public on a regular basis. The group publishes parliamentary briefings and co-ordinates the actions of ministers and opposition through a range of governmental protocols.

The APPG on Agroecology for Sustainable Food and Farming conducted an inquiry in March 2017 into the way Brexit trade negotiations could impact UK agriculture and food production, with particular emphasis on areas of practice and legislation most likely to effect producers working to sustainable, agroecological standards. The conclusion is summarised in the following sentence:

Poorly handled trade deals ‘biggest peacetime threat’ to UK food security.

“There are serious concerns that if negotiators don’t value farmers enough and build poorly managed trade deals that reflect this - particularly a US - UK deal – it could trigger a race to the bottom in terms of standards and ability of our own farmers to compete. The APPG is determined that this sector should not become a bargaining chip or something that can easily be traded.” Group Chair Kerry McCarthy MP

Scary stuff.. 

In recent months, the APPG is looking deeper into what the EU Withdrawal Bill means for Enlightened Agriculture.

  Kath Dalmeny's visual props fo  r her Brexit presentation at ORFC18

Kath Dalmeny's visual props for her Brexit presentation at ORFC18

The Oxford Real Farming Conference always spurs motivational energy. Kath Dalmeny from Sustain gave such a sterling visual presentation on the EU Withdrawal Bill (what can be banked as safe, promises that can be built upon, and what is going to be binned), it catalysed many conversations within the floor and behind the scenes. Sustain, and other organisations are working with the APPG on developing the 2018 program as we speak.

The APPG (like all of us) are set for a busy year. As proponents of the phrase ‘Public Money for Public Good’, they carry the duty to inform MPs and Peers with analysis of Defra’s 25-year plan, advice for the Agriculture Bill, and campaigning to pick up any dropped balls from the EU Withdrawal Bill.

Defra, with their open-door policy to new methods of thinking, has set their sights on our movement through the interconnected work of the APPG and their informants such as the Organic Research Centre and the Landworkers’ Alliance. 

 

The English Organic Forum’s Roundtable and their Organic Action Plan

 

Following the Brexit referendum, the English Organic Forum (a roundtable of organic organisations, spearheaded by Organic Research Centre), has been prolific in raising critical issues with Defra Ministers.

Defra has invited the forum to participate in formal conversations about agricultural policy and to produce and implement an industry-led action plan to develop the organic food and farming sector in England (The devolved nations have their right to build their strategy).

Forming the plan has taken a joined-up industry approach. The strategic areas targeted for development, as follows; Citizen access to and engagement with organic food, Small-scale production and short supply chains; trade, national supply chains and domestic supply; Regulations and equivalency; Research, advice, training and information; and support for the public benefits from organic land management.

During the Oxford Real Farming Conference, Professor Nic Lampkin and key members of the forum (the Biodynamic Association, Land Workers’ Alliance, Organic Trade Board, Organic Farmers & Growers, and the Soil Association to name a few) hosted a workshop in a bustling room, crowd-sourcing additional ideas from the conference’s experienced attendees.

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Professor Lampkin states that participation is wholly welcome, the process is to the benefit of the industry and broader public. You can find his contact details at the Organic Research Centre.

The Roundtable met with Defra Ministers in November. The response from their initial proposals was constructive, and several issues were highlighted for further focus.  A further meeting of the Organic Roundtable is planned for March 2018, with the launch of the action plan envisaged later in the Spring.

 

The Land Workers’ Alliance

 

Come Spring, the Agricultural Bill will be released outlining the path ahead. The Bill will have a critical impact on how food is produced in this country, the natural world, and our human health. It is perhaps the most significant moment for agriculture in generations.

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The Landworkers’ Alliance is working to define our future through influencing policy. They are rallying the cause to make sure the voices of the people are heard, their livelihoods defended and a fair food system for all is guaranteed. 

Successful policy work is critical to their cause with the belief that farmers and communities must be at the heart of decision-making. They want to see power put back in the hands of producers and local communities rather than supermarkets and industrial processors.

The LWA is a tenacious group. At the closing plenary of the Oxford Real Farming Conference, Jyoti Fernandes gave a genuinely moving speech. She recalled how fourteen years ago, on a cold January morning while getting her children ready for school; she was carrying a bale of hay to feed livestock across a yard deep in mud when the inevitable happened. Falling head first, surrounded by hungry cows, she looked up and just wished it would be easier for farmers like her.

LWA Post-Brexit Agriculture Policy June 2017

This collective of strong-willed farmers and producers have been a driving force for change. Now, fourteen years later, Jyoti sat having lunch with Mr Gove, as he stated, “we’ll have our people call your people” or something of that kind.

The LWA’s publication ‘Recommendations for a post-Brexit Policy’ is a must-read for those interested in this area.

The door to Defra is open for innovative and holistic thinkers. The LWA has already gathered the research and formulated the arguments for change. Now, they are giving Defra the whistle-stop tour of it in action through Defra study tours, ‘away days’ and case studies. Politicians are on the ground, in wellies.

Now, LWA staff are being asked to join in various committees and contribute as consultants. The Conservatives Rural Action Group have invited some of LWA’s new entrants that are struggling with planning, to speak at a hearing in Parliament.

The time to make a change is really upon us and the LWA have the mandate to carry it through. They have recently completed a successful crowdfunding campaign, raising £25,000 to support their policy work and keep up with that demand. At a time to be proud of our movement, the LWA are working tirelessly to maintain momentum, but there is still a long way to go.

 

Greener UK

 

The largest and the most resourced organisation that is affecting Government’s decisions on environmental policy is Greener UK. An unprecedented coalition of environmental groups with a combined public membership of 7.9 million that are following Brexit’s every twist and turn.

Greener UK is a compound of major environmental organisations such as RSPB, National Trust, WWF, The Wildlife Trusts, Campaign to Protect Rural England, Client Earth, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Woodland Trust and with support from numerous other organisations and networks. A united front is the best way to impact the major decisions. 

An agricultural briefing policy has been designed by the coalition. It promotes the notion that interdisciplinary, cross sector approaches are needed due to the transboundary nature of the natural world. They are working alongside Food and Farming organisations to inform policymakers.

Mr Gove’s stance on environmental law is that after Brexit, the UK is better disposed to improve protections and has pledged that green standards will not be weakened.

However, Greener UK is of the belief that the current EU withdrawal bill “rips the heart out of environmental law” by omitting the principles of precaution. Greener UK is concerned that government plans do not adequately transpose all EU environmental rules into UK law.

After Brexit day, the European Commission will be unable to work alongside the European Court of Justice to hold the UK government to account. Over the past 40 years, the EU has achieved a great deal in improving environmental quality in the UK.

Therefore, it appeared that a governance gap was open for exploitation. In the summer of 2017, Greener UK highlighted the risk that could arise from this problem, and Mr Gove responded by announcing in the 25-year plan, the creation of a ‘new-commission like body’ to hold the government to account.

Greener UK analyses Defra with a sharp focus. The European Commission formulates new environmental policy proposals on the back of 500 civil servants. In principle, there is no reason that Defra is unable to handle these processes but for years it has been subject to profound staffing cuts and lacks a generation’s worth of experience in preparing legislative bills.

Greener UK is doing a comprehensive job informing Ministers, the Media and The Public about the potential issues concerning environmental policy. Environmental Policy has a rightful place on the table where larger conversations are being had. However, at points, it can be neglected or traded. Refer back to the work of the APPG and trade negotiations. Negotiations require the flexibility to compromise and having concrete laws may be a burden to those in economics. Greener UK are focused to achieve the best deal for the environment in light of the volatile and transient times.

 
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The RSA’s Food, Farming and Countryside Commission

 

The last organisation to be mentioned is a bit of an anomaly. As the others are all influencing Government, the RSA’s commission is a public based inquiry into the interrelated nexus of Food, Farming and the Countryside. The purpose of its establishment is to consider how a safe, secure food and farming system can be achieved while also providing a flourishing rural economy and sustainable and accessible countryside.

Brexit was the catalyst that inspired this commission and the opportunity that Brexit gives is an overarching rethink of the food production system. The vision spurs further questions such as, Where do we want our food to come from? How are we to support farms (and rural economies) without the Common Agricultural Policy? How can we assure public and environmental health?

“The work of this Commission will go to the heart of who we are and who we want to be: as individuals, households, and communities”. RSA

The steering group, involving Directors and CEOs of the National Trust, Royal Society of Public Health, Soil Association, Sustain, Tenant Farmers Association, Volac and Which?, shall chart a course, critically analysing through enquiry, the interconnected and changing spheres of agriculture, environment, rural living, dietary needs, and public health.

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 The task of the commission is this:

  1. Inspire and develop a widely-shared mandate for change.
  2. Set out a vision that is fairer, can stand the test of time, and aligns more closely with public expectations and values.
  3. Propose solutions to achieve that vision, identifying where communities and business can take the lead, and where national policy is essential

The enquiry isn’t based exclusively on those “in the know”, the work aims to extrapolate upon public knowledge and provide a platform for citizen engagement. The choices of people determine the food system; it is of vital importance that attitudes and behaviours are not only incorporated but also, understood.

Sue Pritchard, the Secretariat of the Commission, chaired a session at the ORFC based on the interconnected nature of Food, Farming and Medicine. The all-female panel was made up of organic growers, retailers, public health nutritionists, a general practitioner and nutritional chef practitioner. The importance of healthy food resonates through our movement. Here, the panel discussed the ripple effect of what a robust and healthy food system can do for us.   

The RSAs objective is epitomised by that panel: ’finding common ground using different perspectives, so to innovate solutions’. Those solutions are to be publicised in Spring 2019

 

Conclusion

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So, as you can see, there is an interconnected network that are working together with the sum greater than the whole of its parts. This synergy seems to be gaining ground in some areas (those that are politically aligned), whereas there is still cause for concern for others. 

These organisations are key players in the changing political and social landscape. In an industry where many are achieving phenomenal feats by pushing for change as well as working long hours outside growing or farming. An inspirational amount of energy and know-how is being funnelled into a movement that is making change happen.

As this Brexit journey charters an unknown path, we know that it won’t be plain sailing.  However, we can take pride in the fact that whatever happens, there are people out there giving there all for a better world. 

After all that you have read, and our energies spent, aren’t you glad that by the end of this year, it may have accounted for nothing due to a second referendum? Or not… who knows.

 



 

 

Comment

A Matter of Scale

Comment

A Matter of Scale

by Rebecca Laughton and Csilla Kiss, 
The Landworkers' Alliance and The
Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR), Coventry University.

Why study small farms?

Small scale (20ha and less) farms and market gardens have long fallen below the radar in UK agricultural policy, despite attracting increasing numbers of new entrants who bring youth and innovation to the agricultural sector.  A culture of disbelief exists that such farms can be economically viable in an age when family farms of 50-200 hectares are being amalgamated into ever larger units. Despite an “inverse relationship” between farm size and productivity being proven in the Global South, little data exists about the productivity of small farms in the UK. The “A Matter of Scale” (AMOS) study set out to challenge the assumption that bigger automatically means “more productive” and “more viable”, by collecting and analysing data about the yields, financial performance and multifunctional benefits of agroecological farms of 20ha and less. The A-Team Foundation provided funding for a two year study to be undertaken by the Landworkers’ Alliance under the supervision of the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR) at Coventry University, combining an online survey of small farmers with the creation of five short films, based on interviews with the most productive farms in the survey.

AMOS Report - Small Farm - A Team Foundation

What did the research show?

The survey and interviews revealed a number of striking findings about this little studied sector.  The most notable include:

AMOS Report - Tractor - A Team Foundation
  • The average yields (kg per square metre) of crops such as beans, salad leaves and kale, requiring high labour inputs were two to three times higher than yield data for standard non-organic systems.
     
  • Small farms provide employment, both for self-employed growers/farmers and paid employees, to the tune of 3.2 full time equivalents (FTE) per hectare.  This is significantly higher than the UK average for agriculture of 0.028 annual work units (AWU) per hectare[1] and even the average for horticulture of 0.23 AWU/ha[2].  Furthermore, employees were motivated to choose small scale agroecological farms due to the variety of work, its meaningful nature and the convivial working environment.
     
  • 78% of the sample was receiving no farm subsidies, and of those who were, for most respondents, subsidies represented a minor proportion of their income.  Although net farm incomes were low, produce sales were generating more than 60% of total income for 33% of the AMOS sample, 40-60% of income for 33% of the sample.   This contrasts with annual farm business income data for the UK, in which all farm types are obtaining more income from Pillar 1 payments and agri-environment schemes than from sales of agricultural produce[3] .

The methodology for measuring productivity on diverse, highly integrated farms, proved challenging. Apart from the horticultural data, it was difficult to calculate yield figures per area of land due to practices such as rotation, poly-cropping and the use of bought in feeds.  A detailed understanding of the full productive capacity of small farms, especially those with livestock, would require in depth quantitative case studies.  As is so often the case, the attempt to answer one question, only throws up many more!

AMOS report - Chickens - A Team Foundation

Outcomes from the AMOS study

Even before the AMOS report was published in July 2017, figures from the study were in demand.  The 2017 edition of the “Organic Farm Management  Handbook”, used AMOS horticultural yield data in a new section focussing on the performance of small organic production holdings, making it more useful for business planning for such enterprises.  Figures from the report have also been used in the Landworkers’ Alliance’s own campaign publications “Making Food Sovereignty a Reality: Recommendations for Post-Brexit Agricultural Policy”[4] and “Why We Need Small Farms[5]

AMOS report - Group Shot - A Team Foundation

Following publication, the report achieved some media coverage, including interviews with the author on Farming Today, BBC Points West (Link) and BBC Radio Somerset.  At the Via Campesina global gathering in July, great excitement was expressed about the AMOS report as a valuable campaigning tool.  In September, a delegation of Defra officers from the Organic Team took part in a two day study tour of small, agroecological farms in the Midlands, including three visits to holdings which took part in the study.  Being able to show efficient and viable small farms in action, backed up by a detailed report about their productivity, was powerful in challenging the preconceptions held by some of the delegates.  Already the report is contributing to broader dialogue about the future of agriculture and was also featured in a CPRE Food and Farming Foresight Paper, “Uncertain Harvest: does the loss of farms matter[6]?”

The scope of the project stretched far beyond the delivery of a report, however.  Encouraged by the team at the CAWR, respondents for the survey were recruited in part by a series of six regional Landworkers’ Alliance meetings across England.  These meetings, held in early 2015, formed the foundation for an evolving regionalisation process which is enabling far flung members of the LWA to benefit from training events, farm tours and the solidarity of regional meetings.  In October 2016, people who took part in the survey and other LWA members were invited to a Skill Share day to hear about the results of the research, and take part in enterprise themed workshops to explore how they could increase productivity using agroecological ideas.  The five films were premiered at the Skill Share day, which gave an opportunity for feedback and discussion and contributed to the final report.  The films will now make the findings of the report accessible to a wider audience and will, we hope, encourage more people to read the report.

At a time when the future of UK agriculture hangs in the balance, the AMOS report will continue to be a valuable piece of the LWA’s campaign toolkit as we argue the case for better support for small farmers post Brexit. 

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You can read the full AMOS report here

 

[1] Defra (2015) Agriculture in the UK, p8

[2] Devlin, S. (2016) Agricultural Labour in the UK. New Economics Foundation and Food Research Collaboration. 

[3] Defra (2015/16) Farm business income by type of farm, p8

[4] LWA (2017) Making Food Sovereignty a Reality: Recommendations for Post-Brexit Agricultural Policy.  

[5] LWA (2017) Why we need small farms: Farming in Post-Brexit Britain.

[6] Willis, G. (2017). Uncertain Harvest: Does the loss of small farms matter? Food and Farming Foresight Paper 2, the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

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Comment

The Main Feature in Science Journal

The Main Feature in Science Journal

What impact does modern life have on our gut? 

 

Science Magazine Front Cover, Human Food Project

Written by Robert Reed, A Team Foundation.

During August, one of our projects appeared as the main feature for Science Magazine. The journal featured the following peer reviewed paper by Dr Jeff Leach of the Human Food Project:

 "Seasonal cycling in the gut microbiome of the Hadza hunter-gathers of Tanzania".

The paper gives evidence that the microbiome of a hunter-gathering tribe configures with the seasons, individual taxa disappear and reemerge through the annual cycle accordingly. A comparison of the evidence with data (from 18 populations, over 16 countries, with varying lifestyles), proves that modernisation has a direct influence on our gut and its overall well-being. 

The Abstract from Science Magazine: 

"Although humans have cospeciated with their gut-resident microbes, it is difficult to infer features of our ancestral microbiome. Here, we examine the microbiome profile of 350 stool samples collected longitudinally for more than a year from the Hadza hunter-gatherers of Tanzania. The data reveal annual cyclic reconfiguration of the microbiome, in which some taxa become undetectable only to reappear in a subsequent season. Comparison of the Hadza data set with data collected from 18 populations in 16 countries with varying lifestyles reveals that gut community membership corresponds to modernization: Notably, the taxa within the Hadza that are the most seasonally volatile similarly differentiate industrialized and traditional populations. These data indicate that some dynamic lineages of microbes have decreased in prevalence and abundance in modernized populations".

 

Read the full article here.


Food Issues Census 2017

Food Issues Census 2017

Written by Robert Reed, A Team Foundation

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The 2017 Food Issues Census is an account of the changing trends of issues within the food and farming sector. Issues such as food poverty, animal welfare and environmental concerns are reviewed by popularity and by how much financial support they are receiving. 

The first Food Issues Census was launched in 2011, since, there have been numerous and major changes in the food and farming sector, some obvious and some subtle. The 2017 census provides an updated overview, a wider picture, that can be used as a tool for funders and those seeking funding.

By highlighting the breadth and scope of current issues, the census notes the importance of a sector that is under pressure. In general, food and farming is underfunded yet its impact affects each individual person and the Earth on which we live.

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You can read the full census here (via www.foodissuescensus.org).

The Food Issues Census was written and published by the Food Ethics Council and funded in part by the A Team Foundation (in collaboration with the Esmee Foundation, Environmental Funders Network, Big Lottery Fund, JMG Foundation and Sustain).


Land and Deliver : Erasmus

Land and Deliver : Erasmus

Written by Tom Carman and Ruth West, Real Farming Trust.

Land is what we use to grow the food we eat. For years in the UK many new entrants to farming, as in the rest of Europe, have been facing increasing difficulties accessing affordable and secure land.  There were and still are a mixture of reasons contributing to these difficulties, which have been identified as part of an Erasmus partnership and learning programme working across Europe called Access to Land.  This project is pooling knowledge and experience from organisations in France, Romania, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Germany and the UK.

The starting point for this work was looking at the barriers and hurdles facing new entrants to farming. The demand for land is high as there are competing interests for its use – farming, housing, woodland enterprise, industrial developments etc.  Planning systems across Europe are regulated to different degrees, and whilst planning systems can help to bring different stakeholders together to discuss land use, they don’t align with the timing needs for farmers to make a living. In addition to this, there is scepticism amongst the status quo in UK farming about the viability of alternative approaches to food production and land management such as agro-ecology, organic and bio-dynamic farming or permaculture.  This is despite increasing evidence that these approaches can provide a living and the increasingly obvious need for land to be managed in a way that is good for the planet.  There is also competition amongst entrant farmers, as when scare land does become available there are many people who apply to use it.

Difficult land access has had strategic, structural and operational effects on countries.  For instance the UK is not producing enough food: around 60% is imported, with many horticultural products coming from Spain.  The effect of this has been to decrease the pool of entrant farmers in the UK leaving an increasingly aging farming population. The result has been a loss of farming skills and a lack of innovation – new entrant farmers bring with them the desire and knowledge to practice agro-ecologial farming, but without the ability to access land, they cannot build experience or share agro-ecological credibility.

The exciting part to this work though, is learning about innovative approaches that are helping agro-ecologial farmers to access land better. For example, Terre de Liens in France has successfully brought together key stakeholders across France including local authorities, conventional farming regulators, citizens and new entrants to open up 3,000 hectares of French farmland to organic food production.  In Germany, a network of land access co-operatives has started to emerge that work from a national to local level, opening up land for agro-ecological farmers. And in the UK, the Community Supported Agriculture network is supporting the growth of local communities wanting to share the risks of food production with the farmer. 

As part of the Erasmus programme, The A-Team Foundation sponsored a film exploring the shared challenges facing new entrants from the participating countries in their search for land. 


The Beacon Farms Journey

The Beacon Farms Journey

Written by Steph Wetherall, Beacon Farms Report co-author. 

In 2012 a group of people gathered together to look at how best to safeguard some of Bristol’s best agricultural land, while supporting and encouraging new entrants to farming by facilitating access to land and enterprise support. Beacon Farms was created, and the search for a piece of land for our first Farm Hub began. 

Beacon Farms - A Team Foundation

Almost four years later, Beacon Farms has tried four different methods of securing land for this purpose; we tried buying from a private owner, leasing from the council, buying at auction and a community asset transfer, and each fell through for a different reason. 

We decided to take the time to reflect on our journey, and this resulted in a report called The Beacon Farms Journey. The document details the approaches and the challenges that we faced in each attempt, including the reason for the failure of that attempt. But more importantly, it includes reflections on what we’ve learnt along the way. 

  The 'blue finger' is the long blue strip in the top right of Bristol (the solid red block), above Frenchay.   

The 'blue finger' is the long blue strip in the top right of Bristol (the solid red block), above Frenchay.  

We take the time to look at why acquiring land is so hard; why high land prices have pushed agricultural land out of the price range of farmers, and the challenges facing local authorities in making land available. We observe that our agricultural land is not sufficiently protected, that our best and most versatile soils are slowly being built on, or are the subject of land grabs in the hope of future development opportunities. We reflect on the slow moving nature of projects like this, and the problems this can pose for momentum and funding.

And finally, we look to the future and our determination not to give up. While we may not have managed to secure a piece of land, we have achieved many other things during this time, including being able to raise the profile of the ‘Blue Finger’ soils around Bristol and carry out in-depth research into land seekers’ needs through a detailed survey. We’ve learnt that projects such as this require a combination of the right people and the right opportunity, and we’re hopeful that our time will come.

We hope that our story helps inspire, encourage and support other similar projects in their journeys. You can read the full report by clicking here.

Beacon Farms - A Team Foundation
Beacon Farms - A Team Foundation