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 for 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.

 



 

 

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