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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.
 
Gaia Foundation - Seed Sovereignty.jpg


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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.

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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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A Matter of Scale

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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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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).