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THE ABSOLUTE IMPORTANCE OF ENLIGHTENED AGRICULTURE

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THE ABSOLUTE IMPORTANCE OF ENLIGHTENED AGRICULTURE

 

Written by Colin Tudge, Real Farming Trust, who calls for an Agrarian Renaissance.

 

Almost a billion people go to bed hungry; more than a billion eat too much of the wrong things  (the world population of diet-related diabetics far exceeds the total population of the United States); everywhere there is unrest; we’re in the throes of a mass extinction;  and climate change threatens to make nonsense of all our aspirations. Everybody knows all this (don’t they?) although many feel there’s nothing they can do about it and many alas in high places are in denial – or at least, if they do acknowledge the facts, they assure us that they are on the case, and we should put our trust in their good offices. 

And yet: if only we, humanity, did simple things well, then even at this late hour, much of the pending disaster could be averted. Right now, as Pope Francis, several archbishops, a great many scientists, and writers and activists of all kinds line up to warn us, we are heading for Armageddon – perhaps in 30 years or less; certainly, within the lifetimes of our grandchildren. Yet we could and should be looking forward, with reasonable optimism, to at least another million years on this Earth, and our far distant descendants could be living far more contentedly than most of us do now, with real, personal fulfilment, and in harmony with the creatures that we are now destroying. The difference between what is, and what could be, is that stark.

To make the necessary changes, however, we need truly to be radical; to get right down to the roots of the world’s problems and, in effect, start again. We need transformation; metamorphosis; metanoia – nothing short of Renaissance, meaning re-birth, at least as deep-rooted and far-reaching as the “Italian” Renaissance that began in the 15th century and (more or less) brought the European Middle Ages to a close. 

The key, though, to all the world’s problems, human and inhuman, lies with agriculture; and so too therefore does the key to their solution. Agriculture is, very obviously, by far the greatest source of human food: 99 per cent of us would not be here without it. Less obviously, it is also the world’s biggest employer – by far. It occupies a third of all land – including most of the world’s most fertile land. Other terrestrial creatures have mostly been pushed to the margins. But in its modern industrial form agriculture is also the greatest of all polluters of the land, the oceans, and the atmosphere – source of a hundred toxins, and a major and critical contributor to global warming. It destroys soils (a third of all land is now degraded according to the FAO); it is the main drain (by far) on the world’s fresh water. Taken all in all, “modern” high-tech farming is very obviously the prime cause of mass extinction. Indeed, unless we develop wildlife-friendly farming then the cause of wildlife conservation is more or less dead in the water, or at least severely holed below the water-line.

In short, the grand Renaissance, the great re-think that the world now needs, should begin with an Agrarian Renaissance: a complete re-think and re-structuring of the world’s farming – together with a new, complementary food culture. One more thing: the Italian Renaissance was driven by bankers and led by artists and intellectuals but the Renaissance we need now, beginning with the Agrarian Renaissance, must be driven by us: people at large. It must be a giant exercise in democracy. 

Prolific and traditional food cultures, like the diets of the Mediterranean (example pictured above), use meat but sparingly and celebrate local diversity.

Prolific and traditional food cultures, like the diets of the Mediterranean (example pictured above), use meat but sparingly and celebrate local diversity.

The task may seem daunting – not least because the world’s food network seems sewn up: every stage from plant breeding and seed production through the agrochemical industry to processing and retail is controlled by a handful of corporates, all supported by big governments like those of Britain and the US for whom the corporates are their natural partners.

Yet there is serendipity. Most (by far) of the world’s farmers are still small-scale and craft-based (artisanal); many millions of people worldwide and many thousands (literally) of non-government organizations (NGOs) are working on projects that are leading the world in the right directions; and various communities in Britain and the world at large are acquiring farmland or at least the use of it and are beginning to do things differently. Indeed, despite appearances, the giant, globalized, integrated food and farming industry may be the most amenable or vulnerable of all to a people’s takeover.

So what’s gone wrong and what do we need to do?

What we have and what we need

The kind of agriculture that is now promoted by the nexus of big governments, big finance, and corporates, with their chosen expert and intellectual advisers, is anomalously called “conventional”. This, though, is yet another example of language hi-jacked – for it should, rather, be called “Neoliberal-Industrial” or NI agriculture. It is driven, after all, by the (neoliberal) conceit that we, human beings, need above all to maximize wealth. Agriculture is now conceived as “a business like any other” (a chill phrase I first heard in the 1970s) and “business” these past few decades has been re-conceived not as the natural underpinning of democratic society as it was at its best until the 1970s but simply as another way of making money – for personal enrichment and to contribute to GDP.

The way to maximize wealth, so the neoliberal doctrine has it, is to compete in the maximally-competitive global market with other enterprises of all kinds to maximize profit and grab the biggest market share. Profit in turn is maximized in three ways. First: by producing as much as possible. The more there is to sell, the greater the potential returns. Productionism still rules. Second: by cutting costs to the bone and then cutting a bit more. This generally means replacing labour with machines and industrial chemistry, although if all real costs are taken into account then labour emerges as a minor contributor, and machines and chemistry are cheaper only so long as oil is still available and is made affordable. The third route to profit is by “adding value” – which of course is good when it means turning grain into bread and pastries, or dead animals into highly nutritious delicacies, but it also means extravagant packaging and out-of-season strawberries and all the rest.

A bird’s eye view of the neo-liberal monoculture that prioritises the maximisation of yield.

A bird’s eye view of the neo-liberal monoculture that prioritises the maximisation of yield.

Indeed the whole industrial food chain is immensely profligate. Modern arable farming, which is the chief agricultural enterprise, is in effect an offshoot of the agrochemical industry -- the agrochemical industry al fresco. Modern livestock farming especially in vast modern CAFOs (“concentrated animal feeding operations”) is an offshoot of arable farming -- designed, primarily, not to meet (spurious) public need or “demand” in the spirit of democracy, but to mop up arable surpluses. Supermarkets in general sell only the prime cuts, and what cannot reasonably be made into sausages and pies (and a lot that can), the rest supports the petfood industry. The profligacy is not an accident. The food chain is designed to be profligate. It is more profitable that way.

At the same time, FAO tells us that at least a third of all food is simply wasted. In the poor world, a third is lost to pests and predators in the field or in storage. In the rich world, a third is thrown away after it has reached the kitchen. In addition – and worse! -- about half the world’s cereal and most of the soya is grown for and fed to livestock. Yet all the world’s greatest cuisines, like those of Italy and China, use meat sparingly. We could produce enough to support the world’s best cooking just by feeding animals on pasture and/or swill, as is of course traditional. 

Enlightened Agriculture

What we really need, in absolute contrast to all of the above, is what I for the past 15 years or so have been calling Enlightened Agriculture, also known as Real Farming as in the Oxford Real Farming Conference – and our new College for Real Farming and Food Culture, of which more on that later.

Behind Enlightened Agriculture lies the big idea that if we really want to solve the world’s problems, and establish the Renaissance on firm foundations, then in everything we do must be guided by the principles of –

Morality, which tells us what it is right to do; and of

Ecology, which aspires to tell us what it is necessary and possible to do.

These two – Morality and Ecology – must provide the guidelines. They alone deserve to be called principles. “Political principles” are just ideologies, which is not the same thing at all.

Many, though, suggest that a universal morality is not possible. Different individuals and different societies set their own standards.  True – but contrary to the fashionable, post-modern belief, some moral codes are better than others. Thus, moral codes in practice have been set since the beginning of history mainly by religions; and although the different religions differ in their trappings, liturgies, and customs, the moral codes that lie at their heart are all remarkably similar – in essence almost identical. All in particular emphasise the core virtues of –

Compassion

Humility

Reverence for Nature

These, then, are the guidelines of Enlightened Agriculture – which is informally but adequately defined as:

“Agriculture that is expressly designed to provide everyone, everywhere, with food of the highest quality, both nutritionally and gastronomically, without cruelty or injustice and without wrecking the rest of the world”.

Local and regeneratively grown, socially just, and economically sound are key principles to agroecology.

Local and regeneratively grown, socially just, and economically sound are key principles to agroecology.

Despite present appearances, and despite a sequence of somewhat panicky reports from governments and commerce, this should be eminently possible. But we can do what needs doing only if we farm as if we really intended to provide good food for everyone – as opposed to becoming rich and powerful – and if we treat nature with true respect, and not, as now, as raw material, to be turned into commodities, to be sold on the global market.

In practice, although the term “Enlightened Agriculture” is novel, it is based on four ideas – moral and ecological -- that are now becoming well established. They are:

Agroecology

Food Sovereignty

Green Economic Democracy

Respect for Traditional Knowledge

All are the precise opposite of the Neoliberal-Industrial approaches that now receive such zealous support from the government-corporate oligarchy. Thus: 

Agroecology requires us to treat all farms as ecosystems – diverse, low-input, synergistic, and cyclic. Accordingly, agroecological farms in general aspire to be mixed and organic; they are therefore complex; therefore they must be skills-intensive – plenty of farmers; and therefore in general they tend to be small to medium-sized. 

But NI agriculture depends on machines and industrial chemistry with minimum to zero labour – and machines prefer simplicity, so complexity gives way to monoculture; and machinery is most economical when it is big. Big machines need big fields to operate in so NI farms are as big as possible. Farmers these days are encouraged to swallow up the farms next door.  

Food Sovereignty is the idea that all societies should be in charge of their own food supply. This again pushes us towards the small-to-medium sized mixed farm that is designed primarily to serve local communities and, is ideally, community owned: or to towards cooperatives of such farms.

Again in starkest contrast, NI agriculture is designed not only to maximize wealth but also to concentrate wealth – into the hands of an irreducibly small coterie of corporates and financiers which governments like ours, faute de mieux, depend upon. This is the precise antithesis of food sovereignty.

Green Economic Democracy among other things requires a “tripartite mixed economy”: a synergy of public, private, and – the one that has been too little emphasized – community ownership, especially of land. The whole is designed to operate for the wellbeing of society and the biosphere as a whole. Again, that is not the prime motivation of the neoliberal economy.

Respect for Traditional Knowledge means just that. It is absurd to suppose that the latest wheeze dreamed up in some think tank or commercial laboratory is always innately superior to and must replace the crafts and wisdom evolved by billions of farmers in millions of locations over thousands of years.  It is absurd – yet seems to be the assumption nonetheless.

Agroecological, small-holder farmers are the torch bearers of traditional knowledge built on millions of years of experience. (Photo by    We Feed The World   )

Agroecological, small-holder farmers are the torch bearers of traditional knowledge built on millions of years of experience. (Photo by We Feed The World)

But could agroecological, small to medium-sized, mixed, low-input (organic) farms really support the present population and the 10 billion who will be with us by the end of the century? Of course. Study after study has shown that small units, preferably mixed and of course well run, are more productive per unit area than all but the most intensive high-tech kinds – and of course are far less damaging and profligate and indeed are sustainable, which the high-tech industrial kind emphatically are not. 

The powers-that-be, however, though they speak in endless reports and rhetoric of the need for change, seek in essence to perpetuate the status quo: high-tech designed to maximize and concentrate wealth, controlled by an elite. It won’t do. We have to take matters into our own hands. In Six Steps Back to the Land I try to show how people at large can get stuck in to farming; in Why Genes Are Not Selfish and People Are Nice, I sketch in some of the main ideas behind the Renaissance; and in our new College for Real Farming and Food Culture (http://collegeforrealfarming.org/ – though the website is now being re-constructed (May 2019) we are seeking to develop and promulgate the necessary ideas and to translate them into action. Our efforts are only part of what is rapidly becoming a global movement. Here and there in a thousand different ways the Agrarian Renaissance is already happening. All it needs now is a little more collaboration. Please do join in!


A-Team-Foundation-Food-Culture-Colin-Tudge-enlightened-agriculture

Author: Colin Tudge

Colin Tudge is a biologist by education, a writer by trade, and co-founder of the Oxford Real Farming Conference and the College for Real Farming and Food Culture.




 

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From single crops to species rich mosaic — how Agroecology helps biodiversity

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From single crops to species rich mosaic — how Agroecology helps biodiversity

 

Written by Lauren Simpson & Phil Moore, Ecological Land Cooperative 


Steepholding’s meadow at ELC’s Greenham Reach site, Devon.

Steepholding’s meadow at ELC’s Greenham Reach site, Devon.

Greenham Reach, the Ecological Land Cooperative’s first cluster of small farms, in mid Devon, is a prime example of Agroecology in action. What was once made of pasture and arable fields is now a mosaic of biodiversity and interlocking crops.

If ‘Big Ag’ can be caricatured as the big thrusting spear possessed by Goliath then allow us to think of Agroecology as made up of the David’s of the world — small in scale and generally in the position of the underdog. 

Perhaps a little crude, and like many concepts there’s more to it than a simplistic either/or binary, I think there’s much to be made of positioning Agroecology in contrast to ‘Big Ag’ (by which I mean large-scale farms designed solely for the pursuit of profit above all else). 

Agriculture is central to human society. It plays a role in our well being, the management of the land and country(side) and informs our culture. And there are many forms of agriculture. From the broad industrial scale cattle ranches to the family farms selling duck eggs at the end of the track. 

Regardless of scale, these agricultures operate in the material world. We are living in a time where we see more clearly than previous generations the interlocking threads between the use (and abuse) of natural resources and biodiversity crashes; hunger and the (mis)distribution of food; population growth and pollution all of which are entwined within the wider arc of climate breakdown. 

Ah my little lambs - April is lambing season, the species rich meadow provides a perfect nursery and lunch.

Ah my little lambs - April is lambing season, the species rich meadow provides a perfect nursery and lunch.

What this has come to mean is that agriculture — its very definition and articulation — has been contested. The post world wars narrative of hyper production is being challenged. This is partly through political choice, that is, the approach taken by farmers in the first place, but also prompted by the challenges mentioned above and the search for solutions.

Agroecology, simply put, is about reconnecting these threads in an ecological way. By restoring relationships between farming and food, ecology and the environment, and the source (e.g. the water we all share and the soil we all use) and society, Agroecology seeks to create a more sustainable foundation for agriculture.

By replacing chemical inputs with natural sources of fertility, employing natural techniques over intensive production methods; celebrating and welcoming biodiversity and stimulating interactions between plants, animals and the land — as well as taking into account human culture and sensitivity to place — Agroecology encompasses a wider view of agriculture that can mutually support long-term soil fertility, furnish healthy ecosystems and provide worthy livelihoods. Agroecology then is the application of ecology in agriculture

Any small, human-scale system such as Agroecology is by definition more supple than a lumbering Goliath. As a methodology and a practise, Agroecology is responsive to context-specific design and the needs of place. 

And the restorative potential of Agroecology can be evidenced in our first project, Greenham Reach, a cluster of three smallholdings in mid-Devon. A five year temporary planning permission was granted for the project in 2013, with permanent permission given in 2018, allowing the 22-acre greenfield site to develop shared infrastructure and three new farm businesses (each tied to an agricultural dwelling). 

An ELC tenant in their market garden at Greenham Reach, Devon.

An ELC tenant in their market garden at Greenham Reach, Devon.

The Ecological Land Cooperative (ELC) works to create affordable ecological smallholdings for new entrants to farming – those who would ordinarily be unable to afford a house in the countryside yet who wish to earn a living through farming. And a large part of our ethos is informed by ecological agriculture, or, Agroecology. 

ELC tenants are legally tied to a Management Plan and an annual monitoring process which we carry out for ourselves and report back to the local authority on the site’s progress.

The monitoring report is one of the key aspects of our work in demonstrating that taking marginal agricultural land (in the context of the UK we take this to mean land that has formerly been used for single cropping or single live-stocking) and creating an ecologically oriented system which is diverse and sustainable and that directs solutions toward environmental and social benefits as well as economic ones.

Pollinators are vital for an ecosystem to thrive.

Pollinators are vital for an ecosystem to thrive.

Greenham Reach has been transformed from an area of farmland typical for south-west England (moderate but not exceptional richness for wildlife) into a cluster of diverse horticultural holdings with great potential value for biodiversity according to our ecology reports.   

In 2009 the site was composed of two intensively managed arable fields and two fields of permanent flood plain pasture with a small area of species-rich, agriculturally unimproved grassland and mature hedges. Between 2013, when the first smallholders moved in, and 2017, the diversity of habitats increased— particularly on the former arable fields. 

These fields were conventionally farmed with a single crop and the typical inputs of fertilisers and agrochemicals. Transformed in a very short space of time into a mixture of perennial herb beds, shrubs, vegetable growing areas, tussocky grassland and mixed pasture this mosaic of habitat now offers a great source of nectar and pollen for flower-feeding invertebrates such as bees, butterflies, moths and hover flies. What was once a single crop field has now become a tapestry of life. This is Agroecology in action no matter how small or grand in scope. 

With the planting of more trees, the maintenance and enhancement of hedges have been of value to breeding and wintering birds. Although not proven to be present, these hedges also provide ideal habitat for dormice. The small area of species-rich grassland is of great importance locally and nationally. Very little of this rare habitat is recorded in the DEFRA Priority Habitat inventory within a 10km radius. The juxtaposition of agriculturally unimproved grassland and mature hedgerow is also likely to offer good feeding habitat to bats.  

According to our ecologists these improvements are based entirely on the site management and hard work of the smallholders. Committed to ecological agriculture the occupants have been informed by permaculture and inspired by Agroecology. In the very seed of the design, where diversity is valued, natural approaches favoured and wildlife celebrated, the three small farms demonstrate that environmental, economic and social benefits can sit side by side.

ELC tenants amongst the herbs.

ELC tenants amongst the herbs.




 

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Small Farm Profits

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Small Farm Profits

by the Ecological Land Cooperative

The Ecological Land Cooperative’s short publication, ‘Small Farm Profits’, demonstrates that small farms are successful.

‘Small Farm Profits’, a short booklet made up of small farm case studies, demonstrates that small-scale, ecological farms in the UK can, and do, make a profit.

 In light of the proposed Agriculture Bill which recommends supporting public goods and improving agricultural activity, it is essential that new policies support small farms which produce healthy food. These kinds of farms are exactly what this booklet showcases.

 Small Farm Profits provides proof that small-scale doesn’t mean uncompetitive and that ecological agriculture can create economically viable, highly productive and sustainable enterprises on small acreages.

 The proposed Agriculture Bill, which will enforce UK policy post-Brexit, does not refer to small-scale, ecological farming or local food. This needs to change.

Vegboxes of the CSA, Cae Tan, at the ELC’s site in Wales .

Vegboxes of the CSA, Cae Tan, at the ELC’s site in Wales .

Oli Rodker, Executive Director of ELC, says: “Our booklet shows what can be done on small acreages even in today’s challenging economic climate. The new Agriculture Bill is a chance to put policy behind Michael Gove’s words and provide the financial and technical support to ensure we see thousands more of these types of businesses in the coming years.”

 Agroecological Small Farms should be supported because:

·       They produce fresh, local & healthy food free from pesticides and other chemicals

·       They have high employment figures per land area

·       More farmers means more innovation

·       Of their environmental stewardship: small farms promote biodiversity, good soil care and low carbon emissions.

·       They can adapt more easily to local conditions.

·       Of their positive Social Impact: focused on local economies and local people, small farms provide opportunities for community engagement

Busy harvest for workers and helpers at the CSA Cae Tan on the ELC’s site in Gower, Wales.

Busy harvest for workers and helpers at the CSA Cae Tan on the ELC’s site in Gower, Wales.

·       They make profitable businesses!

 The Ecological Land Cooperative works to create new opportunities for small ecological farms. For small farms to remain competitive and viable in today’s markets they need to be long-lasting and sustainable — financially as well as ecologically. Small Farm Profits illustrates that such farms are financially sound and that ecological and economic objectives can sit side by side productively.

 The Ecological Land Cooperative (ELC) is a social enterprise, co-operative in structure, established to address the lack of affordable sites for ecological land-based livelihoods in England and Wales. Set up in 2009, the ELC purchases land, obtains planning permission, and installs the infrastructure to create clusters of three or more affordable smallholdings for future farmers. The ELC’s first project, Greenham Reach, in mid-Devon, was granted permanent planning permission in 2018 after five years temporary permission. Home to three thriving smallholdings, each operating as independent businesses but working co-operatively to manage the whole site. Greenham Reach is a living example of ecologically managed land providing truly sustainable land-based livelihoods. The ELC’s second site in Arlington, East Sussex has secured temporary planning permission and is the process of recruiting tenants to join the cooperative and start farming.

The ELC has also purchased land on the Gower in Wales and in Sparkford, South Somerset, both have planning applications in process.

The Booklet can be read here: https://ecologicalland.coop/small-farm-profits and for more info about the ELC please visit: http://ecologicalland.coop

 

Read More: CREATING CHANGE WITH THE ECOLOGICAL LAND COOPERATIVE

 



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The Launch of LEAP: Loans for Enlightened Agriculture Programme

The Launch of LEAP: Loans for Enlightened Agriculture Programme

Loan-for-enlightened-agriculture-a-team-foundation

The Real Farming Trust have launched LEAP (Loans for Enlightened Agriculture Programme). The A Team Foundation are proud investors of this programme, along with the Esmeé Fairbairn Foundation, and CIVA. Together, we understand the inherent challenges that agroecological food and farming enterprises face in raising finance.

LEAP is designed to create a way of filling that gap between grant and commercial funding by:

  • working closely with businesses to understand the situation

  • looking at both financial performance and social impact

  • working together through every step of the application process

  • helping organisations to build long-term sustainability.

The Loans for Enlightened Agriculture Programme (LEAP) offers a mix of affordable loans and grants, side by side with a comprehensive mentoring programme and hands on approach.

LEAP is a new model for financing and supporting food and farming enterprises that puts people and the biosphere at the heart of our food system. LEAP will provide a critical next step for community based agroecological enterprises that have relied on grant funding to date and who have had nowhere to go to finance their onward development.

loans-for-enlightened-agriculture-a-team-foundation-leap

What does leap offer?

affordable loans:

  • Unsecured loans for a 5-year term

  • For amounts of between £25,000 and £100,000

  • Can be used for capital or revenue costs

LEAP offers one of the lowest interest rates in the social investment marketplace. This is currently set at 5%, and is calculated on a declining balance, equal instalments basis.

To help cover the costs of running the programme, there is a one-off chargeable fee, which will be taken from the loan when drawn down. This is currently set at 2% of the loan amount.

Grants:

Side by side with the loan, recipients will be offered a grant at 18% of the loan amount. So, for a £50,000 loan, the recipient will be awarded a grant of £9,000. By providing a grant with the loan LEAP hopes to alleviate the administrative burden on the individuals and free them up to concentrate on impact delivery and long-term sustainability. The grants have been kindly supplied by The Halleria Trust.

Business advice and support:

A key component of the LEAP is a tailored and structured mentoring package to ensure that they are ready take on a loan. This is termed ‘investment readiness’. The structure and focus of this support will vary from one organisation to another, but could be in areas such as business planning, financial modelling, governance, social impact delivery, community finance or marketing. The business mentorship is kindly funded by Power to Change.

NEXT STEPS

If this sounds like something that could help you and your business, then please head to the website using the link below. On their site, you can find out more about this game-changing programme and how to apply.