A transition from ego to eco
The RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission’s report fills me with hope. It is hard-hitting in setting out what is at stake – ultimately humanity’s ability to survive.
But it also sets out what can be done to set a different course.
In joining the dots between issues that have usually been addressed in silos, it both paints a compelling picture that we can aspire to, and outlines some of the key steps that could move food production rapidly towards that future.
Some of these are well rehearsed and build on the brilliant work that others have done, both in ‘thinking’ and in ‘doing’, while some are more novel, and will require further testing and debate.
Fixing our food system is a deeply urgent and huge task so the report covers a broad range of ideas. It outlines a 10 year transition to agroecological farming, which uses nature-friendly methods first and inputs like chemicals last, and recommends ways that we can enable good food to make good business sense. Public procurement – such as the food purchased for schools and hospital meals - should lead the way in pump priming and growing markets for healthy, local food, and we urgently need investment in rural infrastructure.
Just as significant than the conclusions themselves, is the process that has led to them. The Commission itself draws folk from many walks of life -including farmers of all persuasions, retailers, economists, NGOs, the WI, food service and public health. These are interest groups that rarely meet, let alone work together. We were determined not to stop there, but to engage with people who rarely have a voice in these debates. This included on the ground work in three distinctively different English regions, support for Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland to input in ways that are relevant for them, and most of all a seven-month bike tour across the whole of the UK, talking to people in their own settings. The report reflects what we have heard, alongside an analysis of what others have said and written in around 1000 reviewed policy documents - and of course, our diverse perspectives.
No one organisation could have done this alone. The creation of a new framework for the future requires a neutral space to convene, where we work as equals in the service of society.
But the challenge of an independent commission is to make this great work stick; we have no authority, no ability to force change, no resource to incentivise it.
What we have done so far is to respond to the oft cited call for a common vision, along with suggested practical steps to get there.
It is up to us all now to decide whether to commit to this strongly mandated narrative and to play our part in bringing it into reality.
In a world where we all jostle for air time and attribution to keep our supporters happy, this is a challenge ripe for a new type of leadership across all sectors and walks of life. We all have a role to play and we need to substitute organisational and personal ego with a willingness to work together in the ecology of businesses, farmers, citizens and governments which will be needed to build on and implement the commission’s work.
I urge you to read the report and to feed your thoughts and comments into the process, because this is the beginning of what I hope will be a collaborative endeavour to transition to a fairer, ethical and sustainable approach for food, farming and rural communities. The hard graft starts here!