Creating a resilient food and farming system in a post-coronavirus world
Covid-19 has brought food and farming sharply into focus. We depend on these systems for survival. People’s ways of life and globalised food chains are significantly disrupted, and while things may feel like they are returning to normal now, we could still see future challenges to food security in the UK.
As some begin to suggest that the Agriculture Bill should refocus on food security, we need to take great care not to take a big backward step by focussing less on the environment. Food production and the environment cannot be framed as opposing interests, given the context of the climate and ecological emergencies we face.
Balancing the conversation around food security with the climate crisis
The climate and ecological emergencies that framed the thinking behind the UK’s new Agriculture Bill (the legislative framework for UK farming post Brexit) remain a top priority in the food security conversation. There is consensus, from farming bodies and environmental groups, that UK farming can and must be part of the climate change solution, rather than the problem.
If we abandon that consensus and fail to act on reversing damage to climate and nature, we are storing up further shocks for our food system.
The coronavirus pandemic has proven that disregarding humanity’s relationship with nature and the welfare of animals we eat can have dire consequences. Food production that doesn’t safeguard the natural world is not secure.
Building a resilient food system in a post-COVID world
COVID-19 has rightly refocused us on the need for a resilient food system, ensuring the UK can feed its people a healthy diet in times of crisis. A focus of our attention must be on the UK’s over-reliance on fruit & veg imports.
We need a clear UK Government ambition to at least double UK fruit supply - and grow the UK share of nuts, pulses and vegetables as recommended by the FFCC (Food, Farming and Countryside Commission). We only grew 17% of fruit and 53% of veg we ate in 2018 so bold action is needed to grow UK horticulture, alongside boosting demand via seasonal menus in schools and hospitals.
Our vision for the future of the Agriculture Bill
The Agriculture Bill must be amended to ensure farmers are properly incentivised to transition their whole farm system to more agroecological, climate-friendly food production. This will enable healthy food security alongside climate and biodiversity goals and ensures we do not risk offshoring our impacts.
‘Public money for public goods’ should remain the fundamental principle but achieved across the whole farm in tandem with healthy, diversified food production, not on the field margins alongside intensive production of commodity crops, often destined for animal feed, that do not contribute to healthy food security. Read more about our priority asks of government here.
How can I help achieve this vision?
The Soil Association is calling for a farmer-led ten-year transition to agroecology to balance the priorities of climate, nature and healthy food production. The French think tank IDDRI’s Ten Years for Agroecology in Europe model shows that healthy food security and an effective response to the climate and nature emergencies can indeed go hand-in-hand. The Food, Farming and Countryside Commission and IDDRI will publish an agroecology transition model for the UK later this year.
The UK has a unique opportunity for leadership if it supports farmers to make this transition. While France has officially made agroecology the cornerstone of its agricultural policy, it will take reform of Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy to achieve this at scale in practice. Europe’s policymakers are watching the progress of the UK’s Agriculture Bill and Environmental Land Management Scheme with keen interest. There is too much at stake for climate, nature, health and resilience to throw this opportunity away.
Much can be achieved alongside the Agriculture Bill as it stands. We need to work together in ensuring that new trade deals do not undermine UK farming and food standards; giving farmers the advice and support they need to transition their businesses to more ecological, regenerative systems; using Public Procurement to give much greater market support to UK farmers making this transition.