A landmark moment for the agroecology movement
The Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC) is the UK’s annual food and farming conference for agroecological practitioners.
The ORFC marks an incredible opportunity for farmers, scientists, academics, authors, policymakers and activists to come together under one roof, discussing solutions and opportunities for producing food in a way that benefits nature, the climate, society and our health.
From soil microbiology to seed saving, land justice panels to livestock lectures, the event is a chance each calendar year, to delve deep into the farming world for a holistic look at the way we produce our food.
Agroecology – a truly global movement
With the pandemic leaving many feeling isolated, it was particularly important to ensure that this year’s conference served to bring people together, but taking the ORFC online in 2021 offered up many new opportunities. An international collection of agroecological ambassadors were able to come together and share stories, successes and knowledge from the worldwide movement, the majority of which are now available to re-watch online:
- Small-scale farmers from West Africa discussed the role agroforestry will play in mitigating the climate crisis in the region of the Sahel.
- Vijay Kumar explained how the government of Andhra Pradesh, an Indian state with a population of 54 million, is working to support their farmers to transition to agroecology - one of the world’s most promising initiatives for up-scaling nature-friendly farming techniques.
- Members of the international farming union, La Via Campesina, shared stories from the front line of agricultural labour struggles.
- Shi Yan, an organic pioneer and the founder of the first CSA in China, spoke about the growth of the CSA movement and how the pandemic has led to rising demand for shorter supply chains throughout China over the past year.
- Another session (watch below) showcased the work of the north-eastern Indian state of Sikkim. Home to 66,000 farmers, this session explored how the area was able to become 100% organic in 2015!
By seeing others take action around the globe, the conference inspired a motivating sense of agency. Facilitated by online video services, the virtual ORFC underwent a grand democratisation, opening up the floor for people who might otherwise have shied away from sharing their thoughts in a packed conference hall - audience interaction, question-asking and participation was dynamic, varied and interesting.
The Soil Association is a proud leader in the agroecological movement
The Soil Association and Soil Association Certification led around 20 sessions over the course of this year’s programme, alongside world-renowned figures from the global movement, including Vandana Shiva, Naomi Klein, Nnimmo Bassey and Guy Singh-Watson.
- Soil Association CEO, Helen Browning, chaired a ‘What’s Your Beef’ workshop with the Food Ethics Council; an opportunity for farmers to raise their concerns about the changing world of farming and talk about their reasons for optimism too.
- Adrian Steele, Organic Sector Development Advisor and farmer, chaired the panel "Localised routes to market: understanding the community benefits of local organic food", exploring how to monetise the true value of local, organic supply chains, now recognised as valuable ‘public goods’.
- Finn Cottle and Sophie Kirk, from Soil Association Certification, spoke about how COVID-19, Brexit and economic disruption are changing the organic market, and the opportunities and difficulties that arise from this
- Jo Lewis, Head of Policy, spoke on a number of panels too:
- Farming for Change in UK Nations detailed the work Soil Association have been doing along the Food and Farming Countryside Commission (FFCC), to develop a roadmap to an agroecological future in the UK. Learn more about the project and read the ‘Farming for Change’ report.
- Nitrogen: The Global Farming Challenge discussed how nitrogen pollution might take precedence at the top of the COP26 agenda, focusing on areas including -
- Reducing dependence on synthetic fertilisers
- Shifting global diets away from high meat consumption
- Incentivising farm practices that are based on sustainable nutrient management, such as agroecology.
Soil Association staff also led a number of practical workshops for farmers including:
- Jerry Alford, a farming advisor, speaking about the role no-till may play in the future of organic farming
- Ben Raskin, Head of Horticulture, on agroforestry, and how to plant the right trees in the right places:
From a global pandemic to extreme weather conditions and Brexit uncertainty, the past year has been one of real turbulence for the farming community. As a truly global gathering of farming’s agroecological ‘voices’, ORFC 2021 marked a significant date in the farming calendar, as an opportunity to come together and discuss farmer-led solutions to some of the biggest crises we currently face.
An air of positivity and enthusiasm followed in the wake of the conference, accompanied by a feeling that together, as a movement, real change can be achieved through the way we eat, farm and produce our food.
Please note: All of the conference sessions are now available in one handy YouTube playlist to watch back!