Agriculture Bill – 3rd Reading tomorrow (May 13): still time to ask your MP

There’s still time (just) to ask your MP to ask for certain key amendments to the Agriculture Bill which is being hastened through parliament in order to gain Royal Assent by the autumn. Here’s the link to the webpage with details of how and what to send your MP.

And here’s what Colin Tudge has to say about it:

The third reading of the government’s Agriculture Bill on Wednesday (May 13) is crucial, though it will probably attract very little attention from the British media and arouse commensurately little interest among MPs. For nothing matters more to humanity and to the natural world than agriculture and as things are, despite appearances and all the rhetoric, Britain’s agriculture like that of most of the world is a disaster: profitable for a few no doubt but hugely damaging ecologically and socially and obviously unsustainable. 
 
There are a couple of amendments to the original bill that are of outstanding importance. One says in effect that trade cannot and must not be conceived simply as a way of maximising short-term profit but as a means to improve wellbeing – good economically and socially both for sellers and buyers and raising the general quality of food. Others stress the absolute importance of agroecology – which, mercifully, for the past few years has enjoyed the services of its own All-Party Parliamentary Group, now chaired by Labour MP Kerry McCarthy. Britain’s and the world’s farming must move away from the neoliberal mindset which says that “farming is just a business like any other” and that business is just another way of making money, and embrace the idea that the job of agriculture is to provide good food for everyone, and provide good jobs, and look after the the biosphere. Otherwise we’re sunk.  Watch this space.

New study shows the “insect apocalypse” not quite as bad as thought

The research was published in Science (April 24 2020)

Abstract as follows:

Recent case studies showing substantial declines of insect abundances have raised alarm, but how widespread such patterns are remains unclear. We compiled data from 166 long-term surveys of insect assemblages across 1676 sites to investigate trends in insect abundances over time. Overall, we found considerable variation in trends even among adjacent sites but an average decline of terrestrial insect abundance by ~9% per decade and an increase of freshwater insect abundance by ~11% per decade. Both patterns were largely driven by strong trends in North America and some European regions. We found some associations with potential drivers (e.g., land-use drivers), and trends in protected areas tended to be weaker. Our findings provide a more nuanced view of spatiotemporal patterns of insect abundance trends than previously suggested.

A piece in ScienceAlert by Mike Mcrae, April 24 2020 gives an overview (extract as follows):

News of an insect apocalypse has become a familiar headline in recent years, with study after study pointing to an alarming loss in invertebrate numbers. As consistent as the message seems, the results don’t always agree with one another.

A new study led by ecologists from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research suggests the decline in global populations might not be as steep as we thought, and could actually be improving in some areas.

That conclusion might appear to be in stark contrast to claims we heard last year that 40 percent of all insect species face extinction, with some claiming an annual decline of 2.5 percent in their numbers worldwide, or even higher in some corners of the globe.

But taken in context, the new study builds a picture that shows how important it is to protect our environment and pay close attention to this vital part of the biosphere.

By compiling more than 160 surveys monitoring the weight of insect and arachnid populations around the globe, the researchers were able to get a good sense of the biomass and distributions of creepy crawlies dating as far back as 1925.

Their figures suggest there’s a marked difference in trends for invertebrates in different ecosystems in different parts of the world.

 

COVID-19 and food supply: MPs seek assurances from Secretary of State 

This from EFRACOM’s press release:

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee has today written to George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, as part of its inquiry into COVID-19 and food supply.

 

Following discussions with officials, the cross-party Select Committee asks for further information, including on:

 

  • Government action to protect food suppliers adversely affected as a result of decreased demand in the foodservice sector and steps to enable takeaway and restaurant businesses to re-open whilst adhering to public safety advice.

 

  • Efforts to recruit UK nationals for seasonal agricultural labour, including success to date. The Committee also asks about measures taken to ensure that seasonal workers still arriving from overseasare appropriately tested.

 

  • The number of people having trouble accessing healthy food as a result of the pandemic. The Committee is calling for further support to be provided to support the redistribution of surplus food to food charities.

 

Chair of the EFRA Committee, Neil Parish MP, said:

 

“From our discussions with Ministers and officials in recent weeks, it’s clear that the Government is working incredibly hard and we welcome the action it has taken. But I am concerned that we will see long term damage to our ability to produce high quality food in the UK, and many more people at risk of going hungry. One immediate step would be greater support to help charities redistribute surplus food meant for closed cafes and restaurants to the people who need it most. We will be taking further evidence on this next month.”

Committee Membership

Neil Parish MP (Chair) (Conservative, Tiverton & Honiton); Geraint Davies MP (Labour, Swansea West); Dave Doogan MP (SNP, Angus); Rosie Duffield MP (Labour, Canterbury); Mary Glindon MP (Labour, North Tyneside); Dr Neil Hudson MP (Conservative, Penrith and The Border); Robbie Moore MP (Conservative, Keighley); Mrs Sheryll Murray MP (Conservative, South East Cornwall); Toby Perkins (Labour, Chesterfield); Julian Sturdy (Conservative, York Outer) and Derek Thomas (Conservative, St Ives).

Ecological Land Cooperative’s Community Share Offer – still open; doing well; needing your support

Small Farms, BIG solutions.
Help the Ecological Land Cooperative create more farms for local food production by joining as an investor member.
Invest any amount from £500 and gain 3% interest whilst securing access to land for new entrant farmers.
 
Their latest film (shown here) documents the success of their previous ventures

You can find out more about their share offer at: https://www.ethex.org.uk/elc2020.

Michael Shulman: Eight Principles for post Covid-19 Reconstruction

Michael Shulman takes Ricardo’s Comparative Advantage and turns it on its head to become The Theory of Comparative Resilience.  You can read the whole blog here

These are his eight criteria by which to measure your community’s comparative resilience:

(1) Local Ownership – What percentage of jobs are in businesses owned by people living in your community?  A high percentage means your community is relatively independent and will enjoy the high multiplier benefits of local businesses buying from one another.  Local businesses have always been the building blocks of a successful economy, but now we can’t afford to get distracted by global businesses. Putting a penny into attracting an Amazon HQ—let alone a few billion dollars—rather than expanding locally owned businesses is the most counterproductive approach to economic development imaginable.

(2) Local Investment – To what extent are your residents investing in local businesses, projects, and people?  Localizing purchasing patterns boosts prosperity but it’s not enough. Why invest in global companies, about which you know little and which leave you vulnerable to the whims of public markets, when you can make a higher return, with less risk, by investing in the merchants you love, or your city’s stormwater management system, or getting your son out of student loan debt?

(3) Economic Diversity – Is your economy diverse enough to meet the basic needs of residents?  Put another way, how self-reliant is your economy? The more self-reliant you are – on local food, energy, water, and finance – the less global disruptions will matter.  Diversity also boosts your local economic multipliers, which increases income, wealth, and jobs.

(4) Regeneration – Is your economy living within its natural means?  We are already spending 70-80% of our family budgets on services, which is great news for sustainability, because most service businesses have light environmental footprints.  But even for goods like food, water, wood, and paper, we will need to bring inputs of our diverse industries in line with what our local ecosystems can renewably provide.

(5) Innovation – To what extent are you fostering local innovation?  The key to economic dynamism is entrepreneurship. Is every person in your community with a great business idea, especially young people, able to find the capital, people, space, and partnerships needed to succeed?  The proliferation of incubators, maker spaces, and shared workspaces are among the many tools communities can deploy realize this objective.

(6) Social Equity – Is your community economy leaving no one behind, irrespective of race, gender, ethnicity, and so forth? Look out for blind spots in your economic-development strategy.  One reason to embrace locally owned businesses is that we know, thanks to studies by the Federal Reserve, that communities with high densities of local business have higher per capita incomes and less inequality.  Entrepreneurship and workforce development programs should focus on those who most need inclusion. This means embracing social inventions like worker cooperatives, community land trusts, and Time Dollar systems.

(7) Connectivity – To what extent is your community cosmopolitan and connected with the rest of the world? Are your businesses learning from their peers elsewhere? Are your policymakers?  Those connections—especially with people, culture, and knowledge—will allow you to take advantage of the best of what the world offers, without becoming dangerously dependent on it.  When other communities get in trouble, your connections will enable you to offer help. When you get in trouble, they can help you.

(8) Social Performance of Business – Are all your businesses embracing the principles above?  How many, for example, are measuring their performance through tools like the B-Corp assessment?  Those businesses that are monitoring their social performance with respect to their workers and other stakeholders and are steadily trying to improve it should be recognized and rewarded, and their practices shared and spread with other local businesses.

Small emergency loan programme

Providing critical funds to the food sector during the Covid-19 crisis

The Covid-19 crisis has exposed the fragility and vulnerability of our globalised food system and our reliance on long, just in time supply chains. This has led to a big increase in demand for local food but many agroecological producers and community food businesses have had to stop taking on new customers due to lack of resources, staff and supply chain difficulties.

We want to try and do something to help these organisations through this crisis, both ensuring that they are able to survive, but also helping them to meet growing demand by developing new routes to market and scaling their operations for the long term.

LEAP’s offer

We are offering the following funding for a period of 3 months from 1st April 2020:

  • Small unsecured loans from £5,000 to £20,000
  • 3-month capital and interest holiday, followed by 12-month capital holiday
  • Interest rate: 5%
  • Term: 5 years and 3 months
  • Quick decision (we aim for funds to be paid to successful organisations within 14 days of application)
  • Arrangement fee: Waived while this offer is open.

No grant will be paid with these small loans. If you need more than £20,000 of funding please apply to the general LEAP programme (which provides a blended financial package of loans, grants and mentoring) in the usual way.

Criteria

The focus for this funding will be on established community food businesses and agroecological growers and it can be used for anything that helps them navigate this crisis. The investment could be used for working capital to develop new routes to market or to scale up production to meet growing demand. It can be used for recruiting more staff, investing in IT and delivery vehicles, new processing facilities and equipment. We have set the following main criteria:

  • At least 50% of income must come from food and drink production or sales
  • Must have been established and trading for at least 3 years and have a turnover of at least £40,000
  • Must be constituted as a CBS, CIC, CLG, Coop or CIO. We cannot fund sole traders, partnerships or CLSs
  • We will look for evidence that you meet our enlightened agriculture and social impact criteria

Application process

We ask for the following basic information:

  • Brief description of the business
  • The amount required and what it will be used for
  • Last set of approved accounts
  • Most recent set of quarterly management accounts
  • Legal form of governance
  • Information on what the loan will be used for
  • Information on security of tenure
  • A brief social impact statement

To apply, please fill out this brief application form. We aim to reply within 24 hours with any follow-up questions, and will ask you to send us your last set of approved accounts and your most recent set of quarterly management accounts.

If you have any questions please contact us at leap@feanetwork.org

Crop diversity or intensive monocultural farming – guess which is better for biodiversity and climate change?

Here’s the abstract for this new study published in Nature March 18 volume 579pages 393–396 (2020)  Authors: J. Nicholas Hendershot, Jeffrey R. Smith, Christopher B. Anderson, Andrew D. Letten, Luke O. Frishkoff, Jim R. Zook, Tadashi Fukami & Gretchen C. Daily

Agricultural practices constitute both the greatest cause of biodiversity loss and the greatest opportunity for conservation1,2, given the shrinking scope of protected areas in many regions. Recent studies have documented the high levels of biodiversity—across many taxa and biomes—that agricultural landscapes can support over the short term1,3,4. However, little is known about the long-term effects of alternative agricultural practices on ecological communities4,5 Here we document changes in bird communities in intensive-agriculture, diversified-agriculture and natural-forest habitats in 4 regions of Costa Rica over a period of 18 years. Long-term directional shifts in bird communities were evident in intensive- and diversified-agricultural habitats, but were strongest in intensive-agricultural habitats, where the number of endemic and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List species fell over time. All major guilds, including those involved in pest control, pollination and seed dispersal, were affected. Bird communities in intensive-agricultural habitats proved more susceptible to changes in climate, with hotter and drier periods associated with greater changes in community composition in these settings. These findings demonstrate that diversified agriculture can help to alleviate the long-term loss of biodiversity outside natural protected areas1.

And the write up by Stanford University in Physics News (March 18 2020)

Crop diversity can buffer the effects of climate change

How we farm can guard against climate change and protect critical wildlife—but only if we leave single-crop farms in the dust, according to a new Stanford study.

The research provides a rare, long-term look at how farming practices affect bird biodiversity in Costa Rica. “Farms that are good for are also good for other species,” said Jeffrey Smith, a graduate student in the department of biology and a co-author on the paper. “We can use birds as natural guides to help us design better .”

By and large, the team found that diversified farms are more stable in the number of birds they support, provide a more secure habitat for those birds and shield against the impacts of climate change much more effectively than single-crop farms.

“The tropics are expected to suffer even more intensely in terms of prolonged dry seasons, and forest dieback under climate change,” said Gretchen Daily, director of the Stanford Natural Capital Project and the Center for Conservation Biology and a senior author on the paper. “But diversified farms offer refuge—they can buffer these harmful effects in ways similar to a natural forest ecosystem.”

The findings, published in this week’s issue of the journal Nature, highlight the importance of farms that grow multiple crops in a mixed setting instead of the more common practice of planting single-crop “monocultures.”

“This study shows that climate change has already been impacting wildlife communities, continues to do so, and that local farming practices really matter in protecting biodiversity and building climate resilience,” said Nick Hendershot, a graduate student in the department of biology and lead author on the study.

Threatened in the tropics

Tropical regions are some of the most species-rich in the world, but they also face the to biodiversity. As their forests are felled to plant cash crops like bananas and sugarcane, the amount and availability of natural habitats have shrunk dramatically. Meanwhile, climate change has resulted in longer, hotter dry seasons that make species survival even more challenging.

“It’s the one-two punch of land-use intensification and ,” Hendershot said. “Wildlife populations are already severely stressed, with overall decreased health and population sizes in some farming landscapes. Then, these further extreme conditions like prolonged drought can come along and really just decimate a species.”

Until now, little had been known about how agricultural practices impact biodiversity in the long term. This study’s researchers used nearly 20 years of meticulously collected field data to understand which birds live in natural tropical forests and in different types of farmland.

“It is only because we had these unusually extensive long-term data that we were able to detect the role of diversified farmlands in helping threatened species persist over multiple decades,” said Tadashi Fukami, an associate professor of biology in the School of Humanities and Sciences and a senior author on the paper, along with Daily.

The varied agricultural systems at work in Costa Rica provided the research team with an ideal laboratory for studying bird communities in intensively farmed monoculture systems, diversified multi-crop farms, and natural forests. They compared monoculture farms—like pineapple, rice, or sugar cane—to diversified farms that interweave multiple crops and are often bordered by ribbons of natural forest.

Who’s there matters

Surprisingly, the researchers found that diversified farmlands not only provide refuge to more common bird species, they also protect some of the most threatened. Species of international conservation concern, like the Great Green Macaw and the Yellow-naped Parrot, are at risk in Costa Rica due to habitat loss and the illegal pet trade.

In intensive monocrop farmlands, these species are declining. But in the diversified systems the researchers studied, the endangered birds can be found year after year.

“Which species are in a given place makes a huge difference—it’s not just about numbers alone, we care about who’s there,” Daily said. “Each bird serves a unique role as part of the machinery of nature. And the habitats they live in support us all.”

Changing the paradigm

In Costa Rica and around the world, the researchers see opportunities to develop integrated, diversified agricultural systems that promote not only crop productivity and livelihood security, but also biodiversity. A paradigm shift towards global agricultural systems could help human and wildlife communities adapt to a changing climate, Daily said.

“There are so many cash crops that thrive in diversified farms. Bananas and coffee are two great examples from Costa Rica—they’re planted together, and the taller banana plant shades the temperature-sensitive coffee bean,” she added. “The two crops together provide more habitat opportunity than just one alone, and they also provide a diversified income stream for the farmer.”

ORFC in the field @ FarmED July 7 & 8 2020

We’re pleased to announce that the first ORFC in the Field will be going ahead on 7th and 8th July, in partnership with FarmED at their beautiful new venue in the Cotswolds.

The two-day event will build on sessions from this year’s Oxford Real Farming Conference and dive deeper into the practical application of agroecology and regenerative farming techniques.

Participants will be able to choose from a number of field-based workshops including agroforestry design; growing, harvesting and utilising heritage grains; building and monitoring soil health; and creating and running a CSA. The full programme will be available shortly.

There will also be plenty of opportunity to share knowledge with others and to enjoy seasonal meals cooked by local chefs, including a celebratory feast on the Tuesday night. There will be plenty of music and poetry too!

There are only 100 places available for this inaugural event, which promises to be a dynamic follow-up to this year’s sold-out Oxford Real Farming Conference. We suggest you get in early and book your place now. There are also a few bursaries available – to find out more please contact francesca@orfc.org.uk.

The price for two days of workshops and lunches is £125. The evening meal is £20 extra. Camping is available on site for a small fee, or you can look at the recommended list of accommodation options here.

“Regenerative Agriculture”: What does the term mean? And why is its use becoming so fashionable?

Colin Tudge in his recent blog has this to say of Regenerative Agriculture: ” . .  [A]lthough much that is excellent has been achieved in the name of Regenerative Agriculture the term implies that we are trying to restore something, which in turn implies that there was some past state that we should be trying to get back to. But what exactly is it that we are trying to get back to? When and where did the thing we are trying to get back to exist?”

This article by Nathaniel Johnson and published in Grist, March 12 2019, gives a useful overview of the origin and current use and purpose of the term – from the coining of “regeneration” by Bob Rodale in the 1980s to its multiple uses today. Thus it can be “a way organic and conventional farmers can work together on achieving environmental ends, rather than fighting over the means”;  “a move to make farms sop up carbon”; greenwash to attract customers who don’t like the term organic; or even he suggests it can carry an evangelistic message:  the “acknowledgement of having done wrong, and the promise of redemption”.

Keeping to farm practice. . .

Johnson makes the point that be it mob grazing, minimum tillage, rotation of crops and livestock, even for some the use of GM, at its heart – and to be applauded – is the concern to sequester carbon from the air into the soil i.e. help farmers tackle climate change.

But he can only lament the lack of scientific evidence backing many of the claims, some of which he reckons are quite wild!

11th Real Bread Week: February 22 – March 1 2020

An invitation from the Real Bread Campaign to join in Real Bread Week.

Its key aims are encouraging people to:
Buy Real Bread from local bakeries: Look for The Loaf Mark!
Bake Real Bread and share those skills with others

A particular focus this year is on the power that Real Bread making has to help people transform their lives.

This about raising awareness from the campaign organisers, Sustain:
“Disempowered women, people with learning disabilities, and prisoners are just some of the many people who’d previously faced challenges finding their place in the workforce but are now gaining skills for employment as Real Bread bakers.
Meanwhile, people who, for one reason or another, have had a tougher time than many of us are enjoying the therapeutic benefits of making Real Bread by hand. In many cases, they’re doing so in the mutually-supportive company of others.
Throughout Real Bread Week, the Real Bread Campaign will be throwing the spotlight via social media and a series of new articles on just some of the amazing enterprises and organisations helping to make this happen.”

And their campaign ask – “Raising dough” . . .
“Sustain, the charity that created and runs Real Bread Week is raising money so that the Real Bread Campaign can build on its work celebrating, connecting and supporting the people, enterprises and organisations behind the rise of Real Bread. You can help in one (or more) of these ways to ensure that more people can benefit from the employment, therapeutic and social opportunities of Real Bread making:
– Join the Campaign
Make a doughnation of £10 – £100 (or whatever you feel)
– Buy a t-shirt, mug, apron, recipe book or dough scorer

Details of bakeries, baking schools, Real Bread Week events and the whole shebang above can be found at: www.realbreadcampaign.org