The battle for the future of farming: what you need to know

This article, by Michel Pimbert and Colin Anderson (Centre for Agroecology Water and Resilience, Coventry University) was published in The Conversation, Nov 18 2018

It is widely agreed that today’s global agriculture system is a social and environmental failure. Business as usual is no longer an option: biodiversity loss and nitrogen pollution are exceeding planetary limits, and catastrophic risks of climate change demand immediate action.

Most concede that there is an urgent need to radically transform our food systems. But the proposed innovations for more sustainable food systems are drastically different. Which we choose will have long-lasting effects on human society and the planet.

Suggested innovations in food systems can be broadly understood as either seeking to conform with – or to transform – the status quo.

The future of farming is ours to decide. Raggedstone/Shutterstock.com

A technological future

Some want to keep the agriculture industry as close to existing practices as possible. This is true of the increasing number of corporate and financial actors who seek to solve the food crisis by developing new technologies. These technologies are envisaged as being part of what is being called the “fourth industrial revolution” (4IR). The “answer” here is thought to lie in a fusion of technologies that blurs the lines between physical, digital and biological domains.

For example, the World Economic Forum is currently supporting agricultural transitions in 21 countries through its “New Vision for Agriculture” initiative. This initiative supports “innovation ecosystems” to re-engineer food systems based on “12 transforming technologies”. In this imagined future, next generation biotechnologies will re-engineer plants and animals. Precision farming will optimise use of water and pesticides. Global food systems will rely on smart robots, blockchain and the internet of things to manufacture synthetic foods for personalised nutrition.

Like previous green revolution technologies in agriculture, this effort is designed by and for powerful agricultural giants. These technological innovations reinforce the concentration of political and economic power in the hands of a small number of corporations. Indeed, the latter have a growing monopoly control over the “12 transforming technologies” protected by patents.

Who needs humans? Kung_tom/Shutterstock.comMost notably, the spread of these technologies will expand the technosphere at the expense of the biosphere. Flying robots will pollinate crops instead of living bees. Automated machines will replace farmers’ work on soil preparation, seeding, weeding, fertility, pest control and harvesting of crops.

These hi-tech innovations radically depart from most farming practices. They are moving us towards an increasingly people-less food system. Yet they show a remarkable continuity with the logic of capitalist accumulation – hence their staying power despite their significant risks.

The spread of automated, de-localised and digitalised production and commercialisation of food is part of the “financialisation” of the global food system. Financial markets play an increasing role in controlling food systems from a distance. This generates huge social and human risks. For example, the significant growth in the sale and purchase of financial products linked to food commodities was one of the determining factors in the 2008 world food crisis.

We could be seeing an extension of the megafarms we know today. Igorstevanovic/Shutterstock.com

Another option

But there is an alternative to this future. Agroecology involves the application of ecological principles for the design and management of sustainable agroecosystems. Our research on agroecology focuses on how it can contribute to food sovereignty, which emphasises the democratisation of food systems. Agroecology’s contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals is now recognised.

In contrast to the technological vision described above, agroecological innovations promote circular systems that involve recycling, reuse and combining resources to reduce dependency on external inputs, in particular fossil fuels. They mimic natural cycles and the functional diversity of natural ecosystems.

An organic coffee plantation in Ecuador. Dr Morley Read/Shutterstock.comFarming systems are designed in a way that is based on beneficial interactions between plants, animals and environments. Trees and shrubs might be planted amongst or around crops, say. Or two or more crops might be grown in proximity. Agroecology reduces the dependence of food producers on expensive external inputs, distant commodity markets and patented technologies. This is achieved by relying on appropriate biodiversity to ward off pests and increase farm yields.

At broader scales, agroecology involves circular systems that combine food and energy production with water and waste management. Pollution is minimised and synergies achieved by carefully clustering industries into functional wholes. The re-localisation of production and consumption within territories enhances local economic regeneration and sustainability.

Agroecological innovations in transitions to sustainable food systems are being driven largely from the bottom up by civil society, social movements and allied researchers. In this context, priorities for innovations are ones that increase citizen control for food sovereignty and decentralise power. This is in direct contrast to the monopoly control enabled by 4IR technologies.

Growing multiple crops at once. Katarzyna Mazurowska/Shutterstock.com

A democratic debate

Government, civil society and private sector representatives will soon meet in Rome at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to discuss the future of farming. Who controls the global governance of innovation will be a hotly debated topic.

But given these highly contested views on innovations for food and agriculture, it is vital that everyone is able to exercise their right to have a say on the future of their food supply. Deliberative and inclusive processes such as citizens’ juries, peoples’ assemblies and community-led participatory processes are urgently needed to decide priorities for food and agricultural innovations. This is all the more important in today’s context of rapid global change and uncertainty.

So. Do you want to live in a world in which artificial food is produced by intelligent robots and corporations that put profits before people? Or one where agroecological innovations ensure we can nourish ourselves and our communities in a fair, ecologically regenerative, and culturally rich way?

Natural Capital: a neoliberal response to species extinction

In this article, Ian Rappel attacks the thinking and ambition behind the drive to attach a monetary value to biodiversity and nature – that it “is being portrayed as a necessary means of translating the environmental message to legislators, business and the markets. This argument for nature ­financialisation—the processes by which banks and financiers have turned to environmental conservation as a new front for speculative investment, and the simultaneous rewriting of conservation to fit banking and financial ­concepts—has gained momentum and acceptance across environmental science and politics during the last decade as economic recession/depression and austerity have dominated global economic architectures.”

The global status of agroecology

Michel Pimbert (Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience) pulls no punches in this overview of agroecology as he traces its origins, its current popularity at governmental and intergovernmental levels, and its potential for truly transforming our ways of living.

Originally published in Economic & Political Weekly Vol. 53, Issue No. 41, 13 Oct, 2018, it is reproduced here with permission of the author and of the publisher.

Agroforestry: what it is and why it matters

A timely publication from the Woodland Trust and Soil Association – launched at a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology this week (June 12)  just before the Agriculture Bill is published next month – urges the government to “recognise the vital role of trees in the . . . Bill, and support the potential of well-planned tree planting including agroforestry to achieve healthy environments, protect soils, sequester carbon from the atmosphere and support resilient farming”.

Our failing food system: where the real battle-lines lie; and what we can do about it!

This new report from IPES-Food (lead author Pat Mooney), sounds the alarm on the mega-mergers happening within the food industry:

– the three firms dominating more than 60% of global seed and pesticide markets should the merger between Bayer and Monsanto go ahead;

– the role of Big Data as a “powerful new driver of consolidation, allowing companies to bring satellite data services, input provision, farm-level genomic information, farm machinery, and market information under one roof”.

Key messages of the report – including what needs to be done – are as follows:

A significant horizontal and vertical restructuring is underway across food systems. A spate of mega-mergers is sparking unprecedented consolidation in the seed, agri-chemical, fertilizer, animal genetics and farm machinery industries, while creating ever-bigger players in the processing and retail sectors.

New data technologies are emerging as a powerful new driver of consolidation. Rampant vertical integration is allowing companies to bring satellite data services, input provision, farm-level genomic information, farm machinery, and market information under one roof, transforming agriculture in the process.

The high and rapidly increasing levels of concentration in the agri-food sector reinforce the industrial food and farming model, exacerbating its social and environmental fallout and aggravating existing power imbalances.

Consolidation across the agri-food industry has made farmers ever more reliant on a handful of suppliers and buyers, further squeezing their incomes and eroding their ability to choose what to grow, how to grow it, and for whom.

The scope of research and innovation has narrowed as dominant firms have bought out the innovators and shifted resources to more defensive modes of investment.

The merry-go-round of company buyouts, boardroom turnover and product rebranding is eroding commitments to sustainability, dissipating accountability, and opening the door to abuse and fraud.

The rush to control plant genomics, chemical research, farm machinery and consumer information via Big Data is driving mega-mergers – and stands to exacerbate existing power imbalances, dependencies, and barriers to entry across the agri-food sector.

Dominant firms have become too big to feed humanity sustainably, too big to operate on equitable terms with other food system actors, and too big to drive the types of innovation we need.

The wide-ranging impacts of mega-mergers often evade the scrutiny of regulators, but steps to redefine anti-competitive practices and extend the scope of anti-trust rules are starting to turn the tide.

Steps to build a new anti-trust environment must be accompanied by measures to fundamentally realign incentives in food systems and address the root causes of consolidation.

A collaborative assessment of agri-food consolidation and a UN Treaty on Competition are required to deliver transnational oversight of mega-mergers.

A shift towards diversified and decentralized innovation, locally-applicable knowledge and open access technologies – a new ‘wide tech’ paradigm’ – is urgently needed to harness the benefits of Big Data for all.

Short supply chains, innovative distribution and exchange models – such as ‘solidarity economy’ initiatives – must continue to circumvent, disrupt, and de-consolidate mainstream supply chains – and must ultimately be supported by integrated food policies.

How our food and farming systems are making us sick

This new report – Unravelling the Food–Health Nexus: Addressing practices, political economy, and power relations to build healthier food systems – from IPES-Food was launched at the UN Committee on World Food Security in Rome (October 9 2017)

This from the press release:

Industrial food and farming systems are making people sick in a variety of ways, and are generating staggering human and economic costs

– Decisive action can be taken on the basis of what we know but is held back by the unequal power of food system actors to set the terms of debate and to influence policy.

-“Food systems are making us sick. Unhealthy diets are the most obvious link, but are only one of many pathways through which food and farming systems affect human health. This means that there are multiple entry points for building healthier food systems. We must urgently address these impacts wherever they occur, and in parallel we must address the root causes of inequitable, unsustainable and unhealthy practices in food systems.”

. . . . [T]he report places the debilitating health impacts of inadequate diets side by side with environmental health risks (e.g. nitrate-contaminated drinking water and the spread antimicrobial resistance) and the endemic occupational hazards facing food and farmworkers.

IPES-Food found that many of the severest health conditions afflicting populations around the world – from respiratory diseases to a range of cancers and systematic livelihood stresses  – are linked to industrial food and farming practices, i.e. chemical-intensive agriculture, concentrated livestock production, the mass production and marketing of ultra-processed foods, and deregulated global supply chains.

The economic costs of these impacts are huge and likely to grow. Malnutrition costs the world $3.5 trillion per year, while obesity alone is estimated to cost $760 billion by 2025. Meanwhile, combined EU and US losses from exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals amount to $557 billion per year, while anti-microbrial resistant infections are already thought to be incurring $20-34 billion of annual costs in the US.

IPES-Food co-chair Olivia Yambi said: “What is troubling is how systematically these risks are generated – at different nodes of the chain and in different parts of the world.”

Fellow co-chair Olivier De Schutter, former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, added: “When all of these health impacts are considered collectively, the grounds for reform are compelling. And when health impacts are placed alongside social and environmental impacts, and the mounting costs they generate, the case for action is overwhelming. It is now clearer than ever that healthy people and a healthy planet are co-dependent.”

The report found that those without power or voice are often exposed to the greatest health risks in food systems, meaning that these impacts often go unseen, undocumented and unaddressed. “Here as elsewhere,” De Schutter said, “political disempowerment and marginalization goes hand in hand with risks to lives and livelihoods.”

Furthermore, the health impacts of food systems are interconnected, self-reinforcing, and complex. They are caused by many agents, and exacerbated by climate change, unsanitary conditions, and poverty – factors which are shaped by food and farming systems.

“The industrial food and farming model that systematically generates negative health impacts also generates highly unequal power relations. Powerful actors are therefore able to shape our understanding of food-health linkages, promoting solutions that leave the root causes of ill health unaddressed.”

IPES-Food identified five key leverage points for building healthier food systems:

i) promoting food systems thinking at all levels;

ii) reasserting scientific integrity and research as a public good;

iii) bringing the positive impacts of alternative food systems to light;

iv) adopting the precautionary principle; and,

v) building integrated food policies under participatory governance.

The report, commissioned by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, builds on IPES-Food’s first thematic report, ‘From Uniformity to Diversity’ (2016), which identified factors locking in the industrial food and farming model, and called for a paradigm shift towards diversified agroecological systems.

Read the Full Report: Unravelling the Food–Health Nexus: Addressing practices, political economy, and power relations to build healthier food systems

Read the Executive Summary.

Farming is far too important to leave to governments

As we build towards yet another election Colin Tudge suggests that it’s time for a little honesty

I think I’d vote for any party in the coming election that took agriculture seriously – which unfortunately excludes all the major parties and, of course, UKIP. The Green Party has the most appropriate policies but it does not focus on farming as much as it should and must if it is truly to be green. Agriculture after all is right at the heart of all the world’s affairs, human and non-human, and if we don’t get it right then we, the world, have had our chips.

We could get it right. It would not be technically difficult (or certainly not beyond our wit) to ensure that everyone, everywhere, has good food, forever, and that the biosphere as a whole stays in good heart far into  the future  — all of which is what the much-worn term “sustainable” ought to mean. Yet in practice, Britain’s and the World’s agriculture is dire. It certainly does not provide everyone with good food and it is wrecking the world at large, possibly terminally. Furthermore, the neoliberal-industrial brand of farming that is now called “conventional” is rapidly making things worse. Governments like Britain’s and the rest of the EU spend millions (literally) of person-hours and billions of pounds and euros on agriculture and this looks serious enough, but they are not thinking along the right lines. The task they have set themselves is not to meet the real needs of human beings and our fellow creatures but to squeeze the square peg of agriculture – essentially a social and ecological exercise – into the round hole of neoliberal dogma, with as much high-tech as possible to make it look progressive (and also because high-tech is profitable). This is not what’s needed. As Barrack Obama said in a very similar context: “Guess what. It doesn’t work”. But it does keep well-paid people busy for years and years and years, and can do small wonders for GDP, which is the main thing, even if it puts millions more out of work, and makes a horrible mess.

Crucially, most of the people who have the most influence in agriculture don’t know anything about it, or about the biosphere at large (the living world), or they don’t care, or both. Britain’s governments take agriculture seriously only in times of crisis and for a few years afterwards until the memory fades – as they did briefly after the virtual siege of the Napoleonic wars and the two World Wars. Then they revert to “business as usual”, and in “normal” times agriculture in Britain is never designed primarily to provide good food for everyone or to ensure food security (which is not quite the same thing) or to look after farmers or (still less) the biosphere, but to placate whatever lobby happens to be dominant at the time. It used to be the Feudal aristocracy. Now it’s big business and international banking. On the whole the Feudal aristocracy were and are less destructive but neither they nor the corporates met or meets the real needs of humankind or of the biosphere. This was not and is not their agenda.

British governments have demonstrated their indifference to agriculture and their level of appreciation of it first by dropping the words “agriculture” or “farming” from the name of the department that runs it (the F in Defra means “food”; the A “affairs”) and from the body in charge of research (BBSRC? What’s that?); and secondly, by appointing secretaries of state who either are young Turks on the way up (David Miliband was in charge for about a year or so, just passing through) or, more usually, are a “safe pair of hands” (the code-name for “hack”). The latest incumbent, Angela Leadsom, has told spellbound audiences that we should use the lowlands for intensive farming and leave the uplands to the butterflies. Jolly bad luck on lowland butterflies (which is most of them) and indeed on upland farmers.

In passing too, in 1994 the incumbent government shut down the Agricultural and Food Research Council. AFRC had evolved over 150 years or so from John Bennet Lawes’ experiments with superphosphate at his Rothamsted estate in the 1830s, and by the late 20th century it was running about 30 publicly owned research stations all over Britain, with strong links overseas, on all aspects of farming, that truly and rightly were the envy of the world. But through the ’90s and beyond the stations were sold off or privatised. This surely was the greatest act of state-sponsored vandalism since the dissolution of the monasteries, but in this urbanised society of ours, who noticed? (It’s a pity farming doesn’t have the same profile as the NHS, or even that of education. At least people at large know that these things matter.)

The fashion / dogma/ prevailing doctrine right now is that of Neoliberalism. The point is not that neoliberalism is “capitalist”. Capitalism in practice is a catch-all term for a whole range of financial mechanisms most of which can be used for good purposes – meaning socially and environmentally responsible – provided those mechanisms are guided by common sense and common morality (a feeling that compassion, justice, and the state of the biosphere actually matter). But neoliberalism as a matter of strategy! – rejects the constraints of common sense and common morality. The machinations of the “free” market – Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” – are supposed to ensure that all will be well. The market is left to decide what is morally good: what people will pay for is deemed to be OK (barring child pornography. Even neolibs have kids, after all). But in truth as has been abundantly demonstrated these past 25 years the invisible hand does not work. The market in practice is not democratic and it does not and cannot deliver social justice.

Farming is now deemed to be “a business like any other” (a chill phrase that I first heard in the 1970s, even before the dead hand of neoliberalism came down on us) and “business” is now conceived not as the natural underpinning of a mixed economy in a democratic society but as an all-out, no-holds-barred competition to generate the greatest wealth (measured in money) in the shortest time. In practice of course the no-holds-barred market is not open to all but is dominated by the strongest players, who are the corporates, which are designed expressly for the fray, and are now so powerful that they can override governments (even those like Theresa May’s which promise to be “strong and stable”— meaning they can shove us around (though they can’t out-face the corporates) and will stick to their dogma come what might).

Maximally profitable farming – in the short term! – is not good farming. There is much talk of “sustainable intensification” and other such vacuous slogans from on high but so long as oil is affordable (which it always will be – just! — because the producers need to sell it) it is more profitable to replace people with machines, and good husbandry with industrial chemistry, and farm with minimum to zero labour on the largest possible scale (although sometimes gangs of serfs imported from afar are cheaper than chemistry). All this – despite GM and lightweight robots and other much-vaunted nonsenses – will at best be “sustainable” for the next 30 years or so (by which time the present crop of politicians and tycoons will be safely tucked up in their graves, or in the House of Lords).

As Snoopy would say, Eeeaaagh!

So what’s to be done? At the coming election I don’t know. Regrettably, the result does make a difference. Governments rarely do lasting good (women’s suffrage and the great health and education reforms after World War II are rare one-offs) but they can and often do wreck lives in the short term and do a great deal of lasting harm. But, as is generally the case these days, in England at least, the most attractive party or parties are the least likely to win.  The nasty ones are better organised.

In the longer term, though, if we really care about the future – if indeed we want to enjoy a long-term future at all – then we have to start again from first principles.

To begin with, we must, as a nation and a world, start again to take agriculture seriously. We can’t just throw it to the wolves of the global money market – or seek to curb the worst excesses of the market with one-size-fits-all subsidies. Our lives depend on agriculture and agriculture more than anything else determines whether other creatures can live at all. The mechanisms and pressures of the “free” market are far too crude to attend to all its subtleties, and the goals of the market, its raison d’etre, are quite distinct from what should be the true goals of agriculture. In absolute contrast to what is now perceived as the norm we need “Enlightened Agriculture”, sometimes abbreviated to “Real Farming” – farming that is designed expressly to provide good food for everyone without wrecking the rest of the world, and without injustice or cruelty. This ought to be eminently possible. The three essential principles of Enlightened Agriculture are Agroecology, Food Sovereignty, and Economic Democracy, all of which have been well demonstrated and shown to work. Enlightened Agriculture with all that it entails needs to become the global norm. Agriculture needs to be transformed – metamorphosis. We need nothing less than an Agrarian Renaissance: “re-birth”.

But we cannot bring about the Agrarian Renaissance ad hoc. Agriculture affects everything else that we do, and is affected by everything else, and to bring about the necessary transformation we need to re-think everything from first principles. We need an economy that is not simply intended to maximise short-term wealth, and to transfer wealth and power from the many to the few, but to serve all humanity (it can be done). We need to re-think politics, so that we don’t simply elect short-termists, promising endless material growth and rattling sabres at the world at large. We need perhaps above all to make democracy work (it’s the worse form of government, said Winston Churchill, “apart from all the others”). We need to re-think science – who controls it, and for whose benefit; and, much more than that, we need to ask seriously what science really is, and what it can do and what it can’t – the much neglected discipline of the philosophy of science. Science is one of humanity’s greatest achievements and ought to be among our greatest assets but as things are it is, in some of its manifestations, among our greatest threats. We need to re-think our moral principles – what do we really think is good, and why? And finally, we need to acknowledge, as has not to my knowledge been acknowledged for some centuries, that all the most interesting ideas, including or especially those of science and morality, are rooted in unknowns and unknowables, which can be sensibly discussed only in the context of metaphysics. Metaphysics needs to be disinterred, dusted down, and placed centre-stage. The point of The College for Real Farming and Food Culture is to do the necessary re-thinking, or at least to set the balls rolling.

But at the same time as the great re-think we need to start doing: setting up the kinds of farms and markets and other enterprises of the kind we really do want, which really could help to bring about the Agrarian Renaissance. Many such initiatives are already in train, though the cards are stacked against them. Our own Funding Enlightened Agriculture initiative (FEA) is helping things along, and so too are various excellent groups at home and abroad.

Above all, since the present government does not take agriculture seriously, and no government of any party has taken it seriously since post-war years, if we seriously want farming that does the job that’s needed then we, people at large, need to take matters into our own hands. In the immediate term, farmers and their surrounding communities need to work together to push things in the right direction. In the longer term – though as quickly as possible – we need to rescue agriculture from government. It needs its own agency, run by people who understand it and care about it, and care about humanity and the biosphere at large, and are also answerable to people at large; an organisation with power that is also democratic and, perhaps above all, competent. The BBC was run like this in its early days – not perfect, but admirable nonetheless. I am told the Dutch dikes also have their own agency, with the power to do what needs doing, because if they did not they would drown. Some things are just too important to leave to governments and farming, beyond doubt, is one of them.

Addendum

I coined the term “Enlightened Agriculture” in 2003 in a book called So Shall We Reap. At a meeting in 2008 with friends and my wife, Ruth (West) we decided that “Real Farming” would be catchier and so (with a generous grant from one of the assembled company) we set up “The Campaign for Real Farming”, including this website. At about that time too Graham Harvey suggested that the world needed an antidote to the establishment’s Oxford Farming Conference and so he, Ruth and I set up the Oxford Real Farming Conference in 2010 (which is still going from strength to strength). Then Ruth and I felt we should establish a fund to help new enterprises of an enlightened kind, and so we started Funding Enlightened Agriculture, FEA. Then we gathered all these threads – the Campaign, ORFC, and FEA – together under the umbrella of a new charity, the Real Farming Trust, which has built up a truly outstanding board of trustees. Finally, out of all this came our College for Real Farming and Food Culture, designed formally to access and to carry out all the necessary thinking that governments and the NFU, the BBSRC, and most of academe are singularly failing to do. The College website is still building but it is well in train. The College is also building a programme of seminars – the next of which are in September and October of this year (more news to follow). In the fullness of time the College may have its own premises with an experimental farm attached. We’re working on it. Thus the Agrarian Renaissance might come about through a kind of co-evolution: the necessary thinking and the new enlightened enterprises developing in synergy.

Colin Tudge April 30 2017

People Need Nature policy report just published

Published on Jan 3 2017, this report was written by Miles King et al of “People Need Nature”

Called “A Pebble in the Pond: Opportunities for farming, food and nature after Brexit”. You can download it here.

Miles King has provided this summary:

As England prepares to leave the EU we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the way we support England’s land managers.  This report shows how leaving the EU will enable us to channel money from the public purse to land managers in such a way that they can both produce food, help nature and provide all the other benefits society needs.

The last forty years of farm subsidies from Europe via the Common Agricultural Policy has contributed to a dramatic decline in nature on farmland – land that covers three quarters of England. The vote to leave the EU means we have to create a new system to support farmers to produce the food we all need.

This is an opportunity that cannot be ignored.  If England grasps this opportunity, the UK’s departure from the EU will yield benefits for nature and society that will be felt by generations to come.

  • The damaging subsidies that existed within the EU can be altered in order to protect and restore our countryside rather than damage it.  Nature, and the people of England will benefit from these changes.
  • Farmers are paid too little for the food they produce and in some cases are paid less than the cost of production. Supermarkets and others in the supply chain take most of the profit, leaving the farmers with the risks. This is an opportunity to tackle that injustice.
  • Subsidies currently paid to highly profitable farmers can be redirected to support small-scale sustainable farming, which benefits nature.
  • Landowners who provide benefits to society such as carbon storage or flood alleviation can be supported.
  • The UK’s unique Heritage Sites – from natural heritage, to historic buildings, to archaeological sites – can be protected for the future.
  • Far more action is needed to stop damage to nature from farming. Where an outright ban is not needed, a polluter pays principle can be widely adopted. Urgent action can be taken as a result of leaving the EU, to reduce the hazards of pesticides, to benefit nature, improve human health and produce healthier food.
  • Greater transparency in the way our countryside is managed and our lands are farmed can result from the UK leaving the EU, benefitting British farmers, society, our nature and environment.
  • A new relationship between people and food can be developed. Educating children about where food comes from and how it is produced, is the first step to understanding the true cost and value of food.

The report explores the relationship between farmland, food, people and nature; and identifies ways in which that relationship can be strengthened.

New York Times on the corruption of agricultural research by the industry that sponsors it

This piece in the NYT (Dec 31 2016) describes what is now common practice in universities that take money from industry: “scientists deliver outcomes favorable to companies, while university research departments court corporate support. Universities and regulators sacrifice full autonomy by signing confidentiality agreements. And academics sometimes double as paid consultants”.

The politics of Agroecology: cooptation and resistance in the global north

This article written by Miguel Altieri and Eric Holt-Giménez and published by Food First (Oct 18 2016) warns that

“The political dimension of agroecology is problematic in the Global North—particularly in the United States—because challenging the root causes of industrial agriculture’s socio-environmental destruction implies challenging capitalism itself.  It requires a radical (i.e. going to the root) critique that transcends the notion that minor adjustments or ‘greening’ the neoliberal economic model will bring about substantive change. It situates agroecology outside mainstream academic, government and non-governmental programs and within the resistance struggles of the social movements fighting for food sovereignty, local autonomy, and community control of land, water and agrobiodiversity.

But, agroecology in the US and Europe is not anchored in strong agrarian movements. The northern arena of agroecological debate is dominated by an eclectic soup of apolitical narratives (read: avoiding the subject of capitalism), largely promoted by consumers and academics, global institutions, big NGOs and big philanthropy. This institutional camp uses a variety of terms (sustainable intensification, climate-smart agriculture, diversified farming systems, etc.) to promote a reformist definition of agroecology as a set of additional tools to improve everyone’s toolbox. Big, small, organic, conventional… will all get along better with a little more agroecology.

The cooptation of agroecological practices will make industrial agriculture a bit more sustainable and a little less exploitative, but will not challenge underlying relations of power in our food system. Further, agroecology “lite” ignores the ways in which large-scale, industrial monocultures undermine the existence of the smallholder farmers who farm agroecologically. The voices of agroecological practitioners —Afro-American, Latino, Indigenous and Asian communities, smallholders and urban farmers—and of low income consumers, progressive academics and NGOs critical of conventional agriculture, are marginal or muted in this discourse.

Agroecology—as a countermovement to the Green Revolution—is at a crossroads, struggling against cooptation, subordination, and revisionist projects that erase its history and strip it of its political meaning. De-politicized agroecology is socially meaningless, divorced from agrarian realities, vulnerable to the corporate food regime and isolated from the growing power of global food sovereignty movements.

Agroecology has a pivotal role to play in the future of our food systems. If it is co-opted by reformist trends in the Green Revolution, the agroecological countermovement will be weakened, the corporate food regime will likely be strengthened, and substantive reforms to our food systems will be highly unlikely. However, if agroecologists build strategic alliances with food sovereignty and agrarian movements—at home and abroad—the countermovement will be strengthened. A strong countermovement could generate considerable political will for the transformation of our food systems.

Whether one recognizes the politics of agroecology—or tries to hide them—it is precisely these agrarian politics that will determine our agricultural future.”