UK farmers are facing fresh pressure to become more sustainable in the wake of a new report calling for action. The RSA Food Farming & Countryside Commission have outlined the key changes they would like to see from the industry by 2030 to prevent a ‘climate emergency’. The report also insists that rural countryside should be at the heart of governmental decisions relating to the green economy.
The Our Future in the Land report took two years to complete and was produced by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA). It provides a whole host of positive recommendations, including ramping up the supply of healthy British foods such as fruit, vegetables, nuts and pulses to schools, hospitals and prisons.
Recommendations for a sustainable farming future
The report recommends the development of a national agro-ecology Bank to encourage long-term investors to fund sustainable farming. Experts also aim to encourage a sociological shift in the way farming is viewed by creating a national nature service to 18-25 year olds in a bid to inspire young people to become passionate about tackling climate change. A final key takeaway from the report calls for radical changes to farming methods, imploring that meat and dairy must come from “sustainable livestock”.
Researcher Sue Pritchard outlined the significance of the findings in the report: "If we don't make the changes we need to right now, we will go beyond 1.5 degrees, beyond 2 degrees, we'll probably go beyond 4 degrees of global warming, which will have an absolutely catastrophic effect on the whole of the country.” She added: "Business as usual is just not an option - not for us and nor for our children and not for generations to come, There's no alternative, we absolutely have to get on and we have to act now."
The government has also revealed plans to launch a new scheme to transform the country's food strategy. A consultation brief occurred on the 17th August and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) added that they were interested in hearing from “anyone who has a good idea”. They also made clear that ideas both “big and small” were welcomed and could be based on ideas that were working well here and abroad that could be upscaled and diversified. The government were quick to reinforce their flexibility at the consultation brief and insisted all ideas would be considered warmly. They said: “We would like to try to understand the rationale for your proposal and study the accompanying evidence.”
A call for action on climate change
In an official statement, DEFRA said: “We are looking for ideas that help citizens make informed decisions about the food they eat, or which increase access to and affordability of high-quality food; ideas that make food production more environmentally sustainable, creating a flourishing countryside rich in wildlife; ideas that help farming, fishing and food businesses and communities thrive, benefitting employees and the wider community; or that promote the highest standards of animal health and welfare; or that could put England at the forefront of innovation and reshape our food system in the coming years.”
The news comes after Henry Dimbleby - food entrepreneur and founder of trendy restaurant chain Leon - announced he would conduct an independent review to help develop the national strategy. As a non-executive DEFRA board member and founder of the Sustainable Restaurant Association, Dimbleby is well-placed to lead the review.
He said: “We’re launching the call for evidence today to gather insights and inspiration to help transform our food system. Whether you are someone who works in a food business, a farmer, a food processor, an interested citizen - whoever you are - we want to hear from you. We can’t wait to read your submissions and hear about your ideas.”
The consultation will close on the 25th October 2019 followed by the publication of the final review. This will be made available to the public by next summer. It’s important to note that the government has committed to responding with a White Paper following the review’s publication. Dimbleby has been tasked with reviewing progress 12 months after that.
The National Food Strategy is intended to ensure the food system’s robustness in the face of future shocks. It will also work to deliver safe, healthy and affordable food in a bid to rid the country of food poverty. What’s more, the review should restore and enhance the natural environment for the next generation, build upon a resilient human agriculture sector which will become a thriving contributor to England’s urban and rural economies.
Environment secretary Theresa Villiers said she was “delighted” to launch the call for evidence and labelled the work of Dimbleby as “excellent”. She added: “We should not underplay the importance of the food we eat for our environment, our health and our society and I encourage people to share their views on the way ahead.”
The food industry's impact on the environment
Her comments come amid growing concerns about the farming industry’s influence upon the environment. It has now widely been accepted that 10% of greenhouse gas emissions stem from agriculture, highlighting the utmost important of sustainable approaches to food production. One such initiative is agro-foresty - the process of planting trees in fields used for crops and grazing. A trial project at a Wiltshire site has proved overwhelmingly successful.
Ben Raskin, who heads up the Eastbrook Farm trial, even claimed that agro-foresty is capable of boosting revenue for farmers. Mr Raskin said: “There's a lot of evidence that if an animal is sheltered it's more productive - so it's been spending energy keeping its core temp warm it can put more energy into producing milk or putting on weight which is good obviously for productivity into the farm,"
The National Farmers’ Union and DEFRA Secretary Michael Gove welcome the suggested plans and the call for sustainability in farming. However, they acknowledge that these new changes must be implemented delicately so as to balance sustainability with affordability. Both bodies also made it clear that the interests of farmers and landowners could not be neglected in the fight for increased sustainability.
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Those interested in sharing their contributions to the DEFRA scheme should email ideas and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org ahead of the consultation on 25th October.