GBM Blog

New prospects for Agro-ecology in the UK

August 8, 2011 - 09:40AM
Published by Francesca de Gasparis

This blog was written by an intern in GBMI’s Europe office, Peter Barrett

My interest in policy issues led me to attend the last All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) meeting on Agro-ecology before the summer parliamentary recess. These meetings are a way for the general public, NGOs and other members of civil society to interact with the legislature and ultimately help to shape policy.

After running through the corridors of Westminster I finally reached my intended destination, the Agro ecology debate. The room was full of local charities, NGO representatives, farmers and researchers. It was an omen for interesting discussions.

We saw four very interesting presentations on the issues of land and farming. I was particularly struck by the idea of land partnerships, which means that farmers with small bits of land come together in order to form a more resilient collective. The Managing Director of ‘Landshare’, Tom Curtis, put forward a convincing argument about the importance for farmers to diversify their use of land in order to have a safer and more stable income, which is less subjected to the fluctuation of food prices. He described the difference between our current ‘lean’ systems of farming, in which we produce one crop on a large area of land and the ‘agile’ system, which diversifies the crops by mixing pasture, cattle and crop production in the same farming systems. 

The specialization within agriculture that has happened over the years has produced highly efficient systems but they depend on things that we used to be able to take for granted, such as the price of oil, access to water, or the weather. Now we need to take into account other issues concerning the scarcity of resources as well as climate change. Landshare’ works to try to provide farmers with bigger plots of land, diversify their exploitation and share resources as well as knowledge about farming methods.

The presentations opened up interesting discussions on how these projects could grow and ways in which governments can get involved. As it stands, these concepts are trialed and tested, and viable. There are however great difficulties for such projects to go ahead as they can lack funding and are often put off by wrongly placed incentives.

My thoughts when leaving Westminster was that it seems to be the case that all farmers are looking for alternatives to classical farming techniques, but only some MPs are doing the same.

The fact is that farmers have seen their revenues decrease as food prices skyrocketed. We need to use different methods of farming and, as the co-chair Baroness Sue Miller stated, we cannot “believe that the private sector will magically find solutions to all the problems”.