We have to change Direction in Farming

We can feed ourselves with healthy food, and we need to start doing so.

Indian Farmers’ Protest – Source: Oxford Real Farming Conference

That was the clear message from the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission’s latest report, Farming for Change. The report stated that ‘we can grow enough healthy food for a future 2050 UK population’, but in order to do this we must move to a more agro-ecological approach in our food and farming system. An approach that must work alongside shifts in diets and land-use.

Agroecology, as defined by the United Nations, refers to an approach that applies:

‘ecological principles to optimise the relationships between plants, animals, humans and the environment. Through building these relationships, agroecology supports food production, food security and nutrition while restoring the ecosystems and biodiversity that are essential for sustainable agriculture.’

This forward-looking report that provided modelling on how the UK could achieve an agro-ecological transition in its food system, was launched at the Oxford Real Farming Conference. The conference took place from 7 to 13 January. For 7 days, with over 4,000 delegates per day and up to 200 talks on offer, it demonstrated how energy and hope could be amassed even amid a global pandemic and via a virtual platform.

It highlighted there was a wide variety of positive work going on across the globe in tackling our disastrous modern food system. But it also made clear there is still a long journey to be made in order for the system to be ended and for us to be able to truly feed ourselves.

During the launch of the Farming for Change report it was stated that ‘healthy food should be everybody’s business, and we need to level the playing field for a fair food system. Farming can be a force for change’. The centrality of food to all of us was reiterated in a beautiful statement by Dee Woods, a food actionist at the Landworkers’ Alliance. Speaking at a conference event on ‘Building solidarity and Racial Justice in our Movements’, Woods stated ‘everyone should be involved in food and food governance, we have to end food apartheid’.

Vicki Hird from Sustain, also argued that we should all be involved in how our farms, environment and land are used. She specifically recommended that more of us get involved in local planning processes and have our voices heard in how land and the environment around us is designed.

The real inequalities and division within our current food system were also pushed to the fore in discussions at the conference. The renowned food sovereignty activist and eco-Socialist, Dr Vandana Shiva noted that ‘colonialism of the past and the present are the same’. She laid out the two informative moments in colonisation and their predication on influencing the nature of our food system and the environment. Shiva argued that ‘first colonisation declared land empty’ while ‘second colonisation through patency declared biological sources empty’. 

To bring the current system to an end and to foster a new food system based on agroecology that nourishes humans, animals, plants and land, we need social change. Throughout the conference, whilst various farmers, scientists and experts spoke on the scientific aspects of farming and food production, there was a real emphasis from many speakers on the need for social change. During the talk on a Small Farm Future, driven by Chris Smaje, the author of the Small Farm Future book, it was stated that our ‘socio-economic structures have dictated land-use’ and we need to ‘consider wider aspects of capitalism and we need to seek a system that produces what we NEED’.

Our ‘communities have a role in establishing change’ said Tom Philpott, a successful agricultural and food policy journalist in America, who argued that the means of change was heavily reliant on social movements, particularly harnessing the success of recent climate crisis movements.

The real power of current social movements was most effectively shown in the discussion on the on-going Farmers Strike in India. This strike against the corporatisation of Indian farming and the removal of protections on farmers’ income, has seen mass protests. These protests have shown a real strength and hope in unity. Class differences in rural areas have been put aside, violence has been prevented, while various groups have come together to protest the passing of three farm bills by the Modi government.

The conference filled me with an energy and drive for change.

For far too long, our food has been the property of colonisers, capitalists, and the oppressors of millions. It has been extracted and plundered. The food we place in our mouths has poisoned rivers and soils, killed vast swathes of nature, displaced millions of people and plagued many of us with ill health. It has divided humans, animals, plants and land.

No longer can we shake our heads and display momentary disappointment with our food system. The system isn’t broken. It is not even failing on its own terms. But it is wrong. Our food system is wrong and must be rebuilt. Its terms must be abolished.

Reform will not qualm the fires that burn fiercely within our food and farming system. The system is so complex, yet its oppression is so simple and clear. IT MUST GO.

Dee Woods provided the ultimate call for change and I finish with her words:

‘IT’S TIME TO STEP UP. NEED FOR URGENCY TO BUILD SOCIO-ECONOMIC AND FOOD SYSTEMS THAT WE WANT, BASED ON OUR KNOWLEDGE AND OUR TRADITIONS. DECOLONISE AGRICULTURE AND EVERYTHING TO GET BACK TO WHO WE ARE, HUMAN.’

Ed: For those interested in supporting the Farmers’ Protests in India, the Landworkers’ Alliance have provided a letter to send to your MP urging action by the UK Government.


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