What is the issue?
The resilience of food production is rooted in wise use of ‘natural capital’ – the soil, water, air, animals, fish and plants that sustain us. It is also predicated on a reliable supply of food, produced in a way that contributes to good rural livelihoods and sustainable use of natural resources. Yet the economic policies affecting farming are largely moving in the wrong direction, focusing on productivity largely at the expense of natural capital, pushing down farm incomes and increasing farm business uncertainty, whilst failing to attract and cultivate a new generation of farmers with the skills for sustainable production.
Our shared vision is for sustainable farming to be an attractive career, well-supported by government policy, industry and consumers, and economically viable – indeed, celebrated for its economic resilience and measurable benefits to farmers, farm workers, consumers and tax-payers, the rural economy and the natural environment. The alliance wants to see sustainable farming and conservation land management underpin progress on the UK’s climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies, as well as to provide the makings of a healthier and more sustainable diet for citizens.
What will the project try to achieve?
The project brings together a powerful alliance of food, farming, environmental, conservation, health and academic organisations, collaborating to achieve changes in government policy and industry practice. Coordinated by Sustain, the alliance will run a concerted three-year campaign, drawing on the support of many people and organisations, and in consultation with farming representatives, to make significant progress in the following five areas:
- Better use of public money for public goods, improving how farm subsidies and other public money are spent, particularly to achieve positive environmental and social outcomes – and especially in a post-Brexit era.
- Better farm trading conditions – farm incomes, farmgate prices, fair terms of trade – especially to strengthen the Groceries Code Adjudicator to protect farmers from unfair trading practices, and cultivate industry leadership.
- Better farm working conditions – pay, in-work benefits, career progression, accommodation, to improve conditions for low-paid and seasonal workers, particularly through reinstatement of an Agricultural Wages Board or similar.
- Better opportunities for new entrant farmers, focusing on land access and training, and supporting horticulture, which provides healthy food but struggles to be profitable, sees large amounts of food go to waste due to poor practices by their retail and manufacturing customers, and faces large labour shortages.
- Better thinking on farming system change, by running high-level seminars on key themes.
Who might be interested in this project?
Farmers and fishers – primary producers; those in receipt of public subsidy, and either beneficiaries of or subject to environmental and employment legislation, as well as voluntary industry agreements to improve trading conditions for farmers. Also those wishing to secure land and training, and see better tenancy agreements.
Farm and fishery workers – those employed by farmers and food processors, for whom recent high-profile cases are demonstrating lack of adequate protection.
Unions and industry regulators, e.g. Unite, National Farmers Union, Gangmaster Licensing Authority, for whom better practices would help address key concerns such as worker safety, welfare, income, business certainty and in-work poverty.
Food industry – supermarkets, manufacturers and their suppliers, those who could benefit from improved supply chain regulation and fair trading practices and/or may need to change their own practices to play their part in system change. Also industry leaders demonstrating good practice – high-street retailers and smaller-scale innovators such as the Better Food Traders network.
MPs, policy-makers and advisors – those who have an interest in improving farming and fishing livelihoods, promote jobs and rural economies, improve the environment and achieve ethical and social objectives.
Academics – economists, agronomists, public health, climate change, interested in building momentum towards a healthy, humane and sustainable food system.
Non-governmental organisations – mainly already involved in the project’s design and implementation – a very diverse group of e.g. food, farming, environmental, conservation, health and academic organisations, for whom progress on key campaign issues would help achieve their objectives.
Journalists and researchers – interested in stories, evidence and solutions for achieving a healthy, fair, humane and sustainable food system, especially those that expose the environmental and social problems inherent in the current system.
Progressive funders – contributing to a greater understanding of how ‘upstream’ measures could reduce the ‘downstream’ problems they are striving to fix.