Friday, October 22, 2021

A new vision for farming would help the world tackle climate change and restore biodiversity

A coalition of agroecological and regenerative farming organizations are calling on leaders to be bold on sustainable agriculture in tackling the climate and nature emergency at COP26 in Glasgow.

The coalition is pleased to see the Government publish its Net Zero Strategy this week. There are certainly many elements that are welcome, particularly around agroforestry and tree planting, as well as a focus on the need to curtail excess nitrogen from slurry and synthetic fertilizers.

However, the Strategy failed to recognize the power of agroecology to help reduce emissions and the value of species-rich grasslands as a nature-based solution. Whilst a step in the right direction, the strategy lacks ambition and vague statements on emerging technology take priority over concrete commitments.

The Government’s Net Zero Strategy echoed the Climate Change Committee’s recommendations for land use outlined in their 6th Carbon Budget. Both documents demonstrate siloed thinking that could be detrimental to nature’s recovery and the transition to sustainable farming. Both demonstrate siloed thinking that could be detrimental to nature’s recovery and the transition to sustainable farming.

The coalitions briefing outlines how farming and land use can deliver for climate, nature and public health, while still providing food security through the wider adoption of agroecology and regenerative farming.

The group is calling on the UK Government to take an integrated and holistic approach to land use and food production, and place resilience at the heart of future policy.

They recommend that:

  1. Climate change mitigation should not be pursued at the cost of biodiversity, food security or climate resilience. Instead, an integrated approach to these issues needs to be seen as interconnected.
  2. Carbon offsetting measures (such as afforestation or bioenergy) need to be balanced with biodiversity targets and consider the carbon potential of well-managed soils, species diverse grasslands and agroforestry.
  3. Diet change is crucial but should be guided by what we can produce sustainably, with a greater understanding of the impacts of different production systems, including more accurate measurement of GHG emissions from agriculture and mandatory method of production labelling that would empower consumers to make informed decisions.
  4. These must be fully adopted in the Government’s strategy to meet the UK’s GHG emission reduction targets within the farming and land use sector. Governments should ensure that the design of future support schemes for the farming sector embrace a truly sustainable vision for farming and support the transition to agroecology.

Olivia Nelson, Advocacy Officer Floodplain Meadow Partnership and Professor of Botany at the Open University, said:

“The productivity of floodplain meadows, their diversity of species and their position in the landscape make them a ready-made nature-based solution for both the climate change and biodiversity crises. The Floodplain Meadow Partnership wholeheartedly supports the call in this report for species-rich grassland to be recognized for its multiple benefits. Such grasslands support resilient productivity, rich biodiversity, flood protection and carbon sequestration. Agroecology is the key to sustainable food production, in which species-rich grasslands have a major role to play.”

Vicki Hird, Head of Farming at Sustain said:

“There is no question that we need to include farming – the largest land use in the UK – in the set of ambitions for tackling the climate and nature emergency. This report shows how to do this by focusing on agroecological farming approaches, undertaken by all farmers on all land, and fully supported by governments and markets. Any suggestions we need to intensify production ignores both the evidence of harm to ecosystems and how this always leads to expansion and increased demands for ever cheaper food, that is harmful for our health and natural systems.“

Gareth Morgan, Head of Farming and Land Use Policy at the Soil Association said:

“Changes in farming, land use and diets will be essential if we are to reach Net Zero. However, some pathways for change would have big downsides in terms of wildlife, animal welfare and farm businesses. It is clear that helping farmers and citizens change to agroecological farming and diets within planetary limits is the best way forward.”

Jimmy Woodrow, Executive Director, Pasture-Fed Livestock Association, said:

“It’s vital that analyses of the future of land use in the UK take account of the full range of public goods required from land managers rather than focusing solely on carbon. When factoring in food, fiber, water infiltration and storage and biodiversity recovery, to name just a few, it becomes clear that low input, agroecological systems, such as species-rich grasslands and silvopasture, deliver the best results.”

Patrick Holden, Chief Executive of the Sustainable Food Trust, said:

“Farming is absolutely critical for addressing the multiple crises facing people and planet. Climate, biodiversity and human health are inextricably linked and must not be treated in silos. To this end, the Climate Change Committee’s recommendations on land use do not adequately reflect the positive role that farming can play, not only in addressing climate change but also in reversing biodiversity decline and nourishing a growing population with healthy food. In particular, the failure to consider the role of soil carbon sequestration is a very serious omission implying a lack of understanding of the enormous potential capacity of UK soils if transitioned to truly sustainable farming systems. We cannot focus narrowly on one issue to the detriment of others, and we therefore call for the impacts of our farming practices to be measured accurately and reflected to consumers through better labeling.”

Source/Credit: Open University/Laura Bandell