Agriculture, Environment & Vision

2016 is the UN International Year of Pulses – more later. 2015 had all year to hail soils as The UN International Year of Soils! Since soils yield 95% of our global diet, plus many other ecosystem services (carbon capture, water filtration and storage, ‘culture’…) it is self-evident that they’re the basis of all farming systems and ‘where the answers lie’ gifting true sustainability. Towards the close of 2015, Defra sought contributions to its separately announced consultations seeking views on a 25 year Vision for Agriculture, and another 25 year Vision for Environment (2015-2040). It seemed to me that these could not and should not be treated ‘in separate silos’. Accordingly, I submitted a concise Paper, which is summarised below. Of course, Members of the CARAS Fellowship will have different Visions of the future and would express these in other words than those below. However, this was offered to promote among us: thought, discussion and – hopefully – progress.

  1. In a world of some 7.25 billion; 1 in 8 hungry; up to 500 million farming families, these are hopeful times for farming when our UK and each country’s Agriculture must again become central in Ecosystem Security including landscape, livelihoods and rural communities
     People are integral to global environmental management & Civil Society needs to be mobilised accordingly
  2. An enabling, simple and understanding governance framework is needed both within the UK and in taking international leadership with Defra alongside DFID in raising agriculture’s world-wide profile.
    International issues require concerted leadership:- climate change mitigation & adaptation, soil & sea care
  3. Further encouragement of Food Chain linkages is merited from ‘land to mouth’ in all countries.
    Whole systems approaches need analysis & monitoring for environmental impacts, both negative & positive
  4. Relationships between farmers and government need to nurtured. Better TB control is vital in this, as are initiatives to catalyse Farmer Networks and to strengthen Farmer Sovereignty in decision-making and voluntary collaboration for resilience.
    Environmental good practice is only deliverable through positive relationships with farmers & local people
  5. Reintroduction of Regional Advisory Panels/Fora of Farmers and objective rural Practitioners would help to harness the pool of experience, professionalism & good will for UK agricultural progress.
    Engaging with over-arching experience & wisdom of communities is vital + specialisms alongside to inform
  6. Great caution needs to be exercised regarding GM technology. A principal issue is its potential to erode farmers’ control over their natural resources, including timely availability of seeds & intergenerational selection from a wide gene-pool of crops & livestock breeds. Research on GM needs to be independently and not commercially funded (NB. USA RR soya & maize issues). Other improved technologies within agro-ecologically mixed frameworks offer much greater scope e.g. use of gene markers, composite crosses; precision aids, low ground-pressure, less oil-dependent farming; conservation agriculture (globally adopted more than yet in UK).
    Agro-ecological approaches are sustainable; technology innovations need objective, precautionary research
  7. Energy-efficiency needs to become the accepted baseline technical criterion for comparing alternative agricultural systems and in encouraging & evaluating integrated rural development & resilience.
    Energy-efficiency on a planet ‘big picture’ basis needs analysis, monitoring, & ‘best practice’ guidelines
  8. Renewable Energy sources notably micro-hydro need an enabling planning environment but beware biofuel crops & solar-panelled arable when reasonably-priced food is increasingly important worldwide.
    Renewable energy contests with priority land uses need cataloguing, strategic appraisal and management
  9. Encourage special schemes for family-worked farms and ‘territorial succession’, including using revised National planning laws that once unduly restricted housing retired farmers on their own farms.
    Cultural heritage is a vital part of ecosystem services and environmental integrity for future generations
  10. Explore modulation using satellite-maps based on real land area to take account of the greater costs and difficulties of farming uplands & steep slopes. Retain, simplify & improve upland support from 2015.
    Conserve Family farms & coastal/marine communities retaining those ‘there to care’ vs. displacement costs
  11. The UK needs to assume a clear leadership role in reform of WTO trading rules and versus land-grabbing so that genuine, private enterprise of smaller farms and rural micro-businesses is not ruined.
    Fairer International Agricultural Trading (FIAT) is required to counter adverse environmental impacts
  12. The UK needs to lead in improving sustainability of global farming practices/farm livelihoods, rewarding farmers for ‘comprehensive Ecosystem Security’ i.e. food, timber plus clean water, carbon capture, and other income streams from therapeutic, recreational/touristic & heritage/cultural values of land.
    Ecosystem Security needs to be embraced & templated as over-arching Environmental Management Vision.

Whatever the outcome of the June 23rd 2016 EU Referendum here in the UK, future policies will need to pay due regard to the imperatives of agricultural livelihood viability and associated environmental management care. This is crucial for the public benefit that all of us in agriculture must surely strive to serve. While it is the clear mandate of CARAS to seek to recognise outstanding contributions to UK agricultural progress, our Awards of ARAgS and FRAgS are intended to spur us on to further effort for the common good.

E. John Wibberley, April 2016

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