Finding a sustainable future for food and farming

VEGANUARY – a marketing construct if ever there was one – is under way, with articles across the media promoting the “caring” meat-free alternative lifestyle. You can’t get away from people trying to convert you to veganism. But, while I respect their right to their ethical choices, I think the broader implications of mass veganism are lost among the celebrity endorsements and trendy blogs.

What exactly do vegans think would happen to the countryside if everyone became vegan? It would look very different without farm animals – nobody is going to keep cattle and pigs and sheep just to adorn their fields and pastures. Mass veganism would almost inevitably hand agriculture over to transnational agribusinesses, producing intensive soya, pulse and grain-based crops, wreaking unsustainable damage to the landscape, forests, grasslands and the soil that underpins life on earth.

Using no animal products (including wool) on a global scale would require a massive increase in the production of manmade fibres and materials for clothes and shoes. They may be clever and functional, designed to deal with the worst that the climate can throw at them, from Arctic blast to desert heat, but many are by-products of the petro-chemical industries. Is this sustainable, in terms of climate change? It is just one of the complex challenges we face in the 21st century.

A largely plant-based diet probably is the ideal to aim for. We certainly need to eat less meat and less fish – and to ensure that what we do eat is the best we can afford, in terms of sustainable and welfare-friendly production. We need to eat the whole animal, not just the super-lean, easy-to-cook fillets. We need to eat more seasonal, organic fruit and vegetables. We need to stop wasting food.

At this week’s Oxford Real Farming Conference, the Landworkers Alliance, of which Jyoti Fernandes, the West Dorset-based organic small-holder and caterer, is a prominent member, is putting the case for a post-Brexit sustainable agriculture policy for small and family farms.

The Alliance has launched a nationwide funding campaign, More Farmers, Better Food, aiming to raise £25,000 through public donations to support the campaign and lobby for a policy that will guarantee a fair future for farmers in the UK.

Jyoti says: “Our campaign comes as the government prepares to outline the framework for British agricultural policy early in 2018. The future of our food and farming depends on this policy. It is the most significant moment in generations.”

In the first 10 years after the implementation of the 2003 Common Agricultural Policy, 35, 000, mostly small scale and family farms went out of business. “We need to ensure that British agricultural policy will not repeat the same mistakes. To do this we have developed a range of policy proposals aimed at protecting small scale, traditional and family farms, creating more environmental farming systems without losing sight of production, and giving new entrants more support to set up and scale up. All of our policies and representations come from our members who are farmers, growers and land-based workers who have direct experience of the issues we campaign on. We know what we want, but we need your help to take these messages to Westminster and get them heard by those in power.”

The crowdfunding campaign will fund five key areas of work: Running political training sessions to equip members with the skills and confidence to advocate for a better food system; to send representatives to Westminster on a regular basis to make sure that small farmers have a place at the table; to write, print and get the post-Brexit agriculture policy proposals into the hands of political decision makers; to organise actions that ensure their voices are heard; and to highlight the issues by organising study tours of innovative farms, direct marketing and new entrant initiatives for MPs and civil servants.

Jyoti says: “Now more than ever, we need to use all the energy and resources we have to influence this policy making process and ensure sure our voices are heard, our livelihoods defended and that a fair food system for all is guaranteed.”

The link to the Landworkers Alliance crowdfunding page is

Fanny Charles