Food, Farming and Countryside Commission – Written evidence (NSD0010)

 

Food, Farming and Countryside Commission: Agroecology as a Nature-based Solution

 

The Food, Farming and Countryside Commission recommends accelerating the adoption of agroecology as a nature-based solution, by 2030, to meet net zero targets and international commitments on climate, biodiversity, sustainable development, and health. Farming agroecologically provides a radical and practical way, available now, to map a broad pathway to deliver on NDC commitments, while meeting other societal needs for ecosystem restoration, healthy nutritious food, good rural jobs, and green economic recovery.

 

What is the potential scale of the contribution that nature-based solutions can make to decarbonisation in the UK?

Agroecology is a nature-based solution (Nbs) for UK land use and agriculture and should be prioritised in UK government policy and legislation to support its adoption by 2030. FFCC adopts the UNFAO definition of agroecology, developed in collaboration with countries and communities, farmers, and growers, as a philosophy, a science, a practice, and a movement.[1]

 

FFCC supports the focus on nature-based solutions in policy making and as one of the five core themes at COP26 this year. It is clear from the growing scientific evidence base, and through the work of global collaborations like the Sustainable Development Goals, that governments and business need to act on complex challenges simultaneously – nature and climate, health and wellbeing, economic and social wellbeing. Nature-based solutions and agroecology are two complementary approaches that recognise the need for practical ways forward that meet these complex challenges in concert.

 

Research highlights that NbS have the potential to provide at least 30% of the cost-effective mitigation needed by 2030 to stabilise warming to below 2C and stay within the Paris Climate Agreement.[2] Crucially, agroecology provides practical ways of acting right now on land use that provides multiple benefits, is readily available, cost-effective and economically viable.

 

The latest modelling research commissioned from IDDRI by FFCC demonstrates how adopting agroecology in the UK could:[3]

 

The IDDRI model examines the potential of an agroecological food system, built off a foundational layer of biodiversity and soil health in all aspects of the landscape. It doesn’t confine biodiversity to set parts of the landscape or indeed set parts of the field, but rather seeks to embed ecological richness throughout the whole enterprise. And it is important to see this as a whole, because it is through using natural synergies between farming and nature that it can function without chemical sprays or synthetic chemicals, both major causes of pollinator and insect decline, air, and water pollution. This ‘land sharing’ approach sustains multiple ecosystem services such as pollination, natural pest control and watershed management that in turn support crop production.[4]

 

Global food and agricultural production are the number one cause of deforestation, decreasing biodiversity, and loss of topsoil.[5] Agroecological farming systems restore and enhance biodiversity in a number of ways. As our report Farming for Change outlined, a transition to agroecology could deliver biodiversity gains through eliminating costly synthetic pesticides and fertilisers and nearly doubling the amount of UK agricultural land dedicated to green and ecological infrastructures (ponds, hedges, meadows etc), as well as freeing up 7.5% of utilised agricultural land for nature such as reforestation. A core principle of agroecology is ecosystem diversity: agroecological practices integrate diversity across the farming system – from crop to landscape, increasing biodiversity and agrobiodiversity.

 

What frameworks already exist for the regulation and financing of nature-based solutions?

FFCC’s report Farming Smarter: The case for Agroecological enterprise argues that agroecological methods can be profitable, ensuring farmers’ livelihoods, whilst enhancing the natural environment, therefore ensuring the farming sector can play a pivotal role in the country’s transition to net zero emissions and nature recovery. A clear route map and kit bag needs to be developed with farmers to help transition farming to agroecology by 2030, with targeted government support to enable that transition, supported by emerging and multiplying private finance instruments.

 

FFCC has recommended the development and use of natural capital accounts and baseline data gathering in establishing a clear evidence base for agroecological approaches that deliver biodiversity net gain through future schemes such as ELMS. We also recommend that targeted finance and investment is deployed to accelerate the transition to agroecology, including the establishment of an agroecological development bank (detailed in our paper Farming Smarter: https://ffcc.co.uk/library/farming-smarter-investing-in-our-future)

 

It is essential that communities and local authorities are supported with funding to trial projects that deliver greater access to agroecological produce and develop local supply chains and infrastructure, such as prioritising healthy sustainable agroecological produce in dynamic procurement trials and testing out a beetroot bond (see P.26 of Our Future in the Land: https://ffcc.co.uk/library/our-future-in-the-land)

 

Who are the key stakeholders for the implementation of nature-based solutions in the UK? How can stakeholders’ expertise and concerns inform the incentives and requirements for implementing nature-based solutions?

Farming in the UK is an incredibly diverse sector, shaped by local landscapes, cultures, enterprises and community needs. It is now vital that UK government legislation recognises and values this diversity. Some types of farming enterprise are currently perceived to be at risk, through the differential impacts likely in the transition from BPS to ELM, SLM (Wales) and the other UK systems, and which could have unintended or unforeseen consequences on the rural landscape and communities.

 

We recommend a transition plan is developed with farmers to support the transition to agroecology, with a comprehensive toolkit to back adoption, including: fair and patient finance made available through an agroecological development bank; locally-led solutions prioritised, and pilots supported for landscape level agroecology collaborations through schemes such as ELMS and their devolved equivalents; agroecological produce made more accessible to local communities and included in dynamic procurement trials.

 

These locally-led solutions need to be developed with farmers in places, while addressing critical national and local priorities, for greater responsiveness, resilience and adaptative capacity. For example, landscape level pilots of agroecology could be funded through Tier 2 or Tier 3 of ELMS which allow the benefits of agroecology to be applied at a landscape level through enhanced support for collaboration.

 

Both agroecology and nature-based solutions set out the need for responsible governance at the appropriate scales - from local/farm level to national policies and standards, to collective international governance of an increasingly globalised food system. The key for both NbS and agroecology is that governance needs to be appropriate to the challenge at hand. Farmer-led and community-based ways of organising are more likely to ensure high levels of engagement, benefiting community supported agriculture or cooperative models. At the other end of the scale, strong international governance ensures that countries and global companies raise standards in tandem (with no countries left behind; or able to undermine global commitments). This principle of responsible governance combined with the co-creation and sharing of knowledge ensure agroecological approaches are well adapted for local conditions both ecologically and culturally and are well embedded in the local community and context.

 

How should implementation of nature-based solutions be integrated with other government policies for landscapes and seascapes, for example, agricultural, forestry and land-use planning policies?

To get to the scale and pace of change needed - to meet governments’ net zero ambitions, reducing emissions from agriculture, to recover nature and biodiversity loss, in a healthy and flourishing society, whilst acting on the social and economic impediments to agroecology - focus must now go on the political levers for a more connected approach to the UK food system. The signs are encouraging, with the National Food Strategy taking a systemic approach to transition the food system to a healthier, fairer and more sustainable footing.

 

Yet at present, the application of the helpful governance mechanisms already available is – at best – patchy. For example, the relationship between local governance of food procurement and community health and wellbeing, whilst well understood, is differentially applied around the country. The well-evidenced ‘Preston’ model, in which local food (as well as other products and services) is procured for local anchor institutions, using the Social Value Act, is a good example. South West Procurement Hub is travelling in the same direction. But these creative uses of the enabling mechanisms are poorly distributed around the country. FFCC calls for ‘systems intelligent’ community food plans to underpin national food strategies. This has a direct impact on growing the market for agroecologically produced food, as well as demonstrating the importance of properly joined-up governance, legislative and regulatory environments.

 

Furthermore, we anticipate that the regulatory baseline for farming will increase over coming years to meet escalating commitments on climate and biodiversity. This mounting scientific evidence base and the changing social licence to operate for land management will, we argue, strengthen the case for the integrating and holistic approach of agroecology. As noted above, the implementation of ELMS in England offers an opportunity to ensure that future farm payments embed support for integrated, agroecological approaches.

 

With the exit from the European Union, the UK has the opportunity to reshape some important legislative structures. Agroecology, with the right framework of properly joined up legal powers, could help deliver numerous policy goals at local, national, and international levels for public value. Our work on a national land use framework and locally led land use framework pilots helps to connect the multiple interests in questions of land use (detailed here: https://ffcc.co.uk/what-we-do/land-use-framework).

 

How should nature-based solutions be planned and monitored at the national level?

In our open inquiry sessions, held to explore aspects of a transition to agroecology, participants have told us that agroecological farming practices are becoming increasingly accessible and achievable and are providing more flexibility to increase output off the same area of land. However, capturing the data consistently and benchmarking to back this up remains a challenge, given the complexity associated with these farming systems. We support the work of the Sustainable Food Trust and their ‘global farm metric’ project, harmonising measurements of sustainability across important interconnected dimensions (detailed here: The Global Farm Metric - Sustainable Food Trust - Sustainable Food Trust)

 

Agroecology takes a whole system approach, meaning it views the field, the farm, the farming cluster nested in the context of their landscape and its community. The metrics to evaluate agroecology consider how the interconnected elements are applied and adapted for local contexts, and using local knowledge, so that a farming sector based on agroecology is shaped by, and meets the needs of, local ecosystems, communities, and economies. This integrates well with the associated policy intentions of devolving power and levelling up in ways that work for different regions and communities across the UK.

 

8 September 2021

 


[1] FAO. The 10 elements of agroecology. Fao Published online 2018.

[2] IUCN. IUCN Global Standard for Nature-Based Solutions: A User-Friendly Framework for the Verification, Design and Scaling up of NbS: First Edition.; 2020. doi:10.2305/iucn.ch.2020.08.en.

[3] Food Farming and Countryside Commission (FFCC). Farming for Change: Mapping a Route to 2030.; 2021. https://ffcc.co.uk/assets/downloads/FFCC_Farming-for-Change_January21-FINAL.pdf

[4] FFCC. Farming for Change: Mapping a Route to 2030.

[5] Canfield M, Anderson MD, McMichael P. UN Food Systems Summit 2021: Dismantling Democracy and Resetting Corporate Control of Food Systems. Front Sustain Food Syst. 2021;5. doi:10.3389/fsufs.2021.661552