Opinion: We need to transform our agriculture for the better. Here’s some ways we can make that change.

Source: Greennews.ie

13 October 2021

The
path towards sustainable agriculture in Ireland is one that has to be
inclusive, including all those at a grassroots level.

Over
the past year, we’ve seen more and more media coverage about the need for
agriculture to operate within planetary boundaries and for it to work for
community-based farmers.

So
how do we do that? There are lots of documents out there to guide us, like the
“Towards a New Agricultural and Food Policy for Ireland” report co-developed by
the Environmental Pillar, SWAN and Stop Climate Chaos published earlier this
year. There’s also invaluable on-the-ground workshops taking place, like the
“Feeding Ourselves 2021” agricultural policy event I helped organise.

In
order to answer that above, far-reaching questions, here are some key points
I’ve seen emerge from these documents and events over the past couple of
months.

Let’s think food

Food
policy has to be brought more into agri-food policy thinking and policy making.
This would allow a space for food sovereignty, soil, seeds and regeneration to
play a more central role in developing a fair food system.

How we frame farming matters

A
false debate that pits farmers against environmentalists is put forward for
click bait too often, when genuine inclusive and constructive dialogue is
what’s needed. The role of – and support for – high nature value farming in the
initial report and conversations on the ground show that common cause can be
found.  

CAP isn’t fit for purpose

CAP
fails citizens and tips the balance towards the wealthiest farmers and
companies. Meanwhile, small farmers struggle and externalities pollute, with
the citizen footing the bill. The idea of using a unique beneficiary code for
each CAP recipient has been put forward to better understand how supports are
used and spent. Female farmer voices’ also need to be heard to the fore.

Let’s build rural resilience

Successful
programmes such as LEADER and Community-Led Local Development point to the
power of finding local rural community solutions – and we need to build on
these.

Agroecology works

There
are multiple benefits to deep agroecological approaches. Tried and tested
practices such as agroecology, organic farming and regenerative agriculture
have the potential to significantly impact public goods, as I argued in his recent
submission
to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment and
Climate Action (JOCECA).

Diversify Diversification!

There
are reasons we have not seen huge growth in farm diversification. For example,
dairy with a Nitrogen Derogation is profitable, so the financial incentive to
reduce higher stocking rates simply isn’t present. The tillage area, despite
good yields, is declining, as Alan Matthews pointed out in the Feeding Ourselves
policy report, where he also added some CAP-based limits on change.

However,
perhaps there are opportunities. For example, we can work to make changes in
where value is added in the food chain and in how widely we think of
diversification as an idea and practice. Irish farmers are below average in gaining
value in the food chain,
 as Matteo Metta revealed. (More from Metta on
this here). Diversification can be about far more than just introducing one
extra agronomic practice.

Ireland’s
agri-food policy framework can create an enabling environment for local food
producers, empowering a number of farmers to look beyond the commodities market
and to capture the added value that is currently eluding them, while making
their part of the world that little bit more vibrant and interconnected.  A local food policy framework, as envisioned
by Talamh Beo
, would secure fairer and more sustainable outcomes
for our farmers, our rural communities, and our natural environment.

Beware fuzzy terms

They
tend to sound nice but are not settled on. Rewilding and Just Transition have
come up as two that need some conceptual rigor, as well as detailed unpacking
of their implications – for farmers, for communities, nationally and beyond.

Appropriate digital distribution offers rural
agroecological opportunities

Good
food should be accessible for all – we need to work to overcome structural
inequalities at home and abroad, from food deserts to unfair global trading
practices. Open Food
Network
offers a growing solution to in sparsely populated
rural areas – being as it is a non-proprietary community owned digital farmers
market. Code is critical infrastructure, and we can – and should – own and
operationalise platforms for our own community use.

Look out for land

 With family farming under enormous pressure,
land consolidation is driving people out of rural areas and farming. A land
observatory, as proposed by Mayo’s Saoirse McHugh, could help pave the way to a
socio-ecological transition in rural areas. Another solution in this sphere is
low interest rate land mortgages, as proposed by Kerry organic farmer Kate
Carmody.

Dr. Oliver Moore is a lecturer at University College
Cork and organised the Feeding Ourselves 2021 event. For more from ARC2020
visit the
website or sign up to their weekly or monthly newsletter.

The full “Towards
a New Policy for Agricultural and Food Policy in Ireland
” and “Feeding
Ourselves 2021
” documents are available to read online.

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