Thoughts after ‘Growing the Future – Prospecting for innovative approaches to food, farming and the environment’
Thursday 29th March, 10:00-16:00, Oxstalls Campus, University of Gloucestershire
by Jon Barrance
There were some positives about this day including the fact that it took place at all. Instigated by David Drew it had considerable support from Gloucester University’s Countryside and Community Research Institute, who hosted the event at their Gloucester campus and who deserve many thanks for their hospitality, efficient organisation and facilitation.
Of the presentations from influential and knowledgeable speakers working in farming, food and the environment the potentially most influential was from Sue Pritchard (Director, RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, a non-government body funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation). However, I was not convinced that the Commission was on the right track to present the kind of evidence required to support a plan for farming, land use, and food production that could be integrated into an overall environmental, social, industrial and economic future plan for Britain. The most knowledgeable, and certainly the most entertaining presentation was from Professor Tim Lang (Centre for Food Policy, City University of London) who made a strong case for food production to be sufficient, sustainable and above all, healthy. Three speakers from specific interest groups (Tenant Farmers, Food Planning, and Country Landowners) were each given a 3 minute spot to put their case, but somehow this failed to emphasise the differences between them or raise any controversy. The presentations can be viewed at https://www.slideshare.net/CCRI/presentations
Five different workshops were run to cover – 1.Trade issues; 2. Managing market uncertainty; 3. Food and energy futures; 4. Land, biodiversity and water management; 5. Social value and Wellbeing. I attended workshops 3 and 4 and found them well facilitated and, if I was not able to contribute everything I wanted to that was because all were given a chance to speak and make a point. But the summaries of the workshops came up with little more than the facilitators own views and perspectives. The Five Word Feedback from the audience was not a success. Perhaps exhausted after the day the participants did not respond well to this challenge.
The panel of David Drew (Labour), Julie Girling (Conservative), Simon Pickering (Green Party) and Sue Pritchard gave their thoughts on the day and outlined their next steps. I could not discern that the day had influenced their thoughts in any way. David Drew said that it would help him in his role of putting together an opposition policy and that he could see that there might be many areas of agreement with the government.
Despite the positives the day left me greatly disappointed. The innovative approaches of the title of the event seemed to be accepted as a given. They were not presented in an ordered or systematic way and their benefits were not appraised in a scientific manner that would be an effective opposition to current practices. Where was the summary of each in terms of its costs; crop, meat or dairy yields; environmental effects; food value; social values; interaction with transport and energy production; and greenhouse gas emissions? We have but a short instant in time to re-evaluate our current practices so that we use our land better in providing more of our own, healthier food, plus biomass, in an environmentally sound and sustainable way, to benefit society and all with net negative greenhouse gas emissions. The latest government documents contain many fine words but must be backed up with realistic plans, justified by evidence, to bring about the changes necessary in the required timescale without harming our food producers or the most vulnerable consumers. I shall send my thoughts as feedback and suggest that a follow-up is required.
Jon Barrance, 9th April 2018