Westminster embraces the agroecological approach

It was with huge interest then that Hollyhock flock attended the launch meeting of the All Party Parlimentary Group on Agroecology this week in Westminster.

The inaugural meeting, entitled ‘Farming in the age of ecology’, was attended by around 80 representatives from farming groups, NGO’s, business, MP’s including Caroline Lucas, and guest speakers, Dame Ellen MacArthur and Colin Tudge.

Though the connection between sailing and farming may not be immediately obvious, Ellen MacArthur delivered both an inspirational and relevant opening speech about her dream, to sail around the world singlehandedly, and how she made it a reality. Essentially, she shared with the attendees the story of a journey of a discovery that she made all alone, in the middle of the ocean; that the survival of human beings on this earth was in jeopardy.  She likened this ‘sense of enlightenment’ to turning over a stone and not being able to or wishing to put it back down again.

From that (turning) point onwards, she ceased to sail competitively, and instead focused all her time and energies into educating herself about sustainable development, and founding both the Ellen MacArthur Trust and the Ellen MacCarthur Foundation – the latter of which exists to educate and inspire the next generation to rethink, redesign and rebuild a positive future. Her passion is waste, and the challenge of transforming this linear economy, (within which the concept of waste is exists) into a circular,  cradle to cradle system where waste is a resource to be welcomed, rather than a problem to be stuck with. Her key message set the tone for the group; that the sustainability challenge we face now is perhaps the greatest of our time, but this by nature also makes it one of the greatest opportunities.

Colin Tudge spoke more directly to the topic of discussion, agroecology, stating that being able to produce good food to the highest standards (by what he calls ‘enlightened agriculture’) is a precursor to making everything else happen; peace, equity, justice…. And, he suggested, “it’s not even that hard to do.” The problem is that the government is asking a series of irrelevant questions, and missing the fundamental solution; the creation of a system that imitates nature such that it can achieve both maximum diversity and integration whilst requiring minimum input.

“Can organic farming and small farms feed the world?” Yes, Tudge says, “they’ve had done so for hundreds of thousands of years before now, and they continue to feed the majority of the population today”. If we are to achieve this system of ‘enlightened agriculture’, what the  APPG needs to do is to create the correct policy and economic infrastructure to enable this, such as abolishing laws around patenting and banning the feeding of pig swill, for example. Agriculture needs to be rescued from the neoliberal paradigm that requires it to exist for profit’s sake, rather than with the express desire to provide the world with food of the highest possible standards.  

Caroline Lucas responded to the two speakers, stating her agreement and enthusiasm for the points raised and the approach championed by MacArthur – good, rather than less bad. In other words, rather than talking about the need for us to do less of one thing (eating meat, driving cars, flying in planes, etc), we need to be talking positively about the sustainable- and attractive- solutions to these problems. Apart from anything else, just doing less, and being more efficient, isn’t a good enough goal. Only via an approach that rewards and reinforces positive actions will we inspire the creativity required to rethink and redesign the current system.

Based on Tuesday’s turn out and the lively and intelligent debate which accompanied it, we’re quite excited about the potential of this group to influence parliament toward the creation of a more sustainable food system. However, as the number of APPG’s currently in existence increases, this is not accompanied by an increase in MPs time, nor a promise that their existence alone will be enough. What will be required, as the group is fully aware, are consistent and targeted efforts to redress the balance between commercial and agroecological agriculture. We’re already looking forward to the next monthly meeting.

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