Grassroots Policies Briefing 1

Policies for sustainable farming outlined by Anna Pick of Positive Money, Anne Chapman and Jeremy Buxton.

Author: Alicia Hull

The following is a transcript from the first in our series of webinars on farming, food and wildlife.

Our guest speakers were:

As we start to develop grassroots policies for a People’s Manifesto, our speakers identified how damaging and dysfunctional current practice was and pointed a clear way forward.

Anna Pick stressed that our centralised, very un-democratic financial system deprives businesses and communities of the resources they need. The 5 big UK lenders only invest 2 to 5% in small and medium enterprises, the backbone of the economy. This includes farmers. Over 90% of UK farms are sole traders or family partnerships.

Capitalism is set up to encourage speculation on assets. When a wall of money is aimed at any asset, whether property, financial services, food or fuel, it inflates the price. In this way, the city of London and UK banks have driven fossil fuels and ecological destruction all over the world, with over £275 billion invested in fossil fuels since the Paris agreement, despite their own pledges.

The system is fundamentally unstable. If or when the fossil fuel market crashes this could trigger a banking crisis needing even more public money than the 2008 financial crash. Failed speculations have led to banking collapse and could do so again.

As climate change intensifies there will be more price shocks, but no adequate tool to counter inflation. The Bank of England Governor has admitted that raising interest rates won't produce more gas or food. It only raises prices and the cost of borrowing for everyone.

Clearly, we need a very different system. One which is decentralised and involves the public. Anna suggested 5 key measure to fund the transition.

  1. Much higher levels of public investment for low carbon systems – to over 50 billion a year, and decentralised so that local councils and community groups can access it.
  2. More private investment with the Bank of England giving low cost loans and business support to the low carbon sector. This will not only kick start the change, but will also be an important signal that this area is safe for investment. 
  3. Much greater transparency and the ability to hold public institutions to account. Full information on climate risks and plans for the transition and power for the public to be involved in decisions.
  4. We need a much broader approach to inflation that involves the people affected by climate instability. Policies for the agricultural transition, food security, shoring up supply chains, renewable energy are all inflation reducing policies.
  5. A reformed banking ecosystem with more public banking options, a diverse ecosystem of community and stakeholder banks, like credit unions, to manage local resources, and give democratic control.

Anna explored the idea that when we have been given "a final warning about irreversible climate breakdown, and every tonne of carbon counts," this new ecosystem should be focused on wellbeing rather than GDP. Monetary cost would not be the constraint, nor profits the aim. Instead, carbon budgets would constrain and wellbeing and climate security be the aims.

Two more big changes. Privatisation had been a mistake. Services are much better funded and run by the state and decentralised. And funding for the global south should be by grants, not loans or investment, to stop the pattern of neo-colonial control.

Anna’s ideas fit closely with those of Diem25m in their Green New Deal for Europe. This comprehensive range of policies includes many relevant to farming, food and wildlife. These are listed at the end of this article so that readers can judge for themselves how useful they will be in developing policy in the UK, once they have been adapted to UK institutions.
Diem25 also stipulates a carbon tax and a universal citizens income. Both these issues will be discussed during this series of talks.

Anne Chapman summarised her report for the Greenhouse Think Tank: A Just Transition in Agriculture financed by the European Foundation. She outlined the damage caused by the intensive agriculture practised since the last war, and then the basic characteristics and aims of regenerative agriculture.

The aim of intensive agriculture was to increase production. It was able to do this by using a chemical arsenal of artificial, fertilizers, pesticides and medication for livestock. All these pollute, disrupt natural processes and damage the soil. At the same time, selective breeding, particularly in cows to increase milk and beef, led to fragile stock needing costly care and medications which are often toxic to wildlife and so further disrupt natural processes – the natural recycling of dung for example to enrich the soil.

The oversupply of nitrogen is a major source of pollution. Used In artificial fertiliser and protein rich foods like soya, the end products pollute air, water and soil. Nitrates cause eutrophication of watercourses. Nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas. The current problems in Holland are caused more by the over use of nitrogen rather than by too many cattle. These same problems are likely to come here.

Intensive agriculture is highly mechanised and specialised, so much so that the East of the country is mostly arable and the west pastoral. Far fewer people are employed and many small farms have gone altogether. It is characterised by the over-production of grains and cereals, produced cheaply in monocultures in huge fields with few hedgerows where nothing else grows. Cereals now provide 40% of our calories - an unhealthy diet. The excess is fed to poultry and pigs, wasted or sold to the global south where it destroys their local farm economy.

Intensive farming has increased yields but the long term and increasing damage to wildlife and farmers’ livelihoods here and abroad mean it is not a viable system.

There are two models of regenerative farming. Both aim to improve the fertility of the soil and biodiversity. Enabling farms to produce healthy food where the aim is to increase profit per acre rather than output per acre.

Anne outlined 5 essential steps to cut carbon and improve biodiversity.

  1. Keep carbon in the soil. Leave it undisturbed as much as possible – no dig farming.
  2. Keep the soil covered as much as possible. Bare soil releases carbon.
  3. Grow a variety of crops to bring different nutrients to the soil, guard against diseases common in monocultures, spread risk.
  4. Integrate livestock into farms as the basis of a healthy ecosystem. 
  5. Diversify to increase income and spread risk.

Regenerative farms resemble the smaller family mixed farms of earlier times.

In the second model food is a by-product. The priority is to improve natural habitats, both for their own sake and because healthy ecosystems are essential for healthy farming. It has been established by many studies that large areas of countryside need to be grazed to maintain biodiversity.

In some places both types of regeneration co-exist, with some land suitable for farming, and other for re-wilding.

Jeremy Buxton showed how one regenerative farm has already managed to make a big difference.

"We are very much on a journey. Over the last 5-6 years we have abandoned the conventional practices of my grandfather and father which had left the soil badly degraded. Our focus is on regenerating the soils. Without good, healthy soils that can function properly, recycle water and nutrients, we can’t do anything. Neither solve the problems of air pollution nor reduce or stop chemical or inorganic fertilizer use."

"We follow the 5 core principles listed by Anne. We grow a diverse range of crops to cover the soil. We have a living root in the ground at all time. We have grazing animals and plant over 18 different plants for them which are allowed to grow tall before the cattle graze. We also have several related enterprises. It is important to follow all the principles. No-dig farming on its own will not replace lost nutrient. And what any particular farm does depend on its situation. Conditions vary enormously from farm to farm and country to country. Context is all important. So the decentralised funding controlled by local communities suggested by Anna, would be essential."

"At Eves Hill Farm, we are replacing chemicals and inorganic fertiliser with biological products produced on the farm. Our aim is to raise strong healthy plants which do not need chemicals because they can resist diseases and pests. It takes a lot of monitoring and a lot of science. For a good start, we dress seeds with our own biological seed dressing developed on the farm from special compost - rather than the chemical one which damages healthy fungi in the soil. As they grow we monitor the plant's health and needs carefully and apply any biological nutrition needed. These, too, have been created on the farm. So far, we have reduced glyphosate use by 40% with no loss in yields. And the wildlife on the farm, flowers, insects and birds has increased dramatically."

"We're slowly moving towards a system whereby plant nutrition is used. In addition to countless hedgerows, we're planting 12,000 trees. They will produce woodchip to compost. Which we can turn into high grade compost full of different plant nutrition to replace chemicals. A circular system, with no waste. The trees will also sequester carbon, something urgently needed."

"We have several different livestock which is key as they all do different things. A native breed of Hereford and Angus cattle who are 100% grass fed, to produce exceptionally healthy beef, as well as free range pigs and free range hens. They all add nutrition back to the land that is locked in and feeds our crops. And by producing food for sale they are essential for our finances. Our farm shop leaves out the middle man. It also helps to make us part of the community. Something we find key, with school visits, volunteer workers and camping all part of our work."

Jeremy did not agree that regenerative farmers aims to make maximum profit per acre. His priorities are to restore the soil and biodiversity, to produce nutrient rich food and become part of the local community. He thinks mixed regenerative farms will enable the transition to natural systems while maintaining food supplies and will save family farming. Grants are needed for transition, but once established they should need no subsidies. Like any other business they will survive if they make the best use of their resources. Not having to pay the costs of fertilisers and other chemicals will be a huge saving.

It would be interesting to know what other farmers feel about subsidies, and about other types of diversity – wind power for example?

Policies selected from a total of 85 in the Green New Deal for Europe. 

Funding for the transition:

  1. Establish the Green Public Works (GPW), a public investment agency that will channel Europe’s resources into green transition projects around the continent.
  2. For all EU institutions, switch to a Genuine Progress Indicator system of accounting rather than Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
  3. Introduce a new Regulation to clarify that the European Central Bank must prioritise employment, social progress and environmental protection. 
  4. Adopt a multi-stakeholder governance model for the European Investment Bank (EIB), ensuring that decisions are made with input from scientists, activists, country representatives and other key groups.
  5. Fund the green transition by mobilising a coalition of Europe’s public banks — led by the European Investment Bank — to issue green bonds to raise at least five percent of Europe’s GDP in funding that can be channelled into the GPW. 
  6. Establish multilateral working groups on the green transition at the European System of Central Banks. 
  7. Intervene in the design of global prudential standards to introduce punitive capital requirements for investments in fossil fuel-heavy and environmentally destructive projects and businesses in the Basel framework.
  8. Spend GPW funding on guaranteeing decent public jobs to all European residents who seek one. These jobs will be based on a three-day weekend or four-day working week with lower overall working hours. They will provide workers and communities democratic control over their workplaces. And they will be local — ensuring that all European residents can earn fair wages in their local communities. 
  9. Use the GPW to fund an income guarantee for workers in fossil-fuel industries. 
  10. Fund a Care Income to compensate activities like care for people, the urban environment, and the natural world.
  11. Devolve investment decisions made under the GPW to national, regional, and municipal government levels.
  12. Allocate distinct lines of funding within the GPW for experimentation in increasing public participation in investment decision making — with a view to entrenching greater participation in local governance. 
  13. Provide incentives for authorities to set up local GPW agencies, to help steer investment decisions and provide technical support. 
  14. Tie all GPW funding to strict public-procurement criteria that shift public spending towards green materials, fossil-free energy, and community wealth building. Issue funding to authorities that subscribe to a shared set of fundamental principles, including democracy, transparency, and sustainability. 

Protecting the Environment:

41. Declare a climate and environmental emergency in the EU and commit to continuously updating targets to align with the scientific consensus.
42. Introduce legislation mandating that Europe’s economies operate within the planetary boundaries.
43. Base legislation on detailed data collection on the health of natural systems and new targets for biodiversity across the EU — which must be gathered with a view to informing the legislative process.
76. Recognising that environmental destruction is a threat to human and non-human life, introduce an Environmental Abuse Directive to codify the civil wrong for contributing towards climate and environmental damage, with personal and punitive liability for those who profit from pollution.
77. Recognise that climate damage is criminal damage, and that ecocide is also a crime.
78. Reorient international criminal law to recognise climate damage that amounts to ecocide is a ‘crime against humanity’.
14. Simplify funding application and reporting processes, and include a free-to-use support service, ensuring greater participation and access of grassroots civil society organisations in investment decision making.
17. Fund a Green Solidarity Network to unite twinning and cooperation arrangements between municipalities, regions, farmers, and communities — enhancing horizontal information-sharing and political decision-making across the continent.
18. Develop a GPW Tracking Tool to allow for public scrutiny and monitoring of GPW-funded projects.
44. Replace the EU emissions trading scheme with a fee-and-dividend system, after piloting the new model on a small scale and with the participation of Europe’s residents.
45. Introduce legislation to shut down tax havens, which deprive the European public of vital funds that must be mobilised in support of the transition.
46. Introduce additional fiscal measures, such as an environmental damages tax and a financial transaction tax, to generate funds to support communities on the frontline of the climate and environmental crises

Farming and wildlife globally, climate justice and ethics:

72. Terminate all Investor State Dispute Settlement agreements, and introduce the right of communities and democratic representative groups to bring claims to enforce trade rules.
73. Renegotiate the World Trade Organisation rules to include human rights, including the right to the benefits of science, a clean environment and labour standards.
74. Recalibrate EU trade rules to support diversified, self-sustainable economies in Europe and around the world, according to the principle of decarbonisation.
75. Revise Europe’s international development policies to align with the priorities of the Common Food Policy.
78. Reorient international criminal law to recognise climate damage that amounts to ecocide is a ‘crime against humanity’.
79. Establish an Environmental Justice Commission to monitor implementation of the programme along the dimensions of international, intersectional and intergenerational justice.
80. Ensure that the EJC is guided by principles of equal distribution, recognition, and participation of communities across Europe.
81. Structure the EJC across four tiers, from Chairpersons elected to represent EU member-states down to People’s Panels that inform the EJC’s work.
82. Empower the EJC to investigate issues pertaining to environmental justice and propose recommendations to legislative bodies both inside Europe and around the world to address them.
83. The EJC should investigate the international dimension of environmental justice, ranging from trade relations to the rules of the game for transnational corporations.
84. The EJC should address intersectional inequalities inflicted by the environmental crisis and its variable impact on communities in Europe.
85. The EJC should pay particular attention to the challenge of intergenerational justice — both looking addressing past injustices and promoting tools to ensure that future generations inherit a habitable world.

Read more about this network here.

The publisher is Citizen Network Research. Grassroots Policies: Report 1 © Alicia Hull 2023.

Article | 14.04.23

nature & economics, Sustainability, England, Article

Also see