George Richmond makes the case for a National Agroecology Development Bank.
‘Our approach to nature is to beat it into submission’. [i] This has been the mantra of ever-expanding global industrial agriculture since the post-war. Such agriculture has huge control over our food systems, with agricultural-chemical giants, Bayer, Corteva, ChemChina and BASF controlling 60% of the world’s seed supplies.[ii] These have spearheaded the rise of monocultures in farming, killing off birds, bees, and biodiversity and reducing crop resilience’. Now only 12 plant and 5 animal species provide 75% of the world’s food.[iii] This endangers our capacity to both feed ourselves in the future and resolve the climate crisis now.
This is important to the wider class struggles in society. Walden Bello wrote that, ‘global industrial agriculture [has created] severe strains on the environment, marginalized large numbers of people […] and contributed to greater poverty…’. [iv] It has facilitated the cheap food industry which remains largely unaccountable for environmental destruction, abuse of human health and being a basis for wage suppression; all disproportionately hurting the working class.
To challenge this damaging food capitalism and drive forward a sustainable transition in food and farming, we need visionary and supportive leadership in the form of a National Agroecology Development Bank[v], publicly owned and funded.
Attention on agriculture’s contribution to the climate crisis has been extensive in recent years, but much of this scrutiny has failed to either grasp the genuine environmental problems within agriculture or offer far-reaching solutions. Much of the political and environmental emphasis on agriculture’s contribution to the climate crisis has been on meat, especially cows. The focus on products of farming rather than methods of farming, has led to an oversimplified and counterproductive debate. A shift in emphasis, including by the IPCC Special Report 2019[vi], on the public’s responsibility for cutting emissions and changing our food systems, has partly inspired these debates. This has helped prompt the rise of veganism, upholding the free market and ignoring radical state-interventionism.
Although substantial studies of sustainable global diets encourage reductions in meat consumption, they also uphold the need for meat and dairy in our diets.[vii] While reductions have often centred on less-red meat including beef and lamb, this has ignored the scope for the transitioning of farming methods, including the environmental benefits of pasture-based beef, such as carbon sequestration, compared to factory-farmed chicken. Furthermore, two-thirds of the UK’s farmland is only suitable for animals[viii] (especially sheep and cows). Thus, it is imperative to support farmers transitioning to better systems such as pasture-fed cows, with the potential to globally reduce emissions from livestock by up to 60%.[ix]
A National Agroecology Development Bank would provide farmers the necessary support to change, with many farmers saying their inertia to change is due to the lack of resources.[x] The bank would initiate, fund and guide projects such as agroforests, carbon sequestration and pesticide and herbicide eradication programmes. Independence from government would be crucial for the bank; preventing Treasury/Defra micromanagement, diversion of funding and importantly, prevent political interference or lobbying of its radical transitioning of UK agriculture. Funding would not need to be excessive, with projects to reduce UK farm emissions estimated to cost less than £2bn annually.[xi] It would begin the renewal of the long-broken contract between humanity and nature.
Once you take a step back from our food systems, it is clear there is a real need for fundamental change. We must build sustainable local and national food systems, reducing if not eradicating the role of global industrial agriculture and ending farming as a depletive act. Under a National Agroecology Development Bank our farms could truly confront the climate crisis and take steps towards transforming our unequal socio-economic settlement, whilst putting food on our table.
[i] E.B White quoted in Carson. R. 1962. Reprinted 2000. Silent Spring. Penguin Books. p. 7
[ii] Hubbard, K., 2020. The Sobering Details Behind The Latest Seed Monopoly Chart | Civil Eats. [online] Civil Eats. Available at: https://civileats.com/2019/01/11/the-sobering-details-behind-the-latest-seed-monopoly-chart/ [Accessed 10 July 2020].
[iv] Bello. W. 2009. The Food Wars. Verso. London. p. 10.
[vii] 2019. Summary Report Of The EAT-LANCET Commission. Food in The Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets From Sustainable Food Systems. [online] EAT, pp.9-10. Available at: https://eatforum.org/content/uploads/2019/07/EAT-Lancet_Commission_Summary_Report.pdf.
[viii] Ft.com. 2020. Can British Farmers Achieve Net Zero Carbon Emissions By 2050?. [online] Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/7d522ad8-abb4-11e9-8030-530adfa879c2 [Accessed 11 July 2020].
[ix] Home, C., 2020. Cows, Rice And Soil Are Key To Farming Emissions Cuts. [online] Climate Home News. Available at: https://www.climatechangenews.com/2016/05/17/cows-rice-and-soil-are-key-to-farming-emissions-cuts/ [Accessed 11 July 2020].
[xi] Ft.com. 2020. Can British Farmers Achieve Net Zero Carbon Emissions By 2050?. [online] Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/7d522ad8-abb4-11e9-8030-530adfa879c2 [Accessed 11 July 2020].