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A People’s Food Policy, Knowledge

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Education, innovation and research[edit]

‘Our education system lets our children down in terms of life skills, growing food and eating healthily unless specifically opted for post-secondary school. We need cooking classes in all schools so that all children leave school knowing how to cook at least the basics and understand about nutrition. Growing food, cooking food, sharing food preparation and eating together are not valued or given time in the “go faster” treadmill of our education system.’

SARA DUNSEATH Parkside School (A People’s Food Policy consultation)

‘It is critical to understand that a whole range of policies and not only those in the food sector impact how, why, where and what we eat in the UK. To neglect these other policy sectors is to do a disservice to the process of having a nationwide grassroots campaign.’

MAMA D Community Centred Learning (A People’s Food Policy consultation)

‘Lots of brilliant local initiatives and new techniques are being adopted (e.g. holistic management grazing, agroforestry). More than 500 local food projects were funded by the Big Lottery Local Food programme and led to lots of innovation. At the moment, UK government, EU regulation and research tend to favour large-scale agriculture rather than small-scale farming approaches and innovation; this means that GM / biotech / high tech precision farming is funded, rather than agroecology’

ANDY GOLDRING Permaculture Association UK (A People’s Food Policy consultation)

Our vision[edit]

Our vision is of a future in which – through developing education, training and research programmes with children, food workers, farmers, citizens and scientists – people’s values and perceptions have shifted to support a more democratic and diverse food system. This system provides for the intellectual and cultural needs of everyone, as well as their nutrition.

In this future, people have learned to value food from a young age and are surrounded by, and involved in, good examples of food production and consumption.

Education in schools, colleges, universities and communities has been reinvigorated and includes learning about food, farming, land use, ecology and agricultural history, and the colonial history of the UK and how it has impacted food systems across the world.

People from all walks of life have practical growing and cooking skills, as well as the ability to participate in decisions to improve the food system. Everyone in the food system is supported to contribute their knowledge and experience to create a sustainable food and farming system.

Comprehensive vocational training is in place for everyone in the food system. There is a well-funded agricultural advice and training service, which places an emphasis on agroecology and community food systems. Farmer organisations are supported to develop agroecological knowledge and innovate in co-operation with researchers and educators.

Citizens are involved in decisions about public research priorities and funding, and knowledge is not only in the hands of scientists and powerful private interests, but accessible to all. Research institutes are transparent about their funding and research objectives.

The case for change[edit]

Farming today is severely undervalued, both in terms of the status and wages of farmers and food workers, and the importance society gives to farming as an activity. This undervaluing of farming coincides with a loss of the knowledge and skills required for a sustainable food system: fewer and fewer farmers are working increasingly larger tracts of land using industrial farming methods; the average age of a farmer is almost retirement age; agricultural extension services [1] and agricultural colleges are closing; and farming has become increasingly mechanised and industrialised. It is clear that decades of valuable farming knowledge and skills are being lost.

The way that agriculture is funded has changed, with research and development (R&D) increasingly being driven by commercial interests rather than public funding. Even the government acknowledges that public investment in applied agricultural research has declined since the 1980s and has affected the UK’s competitiveness when compared to other European countries. /243 The decline in agricultural R&D has had significant impacts on research infrastructure, as well as the advances in knowledge and practice that emerge from universities and research institutions.

Agricultural extension services in England and Wales, which were active until the 1980s, were either privatised or closed in the 1990s. /245 The Royal Agricultural Society of England, together with 15 English Agricultural Societies, does deliver some extension work through the Innovation for Agriculture Initiative, /246 but this falls far short of a public extension system.

The main focus of current food and farming research is on knowledge that increases productivity in industrial agriculture. As in the USA, [2] there is inadequate funding for agroecology. Additionally, as little as 1% of government spending on agricultural research and innovation goes to practical projects led by farmers. /247 Funding for agricultural research is heavily biased towards research related to conventional agricultural systems (usually geared towards yield increases and improving input efficiency regardless of the environmental or social impacts of the innovations). The government place too much emphasis on scientists and the private sector developing seeds and other agricultural inputs which do not apply to agroecological systems. For example, the use of GM technologies is unpopular; research into further GM techniques will therefore not help to produce the types of food most people would prefer to eat. /248

We can best develop agroecological knowledge through collaboration between scientists and farmers, and by nurturing farmer- and community-led innovation. Currently, there are considerable barriers – economic, technical, legal and cultural – which limit access to the existing knowledge base. It is therefore essential that we move towards an ‘open knowledge’ model that promotes open access to research, data and technical and education information. This move would help to accelerate agricultural improvement and innovation.

There is still a lack of food and agriculture education in the school system and a lack of support for vocational training for farmers, with students rarely encouraged to pursue a career in agriculture or horticulture. According to Defra, only 18% of agricultural managers have received full agricultural training; 21% received basic training and the rest have ‘practical experience only’. /249 There has also been a growth in students studying agriculture at UK universities, /250 but there is very little education specifically related to organic or agroecological farming. A new approach to education, applied research, knowledge exchange and advice is needed.

Training children, chefs, caterers and the general public to cook and choose food that supports a sustainable food system is necessary to build food literacy. The Children’s Food Trust State of the Nation report showed that ‘giving children more opportunities to learn to cook’ was considered by parents the most likely intervention to help children eat more healthily in the future. /251 Eating healthily means buying healthier food, and ultimately provides more support for the farmers that produce it.

Education campaigns, teaching about food and farming in schools, and the creation of more traineeship and apprenticeship opportunities for young adults are all needed to raise the profile of farming and food production. It is through increasing people’s understanding of the importance of buying, cooking and eating healthy and sustainably produced food that we can generate awareness about the urgency of shifting to sustainable and agroecological farming systems.

Policy proposals[edit]

7.1 Expand and improve food education programmes[edit]

7.1.1 Fully integrate healthy food and sustainable farming into the national curriculum. This could include linking all schools to at least one working farm, as well as pairing school kitchens with local farms.

7.1.2 Support community food growing projects. These play an important role in enabling people to learn, develop and share knowledge and skills. They should be supported by local food strategies and local authorities through local food plans (see policy recommendations 3.8.2 and 9.4.1).

7.1.3 Improve sustainable food and nutrition education in local communities. Local authorities should support local communities, community health services, and health charities to provide accessible food and nutrition education with an emphasis on sustainable eating.

7.1.4 Support city-level efforts to promote sustainable eating. This could be achieved through public health campaigns developed with the input of Food Policy Councils and civil society panels of experts.

7.1.5 Support the establishment of a guild or professional body associated with farming. This would help to raise the profile of farming and therefore the perceived status of farming and farmers in the general public. The guild must be set up to ensure that it does not need funding or sponsorship from the corporate agriculture sector.

7.2 Develop community education programmes[edit]

7.2.1 Build community knowledge and skills. Regional, metropolitan and local authorities should facilitate the development of community education programmes to build knowledge and skills about the food system, food cultures, nutrition, and practical growing and cooking skills. These programmes should be designed and delivered by members of the local community

7.2.2 Provide more resources to marginalised community groups to develop community-based education and learning programmes. This includes, for example, disabled people or those on low incomes, who are often excluded from educational and decision-making processes.

7.2.3 Support the development of Community Education Food Hubs. Regional, metropolitan and local authorities must ensure that every community has a Community Education Food Hub focusing on supporting and nurturing a community-led approach to food education, such as culturally appropriate cookery courses and food growing courses. The hubs should be community-led and locally adapted. Authorities must provide access to funding, land, buildings and training support.

7.3 Improve vocational training[edit]

7.3.1 Increase funding for apprenticeships in horticulture and food production. With the fall in the number of young adults training to work in farming and food production, it is essential that policies are designed to attract people to these sectors and to revalue vocational education and training.

7.3.2 Encourage paid internships, training camps and courses on farms. Farms and land-based businesses should be supported to include training within their business models.

7.3.3 Increase the number of training colleges offering training in crop production, horticulture and agroecological production approaches. Given the urgent need to increase domestic production of horticultural products, training colleges offering vocational agroecological courses need to increase, together with an integrated effort to attract young people to the sector.

7.3.4 Support an active recruitment programme to encourage young people into agriculture and horticulture. Examples include a programme of careers fairs, talks by farmers and growers at schools and colleges, and career-orientated farm visits.

7.4 Develop innovative education, research and agricultural extension services[edit]

7.4.1 Support farmer-led innovation. This could be achieved through the development of cooperatively run test farms or field labs, as well as producer-led experimental agriculture projects. Knowledge from these projects could be disseminated through farmer-to-farmer exchanges. This could include ‘a dedicated farmer innovation fund with a budget of at least 10% of the UK’s public agricultural research and development budget’. /252

7.4.2 Establish a publicly funded agricultural extension service. This system would offer support and guidance to farmers of all sizes about managing land in an environmentally beneficial and productive way, focusing on agroecological farming practices. This advice service should be backed up by a rural development scheme.

7.4.3 Provide increased funding for public agriculture and food research. Farmers and citizens must have oversight over funding and research priorities. Today, this would include increasing participation and transparency for research funding. Research should be based on a holistic, transdisciplinary agroecological approach, breaking down the barriers between disciplines and combining the knowledge of scientists, farmers and other actors in the food system.

7.4.4 Transform research institutions in higher education to support agroecological innovation. This would create enabling conditions for scientists to follow research approaches, operational procedures and career pathways that support and encourage transdisciplinary and participatory research to support agroecological innovation.

7.4.5 Develop capacity amongst educators to use open learning, community-based and popular education methods. These methods would be used in a community setting, to enhance higher education, and in primary and secondary school food education within the national curriculum.

7.4.6 Prioritise research that supports the development of agroecological practices and technologies. For example, more research should be directed towards participatory seed breeding programmes (see policy recommendation 6.6.3).

7.4.7 Monitor and regulate the role of UK technologies in foreign aid and development programmes. This is to ensure that technologies are applied in a way that respects and builds on the knowledge and participation of relevant communities and organisations who are directly affected in the Global South.

7.5 Develop ‘open knowledge’ systems[edit]

7.5.1 Ensure knowledge generated for and disseminated amongst farmers, food producers and citizens is ‘open’ – that is, free to use, re-use and redistribute without restriction. Ensure that knowledge and innovations are not captured through patents and private intellectual property rights, and instead remain accessible to all as part of the knowledge commons.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


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Notes and references

  1. Agricultural extension is the process of working with farmers to enable them to apply agricultural research and knowledge to improve their agricultural practices.
  2. A recent study in the US found that around half of the 824 USDA-backed research studies funded in 2014, equivalent to $294 million, didn’t include any components related to sustainable agriculture at all. Only 4% of funding went to research projects which included agroecological farming practices as well as support for socioeconomic sustainability, 3% went to studies that included complex rotations, 1% to rotational or regenerative grazing, another 1% to integrated crop-livestock systems research and less than 1% to agroforestry related projects. /244