Interest in agroecology is spreading around the globe. In February 2015, social movements brought together pastoralists, farmers, fisherfolk, peasants, indigenous peoples, women’s movements and urban citizens together from around the globe to write the declaration of the international forum on agroecology. This clarion call for agroecology demands that agriculture and food policy be democratically controlled by citizens, and especially food providers who currently provide food for the majority of people in the world. But agroecology is shockingly marginalized in agricultural and development policy, which largely focuses on large-scale, industrial, transnational food systems. This is true in almost every country in the world, not least of which in the United Kingdom that arguably has the longest history of industrialized agriculture in the world and where the vast majority of government policy and funding favors industrial agriculture and where agroecology and small-scale farming is almost completely ignored as a priority for policy-makers.
On October 25th 2015 as a part of the National UK Food Sovereignty Gathering in Hebden Bridge, we organized a 2.5 hour workshop with about thirty food providers, activists and community organizers to discuss how to build, defend and strengthen agroecology in the United Kingdom as a part of the struggle for food sovereignty. We began by watching a video that articulates the different manifestations and meanings of agroecology around the world and the links between agroecology and food sovereignty (also, follow this link to read companion article for this video).
The film prompted a range of debates and reactions in the subsequent discussions. These discussions were then channeled into a debate about the meaning, politics and potential of agreocology specifically in the UK. In particular, we focused on:
1) the political challenges of advancing agroecology in the UK and
2) the actions that are needed to create solutions to these problems.
The group thus identified seven main challenges that needed to be addressed:
- Access to Land;
- The dominant narratives and cultures in society;
- Cheap Food;
- The lack of time;
- Unclear meaning of agroecology
- and capitalism!
Participants also brought forward a number of solutions that were clustered into six areas of actions.
- Policy change
- Improved communication about agroecology
- Education – everywhere!
- More research on agroecology
- Strengthening networks between food providers and other stakeholders in agroecology
- More support programs, extension and funding
These clusters drew out other important debates about how to proceed as a social movement. How do we address the deep cultural bias that devalues agricultural work and farming as a way of life? How do we prevent agroecology from being taken over by corporate interests? Who controls education and how do we influence more formal learning spaces (schools, etc.)? How do we clearly explain and articulate the meanings and importance of agroecology when it looks different in different contexts? People may be practicing agroecology but not be naming this practice as agroecology – does that matter? How does agroecology relate to managing the commons? To what extent should we work with or reject corporations? What is the role of consumer activism (e.g. boycotts)? How is agroecology related to permaculture – how can this link be strengthened? How can gender and other binaries (e.g. nature-culture; black-white) be confronted in agroecology?
Clearly, there is much work to do to build, defend and strengthen agroecology in the United Kingdom. The Food Sovereignty Gathering this week in Hebden Bridge was one of many important pieces in the struggles to build social movements that can contest the dominant mode of agriculture/economy and promote alternatives. This workshop, and the whole of the Food Sovereignty Gathering filled me with hope and optimism for the future of the food sovereignty movement in the U.K.
Written by Colin Anderson @ the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience.