What was the issue?
The Agriculture Bill was drafted to enforce UK agricultural policy post-Brexit, but failed to make any reference to agroecological farming or local food. This groundbreaking bill was considered to be a move in the right direction, however we maintained that it needed to go much further and promote whole farm systems; affordable local food at the same time as improving the environment.
Over the four years of engagement with the Agriculture Bill process, we ran numerous campaigns to add amendments to influence and improve the Agriculture Bill: to mitigate against unintended consequences of the legislation and raise awareness of agroecology and other farming issues. In November 2020 the Bill was passed, but alas, none of the amendments were adopted.
What did we do?
The Landworkers’ Alliance began campaigning for a better post-Brexit agricultural policy with the launch of the policy document ‘Farming Policy Post Brexit’ at our ‘A Place at the Table’ action in front of the DEFRA offices in 2017.
We then met with Michel Gove – then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – and Zac Goldsmith at the Oxford Real Farming Conference where LWA policy officer Ed Hamer outlined the problems with an area-based subsidy system.
Once the first draft of the Bill was launched in January 2020, our members engaged in consultations, attended workshops, wrote to MPs and mobilised in demonstrations on the streets to demand an agroecological transition which would maintain national food security in the face of the public health, climate, and nature emergencies we face.
As amendments were introduced we asked our members and supporters to write to their MPs asking them to vote for Amendment NC2 and Amendments 18 & 19 specifically. Amendment NC2 would have only allowed imports that have been produced to relevant domestic standards, preventing imported food produced to lower standards from undercutting prices for UK farmers. Amendments 18 and 19, brought together food production and the environment, requiring the emerging support schemes to incentivise farming techniques that deliver environmental benefits across productive farms.
To gain support for Amendment 16, we took 1,000 carved and lit pumpkins to Parliament Square, and arranged them to spell out ‘SOS’ – ‘Save Our Standards’. This visual stunt helped us to raise the profile of the campaign and create a powerful and impactful statement.
Over the course of this Bill many groups began to come together with a common vision of putting the term ‘agroecology’ into the Ag Bill. Over 5,000 of our members and supporters wrote to their MPs in support of this, with celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall from Rover Cottage also backing the campaign.
At the second ORFC meeting with Michael Gove, the LWA requested to be involved in the ELMS process (which had previously been closed). We were successful, and now regularly attend ELMS meetings in England have since been contracted to conduct a test and trial for horticulture.
Head of Policy and Campaigns at the LWA, Jyoti Fernandes exclaimed: “I feel confident that many of our concerns will be taken into account – maybe not all of the concerns we had about trade – but many of our critical concerns have, at least, been understood.”