Ambitious 10-year plan needed to create a more sustainable food and farming system: RSA

We have a decade to complete the transformation to a healthier food and farming system, according to the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

Speaking at the publication of the Commission’s progress report, ‘Our Common Ground’ from the RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission (FFCC), which he chairs, Sir Ian has challenged policymakers and businesses to set ambitious targets for a sustainable food and farming system, and halting and reversing diet-related illnesses like Type 2 diabetes.

The progress report, the result of the first year of a two-year independent inquiry by the Commission, makes three key points:

  • An end to the spending of money on the things that are doing us harm, and tackle climate change and the causes of diet related ill-health, which is escalating out of control. ​​Type 2 diabetes is estimated to have doubled since 2000 to 4 million people, and is largely diet-related. It costs the NHS and employers more than £20bn a year. We need to talk about investing in a food and farming system that works for the UK in tackling both climate change and the public health time-bomb.
  • Our draft proposals call for a 10-year transition plan for food and farming that speeds UK progress towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. ​​This could include increasing production of fruit, vegetables and nuts; replacing nitrogen fertiliser; reducing livestock levels and prioritising ‘pasture-fed’ systems; incentivising forestry, maximising local processing and marketing potential, to reduce transport and fossil fuel use while helping to support rural communities; a statutory duty for healthy and sustainable procurement on local authorities and the full government estate including the NHS; and broadening membership of the Government’s industry-led Food and Drink Sector Council to include public health representatives.
  • Make the money and resource flows through our food and farming system more visible and accountable.​​We want farmers and citizens to be more involved in the decisions that affect them.. One of the most salutary messages to come back from our first year’s inquiry around the UK is how very disconnected people in rural communities feel from policymaking in Whitehall. And yet it is in these communities where government could make most impact on meeting climate change targets, by shifting farming practices, investing in natural capital and creating the right trading environment for UK food and farming systems to flourish. One of our proposed solutions is to make the resources flowing into and out of the food system and rural areas at local and national level more visible, more transparent, more accountable. It is time that local communities were empowered to take back control of food, farming and the countryside in a meaningful way, with money and resources accountable to those that they affect.

The Food, Farming and Countryside Commission brings together a diverse range of food, farming, business and health leaders to engage with people all around the UK. Chaired by Sir Ian Cheshire, Chair of Barclays UK, commissioners (see full list in notes) include Judith Batchelar, Director of Brand at Sainsbury’s, Shirley Cramer CEO, Royal Society for Public Health. Andrew Selley, CEO of Bidfood and Helen Browning, CEO of the Soil Association. They have spoken to communities across the UK and received thousands of submissions containing innovative ideas.

Sir Ian Cheshire, chair of the RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, said:“​We must invest in the changes we need for a new food and farming system within the next ten years. There is an urgent need and opportunity to change policy, ensuring we’re farming in ways that benefit human health, and the environment. As the NHS sinks under the weight of dietary ill-health and the threat of resistance to antibiotics grows more severe, this is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss as people’s health, as well as the health of our countryside depends on it.

“Government must focus on how it aligns all public money to get proper public value. If we can see where the money is flowing, then the next step will be to connect both national and local resource flows with ways to improve outcomes for citizens. We know from our own research that people want to be more involved in making decisions about how to create more sustainable rural economies and food and farming systems.”

“There are huge amounts of money spent on public health, the environment and farming every day. This report is asking: how can we use the resources we have more fairly, effectively and sustainably.”


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About The Author

John Swire - Editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.