Agroecology in Scotland

By Jim Scown

24th March 2022

The Food, Farming and Countryside Commission (FFCC) is hugely appreciative of the work that has gone into the SEFARI fellowship report, supported by the James Hutton Institute, examining the transition to agroecology on the ground in Scotland.

FFCC’s confidence in an agroecological future is built on our Farming for Change research, which showed how a transition to agroecology can help mitigate and adapt to climate change, restore wildlife and ecosystems, and provide a healthy and nutritious diet for all.

Scotland is at the forefront of this transition, as the report shows. Agroecology already plays an important role in Scottish farming practice and there is huge potential for sector-wide change to deliver Scottish policy on climate, nature, health, and rural support and to ensure businesses and communities are resilient to geopolitical shocks. This report sets out steps to help Scotland move to an agroecological food system, where food is sustainably produced, nutritious and affordable for all.

Scotland at the forefront

The transition the FFCC called for in Our Future in the Land and more recently in Farming for Change is already underway in Scotland. People from a broad range of farming systems, enterprises and backgrounds are using agroecological practices, and often have been for some time. Agroecology offers a series of broad and inclusive pathways to sustainability for farmers, crofters, and communities.

Scotland can be at the forefront of the agroecological transition. But for a sector-wide transition, food producers need to know more about the economic, social and environmental advantages of agroecological practices – the benefits agroecology brings to landscapes, communities, businesses and individuals. To enable the transition to agroecology across the Scottish food system, farmers, crofters, growers and land managers need improved support in three key areas:

  • Finance. The right financial options are required to allow agroecological farm businesses to flourish and to ensure both new entrants and existing farmers can develop and apply agroecological practices. There is a feeling among many that agroecological practices are not rewarded by current incentives schemes. Not only can farm payments be better aligned to reward the environmental benefits that agroecology provides, but public procurement can prioritise agroecologically produced food. There is a need to align all financial resources, public and private. FFCC called for an Agroecology Development Bank in Farming Smarter, and a comparative mandate for the Scottish National Investment Bank could provide the investment, advice and guidance to support farmers and crofters in the transition to sustainable agroecological farming.
  • Advice and Training. Support is required to assist farmers and crofters develop and share agroecological knowledge. People access and learn about agroecology from a variety of sources, this report shows, including reading and online research, through contact with family and friends, from informal groups and discussions, and through farmer networks, co-operatives and groups. To help develop and apply agroecological practices, farmers and crofters need support with advice and opportunities to share their knowledge. This can be aligned with policy on rural support: the right training and guidance can ensure more people at the heart of the Scottish countryside have the skills to deliver the nature-based solutions that will reduce emissions, produce food sustainably, and improve biodiversity.
  • Access to Land. A barrier for many who want to take up agroecological farming is land. Responses to the survey showed a clear appetite for agroecological practices among new entrants, with proportionately more new entrants practising agroecology on their land than people with a prior background in farming. Community land trusts and innovative approaches to land ownership in Scotland are underpinned by regional land use strategies, currently being piloted through Regional Land Use Partnerships: these can support land use change in line with a just transition by ensuring people who want to farm regeneratively can access land along with the appropriate advice and training.
Where Scotland can lead the transition

Scotland can be, and in some ways already is, at the forefront of the global agroecological transition. Long-held practices followed by Scottish farmers and crofters align with agroecology, and Scotland is in many ways a leader in the transition. Respondents agree that Scotland needs more diversified farming systems that can produce food, regenerate the environment, and are resilient to external shocks so more can be done. Diversification, sustainability and agroecological practices can ensure rural communities can mitigate and adapt to climate change while restoring nature and keeping people and their skills at the heart of the countryside.

To take agroecology from the level of practice on farm to systemic transition for Scottish food and farming, the Scottish government can focus on support and investment for agroecological farming and help to put in place market signals that give clarity to farmers. This can make farming a central solution to the biodiversity, climate and health emergencies, growing nutritious food, which is at the heart of sustainable food systems, creating good green jobs, and helping individuals and communities thrive and flourish.

Read the full SEFARI Fellowship report

Read the article in The Scotsman

Read responses from FFCC Chief Executive Sue Pritchard, and others