Consensus or conflict? Time to choose

Sue Pritchard on the power of shared commitments in polarising times

19th October 2022

In a rather unwanted moment of déjà vu, the last few weeks have reminded me of the early days of FFCC, when polarising, populist and simplistic narratives were everywhere.

We were set up to try to change this.

In the last five years, we've worked hard, with many partners and colleagues in food, farming, environment and citizen organisations, to find common ground – for a fairer and more sustainable future, which tackles the 'polycrisis' of our times.

I'm constantly inspired and impressed by their shared commitments, willingness to work through complex, contested issues, and focus on taking practical actions that tackle these multiple crises even when (especially when) it's hard.

Things like: farmers investing in regenerative practices to sequester carbon, restore nature and grow more healthy produce; local food businesses supporting their communities; councils and hospitals using their purchasing powers to grow local farm businesses.

Environment organisations collaborating to create more good green jobs in nature, through things like a national nature service; places engaging in the complex and painstaking work of how to make better land use decisions.

Progressive new finance schemes, working out how to get more resources flowing to agroecological enterprises; citizen organisations rising to meet the needs of their communities, with creative and generative ideas that tackle hunger and hardship.

And as well as this grassroots work, several important, expert reports have been published, like the IPCC reports, National Food Strategy, the Dasgutpa Review, the Climate Change & National Capital Committee reports, Feeding Britain, our Farming for Change reports, and more.

And yet the last few weeks have seen the hard-won commitment to consensus breaking down.

From global financial institutions to UK environment organisations – in an apparent departure from transparent, open, inclusive and evidence-led decision-making. It should not – must not – be like this.

Citizens want our governments and institutions to take fair, informed and balanced decisions that act on both short-term and long-term crises, and which lead to a better world for future generations – all our children and grandchildren.

Yet there is a pathway ahead.

Protect and restore nature; reduce carbon emissions drastically, mitigate the rest in a just transition; pay farmers properly for providing public goods; make it good business for everyone to produce healthy food in agroecological systems.

Progress the national food strategy; stop bad business from externalising its costs onto citizens, the environment and taxpayers, through clear, enforced regulation and reporting; involve local communities in land use decisions that affect them, giving due weight to their voices.

Direct finance to purpose-led investment that benefits citizens and communities, growing a fair, prosperous, green economy for everyone; tackle waste and overconsumption, so that there is enough for everyone to meet their needs, without trashing the planet.

These kinds of proposals have garnered cross-party and cross-sector support, as well as from citizens all over the UK. To squander all that work right now will be unforgivable.

The silver lining is that we are seeing what a shared commitment to a more sustainable future really means in practice.

And – whilst acknowledging that important policies need more work – it is becoming clear just where and how people will join up to defend that commitment.

So. Invest in consensus-building or stoke unnecessary conflict? Time to choose.