Serious politics for serious times

Sue Pritchard on how to head off divisive, populist politics in the UK's farming and rural communities.

1st February 2024

To head off a descent into populist, short-term and divisive politics, a just transition for farmers and rural communities requires specific, urgent, practical and strategic investment in the sector and the rural economy.

English ELMS is improving a lot, but it has to work well for all farmers in all landscapes, with a clear plan to help mitigate negative impacts. Upland farmers remain anxious: the Upland Farmer Toolkit is the kind of thing that can help, along with independent specialist advice.

Food resilience in the UK needs proper debate - what will we grow here, how and where will we grow it, and how will it contribute to meeting UK citizens' nutritional needs with healthy food from sustainable sources? A Land Use Framework will help this discussion.

The markets need to step up. Farmers want clear market signals that producing food sustainably is properly valued in the supply chain, with consistent, clear and fair contracts. This includes regulating so that the real costs of a 'cheap food' system are clear and accounted for.

Governments must lead by deploying their own resources more effectively - using public procurement to put sustainable, healthy British food on the plate in schools, hospitals, and other public institutions.

The emerging natural capital markets need strong guardrails to work for farmers and land managers, rural communities and the wider public benefit, not just the investors' interests.

Trade policy must set and uphold fair and equitable standards, backing UK farmers who farm sustainably and with high animal welfare, without fear of undercutting from imports with lower standards.

All of this needs to be set out in a simple, clear, and explicit national plan, describing a direction of travel towards fairer, greener, healthier food and farming in a flourishing rural economy, with investment, policies and regulation aligned behind it.

All our work in The Food Conversation tells us it is what citizens want and expect from governments and businesses.

Sue's blog builds on a Chatham House comment piece published yesterday by Research Director Professor Tim Benton and Senior Research Fellow Dr Patrick Schröder, warning that farmer protests in France and Germany show that net-zero policies need to take better account of the needs of rural communities