Food, Farming and Countryside Commission

Farming for Change

By Jane Campbell

7th January 2021

FFCC has today published Farming for Change: mapping a route to 2030. The report introduces new research showing agroecology can produce enough healthy food for a future UK population and explores how this new technical modelling challenges and develops our thinking about a new food and farming system.

The research also addresses the big questions: How do we feed a growing population, healthily? Respond to a changing climate? Create a resilient, secure and fair farming system? Tackle the nature and health crises?

Farming for Change: mapping a route to 2030, explores these questions in detail and reveals the research that shows that, with the right enabling conditions, we can grow enough healthy food for a future population while

  • eliminating synthetic fertilisers and pesticides
  • nearly doubling amount of land available for green and ecological infrastructure (ponds, hedges, meadows etc.)
  • releasing 7.5% of current agricultural area for more flexible use
  • reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agriculture by at least 38% by 2050 (with potential to offset 60%+ of remaining emissions through an afforestation scenario)
  • all without compromising food security or offshoring food production and the associated environmental impacts.

In its 2019 report Our Future in the Land, FFCC argued that “farming can be a force for change, with a transition to agroecology by 2030”. Its new report, Farming for Change: mapping a route to 2030, published on 7 January, provides further signposts for that route, through the difficult and sometimes polarising arguments about how best to solve the intertwined climate, nature and health crises.

Farming for Change: mapping a route to 2030 introduces new technical modelling from research institute, IDDRI, which provides evidence that, with the right enabling conditions, an agroecological system can provide enough healthy food for a growing UK population. This initial paper explores how the model challenges and develops our thinking about agroecology in this country and focuses on five critical areas: diet, carbon, livestock, productivity and nature. By focusing on these areas, the report starts to answer some key questions of our time: is it possible to provide enough nutritious food for people through agroecological farming alone? What impact would this have on land use, nature, biodiversity, livestock, farming enterprises, food security? What about health and wellbeing and meeting net zero carbon targets? The report suggests changes that can be made now (with ‘no regrets’) and explores where further analysis and discussion is needed in order to balance different interests and hear a wider range of voices.

Many farmers across the UK nations are already adopting agroecological practices and there is growing evidence of the economic benefits for farmers of this approach (see recent FFCC report Farming Smarter). In addition to providing enough nutritious food for the country, there are numerous benefits of agroecology shown by the IDDRI research including the elimination of fertilisers and pesticides; nearly double the amount of land available for green and ecological restoration (i.e. ponds, hedges, meadows); the release of 7.5% of current agricultural area (more than 1.2m hectares) for more flexible use (for example increased grazing for pasture based livestock to support future exports or increased woodland to support net zero ambitions); a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agriculture by at least 38% (with potential to offset 60% plus of remaining emissions through an afforestation scenario); all without compromising food security or offshoring food production and associated environmental impacts.

To coincide with the publication of the report, FFCC will publish a working paper providing the detail of the IDDRI research and, over the next few weeks, will explore in detail the implications of this research further with policy makers, food and farm businesses and citizens and develop this into a full technical study to be published in spring 2021.


Sue Pritchard, FFCC Chief Executive says, “The need to tackle the climate, nature, health – and now economic - crises could not be more pressing. This research will help us broaden our options and understand the potential for agroecology as an integrating approach that could have real impact across all these issues. Our modelling is a fascinating tool to understand the implications of a transition to agroecology on carbon sequestration, reaching net zero targets, nature recovery, growing more healthy food and much more.

Perhaps most importantly, agroecology brings people back into the centre of the story - farmers and growers, as well as citizens and communities – for a thriving rural economy and farming system.

Over the next weeks, we will explore the practical implications of this important research with policy makers, industry and citizens – and look in detail at those actions governments and farmers can get started with while also identifying the next steps for further research and investment.”

Helen Browning, FFCC Commissioner and Chief Executive of the Soil Association says:

“This modelling shows how a transition to agroecology, hand in hand with a transition to healthy and sustainable diets, could allow us to restore biodiversity on farmland and spare more land for nature and trees, while getting close to net zero at home and ending the devastating impact of animal feed production in the tropics.

“This research does not supply all the answers, but it clearly indicates that agroecology should be given serious consideration in the debates on the future of land use for climate, nature and health. It is crucial that farmers, especially those already pioneering agroecological approaches such as organic farming, are given a seat at the table in these policy debates.

The Soil Association will now lead a further phase of research into the social and economic implications of agroecology to understand what support farmers need to lead this transition.”