Food, Farming and Countryside Commission

Our 2021 highlights

Reflections and seasons greetings from the FFCC team

By Sue Pritchard

20th December 2021

We come to the end of yet another turbulent and complicated year, the postponed ‘super year’ when we hoped the world would come together and concentrate again on tackling the interconnected climate and nature crises. Whilst perhaps it was not as ‘transformative’ as many of us wished for, nonetheless progress was made on keeping 1.5 degrees alive (just) and in shifting focus towards the mechanisms and finance for practical actions and adaptation.

At home in the UK, we saw the publication of the much hoped for National Food Strategy, with its well-researched and eminently doable recommendations; we saw further information released on how the Sustainable Farming Incentive will work; and we heard clear consensus in calls to government to respond to widely shared concerns about post-Brexit impacts on farming and supply chains, and the potential impacts of the new trade deals. Meanwhile, these huge and complex issues demonstrated very material consequences – for farmers, for businesses and for citizens alike.

So it is in that context that I’m reminded of my grandma’s sage words at times like this: she would say (or more often sing) “count your blessings”. This wasn’t to encourage my passive acceptance of how things are (she’d been a suffragette, after all…) but a pragmatic way of banking progress - and then focussing on what we need to do next.

It is in that spirit that we at FFCC, on behalf of Trustees and Commissioners, share our highlights at the end of another difficult year, in which working virtually remained the norm, and the pace of change, urgency and importance of the work often tested capacity. What stands out for me is the fortitude and focus that helps the whole team turn out consistently good and engaging work. Our annual report covers the period up to March 2021, setting out our progress and impact in our first year of operating as an independent charity. With continued support from our core funders, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, led by our committed Commissioners, with and through our partners, and our collaborations across sectors, and with citizens and farmers on the ground, we both produce our own research, and curate and amplify all the good work that is already happening. That sense of common purpose and collaboration, willing to stick with it and work together on the tricky issues, will be the tonic that helps lift my spirits this Christmas. That, and the mulled wine…

From all of us at FFCC, we wish you and yours a peaceful Christmas and we all look forward to working together with renewed energy in 2022.

Food and Health
In the Food and Health programme, we’ve had a research-heavy year, starting off with looking at how we frame (or talk about) food system issues, which we published in Shifting the Food System: Frames to speed policy change. With the support and partnership of Local Trust we analysed the incredible amount of food activity across the Big Local network and launched the Food Builds Community report. Most recently we’ve partnered with Food in Community in Devon to speak to people and producers about food affordability and its potential solutions and will have a report coming out in January.

The challenges in the food system have never felt more pressing, and many people are struggling more than ever to put food on the table, but we’ve been uplifted by stories of change on the ground and inspired to focus on the power of communities going forward. Next year we’ll continue to build on the affordability research, weaving together a new narrative about food affordability to guide our work, and focus on how investing in community food systems can be part of a five-year transition away from emergency food aid.

Farming Transition
Back in January we published the initial phase of our Farming for Change research. This showed that an agroecological transition was not only desirable, but viable across the four nations of the UK, with benefits for climate, nature and people; we have since published the final supporting technical evidence from IDDRI. We also launched Farming Smarter: investing in our future which makes the economic case for agroecology and set out in detail our recommendation for the establishment of an Agroecology Development Bank. In the spring, we ran a series of Routes to Action online workshops examining what this research means for farmers and growers, as well as businesses across the food system, as they move to a more sustainable footing. And this autumn, in the run-up to COP26, we toured the country in our Land Unlocked tour, shining a light on people who are doing this essential work – and often have been for many years.

Looking ahead to 2022, we will continue to chart routes that different farm types and farm businesses can take as they transition to more regenerative and resilient models. Developing our work on an Agroecology Development Bank, we will also be looking closely at the emerging natural capital markets, with funding from the Prince of Wales Charitable Fund, and in partnership with the Prince’s Countryside Fund, on how to direct funding into the sector where it can support different types of farm enterprise and spur the transition to agroecology.

Land Use
This year we convened a Land Use National Group with high level representation from Government, NGOs, the professions and communities, to lead discussion about how a Land Use Framework approach (to aid planning, decision-making and mediate complex requirements) can be incorporated in governments thinking and planning. We were delighted to see the topic of land use, and land use decision making, in debates in Parliament, culminating in the establishment of a Special Inquiry Committee on land use in the House of Lords. We look forward to supporting that inquiry when it starts in the New Year. Our detailed experimental work, led by local leadership groups, is now underway on our pilots in Devon and Cambridgeshire, funded by partners the Environment Agency and the National Geospatial Commission.

Our focus in 2022 is to test and adapt local frameworks, which will be created and led by local government, farmers, landowners and other stakeholders. The aim is that Local Plans, Nature Recovery Strategies, local transport plans, ELMS farming support, water and energy infrastructure proposals and all the other land use plans, can integrate shared principles to enable more strategic, joined-up outcomes.

The story so far
(External Relations & Communications)

Telling the story of, and engaging others in, FFCC’s work kicked off in 2021 with the launch of Farming for Change. This was a critical step for FFCC in establishing the evidence for agroecology in UK nations and helping to build a narrative around a broad pathway to 2030. FFCC reports, including the two Farming Smarter reports and Food Builds Community continued to gain attention in national media and on social channels throughout the year – all feeding into moments of impact which helped move forward core narratives at the heart of FFCC’s work. As the year progressed, we brought together leaders and diverse perspectives, to feed into government consultations. We increased substantially the amount of content on FFCC channels, audiences doubled and engagement steadily rose – helped by regular blogs, videos, podcasts and other content created and generated by the whole FFCC team. 

The Land Unlocked project, which started as a series of podcasts in the summer (featuring Christiana Figueres, Tim Jackson, Emma Howard-Boyd, and many other key COP voices) developed into the Land Unlocked (bike) tour which culminated in COP26 itself. The tour proved to be a fantastic way to gather stories from farmers, community organisers, businesses (and more) from across UK nations and to share content and build partnership with partners (including, among others, the National Trust, RSPB, WWF, Soil Association, Sustainable Food Trust and Nature Friendly Farmers Network). The content from the tour now forms part of our Field Guide for the Future and we will continue to add further stories in the new year. Taken together it demonstrates the strength of the movement for change and its growing reach across communities and countries.

Country and County Inquiries
The FFCC’s Country and County Inquiries programme team raises awareness of the different conditions in play across the UK nations, and the value of co-designing practical projects with people in places. As part of the Land Use work, FFCC has made progress on the Cambridgeshire and Devon pilot projects and recruited teams to support this work. As part of the Farming Transition work, a ‘Farming Smarter Toolkit’ is being developed in Cumbria working directly with local farming advisors and farmers. In Wales, the team has co-designed a template for a National Nature Service with more than 150 partners, and, in Cumbria, a Land and Nature Skills Service is being scoped out with local groups. In Northern Ireland the team is now working to convene the Grow Innovation Network to help make regenerative farm practices and enterprises the norm, supported by Ashden Trust. In Scotland, FFCC has partnered with SEFARI, and researchers at the James Hutton Institute, to explore current understanding and practices of agroecology across Scotland, and secured funding from the Knowledge Transfer and Innovation Fund, with partners Nourish, Nature Friendly Farming Network, Pasture for Life, Landworker’s Alliance, and Soil Association.