Promoting agroecological approaches on farmland: Lessons for the UK from other European countries
High profile political support for agroecological approaches for farming, in France and Germany could provide some food for thought for the UK as its governments develop a framework for agriculture policy after Brexit.
This report reviews how the implementation of agroecological approaches to farming - which makes most use of natural processes - has been promoted at European level, especially in France and Germany, and compares this with the situation in the UK. Agroecology has recently been the subject of high level political attention within and outside the EU and is attracting increasing interest from both farming and environmental stakeholders. France has recently brigaded all its agriculture policy under the banner of agroecology, whilst Germany has a longer standing Federal plan to support organic farming in particular. Both have benefited from strong and consistent political support.
The central concept in the French Agroecology Plan is for farming systems to become more reliant on ecosystem functions, justified on both economic and environmental grounds. It emphasises voluntary, bottom up approaches over regulation, and covers a wide range of actions including training for agriculture officials and academics, a redirection of research funding, new legal structures to enable joint working between farmers and others and measures to discourage pesticide use and encourage nutrient recycling and agroforestry. In Germany, a Federal Organic Farming Plan has been in place since 2002 to promote organic farming and since 2011, it also promotes other forms of sustainable farming. The Plan funds research knowledge transfer, projects to strengthen supply and demand and supports the promotion and marketing of products from specific agricultural systems (mainly organic farming). Steady increase in demand from German consumers for organic products has led the German government recently to launch a much broader organic farming strategy.
The report then considers the situation in the UK and the opportunities that could arise from mainstreaming agroecology into farming. It concludes that in the UK the opportunities to use agro-ecological approaches to respond to urgent issues such as flood prevention and longer term sustainability imperatives have not yet been taken, although some individual practices and systems are promoted. Looking ahead, the report concludes that embracing agroecology could provide a strong focus to ensure sustainability and resilience to environmental pressures and climate change are at the heart of long term growth and competitiveness of the food and farming sectors.