Soil Association launches Covid-19 recovery 10-point food & farming plan

Grow Back Better, a new route-map to reinvigorate UK food, farming and land-use post-Covid-19, launches today (9 November 2020) from the Soil Association, the charity that digs deeper to transform the way we eat, farm and care for our natural world.

The Grow Back Better report advocates a response to the climate, nature and health crises that is as radical and rapid as the response to Covid-19 has been. It also warns the wrong “green recovery” choices from policy makers, could lock us into damaging directions of travel in food, farming and land-use.

Helen Browning, Chief Executive of the Soil Association, said, “It feels to me as if the coronavirus pandemic is nature giving humanity one last chance to stop, take stock and to set a new course. Our Grow Back Better road map sets out the urgent tasks ahead of us all to ensure food, farming and land use becomes a major part of the solution, rather than the huge problem it is often perceived as.

'We know there is an appetite for change amongst citizens, farmers and many businesses, but the wrong choices by policy makers at this moment could lock us into damaging directions of travel. It’s a make or break moment. We are clear where we need to get to; we just need the right government support to get us there.”

The Grow Back Better manifesto draws on the Soil Association’s experience in devising and delivering practical solutions with people from all walks of life. It outlines how to accelerate the transition to net-zero and regenerate wildlife and soils while enhancing the health and wellbeing of the population. It looks a decade ahead, identifying the investment priorities and policy levers that will deliver change, and the pitfalls that must be avoided.

The report details ten priorities for a ‘resilience route-map’ that, enacted together, deliver an 'agroecological future'; farming in step with nature, providing good livelihoods and great food.

1. Transform livestock farming to dramatically reduce the risks of pandemics and antimicrobial resistance, resulting in a ‘good life’ for all farmed animals, cutting antibiotic use by 90%
2. Exceed Europe’s ambition to halve pesticide use and grow organic farming to 25% farmed land by 2030
3. Instigate a farmer-led tree planting revolution with over 5% of farmed land under agroforestry systems by 2030
4. Increase farmer-led innovation and professional development – shift from agrichemical to agroecological R&D and knowledge sharing
5. Turn soil from carbon sources into carbon sinks for climate resilience, and increase soil organic matter across all UK farms year-on-year
6. Scale up fruit, veg, pulses and nut production by investing in UK horticulture
7. Set ambition to cut ultra-processed food in the UK diet as France has done, so that ultra-processed foods form no more than 15% of the national UK diet
8. Set bold public procurement targets, improving food quality and increasing organic procurement
9. Ensure every child eats a healthy diet and gets a world class food education – for health, climate and nature
10. Rebuild resilient, regional food supply chains and stop the deforestation often associated with UK animal feed

According to the report, efforts to grow back better from Covid-19 should target investment in areas with multiple benefits, accelerating progress in resolving the interconnected climate, nature and health crises, while re-booting the economy.

The manifesto warns that policy ‘lock-ins’ must be avoided. During Covid-19 recovery, the wrong choices from policy makers could lock us into damaging directions of travel in food, farming and land-use. These potential lock-ins could include:

> Climate initiatives that do not work for nature
> Trade agreements that lead us into a ‘race to the bottom’ in food and farming standards
> Bailing out the polluters
> Productivity grants for farming should align with the transition to agroecological farming, and not lock farmers further into systems that don’t benefit animal welfare, wildlife and the wider environment

Browning continued, “It is widely acknowledged that this decade is crucial for humanity, and that farmers and land managers have a pivotal role to play. It’s no longer enough to have islands of good practice; all of food and farming, in its many forms, shapes and sizes, must work together to meet the challenges ahead, and be supported to do so.”

The Grow Back Better manifesto launches in response to the unprecedented disruption from the Covid-19 pandemic and the Government’s National Food Strategy interim report.

In the face of a possible global recession, heightened unemployment, recurring waves of pandemic and lockdown, and escalating levels of social inequality, the climate, nature collapse and diet related ill health crises have not gone away; they have only gotten worse.

The Soil Association is already pioneering many of the initiatives outlined in the manifesto, from farmer led innovation through the Innovative Farmers network, to supporting agroforestry and improving school meals.