Amendment 29

Part of Agriculture Bill - Committee (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 8:45 pm on 9th July 2020.

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Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour 8:45 pm, 9th July 2020

My Lords, I particularly enjoyed the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, who I have known for over 50 years, when he talked about his local bird life and the implications it has in this debate.

I support Amendment 42 to Clause 1 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and others, which relates to whole-farm agroecological systems and organic farming. The pandemic has been a tragic lesson in how broken our connection to our life support systems, by permission of nature, has become. In March, the UN’s environment chief, Inger Andersen, told us that

“Nature is sending us a message” with the coronavirus and ongoing climate crisis.

In 2019, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services published the most comprehensive study into the health of the planet ever undertaken. It concluded that human society was in jeopardy from the accelerating decline of nature, on which the survival of the human race depends. This ongoing work is telling us that

“Rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming … as well as the exploitation of wild species have created a perfect storm for the spillover of diseases.”

The scientists leading this work have warned that

“The health of people is intimately connected to the health of wildlife, the health of livestock and the health of the environment. It’s actually one health.”

Agroecological agriculture—of which organic is one system—supports small farms that are diverse, integrated and use low levels of chemical input to ensure the long-term balance between food production and the sustainability of natural resources. Although agroecology is recognised in the Bill, it is in a very minor way. In Clause 1(5), the Bill states that

“better understanding of the environment”

—one of the purposes for which the Secretary of State may give assistance—

“includes better understanding of agroecology”.

This appears to signify a basic misconception of what agroecology is and what a large-scale transformation to agroecological farming could deliver for farmers, wildlife, climate and public health. It should not be relegated to a legislative footnote; it should be a key part of this Bill and the Government’s broader agricultural policy, as others have said.

While I welcome this reference in the Bill, a more substantive reference, such as that proposed in Amendment 42, is also needed to create a specific commitment under Clause 1(1) for financial and wider support for existing agroecological farms—such as organic—and to ensure that all farmers can promote agroecological practices on the whole farm. This would then allow for support and incentives for farmers to facilitate the integration of food production with the delivery of environmental and social public purposes, in line with the avowed objectives of the Bill. It would ensure that farmers could transition to ecological farming models, producing food while restoring environments and nature.

These benefits are enhanced when they are part of the whole-farm system, rather than in reserved areas or only on the margins. Organic farms have been shown to support 50% more wildlife than is found on conventionally farmed land and healthier soils, with 44% higher capacity to store long-term soil carbon. Agroecological farms can also improve public access to nutritious, affordable fruit and vegetables, and to community projects, supporting improved public health outcomes for us all, as well as enterprise. I therefore hope that the Minister will indicate his acceptance of Amendment 42 in particular.