I never for a moment imagined when I joined a meeting at the Waddesdon Estate, hosted by the then manager Edward Parsons and the Chief Executive of the Rothschild Foundation, that the gathering of farmers and land managers they hosted would lead to the development of what will hopefully become a new international language for assessing farm sustainability. Yet that tantalising possibility now seems potentially within reach. Between that meeting in 2016 and today, the farmers and land managers working group has gathered on many occasions, formerly physically but more recently virtually, to work together in a spirit of total trust and harmony, sharing their experiences and co-evolving a framework of categories and units of measurement which we now believe could be used by any farmer on whatever scale and in whichever country to assess the impact of their farming practices on sustainability outcomes.
Of course, many farmers have already been collecting information relating to sustainability for decades, but the challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss in particular have now created an urgent need for farming to become part of the solution which can, arguably, only be achieved if we measure the impact of our farming practices on outcomes, thereby enabling society to reward us for delivering positive public goods.
There are multiple ways in which sustainable farming practices can be rewarded; these include through food labelling which reflects the beneficial impacts, redirected government subsidies – for instance through the English ELMs scheme – market based incentives for building soil carbon or biodiversity, and preferential interest rates from the banking and investment communities. But in all these cases, you can neither manage nor reward outcomes unless you measure them. The emergence of consensus within the farming community about such a harmonised framework, now supported by a growing number of certifiers, food companies, retailers, bankers and NGOs, not just in the United Kingdom but internationally, raises the tantalising prospect of a framework which could inform a Paris agreement for food after the COP26, and a foundation for future agreement regulating international trade in food.
We are fortunate indeed to be hosting one of the Countdown to COP26 TEDx talks which is taking place on Thursday 29th April at 3 pm (UK time). I urge you to join the session if you are able, or watch it on our website or on YouTube if you can’t make it on that date.
Sign up here.
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