Aoife Behan  -  Policies for a transition to agroecology by 2045 (Scotland)

The MacRobert Trust

Currently, I am Director or Soil Association Scotland, a food and farming charity. My role is to lead and manage the organisation, its programme of work and its team of 27 staff to build its influence and credibility to transform the way we eat, farm and care for the natural world. We deliver a range of Scottish Government funded programmes including the Rural Innovation Support Service which promotes farmer-led innovation and Food for Life Scotland which works to get fresh, healthy, Scottish food on school plates.

I am a social policy professional – I have a MSc in Social Policy and Planning from London School of Economics - with a keen interest in food and farming issues. I joined the Soil Association 2016, where I led on the Good Food for All strategic theme, and the organisation’s policy influencing work, including participating in policy fora. Prior to that I held policy and social research roles, and also spent time running my own food events business.

This is a very challenging time for agriculture with a climate emergency declared in Scotland, the biodiversity crash and Brexit. I believe a wholesale transition to agroecology – farming with nature - may help Scotland meet its climate change targets while also protecting biodiversity, livelihoods of farmers, and ensuring sustainable food production. I also believe that policy and public investment could do so much more to help our farmers to make this transition. The scholarship will offer me the opportunity to explore these ideas in more detail, and advocate for change on my return.

I would like to thank The MacRobert Trust for sponsoring my scholarship.

As the UK prepares to leave the European Union, there has never been a more important time to rethink food and farming policies. At the same time, we are facing a triple threat from climate change, biodiversity loss and land degradation. If we don’t act now, we will fail to meet our climate change commitments, threaten our food security and irreversibly damage our environment. We need a sustainable food and farming system that provides food grown to high standards of environmental protection, supported by fair supply chains. While farming must be able to provide good livelihoods but it must also play its part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The Scottish Government has acted on advice from the Committee on Climate Change to set a legally binding target of net-zero GHGs by 2045. Now, there is a focus on the role of agriculture in meeting this target. But not every path to net zero is good for Scotland. There is great risk in considering climate change as separate from biodiversity loss and land degradation: all three are equally important. A wholesale transition to agroecology may help Scotland meet its climate change targets while also protecting biodiversity, livelihoods of farmers, and ensuring sustainable food production. But is this feasible? Emerging research and stories from elsewhere show that it is possible to farm with nature and feed a growing population – albeit with dietary shifts.

Policy and public investment could do so much more to help our farmers and help us all have healthier and more sustainable food. Examples of good policy and practice exist all over the world. There are places where agriculture is thriving, where policies and payments support agroecological approaches, protect farm wildlife, natural resources and farmers’ livelihoods.

As with climate change, it’s the next ten years that count. How can Scotland scale up agroecology and implement climate resilient agricultural practices? What policies can support the transition towards sustainable agriculture and food systems, ensure good food for all, protect livelihoods, environment, soil and biodiversity