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Farmers and Local Authorities Working Together on the Road to COP26

We have a project underway in South West Scotland that is bringing farmers all many shapes and sizes together with local council policy officers. We are holding online conversations are each month, and the topics are all about farming, land use and climate change. Our aim is to create opportunities for collaboration and sharing ideas, to identify work that can be done on a local level, what needs to be done at Scottish policy level, and what the key messages would be to world leaders at the upcoming UN Climate Conference in Glasgow, due to be held in November 2021. The project is called the Fork to Farm Dialogues, and is part of a global network of similar work, from Mexico to Indonesia, South Africa to Belgium. Here in South West Scotland, the project is hosted by the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere, and facilitated by Propagate.

South West Scotland is defined by Dumfries & Galloway, South Ayrshire and North Ayrshire. So far, we’ve held 4 sessions between February and May. Around 20 farmers have been attending, drawn from a mixture of dairy, beef and sheep farming, smallholding and market gardening. Representatives from the same councils have joined the calls, from various departments including planning, environment, economy and sustainability. This has made a space for some really interesting and lively conversations!

In the first session we introduced the ideas and the reasons for initiating the dialogues. With COP26 on the horizon, our motivation was to create a space where farmer’s voices could be heard. Often policy is made about land use, climate and farming, without appropriately including or involving farmers. This project addresses that gap. We know that the global food system is responsible for about 1 third of greenhouse gas emissions. This figure includes production, processing, transport, packaging and waste. We also know that red meat and dairy is often cited as being a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. However, as a beef, lamb and dairy farming community, we also know that there are valuable contributions to be made to carbon sequestration through livestock production.

In March, the group spent some time discussing the themes most important to them, where a positive contribution and difference could be made. Hot topics such as short and local supply chains, forestry and woodlands, health and inequality came through strongly. Contributors thought about the issues, and talked about possible solutions for action and change, drawing on some real life examples.

April’s session zoned in on short and local supply chains. Two speakers, or ‘witnesses’ were invited to outline their work in this area, and to answer any questions the group may have. Howard Wilkinson discussed his work around local markets and food hubs in South Ayrshire. Howard has over 25 years experience in this area. The other speakers were Heather Murray and Mark Hunter from East Ayrshire Council. They have been national leaders in local and sustainable food procurement. Over the last 10 years they have increased the percentage of locally and organically produced food on school plates to around 70%. They outlined their innovative approach to doing this, while navigating EU and Scottish procurement frameworks. Farmers were particularly inspired by this, with ideas being formed around producer cooperatives that can put forward collective bids for local sourcing tenders. A big gap identified was around free range chicken as there is little to no production in Scotland. A further barrier to this is processing, the nearest facility for poultry is in Birmingham.

Forestry and trees on farms was the topic for May. Again, two witnesses gave their evidence on this hot topic. Morag Paterson is a self-directed forestry researcher, she is also on the Dalry Community Council in Gallloway and a member of Communities for Diverse Forestry. She has reached out and spoken to over 40 professionals across forestry, farming, land use and other relevant disciplines. She outlined the amount of land being allocated for sitka spruce plantations in various parts of Scotland. Those already planted and planned in South West Scotland far outweigh other parts of Scotland by many thousands of hectares. Much of this is on farmland. Morag asked:

“what are the motivations for farmers to go for sitka spruce plantations – thus taking the land out of food production and radically reducing biodiversity. How can farmers, land managers and communities work better on this issue?”

Incentives were seen as a key driver. There are currently no agri-environment schemes in Scotland, and no grant support towards maintaining land for biodiversity, or planting native broadleaf woodlands instead of conifers.

The second speaker was Nikki Yoxall,

a farmer from Aberdeenshire, who has implemented an agroforestry system with Shetland and Galloway cattle. Nikki gave an overview into her farming practice, which reduces herd sizes and incorporates trees, and provides a huge range of benefits from animal health to ecosystem services. Farmers discussed how this kind of system could be ‘retrofitted’, and how easily farmers would be able to make a transition to different farming methods while still being profitable.

In June, discussion will be looking back over the last 4 months and thinking ahead to where the group wants to go next. The door is opening for more farmers from the region to join the dialogue. The months ahead will include study visits to farms that are incorporating innovative practice and climate mitigation measures.

The group will start thinking about key messages for COP26 as they join forces with the other groups around the world involved in similar projects. An exhibition and presentation space is being planned for Glasgow in November, with global facilitators working collaboratively to make this happen.

If you have been inspired or intrigued over the last 900 words and would like to join the dialogues, please email or call 07340 531506. She may be out on the farm, but she’ll get back to you soon enough.

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