Now that the dust begins to settle on the EU Nature Restoration Law, there is time to reflect on some of the key issues it has raised and highlighted, and see how farmers and citizens can move forward.
Bridging a false divide
Talamh Beo supports a farming system based on Food Sovereignty and Agroecology – rebuilding food systems from the bottom up and challenging the power dynamics which keep the control of food production, processing and consumption in the hands of large agribusiness companies. We know that Agroecological farming – working with and within ecological systems – is part of nature restoration. Talamh Beo also knows that farmers have a hugely important role to play in society at this time – as land owners, managers and workers they must shoulder the responsibility of enhancing, restoring, regenerating and caring for our ecological heritage. Right now, the job of farming is indivisible from the work of rebuilding water, nutrient, carbon and nitrogen cycles in our soils, of restoring lost and degraded habitat, and of creating new spaces for nature – all while continuing to produce high-quality food.
Successive governments, heavily lobbied by the national agri-industry giants, have led farmers down a path of intensification; a path beset with detrimental consequences to our land, air and water quality. EU directives are now requiring us to address these environmental challenges placing farmers in an unenviable position. The major farming lobby groups would have us believe that the Green Party and other Environmental groups are the source of the woes, perpetuating a narrative of unfounded fear. The real winners of this deceptive narrative pitting farmers against environmentalists are the agri-industry players whose profits and livelihoods are protected.
We cannot continue with a business as usual approach. We must lay the groundwork now for a properly sustainable Irish food system, which works within the ecological carrying capacity of the land. Arguing to continue to farm as we do now is just an argument which supports the role of fertiliser companies, agrochemical companies, feed processors, supermarkets and other agribusiness firms which profit from farmer’s labour, and whose products are largely responsible for most of the environmental impacts we see in our lakes and rivers, as well as in our atmosphere.
Talamh Beo propose to restore integrity to this debate and represent the true perspective of the many farmers in Ireland who accept the reality of climate change and biodiversity loss and who care deeply about their land and communities, as well as citizens who want to build food systems which put people, ecology, rights, and fairness at the centre. Farmers can be environmentalists too.
False promises and uncertainty
The Nature Restoration Law has brought up many concerns for farmers – concerns we in Talamh Beo share; failures of previous schemes of land designation to be properly funded; fear of loss of income and fear of a loss of agency and control. Farmers are not to blame that the goalposts have been moving for the last 30 years in terms of what they are expected to do on their farms. From being penalised for leaving habitat on their farm to now being told they will need to restore nature, farm advisory and government outreach organisations have not always served farmers well.
Farmers’ concerns are that they are being asked to make significant land management changes with no provisions made for compensation. Funding to support transition is imperative and there is an opportunity to direct this funding to agro-ecological models. Farming and nature must not be divided but instead, we advocate for a sympathetic nature-based farming which will ensure social vitality and healthy food production.
Unfortunately, the Nature Restoration Law fails to reform industrial farming practices and may not impact on the worst polluters or emitters. Small-scale or so-called marginal farms are not to blame for the bulk of Ireland’s agriculture emissions and as such should bear a lighter load in terms of the changes required of them. It is vital that as Ireland moves towards a sustainable food system that the worst offenders doing the most damage make the biggest changes and adaptations. Furthermore, it does not explicitly support farmers transitioning to or practising Agroecological methods such as regenerative agriculture, agroforestry, organics or others which are already benefiting biodiversity and ecosystem health.
More farmers, better food
We need more farmers on the land. Policy needs to guarantee more production for local, regional and national consumption, fair supports for farmers to earn a living wage from their work, and rewards for farmers to restore ecosystems and nurture biodiversity as they do so. More farmers can mean better food, better land management and more diversification of production types. Production areas which should receive special support should be those where Ireland is in deficit (fruits, vegetables, grains, pulses etc), and also reward farmers for increasing habitat and biodiversity. Irish feed should be grown for animals here in order to reduce dependence on imported GM soya which is fed to cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens in enormous quantities.
It is time for a generational shift in direction for food and agriculture systems in Ireland. Better alternatives are not only possible but are already in practice across the country. Talamh Beo will bring those alternatives into the mainstream by working with farmers and citizens for Food Sovereignty and Agroecology – we want to grow the movement so please – join us on the journey.