National Food Strategy evidence submission 2019

by Andy Goldring, CEO

The following is our response to the call for evidence, to inform a national food strategy. The scope of the strategy is within England.


The Permaculture Association supports public education and research on ecological design thinking and practice.

We have: championed and designed localised agroecological food systems since 1983; were a key partner delivering the Local Food Fund and People’s Food Policy; support networks of practitioners, growers, researchers, trainers; and can provide expert witnesses covering innovative farm design, agroecology, bioregional food systems, urban and peri-urban agriculture.

  1. The People’s Food Policy (1) is a fully referenced policy framework that emphasises the need for a food system based on the principles of food sovereignty, the Right to Food and a shift towards localised agroecological food production. 57 integrated recommendations cover Governance, Food, Health, Land, Labour, Environment, Knowledge, Trade, Finance. It gained support from 150 UK organisations. We ask that you consider the policies in full as part of the NFS process. 

  2. We also welcome and support the detailed proposals being made by Sustain (2). 

  3. Permaculture (3) integrates design, ecology and agroecological farming approaches and offers a practical vision for a truly efficient food and farming system (where efficiency is understood by the ‘energy returned on energy invested’ equation and productivity per square metre) embedded in a society based on values and practices of Earth Care, People Care and Fair Shares. Permaculture creates ‘edible landscapes’ integrating food systems into the fabric of our communities as exemplified by the Incredible Edible (4) movement, and designs whole farm systems, with thousands of examples worldwide and over 100 in the UK (5).

  4. In France, Bec Hellouin (6) has been extensively investigated by The National Institute of Agricultural Research and AgroParisTech who conducted a research program from 2011 to 2015 entitled “Organic growing in permaculture and economic performance” (7) whose aim was to record and report methods and yields. The study concluded that small scale farming done entirely by hand is highly efficient and productive. Indeed Bec Hellouin is one of the most profitable farming systems in Europe, returning over 55 Euros per square metre, or £471,614 / hectare (gross income)! That puts it in a whole new class of productivity when compared to the most profitable farms in the UK. Plus it is highly biodiverse and increases soil carbon (8).

  5. The design of integrated tree-based farm systems and its benefits for carbon sequestration, climate resilience, increased biodiversity and productivity is well-documented by Eric Toensmeir’s seminal book The Carbon Farming Solution (9). Based on detailed research and integrated into Project Drawdown’s (10) carbon sequestering food solutions section (which details other proposals included here e.g. multi-strata agroforestry, silvopasture), the book outlines scaling strategies that can be applied across the UK.

  6. Localised food systems also offer huge social benefits, as exemplified by Organiclea (11) in north London, a permaculture inspired workers cooperative that produces high quality food, increases employment, and has helped to improve the life chances of many hundreds of local people through skills and employment training and a supportive community. The ‘More than Just the Veg’ report by the Countryside and Community Research Institute looked at case studies from 500 projects enabled by the £59.8M Local Food Fund and found that localised food systems build material, personal and cultural capacity with a very high return on investment (12). A strong argument can be made that investing in local food systems is a key priority for the National Health Service.

  7. Intensive localised food systems enhance climate resilience and increase horticultural production which then enables lower value agricultural land to be returned to woodland (as required to meet Committee on Climate Change targets (13)) and the shift towards nutrient-dense high fruit and vegetable diets (see latest WHO dietary recommendations (14) and EAT-Lancet Commission (15)). Bec Hellouin and recent work by the Landworkers Alliance (16) show this is possible, especially with policy support.

  8. The UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (17), IPBES (18) and UK State of Nature (19) reports all state clearly that the industrial agriculture model and resultant land use changes are the primary causes of UK and global biodiversity loss and climate change. Fortunately proven alternatives exist, and there is a clear transition pathway that can support conventional farms and farmers to move towards a biodiverse, low input, carbon sequestering food system, with two key strategies being agroforestry and silvopasture. Both allow integration of tree crops within existing arable and livestock systems enabling a practical transition towards localised agroecological food systems by existing farmers. See Organic Research Centre (20) for UK research and their overview (21). Agroforestry is now a key plank of French agricultural policy as part of their ‘4per1000’ soil carbon initiative (22).

  9.  IAASTD’s 2016 Agriculture at a Crossroads (23), IPES-Food 7 key reports (24) - Towards a Common Food Policy / Breaking away from industrial food and farming systems / Too big to feed, Unravelling the Food–Health Nexus / What makes urban food policy happen? / From Uniformity to Diversity: A paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems / The New Science of Sustainable Food Systems, the UN FAO’s Committee on World Food Security HLPE Report 14 “Agroecological and other innovative approaches for sustainable agriculture and food systems that enhance food security and nutrition” (25) all conclude that agroecology is a viable alternative that can deliver healthy and sustainable food. It requires policy support and a level playing field that removes the huge subsidies currently provided to the unsustainable fossil-fuel based food system through research funding, cheap energy and tax breaks. 

  10. There is a mountain of evidence to support the move towards localised agroecological food production and its benefits for human and planetary health, regional and national economies, and rich and rewarding food cultures. Policy frameworks and pathways to achieve this have been clearly articulated by IPES, FAO, WHO and many others. A National Food Strategy that does not support this shift, would be contrary to the evidence and reduce our chance of successfully responding to the triple emergencies of climate, biodiversity and social wellbeing.

  11. Resist the Business As Usual lobby, we need you to be bold, another food system is possible!

References to accompany the Permaculture Association (Britain)’s National Food Strategy response. We have given hyperlinks for ease of access.