NORTHERN Ireland must grasp unmissable opportunities to
mainstream climate adaptat-ion and nature recovery on farms to safeguard NI’s food security, says the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN).
The NFFN’s The Need for Change report sets out why farm payments for improvements to soil health, biodiversity and climate mitigation ensure viable food and farming in Northern Ireland.
At a time of global food insecurity resulting from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, the report argues that fragilities in the food system have long been present. Current research predicts that the land’s overall productive capacity will reduce due to climate change, increasing supply and demand pressure, and making on-farm adaptation through nature-friendly systems a priority.
Michael Meharg, pictured, NFFN Northern Ireland Chair, said: “Build-ing genuine, long-lasting food sec-urity is dependent on embedding environmental delivery into the heart of farming businesses. NI’s emerging agriculture policy framework must recognise the intrinsic links between healthy food, biodiversity recovery and climate adaptation.
“Moving to nature-friendly systems with fewer inputs helps build more resilient landscapes and helps shelter farm businesses from market and environmental stresses.
With the right investment, farmers can build greater resilience to increasingly unpredictable weather and volatile markets, and embedd-
ing nature recovery as central to profitable and sustainable food pro-duction.”
The report, part of the NFFN’s Rethink Food campaign, highlights systemic issues, including food waste, extractive supply chains and diminishing farm returns in the face of increasing input costs that point to the need for boosting food and farm resilience.
The report recognises how decades of prioritising specialisation over diversity have come at the expense of farming’s profitability. In 2020, the cost of animal feed, fertilisers and pesticides amounted to nearly £8 billion – over double that paid out in farm subsidies each year.
In 2021, these costs rose by an additional £160 million, largely due to rising gas prices.
High-input, fossil fuel-based systems make farms susceptible to market volatility and price fluctuations while
simultaneously damaging soils, in-creasing problems with pesticide resistance and making farmland ecosystems less able to recover from extreme weather or self-regulate pest or disease outbreaks.
According to the report, the quantity of land used to feed animals and grow crops for bioenergy, including the volume of food wasted along the supply chain, are contradictory to food security:
n In the UK, around 9.5 million tonnes of food were wasted in 2018 post-farmgate, equating to roughly 15 billion meals with an estimated value of £19 billion and accounting for 36 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions;
n The volume wasted would require an area larger than Northern Ireland for production;
n The area of land dedicated to vegetable production has declined by nearly 30 per cent since 1988 while the area dedicated to combinable crops has fallen by 10 per cent in the past 10 years.
The report sets out seven areas for achieving change, including prioritising the right outputs in the right areas, harnessing opportunities for producing a wider diversity of foods and improving the link-up between strategies for food, agriculture, trade and land use.
It recommends that payment sch-emes support farmers and crofters in creating greater ecological and agricultural diversity, including wider crop choices and livestock breeds, to help farms manage natural or economic shocks with less reliance on inputs.
With the right incentives in place, farming can be the backbone of a resilient food-secure future that effectively safeguards nature, improves soil health and helps achieve net zero.
Michael Meharg, NFFN Northern Ireland Chair, said: “For too long, our food system has viewed the production of food, biodiversity and climate as mutually exclusive. But nature is an important ally in building genuine food security, now and in the future”.
We have a huge opportunity to redesign our domestic food system, so we are producing more of what our land is capable of producing while moving away from intensive systems that are reliant on costly inputs that are becoming increasingly unavailable and unsustainable to use.
We need to feed ourselves and build long-term resilience in a rapidly changing world.
“This must start at the farm level, building from the ground up to produce food that helps sustainably nourish people as well as the land.”
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