Achieving sustainability in practice –how can we address the challenges?

This workshop was intended to get people debating the challenges that have been raised in the opening plenary. This session was all about gathering and sharing the knowledge and experience of everyone at the conference and identifying the priority issues we need to tackle. In small groups, we intended to capture what individuals and organisations are doing on the ground to put the principles of organic and sustainable farming into practice, and what we could do differently/ better. We recorded these good works on flip charts which werel then used as a resource to inform the rest of the conference. This session was organised by Tony Little (OCW) and Kate Gascoyne (NEFG)

Session summary

This session was about making use of the collective experience of delegates. We set up groups of between 10 and 15, and each group discussed sustainability in one of these areas of activity:

Round table discussions

  • Soil quality and management;
  • Manure and nutrient management;
  • Water quality and management;
  • Food security and productivity;
  • Food quality, safety and public health
  • Energy and carbon;
  • Agricultural systems diversity;
  • Biodiversity;
  • Landscape and heritage;
  • Animal health and welfare;
  • Farm resilience and profitability;
  • Social capital and rural communities

For each area discussions centred around 3 questions:

  • What practices contribute to sustainability?
  • What are the barriers to sustainability?
  • What needs to be done to overcome these barriers?

As you might expect, answers varied according to topic, but some clear and common threads came through:

The results in the corridor

The need for better education, in its broadest sense, was almost universal. This included helping the public to understand the role that sustainable and organic farming plays in providing some of society’s most basic necessities – food, water and energy – and the how supporting these systems ensured the needs of future generations could be met. Calls for more training and knowledge exchange activities for producers were also frequent.

Creating and maintaining diversity at all levels was also a reoccurring theme: Genetic diversity in our seeds, breeds and varieties; diversity of crop and animal species diversity on farms; more species in our habitats; and more habitats in our landscape.

Efficiency underpinned many of the recommendations such as; better nutrient cycling and manure/ slurry spreading systems on farms; better communication and more cooperation throughout the supply chain; less waste reduction and more recycling by society at large.

Ensuring better recognition for the benefits that organic and sustainable systems deliver was fundamental requirement to improve on many areas under discussion. Not just in terms of better prices through the market, but by placing more value on ecosystems services through ‘true cost accounting’.

See photos of the ‘table cloths’ here

Full report soon!

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