Last year, UK ministers announced that farmers would be paid £800 million per year through the Landscape Recovery Scheme to convert and rewild agricultural land into wetlands, woodlands, and forests. Now, some are reporting plans to cut the fund to £50 million over three years with a shifted focus to food production to meet the shortages due to the conflict in Ukraine.
“No government in the world can afford a food crisis,” says Jose Maria Ortiz, Palladium Managing Director. “The UK’s change in policy and concern is valid, we’re all seeing how war and disruption across the food chain is creating a global food crisis in real time.”
The concern, he adds, is that the collateral damage of this policy shift will be our climate. “If countries continue to use land inefficiently, farmers will continue to produce very little and it will be even more difficult for landowners and farmers to transition to more sustainable use of their land.”
The fear for many farmers and landowners in the UK has always been that a focus on rewilding could lead to an increased reliance on imported food, which in light of shortages across the world, isn’t a viable option. Just last week at the G7 Leaders’ Summit in Germany, G7 leaders committed to addressing global food security, pledging over US$4.5 billion to the crisis. As Ortiz explains, right now there is a trade-off between ensuring that people have food and restoring nature. Given the choice, most governments will choose to feed their citizens.
“The UK government is one of the most progressive and committed to tackling climate change and they are considering this choice. So, just imagine what other countries may do,” he adds.
But the current solution isn’t one that should be long term. Instead, Ortiz says that in the coming years, countries will need to be shock-resistant in the face of food shortages and crises, and that will require more sustainable agriculture. “This is complicated. We need to promote local regenerative agriculture alongside investments in technology for food security that would help solve the food crisis like aquaponics and artificial meat.”
“If the world wants to balance climate and the food crisis, we need regenerative models and innovative technology, and, of course, avoiding as much as possible changing land use policies away from sustainability.”
He says that right now, we’re all faced with a food and nature dichotomy and it’s a dichotomy that the world must overcome. “It’s beef or nature. Do I eat a steak or save a tree?” he asks. “Right now, I can’t eat beef and know for certain that the cultivation of that beef is not destroying the Amazon. But over the next few years, I expect we’ll get past that in moving towards more sustainable farming practices.”
This isn’t a matter of just restoring nature; it also means including the efficient use of land and the incentivisation of that land use, so that what’s grown makes sense for the geographic area and ideally provides other natural benefits.
At the end of the day, Ortiz believes that the food crisis is just one more indicator that climate change won’t be solved by one country: “The whole world needs to come together on this because the problem of climate is not a problem that one government can solve on its own.”
“The important thing is setting a course and staying true,” he concludes. “There is no shortcut for climate and for food security.” As chatter around COP27 ramps up, Ortiz hopes to see this on the agenda for discussion as world leaders and sustainability experts gather in Egypt to accelerate global climate action.
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