Our food system is currently failing to provide good, nutritious food for all sectors of the population. At the same time, it is having hugely negative impacts on our biosphere which is jeopardising the ability of future generations to feed themselves. There is also a social dimension; low and often volatile prices mean there is a constant pressure to ‘get bigger or get out’ as smaller farms struggle to make a decent living, often relying on subsidies and off-farm employment. Increasing scale leads to fewer employment opportunities in rural areas which has a significant negative impact on rural communities. On top of this, people are increasingly disengaged with their food and how it is produced. This, and the immensely long and complex food chain, has implications for the health and resilience of local communities and economies.  There is a clear need to reverse this and reform our food system, so it can provide good, nutritious food for everyone, forever. Our goal is to support food and farming enterprises that can affect this change through the idea of Enlightened Agriculture.

Enlightened Agriculture is defined as:

“food and farming enterprises that are expressly designed to ensure that everyone has access to nutritious, healthy and affordable food, and do so without cruelty or injustice and without adversely affecting other people and the biosphere both now and in the future“

In practice, Enlightened Agriculture is rooted in three guiding principles:

  • agroecology, where individual farms are conceived as ecosystems, and agriculture as a whole is seen as a key component of the biosphere;
  • food sovereignty, the idea that individuals and communities everywhere must have control over their own food supply; and
  • economic democracy, in practice rooted primarily in small to medium-sized enterprises that are generally conceived as social enterprises and are often cooperative in nature and community-owned.

We will assess applications against each of these guiding principles but do so with an appreciation that most enterprises will be at the start of their journey and are operating in a policy and economic environment that does not nurture and support such an approach. We are also aware that enlightened agriculture can mean different things to different people in different environments, and we do not pretend to have all the answers; indeed, we need to be open minded and we would encourage applications from organisations with novel ideas.  As such an appreciation of the principles of enlightened agriculture and a clear vision for the enterprise, with strong community engagement and social mission will be more important than evidence that an organisation is already meeting our criteria. Our mentoring programme will help organisations with this journey so that by the time they draw down the loan they are well on the way to practicing enlightened agriculture.

You can find out more about what we are looking for in the sections below:

Agroecology

“Where individual farms are conceived as ecosystems, and agriculture as a whole is seen as a key component of the biosphere

In practice, we will look for the following evidence:

  • Diversity. Diversity is at the heart of agroecology. At the farm level, this means farms will be mixed, or have many different enterprises on the farm. It also applies at a field level, for example integrating poultry into a grazing system, woodland pigs, agroforestry, mixed population horticulture and arable and so on. Finally, diversity means having a vibrant and biodiverse ecosystem with nature integrated into the enterprises at every level.
  • Employment and skills. Agroecological enterprises are complex and therefore labour and skills intensive. We will want enterprises to show they are willing and able to create good jobs as part of their business planning.
  • Low input. Agroecological farms are low input and have a focus on soil health, which means they are often organic or at least quasi-organic, pasture fed and circular, making constructive use of all by-products and unavoidable “waste” rather than relying on external inputs.
  • High welfare. Animal welfare is of the highest importance and we will look for evidence that enterprises have designed compassionate farming systems around the health and needs of the animals rather than productivity at all costs. This means extensive, outdoor, free range and other systems that give animals the opportunity to exhibit natural behaviours such as ranging, foraging, rooting, grooming, and developing social bonds while protecting them from extreme weather and stress.
  • Small to medium sized. The nature of this system is that it works best on a small scale and there is nothing to be gained from scaling up the size of an individual farm but much to be gained in scaling up the number of small-scale mixed farms and related food businesses.

Food sovereignty

“The idea that individuals and communities everywhere must have control over their own food supply

In practice, this means:

  • Local markets and food. We will support initiatives and models that make the supply chain for agroecological produce shorter and more integrated and diverse, including direct sales, and localised processing, distribution and retail models and initiatives that provide fair prices and create markets for new products to support agroecological farms.
  • Enterprises need to be rooted firmly in their own communities and have evidence of community support and engagement. This could be through showing evidence of a very localised customer base, volunteering activities, outreach and education activities and/or community financing.

Economic democracy

“Primarily small to medium-sized enterprises that are generally conceived as social enterprises and are often cooperative in nature and community-owned”

In practice, much of this will be determined by the governance of the organisation, but we will also look for:

  • Community engagement in the widest sense of the word; including the local community, customers, suppliers, shareholders, and other stakeholders.
  • Community owned and social enterprises with a clear and ambitious social mission (moral and ecological).
  • Fairness; the enterprise shows evidence of dealing fairly with everyone it deals with be that its own staff, its customers, and its suppliers. We appreciate that the economic environment in which agroecological businesses operate can make this challenging, but where it has not been achieved, we want to see evidence that an aspiration to improving fairness is built into the business and social impact plan.

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