We are working with several banks and the wider finance sector to redirect the flow of finance away from old and fragmented arrangements towards a wholistic, regenerative food system. As philanthropic funders, we have a duty to be responsible investors.
The UK is greatly in need of financial opportunities that drive investment from banks, institutions, Foundations, and individuals, to the transition to a regenerative food system.
Our work with the Croatan Institute (and the Organic Agriculture Revitalisation Strategy (OARS)) in the USA and the New Economic Foundation here in the UK, will introduce the finance sector to regenerative agriculture and the wider impact of their investments and loans.
Our long game is to work with all the stakeholders in order to redirect the flow of capital away from toxic industrial farming and into a regenerative food system.
With the UK’s exit from the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), an important RSA Food, Farming, and Countryside Commission has called for an ambitious 10-year transition plan toward more agroecological farming, a healthy, sustainable food system, and a more regenerative rural economy in the countryside. The Commission’s 2019 report, Our Future in the Land, calls for numerous policy interventions, including the establishment of a new post-Brexit regulatory and trade framework for food and agriculture, the establishment of a publicly funded National Agroecology Development Bank, and other public funding to support producer groups and sustainable land use, among other measures.
The UK’s new Agriculture Bill would replace the CAP’s current system of direct payments to farmers with a new set of Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMs) that would subsidize farmers, at approximately £3 billion per annum, for generating public goods, such as clean water, healthy soils, carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas reductions, greater biodiversity, wildlife conservation, and public access to open spaces and natural heritage sites. The precise details of these new arrangements remain to be worked out over the next year.
Meanwhile, the most recently available data from the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) on Agriculture in the United Kingdom documents £20 billion in liabilities on UK farm balance sheets, most of which is being financed through bank loans and overdrafts. The Agricultural Mortgage Corporation (AMC), a member of the Lloyds Banking Group, and building societies account for another £4 billion of that debt. (Defra, 2019)
Although the scale of this private bank lending far exceeds the public funding associated with the CAP and the new Agriculture Bill, little pressure is being placed on the financial sector to adapt its banking, lending, and investment practices to support farmers as they transition toward regenerative organic agriculture and agroecology.
This kind of supportive investment in regenerative agriculture is precisely what UK farmers themselves have identified as a gap. According to a 2018 report on farmers’ experiences with “Transitions to Agroecological Systems,” commissioned by the Land Use Policy Group, access to capital and finance was one of the biggest external factors preventing medium-sized organic farmers from diversifying into more sustainable systems, involving elements such as agroforestry, orchards, added-value dairy and pastured livestock, biodiversity-focused conservation practices, and on-farm educational businesses and ecological tourism.
At the same time, asset-owning institutions, such as foundations, charities, churches, pension funds, and family offices, are increasingly seeking ways to make mission-related impact investments into sustainable food systems, regenerative agriculture, and other solutions to climate change. As part of the global Divest Invest Philanthropy movement, for example, more than 20 UK-based foundations, including Fairbairn, Roddick, Rowntree, and Sainsbury, have made commitments to divest from fossil fuels and invest in climate solutions. A separate group within the Agroecology Fund and the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, including the A Team Foundation, has recently launched a Transformational Investing in Food Systems initiative.
Given the urgency of the climate crisis and the post-Brexit policy environment, the timing seems ripe to foster a more coordinated engagement with the financial sector about the nature of their agricultural investment and lending practices, in close consultation with stakeholders and policymakers. Private banks such as Coutts that work closely with clients such as foundations, trusts, and families on asset management have expressed receptiveness to engagement along these lines. The RSA Food, Farming, and Countryside Commission was led by Sir Ian Cheshire, chair of Barclays UK. The AMC routinely publicizes the lending it has made in recent years to farms embracing organics, sustainable agriculture, environmental stewardship, and agri-tourism, notably in Wales. Specialized private agricultural lenders, including Knight Frank, have expressed growing awareness of the need for post-Brexit experimentation with innovative diversification strategies by farms and estates in more ecological directions, whether rooted in large-scale sustainable agriculture such as the massive 35,000-ha. Beeswax Dyson Farming initiatives in Lincolnshire, Oxfordshire, and Gloucestershire, or the re-wilding experiments at the Knepp Estate in West Sussex. Smaller banks and building societies such as the Yorkshire Bank, Charity Bank, the Ecology Building Society, and Triodos UK, and the newly launched agriculture bank known as Oxbury are refocusing attention on higher-touch, personalized food and agriculture lending opportunities in order to respond to widespread dissatisfaction in the farming community, among tenants and landowners alike, toward the impersonal “call-center culture” of traditional High Street banks.
Croatan Institute is an independent, nonprofit research institute whose mission is to harness the power of investment for social good and ecological resilience. With affiliates across the US and in Geneva, the Institute has rapidly established a reputation for rigorous, cutting-edge research and actionable analysis to support strategic decision-making by organizations and practitioners in the field. Croatan Institute also coordinates the Organic Agriculture Revitalization Strategy (OARS), an initiative that re-envisions organic food and agriculture as an inclusive economic development strategy for revitalizing rural places. For more information about the Institute’s programs, people, and publications, please visit croataninstitute.org.
The Croatan Institute team will consist of: Dr. Joshua Humphreys, who will serve as Principal Investigator, and Dr. David LeZaks, advisor for agroecological finance mechanisms,
New Economics Foundation
The New Economics Foundation (NEF) is a progressive think and do tank and registered charity (number 1055254) with a mission to change the rules of the economy so that it works for people and the planet. For more than 30 years, they have been at the forefront of new economic thinking and practice. NEF combines high-quality, academic-grade qualitative and quantitative research with policy analysis, stakeholding, convening, community organising, and co-production skills needed to create progress towards systems change. They work with people and groups creating change in their communities and localities now and with local, regional, and national policymakers and businesses in pursuit of broad adoption of new economics in practice and to change the rules that constrain people’s efforts to transform the economy. For more information, please visit neweconomics.org/.
The NEF team will consist of: Andrew Pendleton, who will oversee the project, review all research and outputs; Chris Williams, who will lead on stakeholder interviews with farming and UK institutional stakeholders; and Duncan McCann, who will lead on banking and financial stakeholder engagement.
“The Farming the Future programme is enabling a fruitful collaboration to happen: the economic and supply chain expertise of the New Economics Foundation and the Soil Association will value and monetise the impact of Growing Communities’ work across the triple bottom line. The result will be a new and powerful way to articulate to consumers and policymakers the worth of agroecologically produced food sold in localised short supply chains and provide a timely boost to all our efforts to influence the National Food Strategy and Agriculture Bill (ELMs). We will also create and roll out a valuation toolkit across the Better Food Traders network enabling other ethically driven food distributors to do the same".