Farming the Future launched and issued its first grants in 2019. With most of the supported projects now complete (in spite of Covid), we were keen to review and learn from what was achieved and experienced. We asked Zoe Wangler to dig into the reports and feedback that grantees have provided to discover patterns, lessons and challenges that can help inform the work of Farming the Future and the agroecology movement in the future. Helen Kersley summarises Zoe's findings here.
Farming the Future’s first year of funding the agroecology movement in 2019 came to the sector at an important time. Attention turning towards post-Brexit trade deals, the Agriculture Bill and National Food Policy, and Britain’s withdrawal from the Common Agriculture Policy together placed an unprecedented focus on farming within both the policy realm and public consciousness. In one of our grantee’s words, this was and continues to be a time of “immense disruption and opportunities”.
In its first year, Farming the Future distributed £250,000 across ten grants for collaborative projects involving 18 organisations, a full list of which can be found here. The work we funded encompassed policy engagement and influence, the development of evidence and metrics for agroecology, training and mentoring, and public awareness-raising campaigns around the use of pesticides, land access and food justice.
By the time of Zoe’s review in May 2021, all but three of the projects were complete. Where work was ongoing this was due either to project timelines spanning more than one year, or Covid-related changes and delays.
So, what did Zoe’s review of the work Farming the Future supported in 2019 reveal?
1. Farming the Future created impact, not just through our funding but also because of our approach to funding
Farming the Future funding made a difference – Many grantees commented that without Farming the Future’s 2019 funding their work wouldn’t have happened, or wouldn’t have been as successful. In one case the funding enabled “work to happen at a level that would previously have been impossible”.
By encouraging collaboration, work took place in new ways – Grantees reported that being required to work collaboratively meant they looked for opportunities to work with others where they otherwise wouldn’t have done. As one grantee put it, “This project represents the first time we feel supported and encouraged to work across our broad networks”.
Some wrote and spoke about the undeniable challenges of collaboration, but we heard
more about the positive value of the approach. One respondent commented that “when
partners come together from distinct but interconnected disciplines, combining their expertise to
achieve even greater impact … this is what sets Farming the Future apart"
One particular area where collaboration was important for success was around achieving
policy influence. “[C]ollaboration has brought this SO much more to the table,” said one
grantee “[I]t means we can be more strategic in meetings and in our responses. We can share
contacts … we can take this to another level”.
2. The work Farming the Future supported gained important traction in various spheres
Policy influence - There were some brilliant wins on policy engagement and influence. Grantees gave multiple examples including participation in government advisory panels and working groups, submission of evidence to parliamentary committees, and meetings with Defra’s Secretary of State.
“[W]e successfully pushed for significant changes in the new [Agriculture] Bill which launched in
Jan 2020 including a reference to agro-ecology and soil health, and a much-strengthened fair
A number of the organisations Farming the Future supported are now working with Defra
on the work around the development and trialling of ELMS.
Media coverage - A raft of media coverage was generated by the majority of grantees, covering areas ranging from County Farms, the Agriculture Bill, ELMS, pesticide-related harms, the Trade Bill, and the latest IPCC climate change report.
The coverage consisted of more than 60 newspaper and magazine articles (print and
online), and participation in more than 50 television and radio programmes. Articles
featured in the major newspapers, The Guardian, Telegraph, Independent, and the
Financial Times and radio appearances were on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme and
Farming Today. More media coverage is expected as some of the outputs haven’t yet been
published and publicised.
Resources - The projects Farming the Future supported in the 2019 grant round have generated connections and contacts, as well as the creation of resources that are useful to others in the sector.
As an example, supportive local authorities identified during the County Farms project
could be introduced to agroecological projects and/or farmers needing to access land.
Similarly, the analysis of the social, economic and environmental value produced by
Growing Communities has potential to be referenced by projects and/or farmers needing
to evidence the value of their work to funders, investors, customers and local authorities.
3. There are helpful lessons and opportunities for Farming the Future to improve and extend its support
A focus on equity - One of Farming the Future’s goals is for a food system built for equity. Although agroecology inherently addresses inequity in power distribution (for example, by redirecting power away from large seed companies to a community of seed savers), Farming the Future can demonstrate more clearly how its support contributes to creating greater equity and inclusivity.
There are important themes for Farming the Future to headline and areas to develop - Some themes were absent in 2019 (although already having greater presence in our 2020 grants), especially around projects addressing land and food justice, diversity in the sector, capacity building and agricultural R&D to directly enable agroecological farmers and agroecology projects.
Grantee feedback on learning, impact and ideas for future work would be valuable - All the projects provided detailed information on the work they delivered, including what they viewed as successes. However, not all grantees provided their ideas for future work, the lessons they learned, or an evaluation of the impact of their work. This kind of information would be helpful both for Farming the Future and the wider movement in understanding where to go next in terms of support and effort.
More understanding of the experience of collaboration from all partners - The project reports demonstrated the clear benefit of supporting and encouraging collaboration between organisations, particularly on policy lobbying and high-profile campaigns. However, a more comprehensive understanding of how collaboration feels and works best would be gained if all partners within a project, not just the lead organisation, shared their experience of collaboration.
Farming the Future will continue to explore and learn about grantees’ experiences of
collaboration and how this can be improved upon going forward.
Farming the Future is actively progressing these recommendations. We take a learning approach to our grant-making and other activities and so we look forward to further reflection and review of how our support helps to make a difference, alongside organisations in the movement that are working to transform our food and farming system.