Beyond COP26: driving change through beans and more

Beyond COP26: driving change through beans and more

by Nick Saltmarsh

Hodmedod's origins lie in a community project initiated by Transition Town Norwich that asked what we should be eating and how to produce it as locally and sustainably as possible in the face of climate change.

As COP26 closed without the strong and binding commitments we urgently need, we have to maintain pressure on our leaders and to drive change through our actions as individuals and members of communities and organisations. This is what Hodmedod aimed to do from the outset with beans and will continue to do through our growing network of farmers and diverse range of crops.

As much as we desperately hoped COP26 would deliver on the expectations of the 2015 Paris Agreement that countries would in time strengthen their commitments and limit global heating to 1.5 degrees, the best that can be said of the Glasgow Climate Pact is that it keeps such hopes on life support for another year, till COP27 in Egypt.

There were encouraging new commitments from some countries including stopping deforestation, cutting methane emissions, phasing out subsidies for fossil fuels, and increasing financial support for poorer countries to adapt to and mitigate climate change. But these promises are largely self-policed and it’s hard to ignore the echo of previous unmet pledges.

Interest in the conference and widespread protests for positive outcomes from COP26 underlined its urgency but the official proceedings disappointed in their lack of inclusivity, with poor representation of the Global South and little access for campaigners, civil society groups and NGO observers. Yet fossil fuel lobbyists appeared to have few difficulties with access.

The low profile of food and farming on the agenda was striking. Unlike themes like energy, transport and finance, there was no day dedicated to it; instead it was relegated to a subsidiary topic of day 6's focus on nature.

The way we produce the food we eat is both a major cause of global heating and threatened by the extreme and unpredictable weather climate chaos brings. Farming also offers potential opportunities to significantly cut emissions and lock up carbon at the same time as supporting livelihoods.

Official outcomes of day 6 primarily amounted the very welcome commitments on deforestation with agricultural pledges largely focussed on the hope that technology and innovation will sufficiently reduce emissions from farming without transformative change. Though the communiqués paid lip service to the livelihoods and food security of millions of farmers, indigenous people and communities worldwide, there’s an underlying assumption that global commodity production can be tweaked rather than any recognition of the need for radical change and reducing our reliance on soya and palm oil. Let’s not forget that Thomas Vilsack, US Secretary of Agriculture, doesn’t believe any change in US diets is necessary.

Innovation has its place and there's always room for science to inform real improvements in farming methods. But we can't afford to risk everything on expectations of technology that doesn't yet exist. A tree is still the best available carbon capture technology.

It was left to the Via Campesina alliance of global subsistence and peasant farmers to argue the case for agroecological approaches to farming and their proven potential to contribute to planetary and human health. Genuinely regenerative and sustainable practices such as agroforestry, rotational fertility building and grazing, diverse crop rotations, and reducing tillage, water use and chemical inputs, can all support biodiversity, rebuild and maintain healthy soils, and reduce emissions and pollution of air, water and our food.

Meanwhile almost 100 subnational governments - from Glasgow, Belfast and Norwich in the UK to Anchieta in Brazil, Bobo Dioulasso in Burkina Faso and Izmir in Turkey - signed the Glasgow Food and Climate Declaration to commit to tackling the climate emergency through integrated food policies and called on national governments to take similar action. This radical declaration was drafted by a partnership of civil society organisations and subnation governments, led by Nourish Scotland and IPES Food.

The impact of dietary choice must be confronted, in full recognition of the way those choices are shaped and distorted by subsidies and the illusion of cheap food with hidden externalised environmental and health costs. We have to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with livestock and it seems unlikely that technological fixes to either industrial farming or the creation of lab-grown meat and ultra-processed substitutes will deliver on their promises without compromise or unforeseen costs.

The role of government is essential to achieve the change we urgently need and we have to maintain pressure on our leaders and representatives to take the bold action necessary even at the expense of short-term national sacrifices.

At the same time we can demonstrate the potential change through our actions as individuals and members of communities and organisations. Since emerging from the Transition Town Norwich Project, Hodmedod has aimed to facilitate and demonstrate the potential for change in the way we farm and eat, in particular by providing a wide range of minimally processed plant-based wholefoods from diverse arable cropping.

Through the project we identified arable crops, specifically field or fava beans, as largely missing from initiatives to create and grow alternative sustainable and local food systems. Indeed, though beneficial in arable rotations and widely grown in Britain, the beans were barely eaten here at all.

After the successful trial Great British Beans Project we tried to encourage existing businesses to make these versatile, nutritious and delicious beans from British farms available in the UK but soon realised that we’d have to do it ourselves. And so we founded Hodmedod.

This proved the catalyst for opportunities to work with a network of farmers to build markets for an ever-growing range of British arable crops while supporting and encouraging the adoption of more agroecological and regenerative farming practices.

Nearly 10 years on we're excited to be deepening our local roots. On Friday 26th November we're bringing together farmers, cooks, chefs, bakers and others to celebrate and imagine the future food and farming systems of the Waveney Valley on the Norfolk-Suffolk border. We'll report back on that soon.

(Photo from BBC News report on the journey of Michael Ransley, Dr Phoebe Beedell and Tarateeno the Marvellous from Cornwall to Glasgow for COP26.)




Nick Saltmarsh
Nick Saltmarsh

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