14 December 2023

Nature-Friendly Farming: Mid-strategy review

This report from Resources for Change explores the changing context for Nature-Friendly Farming in the UK, the drivers and blockers of progress, and shares insights and recommendations for Esmée's work.

We hope the report will be a useful read for the organisations we support, as well as others - including funders and decision makers - interested in food, farming or biodiversity. You can read the report below along with reflections from our Funding Manager, Will Steadman, on the report and our next steps.

Nature Friendly Farming in Esmée’s strategy

This was a timely mid-strategy review, given the huge changes underway in food and farming following the UK’s exit from the EU. Things have moved at pace since we launched our strategy in 2020, and the review was a chance to take stock and understand where we are making an impact, and where we might want to refocus, double-down or make small adjustments.

Our Nature Friendly Farming priority aims to help stimulate the changes necessary to produce food ethically that is better for nature, local economies, and people. Through our work, we look to support measures that enable farmers to farm more sustainably, and for this to be underpinned by robust food and farming policy. Whether it’s via less intensive production methods, different types of livestock systems, longer and more diverse crop rotations, lower inputs or on-farm habitat restoration, we want to see biodiversity improve at scale, soil health to be restored, and for farm incomes to be preserved and enhanced. We look to achieve this through funding and working with a passionate and committed cohort of partners, many of which are led by and/or working directly with farmers across the UK. Over 20 of these were interviewed and contributed to this report. We are tremendously grateful to this group of organisations for their work and efforts. We also engaged with government departments, retailers and farmers to gain a diversity of opinions. In addition to views gathered as part of this review, we continue to place a high priority on speaking directly with farmers and have been out and about throughout the year on visits, shows and conferences to inform our work.

Reflections on the recommendations

We’re really pleased to have some clear recommendations on broad areas where Esmée could potentially add more value through utilising all the tools at our disposal. These are: leveraging evidence, insights and the power to convene; continuing to build support for farmer-led initiatives; and unlocking finance for the transition to Nature Friendly Farming. The findings reaffirmed and validated our commitment to several focus areas, including skills development and peer-to-to-peer knowledge exchange. Our funding has been supporting the development of a stronger farmer voice and the development of Nature-Friendly Farming business models. This is a highly effective area of our strategy, and one we will continue to focus on for the future.

There are also some findings that surprised us, and which present clear opportunities to expand our scope and influence from 2024 onwards. We are one of the biggest funders in this space, which gives us considerable power to convene and influence. There was strong support for making more use of this to strengthen dialogue both within and beyond the Nature-Friendly Farming sector. We will be looking at how we can do this with purpose and impact. We were not expecting to hear that several stakeholders expressed concern about what they perceived as Esmée retreating from work on food systems. While it is true that we have directed more focus to ‘behind the farm gate’, we remain committed to and are currently funding food policy and systems work, and will reexamine how we communicate this effectively. We will also explore how we can bring more focus to work on supply chains and industry collaboration, in order to develop and scale up good practices.

The report supports our desire to collaborate with other funders and bring new approaches to both leverage more funding into the sector and fund in different ways to reach newer and more grassroots organisations. Work is already underway to bring a group of funders together on this so we can explore how, through different approaches to funding and finance, and by working together as charitable foundations, we can create new opportunities to get the resources the food and farming sector needs to transition and flourish.

Finally, on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, we know that farming is the least representative employment sector in the UK. We have been scoping possible work in the space and talking to others to help shape our understanding and thinking, and explore the links to our other aims – A Fairer Future and Creative Confident Communities. There is a clear need to shift narratives surrounding who farming is for and develop strategies of support both for emerging and established farmers from different and diverse backgrounds. We will publish more details about this in early 2024.

Share your thoughts

As ever, we’d love to hear your thoughts on our work. Do the findings resonate with you? What do you think the priorities are, and what do you think we should not do? Do send us an email at will.steadman@esmeefairbairn.org.uk

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