When I saw that my neighbour, Jyoti Fernandes of Fivepenny Farm in Wootton Fitzpaine, had addressed a Plenary Session of COP26 in Glasgow, I knew she would be able to tell me what it was all about, and what it means for the Marshwood Vale. Although the meeting dominated the airwaves earlier in November, I didn’t know until yesterday, that COP stood for Conference Of Parties and meets every year in a different country, next year (COP27) in Egypt.
The “Parties” are the 197 Countries that have ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, a global effort to reach agreement on measures to keep the planet’s atmosphere from heating by more than 1.5 degrees from its pre-industrial norm. This doesn’t sound like much, but we are currently headed for a 2.0 degree rise in temperatures, and there is a strong scientific consensus that this will have catastrophic consequences for humanity, and that includes the inhabitants of the villages and towns of Marshwood Vale. Check Google for areas of Devon, Dorset and Somerset that may well be under water in 2050
Jyoti’s presence in Glasgow, speaking on behalf of the farmers of the world, arises from her long advocacy of agroecology and as a founder of the Land Workers’ Alliance, the UK component of a global network of small farmers, Via Campesina. According to its website, LWA includes farmers, growers and land-based workers with a mission to improve the livelihoods of its members and “create a better food and land-use system for everyone”. She is also involved in the UN Committee on Food Security that meets in Rome.
Small and family farms were given space to speak in Glasgow because, ‘If you include the food consumed by small farmers themselves and their neighbours, rather than measuring food that is traded, over half the world’s food is produced by small farmers, and they are most immediately threatened by climate change,’ there are also far more of them.
Jyoti freely admits that the scientific and political issues wrapped up in climate change are both very complicated and very hard for people to understand, as we need systemic changes in human behaviour, and governance. She regretted that there had been so much emphasis in Glasgow on Net Zero. ‘The underlying message seemed to be that if we planted enough trees, we needn’t change our consumption patterns. We actually need to decarbonise, and that’s difficult.’ For this very reason, this article offers links to websites that go more deeply into the issues (see below).
Given the scale and immediacy of the threat to humanity, an American commentator recently said that, ‘Winning slowly is the same as losing’. Jyoti disagreed, ‘There is no silver bullet; winning slowly is our only option.’ Change must happen at so many different levels. ‘It’s not just changing our habits as consumers, we have to keep up pressure on local and national governments, and use our purchasing power to influence supermarkets, and support local producers.’
I then turned to another veteran campaigner on food and climate issues, Candida Dunford Wood, to discover what was happening on the frontline in West Dorset, a great deal it seems. She pointed me first at the website of Bridport Food Matters, where you will find a wealth of information, aimed at every level of understanding, together with practical advice. Anyone who wants to get involved will find many signposts to local groups, growers and retailers.
Another revelation was ‘In My Backyard’, an online co-operative shop for local food products from Devon, Dorset and Somerset, endorsed by Sir Tim Smit of the Eden Project. ‘It’s a brilliant idea, delivering locally produced, delicious food, direct from the farms to your door each week.’ ‘In My Backyard’, was launched at the beginning of the first Lockdown in April 2020 with just five producers. Today there are twenty-nine, all listed on their excellent website.
If we weren’t trying to support other local retailers, I thought we could do all our weekly food shopping with ‘In My Backyard’. The way it works is you place your order (either online or over the phone) and then choose either home delivery (covering most of East Devon) or collect your order from one of five collection points between Lyme Regis and Sidmouth.
‘In My Backyard’ is made possible by the Open Food Network, a decentralised global network of people and organisations working together to build a new food system. ‘We believe a sustainable and resilient food system needs to reconnect producers and consumers.’ Their flagship project is an open-source software platform that makes it relatively easy to create enterprises like ‘In My Backyard’.
Candida also drew my attention to the Dorset Climate Action Network, currently seeking funds to pay an experienced part-time administrator for a year. They seem to be well organised, with many opportunities for getting involved. Suddenly, the systemic shift that Jyoti said was required seemed possible. The Open Food Network was founded in Australia in 2012 an is now active in 20 countries.
Useful websites for anyone who wants to know more or wants to be involved:
The Land Workers Alliance: https://www.landworkersalliance.org.uk)
Bridport Food Matters: https://www.bridportfoodmatters.net
In My Backyard: https://www.inmybackyard.co
The Open Food Network: https://www.openfoodnetwork.org
Dorset Climate Action Network: https://www.dorsetcan.org
Turn Lyme Green: https://www.turnlymegreen.co.uk
Sustainable Dorset: https://www.sustainabledorset.org