Oliver Moore: “Agroecological approaches are the best for rural economies”

About ‘Local food works for people and planet’ will talk the expert Oliver Moore

Oliver Moore is a rural sociologist with a great communicative vocation, so he professionally organizes events related to agri-food and rural issues. This explains his involvement in initiatives such as the Cloughjordan eco-village in his native Ireland, where he lives. This experience will undoubtedly contribute a lot to the content of his workshop, not forgetting that he is editor-in-chief of the Arc2020 platform and collaborator of other media specialised in agricultural issues.

Says the information about your workshop that this is ‘creative and interactive’. How much interactive and creative are we when we talk about food (and I’m not talking about ‘chefs’)?

Increasingly, people are creative and interactive around food – but mostly at weekends! During the week, people are often in a hurry, and, if they haven’t made something at home, they’ll grab and go. People do think and talk more about food however – its ethics, its environment or its animal welfare impact, and they’ll share imagines on social media. Certainly, there is a cohort interested in being creative – whether through the self-imposed restrictions of veganism or slow food type approaches – and in its own way, the emergence of street food and food trucks is quite interactive. Really, it varies – food is there for us to be both creative and interactive with. It’s unavoidable, it, in a very real way, becomes us. To be a bit academic about it, it becomes us through incorporation and embodiment, like little else does – apart from nanoparticles of microplastics. But that’s another story.

“People do think and talk more about food: its ethics, its environment or its animal welfare impact”

Where do you focus on your workshop, your work (for example in Cloughjordan Community Farm), your life (because this is a way of life)?

This workshop will be both broad and specific. We’ll use examples of particular places, like Cloughjordan, as it has lots of local food relevancies for what we’re talking about in the workshop. But, fundamentally, we’ll take a simple structured approach – where are we at, where do we want to get to, and how will we get there. So where we want to get to might include aspects of Cloughjordan, which has a community owned farm employing 12 and using agroecological methods, an edible landscape, allotments, a local wood fired micro bakery. The wider town of Cloughjordan too is ripe for becoming a smart village – in terms of clustering businesses and services, remote working, mobile services. It has its challenges, as do most rural areas these days.  But how we get there might involve more of the policy focus, the larger scale sectoral focus that ARC2020 brings. As the workshop will be dynamic, it’ll also be up to the participants – especially when thinking about how we get there. This three fold process-  where are we at, where do we want to be, and how do we get there – has been used by ARC2020 in Cloughjordan, at the multistakeholder Landcare event we held this year. It’s a process developed from Fijian elders called the Talanoa dialogues process, and is used in the COP climate gatherings.

All this methods (biodynamic, organic, extensive farming…) are based in old methods. Why local food works for people and planet?

It’s certainly possible to integrate an appropriate use of modern technologies, but we have a lot to learn from these older approaches. They’ve stood the test of time, and aren’t so dependent on fossil fuels, agri-industrial inputs and process, from mineral fertilizers to broad spectrum biocides to massive monocultures sweeping aside the living world and rural communities in its path. These approaches can be a little more labour intensive – but, in the context of rural depopulation, this is not a bad thing. The work –when at the agroecological end of the spectrum – can still be quite creative and mixed. Appropriate technologies include those promoted and developed by organisations like L’Atelier Paysan, an organization which is actively engaged in farmers’ technological sovereignty. So they’ll collectively develop and share and improve plans digitally, which are available to anyone anywhere: but the work of construction or manufacturing will be done on the local farm.

“The old approaches can be a little more labour intensive – but, in the context of rural depopulation, this is not a bad thing”

What are the benefits about seasonal food in front of food from anywhere anytime?

Seasonal food isn’t always the only thing to eat, and it depends on where in the world you live, but there are multiple benefits. It can have a lower ecological footprint, and can be more adjusted to what our bodies need. Of course, busy people, with time and work and family stresses, will sometimes eat food from anywhere anytime, and this is ok – circumstances dictate this. Fundamentally, the true cost of externalities, from climate change to pollution, need to be paid by profiteers in the agri-food system, to level the cost playing field between different types of food. That would make local, seasonal, organic food better value. But we must also think of people who really need cheap food, and how they are to be fed affordably and well.

“We must also think of people who really need cheap food, and how they are to be fed affordably and well”

Can the local farming (or this type of farming) help rural economies?

Agroecological approaches – ideally on a landscape level, with mixed diverse practices where possible or appropriate- are the best approach for rural economies. The good news is agroecology lends itself to mixed practices and is knowledge intensive: the bad news is that sellers of most mainstream and current agri-industrial inputs don’t make money from it, so there is a barrier to growth within the established agri-food system. But if you look at the demographics of it even – younger people and women tend to be a little more attracted to organic or agroecological approaches, and that too is good for rural economies and rural society. Few people really benefit from mega farms, CAFO style, or massive fields with no nature in or around them – they become industralised mechanized factories or one crop desserts respectively, neither of which make rural areas livable – and very few people are employed in either. Mixed diverse agroecological landscapes do employ and actively occupy people however!

“Younger people and women tend to be a little more attracted to organic or agroecological approaches, and that is good for rural economies and rural society”

You work in Arc2020. Can you explain this initiative?

ARC2020 is mostly an online place where people interested in agri-food, rural and environmental matters read, write and learn from each other. We carry a lot of articles and deeper analysis on many aspects of CAP and on agroecology, and we try to cover as much of Europe as possible. Rural is also a strong strand of our work – ARC stands for Agricultural and Rural Convention. We get involved in research and campaigning, including in partnership with the Good Food Good Farming initiative, which we helped establish. Debates and article series on selected topics are another focus area – rural dialogues is in fact the current one. There are about 30 or so contributors submitting articles in a given year. Some organizations also make a special effort to contribute, like the US-based IATP, with whom we have something of a kindred relationship, while academics, farmers, policy experts, journalists and more write for us. We also sometimes organize and participate in agri-food and rural policy events, such as Feeding Ourselves in Ireland, or European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) events in Brussels.  We were previously a platform for NGOs, CSOs (Civil Society Organisations) and farmer organizations working on CAP, when we organized a range of actions and events to mobilise people to fight for a better food and farming policy.

Since 2015 we’ve been independent. Fundamentally, we want to give a voice to lots of people doing interesting things that represent how agri-food and the rural space could be radically different and far better – far more able to cope with the huge challenges we face, such as biodiversity loss, climate breakdown and rural depopulation. To this end, we encourage practical, day to day articles from farmers as you can see in our letters from a farm series, as well as detailed policy analysis from both Brussels and from different parts of Europe.  New ideas and new contributors are always welcome.

What expectations do you have of ERP?

I am really looking forward to meeting people from all over Europe – rural areas especially of course. It’s a privilege to get to do this, as often events and travel are in cities or coastal. At the ERP, it’ll all be about rural people. I expect to learn some now approaches or techniques to addressing some challenges. Then there’s the networking, which really is more accurately described as forming bonds with like minded others to work on projects for the future, and for the good of rural areas. Plus let’s see what tasty foods and other treats people bring from their regions!