First may I apologise for my delayed response to your many incredibly thoughtful and helpful comments. Might I add that I too am honoured to be working alongside Professor Swaminathan and I shall ensure to pass on to him all your many generous comments and kind words.
I am taking a few days of holiday with my family in farming country in Wales – a beautiful part of the UK. We’re in sheep farming country and speaking with the many farmers around here makes it clear that farming traditions are hard to change. This has always been sheep farming country as long as anyone can remember – the land is not thought to be good enough for anything else. Interestingly, many farmers here also used to own dairy cows – small herds of less than 5 cows per family – until it became uneconomical both for the farmers to tend such small herds and for the lorry to come to each farm to collect their milk on a daily basis.
This has immediately reinforced two important aspects. First that context is critical, the farming method that is successful in one location is often one that has been demonstrated to be successful over many generations, and in this situation it can be very difficult to introduce innovations. And second that without easy access to markets farming systems struggle to survive.
It is therefore interesting to note that your extremely helpful suggestions included ideas to introduce new plants or crop varieties, re-introduce existing crop varieties that have fallen out of favour, and use modern approaches to improve existing farming practices. There is also an interesting focus on the pathways from agriculture to nutrition – specifically the income (market) pathway – does farming improve household incomes and if so what is the best route through which it can enhance household nutrition? I wonder if there is knowledge on how best to improve market access for small-scale farming households and how best to increase household incomes year-round – taking into account the seasonality of income that plays such a powerful role in farming systems.
Finally, for now, as night falls in Wales and I hear the owls hooting outside, what about the impact that environmental changes will have on farming systems. Many farming environments have already started to face the challenges that our changing ecosystem will bring. Are there any early learnings that can be spread to help farmers face this uncertain future?
Many thanks again for your interest in this consultation. Do please spread the word to your colleagues and I look forward to continuing our online discussions.