FARMING PRACTICES need to shift towards a more circular system which regenerates the land, not degrades it, and restores biodiversity rather than destroys it.

This was the advice delivered to delegates at the Oxford Farming Conference by famed sailor and circular economy advocate, Dame Ellen McArthur.

During a virtual session titled ‘Navigating towards a nature positive food system’, she told delegates that for many years soils have been degraded by over-cultivation, and called for a future where farmers invest in their land and work more closely with nature to develop more resilient and sustainable systems.

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“When you look at the economy today, it is a result of the industrial revolution,” she said. “We take a material out of the ground, we make something out of it, and we throw it away. When we look at farming, we use vast amounts of chemical fertilisers to help us to grow the products and you could call that a linear system because you’re putting finite materials into that system, and a linear system is a race to the bottom,” Dame McArthur explained, calling for a reorientation of the economy towards regeneration and a race to the top.

“We need to change the system, so it works better for nature, works better for farmers, invests in the farmer’s land rather than degrading it, and is an end-to-end system that involves the farmer and the consumer,” she continued. “The land is your livelihood, when you see it degrading, it is bad for your future and wider biodiversity loss.”

Offering advice to farmers on plastic use, she argued that farmers should eliminate plastics they don’t need, innovate and use other solutions where possible and recycle those that are necessary.

“We need to make sure that when plastic is designed, it fits within the system and is designed to be recyclable,” she concluded, pointing out that a lot of plastic is designed to become waste.