Day 2 – N8 AgriFood Conference

Discussions around food system resilience and sustainability on both national and global levels continued into Day 2 of the N8 AgriFood 2019 Conference.

The second day of the event, which attracted an audience of almost 250 delegates to York, was opened by Keynote speaker Phil Hambling, Head of Food and Farming at the NFU (pictured below with keynote Cathryn Higgs).

In a presentation that talked about a collective ambition for food policy, Mr Hambling said: “What a time it is to talk about food.

“Food policy has been almost entirely overlooked previously. The government has an improving but relatively low knowledge of our food supply chains; it only recently learnt about food systems and resilience, and practicalities of food trade in a free world.

 “Food policy is disconnected from experts in this room and farmers on the ground. Food requires long term vision and needs joining up right across Whitehall in different areas. We can’t wait for government to decide where they are going with food policy or wait another year for consultation.

If trade policy measures aren’t taken in the long term, the impact on the farming sector could be huge.

“Much of the narrative around fixing our food system seems to leap to localism and reconnecting with the land. I think that has a role but to think that alone is the solution is frankly not true. 

“We need to be serious about food production. We need to link social  environmental and agricultural policy together, and the farmers will get it right. We can put our money where our food normally goes.”

The Parallel Sessions on Day 2 of the conference covered topics including Sustainable Food Cities, Brexit, and Smart Agriculture, before the final conference Plenary Session invited Professor Tim Lang, from City University of London, Professor Barbara Steward from the University of Bradford, Dr Anna Macready from the University of Reading, and Dr Tom Quested from Wrap Global, (all pictured above) to talk about the role of behavioural change in sustainable agriculture and diets.

This year’s conference featured a photography exhibition documenting the work that Geovanni Martinez-Guerra, from the Oaxaca Ethnobotanical Garden conducted for the N8 AgriFood Project: Tomatoes for Tomorrow. Another new feature for N8 AgriFood’s conference was live scribe Cara Holland, who brought to life discussions throughout the conference sessions with visual interpretations.

The final keynote of the Conference came from Cathryn Higgs, Head of Food Policy at the Co-op who talked about the organisation’s “recipe for sustainability”.

Ms Higgs said: “I have worked in food for more than 20 yers and I have never known a time like this; food is everywhere. 

“That’s been driven by lots of reasons. We all know we are in a really critical time; the food system developed in the last century is not well placed to deal with the changing times we are in. We need to do something really different and everyone has a part to play in that. We have a responsibility to create a food system that is resilient to shocks and pressures.

“We can’t ignore we are in absolutely uncharetered territory. We’re the first generation that truly understands the value of nature, and quite possibly the last generation that has the chance to take action to reverse some of the damage.”

This year’s conference poster prize was won by Nadina Luca, from the University of York, with her submission “Community Projects Using Surplus Food For Well-Being”.

Closing this year’s conference, N8 AgriFood Academic Director Katherine Denby, said four key words sprang to mind when thinking about the events of the last two days.

She said: “The first is inclusive; I’m really impressed with the variety of people from different backgrounds with different skills and different interests that we have managed to bring together. One person said to me, and this is a feeling we wanted to engender, that at this conference they felt like everyone belonged. With the size of the challenges we have got facing our food system that is critical, we need everyone to belong and that sense of everyone having a part to play is essential.

“The second is commitment. We are all here and all committed, there is so much passion and energy in the room to affect change and do it. We don’t underestimate the size of the challenges we face but I really feel we have got this collective commitment. Collaboration is really at the heart of N8 AgriFood so we really genuinely are in it together and are there to work with everyone to bring about change in our food system.

“It has also been inspirational. I’ve been really impressed by the ideas, the novel, innovative things people are developing and using already and I feel not just inspired but hopeful. There’s lots of solutions out there, there’s still lots to do to implement those solutions and get new solutions but we are not in a hopeless situation. It really was inspiring listening to all the different projects that are underway and the ideas people have.

“And finally action; this is a unique opportunity that we have to change and transform our food system. We have got that commitment, and N8 AgriFood has built an incredible range of partnerships with different actors in the food system. We have initiated numerous and an incredible range of pump priming projects that are starting new collaborations across N8 institutions and with external stakeholders so we have got this really strong platform that we can take forward, and I’m really excited about what we can do in the next phase of N8 AgriFood.

“We are excited to move on to phase two, and hopefully we will see you at another N8 AgriFood conference next year.”