The role of food partnerships in environmental land use transitions

Following on from Defra’s commitment to publish a Land Use Framework and the early findings from the Food Farming and Countryside Commission’s land use pilots, we explore what role food partnerships could have and what resources would be needed to realise that potential.

Glebelands Organic Produce farm, Greater Manchester. Credit: Aryo Feldman

Originally published by Sustain, by Sofia Parente

Download the briefing 'The role of food partnerships in environmental land use transitions'

DEFRA has committed to publishing a Land Use Framework for England in the Government Food Strategy and has repeated its commitment in parliament. The House of Lords Land Use Committee published its recommendations for a Land Use Framework on 13 Dec 2022.

The Food, Framing and Countryside Commission is leading on testing a Land Use Framework in Devon and Cambridgeshire. Working together, local government, farmers, landowners and communities are designing decision-making processes for their areas. Initial findings from the pilots reveal a path for land use that very much requires effective public engagement, convening leaders and agreement on shared principles and improved capacity for action – nationally, regionally and locally.

We believe food partnerships can have an important role to play in this context, particularly in light of the initial findings from the pilots, and we wrote a briefing outlining what role they are playing in land use transitions, what role they could play in the context of the land use framework and what resources would be required. The Sustainable Food Places approach is based around six key issues, from good food governance and action, promoting a good food movement, access to affordable healthy food, creating a vibrant, prosperous and diverse sustainable food economy, transforming catering and procurement and tackling the climate and nature emergency through food and farming. These different areas of the food system are individually complex and hard to take meaningful action on – but they are also interconnected. However, they are often looked at silos, failing to take advantage of the synergies between them. A food partnership is in a unique position to ‘join the dots’, providing the essential communication ‘glue’ linking different actors together.


What are sustainable food partnerships doing to support environmental land use transitions?

Food partnerships, particularly at a county or regional level, are already supporting land use transitions to more sustainable land use models through several mechanisms, including:

  • Convening urban and rural actors to create a vision for food and farming at a local or regional level;
  • Delivering partnership projects and attracting funding for land use projects;
  • Networking farmers and food producers with each other and with new markets, and leading innovation on food economy projects;
  • Supporting rollout of workforce/ skills programmes around sustainable food production skills;
  • Supporting and promotion of local sustainable farmers and producers, helping consumers better understand where the food they buy comes from and its impacts; and
  • Growing more agroecological food in urban and peri-urban areas.

Food partnerships normally employ a coordinator whose role is to convene a steering group, coordinate projects and sometimes manage a team responsible for running projects. Steering groups convene representation across urban and rural stakeholders and actors including council and other public institutions, food aid organisations, environmental organisations, farmer clusters, among others. They act as a consulting body for the food partnerships, ensuring fair representation of the different perspectives. Many food partnerships start by producing a ‘charter’ with principles and inviting organisations and individuals to sign up to those principles and/or creating a vision for the future or food and farming in the local area. Most produce a food strategy for their local area outlining strategic priorities and an action plan in consultation with local stakeholders, communities, people with lived experience and the public.

In Devon, for example, the local food partnership has recently launched Devon’s Good Food Strategy 2023-2028, aligned with the key actions set out in the Devon Carbon Plan. It was produced in collaboration with representatives from across the food system, including several Devon County Council departments, farmers, NFU, academia, environmental groups, food aid organisations, and other local food initiatives. One of the strategic priorities in the strategy is to ‘Support the development and implementation of a Devon Land Use Framework and Nature Recovery Network on land and sea’. Devon Food Partnership is already collaborating with the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission who are leading on the Devon Land Use Framework project.

Food partnerships are often involved in delivering projects leading to substantial change in land use in partnership with other local organisations and landowners. This ranges from projects in one growing site such as The Plot and FarmStart programme in North Lancashire, to projects across an entire estate, as in the 13,500 acres of the South Downs surrounding Brighton and Hove. The Brighton and Hove Food Partnership worked with Brighton and Hove City Council and other partners to define plans for how the farmland is managed in the future. The resulting City Downland Estate Plan was recently published. It has a clear focus on ensuring farming in a nature friendly manner is profitable and sustainable for farmers, and that their interests are protected long term through improvements to local routes to market, support to accessing finance for nature friendly farming, and diversification of their activities beyond farming alone. Brighton & Hove Food Partnership now hosts the Land Use Plus project, funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, which will help deliver the City Downland Estate Plan working with the city council, the national park, wildlife organisations and farmers.

Food partnerships are increasingly involved in linking up networks of farmers and food producers with markets which offer higher remuneration for primary producers and shorter supply chains.

Other food partnerships and their partners are playing an active role to develop opportunities for farmers, growers and land managers to access training, advice and support on how to adopt agroecological production and management techniques. For example, ShefFood (the food partnership for Sheffield) coordinated involvement of agroecological retailers, producers and wholesalers in the Sheffield food system to participate in DEFRA New Entrants Support Scheme and Environmental Land Management consultations to help shape future food system policy and support. Others are working with the FarmStart Network to develop their agroecological sector.


What more could sustainable food partnerships do to support environmental land use transitions?

The food partnership model is voluntary, and despite the recent growth in the number of food partnerships, the network does not cover every local authority area in England.

In Wales, the Minister for Social Justice in Wales has announced £3 million of funding in 2022 to support the development of food partnerships in every local authority area. The funding will also strengthen existing food partnerships that help build resilience in local food networks through the co-ordination of on the ground, food-related activity; help tackle the root-causes of food poverty; develop citizen action; maximise the effectiveness of projects and ensure that resources are targeted at areas of greatest need. SFP’s Welsh partner, Food Sense Wales, is co-designing and supporting this.

In Scotland, the Good Food Nation Bill will require every local authority area to produce a Good Food National plan and food partnerships are ideally placed to help deliver this requirement.

To support environmental land use transitions, the network of food partnerships would firstly need to grow to ensure full coverage, matching the rapid growth in Wales and Scotland. Secondly, to enable food partnerships to deliver on government policy would require building on our existing support model, and long-term funding to each food partnership for coordination and project management functions.


Next steps

There is great potential to enable or support land use transitions at a local level. Local food partnerships could act as a convener for fostering sustainable land governance bringing together key stakeholders to the table, including: the local authority, local food growers, community groups, private landowners and others.

Food is unique in its ability to address all key elements needed within a land use framework – space for wildlife, carbon sequestration, local rural economy, food production and a healthy population. Also, food partnerships tend to form much broader external partnerships, therefore they can be active in steering external leadership linked into strategic ambitions. A food partnership’s ability to couple bottom-up community-based activity with top-down strategic direction and buy-in would be hugely beneficial to developing local land use frameworks which support and inform a national ‘sister’ document.

Download the briefing 'The role of food partnerships in environmental land use transitions'

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