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Agriculture’s role in fostering resilient rural communities

Agriculture’s role in fostering resilient rural communities

10 January 2022

Farms as multifunctional actors

The agricultural sector plays a vital role in rural communities, write Aimee Morse and Theo Lenormand, both PhD students at the Countryside and Community Research Institute. In NICRE’s last ‘Resilient Rural’ reading group, an attendee suggested it is easy to overlook the contributions farmers and their families make to our communities, the economy and the landscape. We argue that this should not be the case; it is instead vital we recognise the role of the farming community.

When we consider the role of agriculture, food production is often the first thing to come to mind; however, farms are multifunctional actors which support rural communities in several ways. Families help organise and take part in social occasions, develop strong relationships with their neighbours and thus contribute to the sense of community felt in rural areas. For example, numerous farms across the UK take part in educational visits, with hundreds of schoolchildren across the country benefiting from chats with local farmers. Such conversations are vital in a world which is becoming increasingly disconnected from the land; we must continue to encourage young people to interact with rural communities and landscapes to ensure it is not easy to overlook them, nor their residents’ knowledge and opinions of what might be best for their community. 

The landscapes we have all come to consider quintessentially British, have, in no small way, been influenced by farming practices throughout the centuries. We can see the landscape as a finely-tuned mosaic which has been crafted over generations to meet the needs of human society. This mosaic undergoes continuous improvement based on our understanding of what is required of the land at the time; modern farmers are aware of the implications of their work and many are already making changes to this mosaic to ensure it delivers the services, such as carbon sequestration, now required of it. We argue that farmers and land managers should be at the heart of land management decisions and their unique local knowledge respected. Removing their voices and experiences can have very real implications for landscapes which already provide a wealth of ecosystem services.

Period of change

This is a period of intense pressure for the farming sector. Our exit from the European Union marked the beginning of huge changes, both with regards to markets and the environment. Farmers face competition from other nations, the pressure to adapt to new regulations and disrupted supply chains. Agriculture is increasingly placed as a particularly significant offender with regards to climate change and we are now more aware than ever of certain practices’ impacts on biodiversity. But those working in agriculture should not be vilified. Instead, it is essential we support individuals to adapt and overcome the current challenges they are facing to ensure the sector remains resilient and can continue to provide positive contributions in rural communities. 

This is by no means a new way of being for the sector, which has continuously had to adapt to change. Farmers and farming organisations are preparing to accommodate upcoming changes to policy and business support. It is vital we support both business and personal resilience to ensure farms and farmers can continue to contribute to the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of their local communities, areas in which they play a significant role.

The next reading session on Friday 14 January focuses on resilient rural entrepreneurial ecosystems, with readings suggested by NICRE co-director Janet Dwyer and research assistant Fahimeh Malekinezhad, both based at the CCRI. You can sign up here.

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