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Sustainable food networks and the Devon Net Zero Task Force

Members of Food Exeter at the Devon Net Zero Task Force Hearing 29th November 2019

The Devon Net Zero Task Force is part of Devon County Council’s, the Devon district councils’ and other organisations’ action on tackling the current climate emergency. The Task Force is currently hearing from expert witnesses on a variety of themes; Dr Rebecca Sandover recently gave evidence to the Task Force’ hearing focussing on themes relating to ‘Food, Land and Sea’.

Dr Sandover’s evidence focussed on measures to bring more, affordable local food to local markets and local food procurement, drawing on her recent research experience including her Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health-funded project: Devon Sustainable Food Networks, which gathered data from partners on programme and policy initiatives to progress the production and consumption of sustainable, local food in Devon.

Dr Sandover is a trustee of Food Exeter and has been supporting it members to gather evidence on the issue of household food insecurity in the city, as well as other projects linked to their ‘Fair Access to Food’ Working Group.

Dr Sandover told the hearing that there is a lack of joined-up policy and planning to support ‘public goods’ such as a biodiverse, ecologically sustainable rural environment. In her evidence, she highlighted three key issues in the existing food system.

First, the current agri-industrial food supply chain encourages the supply of cheap food while externalising its underlying impacts on the natural environment, our health and more.

Second, there are challenges in accessing a locally-embedded, regional supply of sustainable Devon produce; more sustainable local produce needs to be available to Devon’s public services and anchor institutions. A south-west focussed food supply chain is needed, with support for producers to help them compete with mass retail.

Third, there should be support measures, such as hands-on education opportunities for communities to boost cooking skills and community-based food cultures, to help sustain healthy populations with access to good food and call a halt to the rising food insecurity crisis.

Despite these challenges Dr Sandover said she remains positive. Devon has a wealth of resources and the expertise needed to tackle these urgent issues.  Devon has a responsive civil society that is working in partnership on place-based sustainable food initiatives but there has, to date, been a lack of the co-ordination needed to scale up this partnership. Place-based approaches to tackling urgent issues should take a more integrated approach that works across policy sectors and silos.

Dr Sandover is also working with Prof. Katrina Brown and other University of Exeter academics to investigate the impacts of The Cornwall Food Foundation’s ‘Food for Change’ programme. This programme supports unemployed and economically inactive Cornish residents back in to work, volunteering or training through one-to-one support and training in cooking, growing and food trading.

A live stream of the hearing is available here but a better-quality version will be produced in due course