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2020 vision: Looking back over an extraordinary year

Sustain's chief executive Kath Dalmeny looks at what we have achieved together as an alliance during 2020, and what we need to focus on for the future.

Photo credit: Chris Young

Photo credit: Chris Young

Thank you to everyone who supported Sustain in our campaign and policy activities during 2020. It was an extraordinary and traumatic year, yet also a time in which the world has woken up – as never before – to the need for a fair, healthy, sustainable and resilient food system.

Remarkably, the Sustain alliance emerged from 2020 stronger and more determined than ever. We are committed to a green recovery with fair, healthy and sustainable food at its heart; and to ensuring that good food and farming are central to health, climate and biodiversity policies and practices. We will redouble our efforts in 2021 to achieve this shared vision. We will launch our refreshed five-year strategy in the New Year, committing to build the movement to bring about change.

I stand witness to the fact that the Sustain team have been making a gift all year, of their time, energy, love, camaraderie and truly extraordinary advocacy and campaign efforts. Everyone has gone above and beyond the call of duty to help respond to the multiple crises that are besetting our food, farming and eco-systems. 

Let us take a moment to remind ourselves that during 2020, Sustain, working with our alliance members, have:

  • Helped to make the nation’s response to food poverty a defining characteristic of Covid-19, with parliamentarians from all of the main political parties joining our call for a legal Right to Food.
  • Won over £0.5 billion of government funding, allocated to address emergency food needs for people experiencing food poverty – helping parents, schools and local authorities.
  • Brought a legal challenge against the government’s initial decision not to extend free school meal vouchers over the school holidays; and supported successful calls for long-term solutions to holiday hunger and an increase in the value of Healthy Start fruit and veg vouchers for new parents on a low income, as well as making the case for retention of the school fruit and vegetable scheme.
  • Facilitated Unicef to provide grants to food poverty alliances around the UK, to strengthen the local response to the food crisis.
  • Helped community food gardens to stay open, providing green oases and fresh fruit and veg – good for both mental and physical health; helped some grow fresh food for their neighbours; and won support for a new peri-urban farming initiative to boost veg production for the future.
  • Launched our meals on wheels campaign to make the case for nutritious, dignified and integrated services to help older and disabled people to eat well.
  • Provided support to food partnerships, food poverty alliances, local authorities and local markets, community bakers and food businesses across the UK, helping them to share good practice in both short-term food provision and longer-term healthy and sustainable food neighbourhoods, and to make the case for support from policy-makers and funders.
  • Continued to pile public pressure on policy-makers and businesses to make our food system healthier, serve more veg, reduce sugar and remove unhealthy food promotions aimed at children.
  • Seen enacted in legislation a legal commitment in the new Agriculture Act to the ‘public money for public goods’ approach and a ‘fair dealing obligation’ – both of which Sustain has long campaigned for – to help farmers to make the transition to post-Brexit, post-Covid, pro-climate, pro-nature agro-ecological farming that can also support a healthy food supply and decent livelihoods.
  • Reached a truly remarkable milestone in our Sustainable Fish Cities campaign, after a decade of hard work – foodservice companies that serve one billion meals per year have now adopted the sustainable fish policy that our alliance devised together.
  • Refreshed our approach (baby steps so far) towards making root-and-branch changes towards Sustain championing diversity, including ethnic diversity celebrating in December the results of election to our Council of Trustees from people from diverse backgrounds previously under-represented in Sustain’s  leadership team.
  • Helped defend food and farming standards in post-Brexit trade policy, working with the Green Alliance to convene the Future British Standards Coalition whose vocal concerns resulted in strengthening of the government’s official Trade and Agriculture Commission; and also helping sector specialists on issues such as public health, farm antibiotics, pesticides, farm livelihoods and no-deal Brexit, to raise their issues with the public and policy-makers.
  • Analysed government and local authority climate and nature emergency action plans; highlighted food and agriculture as the missing piece, and started to work with places across the UK to rectify this.
  • Received support from remarkable trusts, foundations and individuals – helping us to strengthen Sustain’s staff team, which has grown, worked together and supported each other throughout this challenging year.

We have had so much on our plates! We really do live in extraordinary times. We truly appreciate the time, expertise, spirit and generosity with which so many people have stepped up over the past year and more to ensure that food supplies kept flowing, inequalities were exposed and (partially) addressed, and policies started to be shaped towards a better future. We look forward to working with you all, and to implementing Sustain's refreshed food strategy for the next five years.

Published Thursday 24 December 2020

Sustain: Sustain The alliance for better food and farming advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, enrich society and culture and promote equity.

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Kath is Chief Executive of Sustain: The alliance for better food and farming.

Kath Dalmeny
Chief Executive

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