Professor Janet Dwyer presented her inaugural lecture at the University of Gloucestershire’s Oxstalls campus on 14 June 2011. Her lecture was called “Pathways to sustainable agriculture, 1980-2020: forty years of policy learning in Britain and the EU”.
With more than twenty-five years’ experience of policy making and research in sustainable agriculture and rural development, Janet’s lecture considered the key policy lessons from the period, reflecting that Britain was one of the first EU Member States to innovate in the area of agri-environment policy, and was instrumental in getting environmental schemes for farmers accepted into the Common Agricultural Policy during the 1980s. The lecture summarised and analysed the history of these schemes, along with other policies targeting agriculture, including regulation and cross-compliance, all of which have grown in scale and policy significance since then.
Today, as Europe debates new proposals for CAP reform to take us up to 2020, ‘greening’, and the delivery of environmental services from agriculture, are a major focus of discussion, Janet drew from her own research over the past decade to consider whether current policies really build upon the lessons – both good and bad – from the past. She suggested that it is an enduring weakness in the democratic and institutional processes of policy development, that change is often just as much about the politics of the day as it is about progress based upon past experience. “Too often”, she said, “mistakes are repeated and bad ideas can all too easily become internalised within accepted policy ‘norms’ simply because no-one has questioned them too deeply.”
Janet called for policies in future to be based around creating and supporting local ‘communities of learning’, bringing together farmers, scientists and other stakeholders to develop sustainability in practice through experimentation and dialogue.