Birth of a movement
In late February 2020, 4,500 people marched through Bern demanding a new kind of farming for Switzerland. The demonstration, called ‘Food is political!’, marked the arrival of Landwirtschaftmitzukunft – Agriculture with a Future – as a new force in Swiss civil society, and attracted support from other organisations with well-established environmental credentials such as Biovision, Greenpeace and Patagonia.
“We’re a young organisation, an offshoot of the climate strike movement. We bring together activists and farmers concerned about climate change and the impacts of food production, and explore how agroecology and regenerative agriculture can help solve the crisis.”
Taking inspiration from the veteran Indian food rights advocate Vandana Shiva – who has campaigned for decades against big agriculture – environmental engineering scholar, activist, and Landwirtschaftmitzukunft co-founder, Dominik Waser, is passionate about driving change.
Swiss agriculture isn’t doing as well as you might think. The way we produce food in our industrialised, subsidised, globalised food system is worsening climate breakdown and destroying ecosystem health and productivity – everything is upside down. It’s an existential crisis for humanity! We can’t go on as we are, and Switzerland has companies that can influence global supply chains. I’m 23 and this is about our future and survival – why would I do anything else?
Citizens for change
Working together with farmers, Landwirtschaftmitzukunft has developed a 2030 vision for food system transformation in Switzerland that delivers environmental and human health, diversification, waste reduction, climate justice, and fair prices.
“Lots of young people understand that eating intensively-produced meat and dairy has an impact on the climate – but these foods are at the heart of the Swiss diet and people don’t feel they have the agency to do anything about it. We want to give them a voice, together with scientists and progressive farmers, so that we can develop an informed perspective, challenge misconceptions, and find solutions.”
A first step towards this saw Landwirtschaftmitzukunft organise a ‘Food Parliament’ in March 2021. Through online knowledge-sharing sessions on health, working conditions, prices, and sustainability, the Parliament gave around 80 young people the opportunity to listen, learn, and openly discuss ideas for a more holistic food system.
And in 2022, inspired by the Citizens’ Convention on Climate in France, there are plans for a full Citizens Assembly. With government support and expert input, the aim is to bring together a representative sample of people from across the whole country to discuss solutions that feed into official policymaking.
Proposals from Citizen Assemblies are typically more progressive than those emerging from government, which tend to be held back by vested interests. The big agriculture lobby is very powerful in Switzerland – last year they managed to defeat a national referendum calling for a ban on all synthetic pesticides in Switzerland by running a scare campaign about job losses and higher food prices. But we’re determined to keep using the democratic process, including referenda, to spotlight the crisis and put pressure on decision-makers. We need to work with politicians as well as farmers and activists to find common ground and change the food system.
Globally, agriculture accounts for 29% of all greenhouse gas emissions and 70% of freshwater use, and since 1970, food systems have driven 70% of nature loss on land. And while nearly 900 million people go hungry every day, around two billion are overweight or obese, and a third of all food produced is never eaten.
While the scale of the challenge is immense, Dominik is clear that the future of agriculture, food security, and planetary and societal health and wellbeing, not just in Switzerland but globally, all depend on a shift to more sustainable approaches such as agroforestry and regenerative agriculture.
We need radical change from the ground up, not just greenwashing. And in Switzerland that means changing the whole foundation of agricultural policy. It’s a long process of reform but a different future is possible if we want it. I try to connect people and help them understand the links between different problems and their causes. I go where the world needs me most.