Colin Tudge's Great Re-think

Words by Colin Tudge (m. 1962)

Biology is my thing but I never wanted to be a professional scientist. I just like thinking about the ideas and writing about them. So at Peterhouse in the early 1960s I read zoology with a (very enjoyable) year of English and have earned a living ever since by writing and speaking about science and all that goes with it in all kinds of places including stints at New Scientist and the BBC, plus a whole stack of books on evolution, genetics, natural history, and conservation.  But I also worked for Farmers Weekly in the early 1970s and attended the first World Food Conference in Rome in 1974, and ever since then I’ve been focused on food and agriculture.

Colin Tudge standing in a wheat field examining the grain

For as I outlined in The Famine Business in 1979 (my first ever book) it soon became obvious to me that the world’s agriculture and the food industry as a whole, dominated as they were and are by the superpowers, corporates, and various brands of financiers, were hopelessly off course, and that this – not a lack of tech or the alleged “backwardness” of farmers – was and is a prime cause of the world’s food problems and the collapse of the natural world. What we needed, and now need more urgently than ever, is what I now call “Enlightened Agriculture”, aka “Real Farming”, rooted in the concepts of Agroecology and Food Sovereignty. Enlightened Agriculture is “expressly designed to provide everyone with good food without exploitation and without cruelty and without wrecking the rest of the world” – which should be eminently possible and indeed, technically, should be relatively straightforward. In essence we need low-input, mixed, small to medium-sized holdings that are skills-intensive (with plenty of skilled farmers and growers). In absolute contrast, the industrial agriculture that is now favoured and promoted by the powers-that-be, is high-input with minimum-to-zero labour on the largest possible scale, designed primarily to maximize wealth and to concentrate that wealth in fewer and fewer hands.

So in the early 2000s together with my wife Ruth (West) and at first with Graham Harvey (who in those days advised The Archers on agricultural matters), I helped to set up the Oxford Real Farming Conference and the Real Farming Trust. Out of all this has emerged the College for Real Farming and Food Culture, which aims to develop and promulgate the ideas needed to establish Enlightened Agriculture as the global norm.

I have now stepped aside from the College (too old, too deaf, too lame) but I have summarized the key ideas in my latest book, The Great Re-Think (Pari Publishing 2021).  And now Ruth and I have set up a new website called “Colin Tudge’s Great Re-Think”. The world is now in such a mess that everything needs to be re-thought from first principles, from the highest reaches of science, moral philosophy, and metaphysics to the fine details of market gardening, with everything in between – including or especially the economy and governance. As we go we need to re-structure accordingly. The new website is intended to explore the necessary ideas and help plot a way forward.

But this is not and cannot be a solo endeavour and I would be very pleased if anyone out there would care to look at the website and add their four pen’orth!