It follows on from the original food issues census in 2011, the first ever effort to develop a picture of the voluntary sector on food, farming and fishing in the UK.  Taking the temperature of food and farming related civil society organisations in 2016* is a timely opportunity to assess how the landscape has changed.

Our latest survey indicates that the challenges faced by the food system are getting worse. And despite the best efforts of CSOs, the sector’s response is not commensurate with the scale and urgency of the challenges.

The census reveals the dependence of the sector on EU funding, and the increasing constraints on third sector funders in uncertain economic times.

However, it also details a diverse sector populated with tens of thousands of committed and passionate volunteers and staff members, working on a huge range of issues, from food poverty to fish stocks, from sustainable farming to social inclusion.

 ‘Food issues census 2017’ findings include:

  • One in five civil society organisations working in food and farming relies on European Union funding;
  • Food poverty moved from 15th place in 2011 to 2nd in 2016 in terms of number of organisations working on the issue;
  • However, food poverty was the issue that the largest number of respondents said needed more funding;
  • 41% of respondents said the government was the biggest hindrance to addressing food and farming issues;
  • The environment was the top motivation for the majority of CSOs who responded to the survey.

The survey was conducted by the Food Ethics Council on behalf of charitable funders Big Lottery Fund, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, JMG Foundation and The A Team Foundation, with support from the Environmental Funders Network.

Dan Crossley, executive director of the Food Ethics Council, and the report’s lead author said:

“It is highly worrying that the UK’s civil society sector is spending so little on food and farming issues. At the same time, two of the key funding sources – public and third sector – are being squeezed by government cuts and an increase in grant applications.

“Food and farming affects us all, and as we negotiate our exit from the European Union, sustainable food production and consumption should be key issues. A properly funded civil society sector can make sure these topics are on the agenda. If it isn’t adequately funded, it will miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shape food and farming policy for the better.”

Florence Miller, from the Environmental Funders Network and who was on the steering group for this work, said:

“Effective grant-making in food and farming requires funders to understand what the key resource gaps are and where their funds and support can be most useful and catalytic. The Food issues census provides invaluable insight into the state of the sector, giving funders and NGOs themselves a birds’ eye view they couldn’t possibly get on their own.”

The information contained in the report is designed to help the sector’s organisations – big and small – in their strategic planning and grant funding applications. It will also help current and potential grant funders make strategic funding decisions.

It is accompanied by an online tool that enables people to explore the survey data in more detail. This can be found at

For more information on the report’s findings, or to interview report author Dan Crossley, please email or call him on 0333 012 4147.    

 *Data for the Food issues census 2017 was collected in late summer 2016.

Notes to editors

1.      ‘Food issues census 2017’ was commissioned by charitable funders Big Lottery Fund, The A-Team Foundation, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, and JMG Foundation, with support from the Environmental Funders Network.

2.      The report is intended to be a resource for funders of the sector, potential new funders and the civil society organisations that work in food and farming. It helps identify priorities and makes the case for funding, and provides a reference point for dialogue between grant-makers and grant-seekers.

3.      The top three issues for food and farming organisations were local food, food poverty and access to food, and farming and horticulture.

4.      The Food Ethics Council is an independent advisory body that believes we can have a food system that is healthy and fair for people and the environment. We work with businesses, government and civil society to help find a way through the contentious issues surrounding food and farming.