Breaking Barriers is key to the future of the Agricultural Sector
29th September 2022 by Navaratnam Partheeban, OFC Director
We are so lucky to live in a country with a rich mix of people allowing us the opportunity to interact and learn from a wealth of experience and knowledge. Both in my childhood and even as farm animal vet, I have lived and worked all over the country. Seeing the diversity of communities, landscapes and enterprises, has helped me grow and understand the beauty of difference and belonging. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in different teams, in different roles and in different settings. However not looking like a farm vet or coming from a British farming background meant that I was judged throughout my studies and even now, but this just drives me to prove the negative biases wrong and achieve to my abilities.
Having an agricultural sector that attracts and retains a diversity of people is vital if we are to future proof our industry. Unfortunately, this sector is the least diverse sector in the U.K., especially when it comes to people who identify as Black or a Person of Colour (BPOC). Estimates of numbers of BPOC people vary between 0.8-1.2% in U.K. agriculture, in a country where they are estimated to make up 14% of the general population and 33% of all children. We are not attracting a large population of the public and wanting people to support us and join us means we must represent them more. There are plenty of inspiring Black and People of Colour who want to be or are in the agricultural sector, despite the barriers laid out in front of them. The belief that BPOC people do not want to work in agriculture is false.
Working as a Principal Investigator into the landmark Mind Matters-funded survey investigating “The experiences of Racism and the impact it has on the mental wellbeing of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people working or studying in the UK veterinary sector” and recently completing my Nuffield Farming Scholarship, kindly sponsored by McDonalds UK and Ireland, looking at “Encouraging and Supporting People of Colour in the Agricultural Sector”, confirms that many barriers are systemic and were created in the past but are still very relevant and active today. Creating equity and inclusion is crucial. Equity means creating a more level playing field and inclusion is making people feel like they belong. From acknowledging and accepting the past, creating positive opportunities for marginalised people, platforming and promoting BPOC people and creating support networks and systems to help BPOC people be an equal part of the sector is key to making any programme a success. BPOC people need to be included in the process to create effective solutions for them. It is important to remember that different marginalised groups face different barriers which must be understood and tackled individually to truly make an inclusive space.
Engaging with more diverse groups and people and joining with them, can only help increase in understanding, highlight the similarities we share and break down negative biases which holds back so much progress. We need to do this at both an individual level and organisational level. We all have a responsibility to create a culture of making sure that everyone can feel like they belong.
Change is an incredibly slow and a difficult process but is important if we want a modern sector. The social justice movement only started and survived due the hard work, dedication and sacrifices many people made. If we are to make positive change then we need leaders to lead and enable affirmative action to happen.
I am extremely proud to be leading our landmark OFC McDonalds Breaking Barriers Scholarship, which is kindly sponsored by McDonalds UK and Ireland and in its third year. From proposing the concept a few years ago to how it has progressed, has been a joy to see. Having an increased intake this year, it gives the opportunity for 5 young BPOC people to follow the traditional Oxford Farming Scholars programme but also have additional support. The Breaking Barrier Scholars will have a unique opportunity to visit farms and businesses to gain an insight into diverse British Agriculture. They will all receive exclusive mentorship and be given individual materials which will help support them in their career journeys. As a group that is hugely underrepresented in British Agriculture, this allows more exposure and support to help these individuals thrive in the sector. Positive action is key if we want to create a space that everyone belongs and as an organisation that values all people, this will help drive change and be an example that others can follow in our sector.
Moving forwards, it would be good to see more programmes and more positive actions from other organisations to help support a wider pool of diverse youth into and within our sector, which will give them the power to generate and implement ideas and push for change. This will bring around more innovation and talent plus makes the sector representative of the country we serve. To achieve this, we need to start investing more time, money and effort into working for positive change. As Jesse Jackson once said, “When everyone is included, everyone wins.”
Navaratnam (Theeb) is an OFC Director from 2023 to 2025, and a farm vet working in the South East. His working roles have varied from working in clinical practice, university higher education, the pharmaceutical sector and in the global animal health industry. This has allowed him to study and conduct research in a number of countries around the world including the US, China and South Africa.
He was presented as an Oxford Farming Conference Emerging Leader in 2020 and is currently co-leading a research team who have been awarded an Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Mind Matters Grant. Theeb is also working towards completing a Nuffield Farming Scholarship sponsored by McDonalds UK and Ireland.
His other roles include being the co-founder of the British Veterinary Ethnicity and Diversity Society (BVEDS) while also being a trustee for the Country Trust and formerly a trustee of St Werburghs Inner City Farm. He is passionate about supporting the agricultural and veterinary sectors and is involved in a number of projects and groups within these areas such as the Land Workers Alliance (LWA), TIAH working group and RCVS DIG.