Friday, September 9, 2011

Changing our global approach to farming is key to our survival

The entries on this blog report and comment on events taking place regarding GMOS and their effects on our planet and health. For this particular entry I felt compelled to post about this report and the benefits of agroecology, which goes counter to the fossil fuel intensive monoculture GM world we are making now. It is imperative for us to understand that these solutions exist and that we are capable as a species of implementing them regardless of the criticism from those who have become comfortable with the mediocrity we have been forced to settle for to this point. Our health, economy and indeed our global biodiversity is too important especially in lieu of climate change and its effects on agriculture as well to continue business as usual.

Changing our global approach to farming

EXTRACTS: "We have tried to have ever more efficient farming, with fewer people, more machines and a greater dependency on pesticides, fertilisers, GM crops and energy, using 10 kilocalories to produce 1 kilocalorie. But that is only possible if there is cheap oil. The system is basically bankrupt." - Hans Herren, Co-Chair of the IAASTD

Dr Herren was dismissive of the concept of "sustainable intensification", the alternative view of food security with food production at its heart, championed by the UK Government-commissioned Foresight report. He described it as "an excuse to sneak in GMOs and to continue with business as usual".
CropWorld Global 2011: Changing our global approach to farming
Alistair Driver
Farmers Guardian, 1 September 2011

SOCIETY has gone 'properly wrong' in the way it produces and consumes food, according to Hans Herren.

Dr Herren, a renowned scientist and international development expert, is on a mission to promote what he insists is a better alternative to the current global 'industrial' food production system, which he describes as 'bankrupt'.

He is a leading advocate of agroecology, a holistic farming model based on organic principles, where food is produced by small family farms using green methods which nourish soils for future generations.

"We have tried to have more efficient farming, with fewer people, more machines and a greater dependency on pesticides, fertilisers, GM crops and energy, using 10 kilocalories to produce one kilocalorie. But that is only possible if there is cheap oil," said Dr Herren.

"The system basically is bankrupt, which is why we need to change it to a more modern, advanced system, which will create energy, rather than consume it, and is not dependent on fossil energy, but more on people and better science."

Dr Herren, originally from Switzerland, co-chaired the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology, (IAASTD), a three-year project involving more than 400 experts from across the world.

Its 2008 report called for a radical overhaul of the way the world produces food to 'better serve the poor and hungry'. It demanded a shift away from the 'focus on production alone' and a greater emphasis on methods which conserve natural resources, backed up by trade and subsidy reforms and investment in science, education and training.
Report findings

Dr Herren described it as 'the mother of all reports on agriculture on a global and human scale', but admitted being disappointed about how little its findings had been implemented globally.

Dr Herren, who spent 27 years in Africa researching pest management and sustainable production, continues to promote agroecology through the US-based Millennium Institute, of which he has been president since 2005.

He said the key to future food security was not to use more inputs to produce more food per hectare, but to rely on techniques backed by 'solid science and agronomy - such as crop rotation with legumes and green manure, a cover crop grown to add nutrients to the soil - 'to enable the land to regenerate'.

But he also claimed it had been shown in experiments and in the field these farming methods can 'double, treble or even quadruple' yields in Africa.

He added: "Agroecology will produce food which is affordable because more people will be working, so they can actually afford it.

"We need to support small-scale and family farms, where more people get employed. We have 1.5 billion people who have no job. We really have to see all this in an inter-linked system."

He refuted the suggestion that, while agroecology may have merits in developing countries, where prevailing yields were relatively low and labour was abundant, it was unrealistic and idealistic to imagine it taking over in developed nations.

Instead, he insisted productivity levels could be maintained in developed countries if agroecology displaced intensive farming.

“It has been shown in the US that organic agriculture actually produces equally good yields as traditional agriculture,” he said. “But when there is drought or a flood, organic produces more as it is more resilient. There is no question we can deliver.”

The catch is that increased crop rotation would require a change in the way food is consumed. “You can’t disassociate consumption from production. In a rotation where you have more legumes someone has to eat those beans.”

He added people in urban-centric nations such as the UK and US would return to the land if agriculture became a ‘better and more rewarding job’ through greater investment, better prices for food and a reappraisal of farmers’ importance. “We need to look up to the farmer and down to the professor,” he said.
Lacking support

Dr Herren blamed the lack of wider support for this model of food security partly on what he claimed was a misconception of what it represented.

“We need to dispel this idea that agroecology is a back-breaking, low-yielding process and that we want to go back to grandfather’s agriculture. Actually, agroecology has a lot of science in it and a lot of knowledge,” he said.

Dr. Herren speaking on agroecology. This is a good talk regarding ways we can sequester soil carbon, link farmers in developing countries to information to increase their knowledge and profit, the connection between food sovereignty and food security, increasing yields through agroecology and organic and also an overhaul of the entire agricultural system globally that seeks to decrease wastage which would then increase access, decrease hunger and decrease waste in additional imputs. Sustainable agriculture can be the solution to so many problems facing society from the environment, to economy, to health, particularly regarding climate change and more sustainable irrigation practices.

Farmers can be frontline warriors in the fight against climate change. Permaculture and sustainable farming practices can be the solution to peak oil. The answers are not hard and the reward of a healthier economy, environment and people makes this a no brainer. The USDA needs to get into the 21st Century. It isn't about continuing the water intensive, fossil fuel intensive, industrial agriculture GMO status quo. It is about supporting the sustainable agricultural sciences of agroecology, permaculture, biodynamics and the holistic methods that work in harmony with the Earth to preserve our resources in a world where climate change, increasing population and overconsumption have now brought us to the tipping point. This IS the defining issue of our survival and one that does not get anywhere near the attention it deserves.

Global warming/climate change/biodistress is already affecting agriculture greatly and this industrial system that touts itself as our savior is failing us. I think many underestimate the power and ability of agroecology on a mass scale especially regarding yield and the effects giving food production back to farmers especially in developing countries can accomplish. And with the billions of people in this country alone who are in need of a job, agriculture is actually one job that could truly change the world. No one said it would be easy to accomplish, especially with the corporate chokehold on our seeds, but we as a species now have a choice to make. Either we start becoming part of the solution, stop our whining about not being able to do this or that and work to do it, or the lifestyles we lead and the way we lead them will be our end.

It will become a necessity to get off of this fossil fuel fertilizer monoculture merry-go-round as we continue to toxify this planet risking worldwide famine regardless of whether we grow our food horizontally or vertically. And actually, Manhattan is now one of the top cities for rooftop gardens. But as this article references we are talking about a paradigm global shift in our farming system as a whole. And while I understand that due to population, pollution and our propensity for being wasteful and apathetic about the consequences because we are humans, the day may come when we cannot grow our natural seeds in healthy soil with the real sun and rain falling down on them. I will consider that we truly have failed as a species if that day should ever come.

“We need to dispel this idea that agroecology is a back-breaking, low-yielding process and that we want to go back to grandfather’s agriculture. Actually, agroecology has a lot of science in it and a lot of knowledge,”

With climate changes especially rainfall pattern changes, exceptional droughts, topsoil erosion increasing due to stronger storms and sea level rise,, water scarcity, etc. we will have to rethink the entire global way we grow food and where we grow some foods. Water intensive crops in areas that are now hit with droughts will have to be retooled. Areas with more rain as well. This is something we should have planned for along with planning for migration of people out of areas that become uninhabitable. We have been spoiled to think we can have what we want whenever we want it. So this is not just about a global change in agriculture, but a change within ourselves. Can we change as we have to now? Can we kick our consumptive ways and would we to preserve this planet for the future?

And like the deniers who still plant seeds of doubt about the reality of biodistress whose misinformation we must address, so too do we have to do so in dispelling the myths regarding yield and the ways of farming that fed this world for thousands of years before the birth of Monsanto. Nature can be very giving when you give back to her.

Improving food production sustainably.

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