Climate Change: How a Green New Deal Really Could Go Global

Good news is in short supply at the moment, so brace yourself for a rare burst of optimism about climate change.

World leaders know their countries face one of the most severe recessions in history thanks to the coronavirus restrictions.

That presents a unique challenge, but also a massive opportunity.

Politicians know they are going to need to spend huge amounts of money to kick-start economic activity as the threat of coronavirus finally recedes.

It is a one-off, never-to-be-repeated chance to transform their economies. So the question is, what will they spend it on?

‘Europe’s moment’

This week the European Union put its cards on the table. On Wednesday it unveiled what it is billing as the biggest “green” stimulus package in history.

“This is about all of us and it is way bigger than any one of us,” announced Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, when she told European Parliament members what was planned. “This is Europe’s moment,” she said.

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A Vision for the Social and Ecological Regeneration of Mexico City’s Xochimilco Wetlands

By Mayra Rubio Lozano

MEXICO CITY – Xochimilco is a city south of Mexico City best known for its canals. The area’s wetlands,  recognized for their important biological and cultural value, are why Xochimilco is named as a World Heritage Site (UNESCO) and Site of Agricultural Importance (FAO). 

Humedalia is a Mexican organization that works for the conservation and restoration of the Mexican wetlands. It is part of the Regeneration International partner network and as such, has applied for the Scientific and Technical committee evaluation program of the 4 per 1000 initiative

Humedalia’s work focuses on the chinampas of Xochimilco. (Chinampas refers to a system of growing crops in floating gardens created in shallow lake beds, using farming techniques developed by the Aztecs).

Agricultural production in chinampas, or islands of arable land, started over 800 years ago.  When the first tribes that settled in the Mexico basin, they were able to produce 4t/ha of crops. These high yields allowed the development of big urban settlements, such as what we have today in Mexico City. These cities generated a big demand for water resources, and ultimately led to the transfer of agriculture to urban soil.

Today, Xochimilco’s wetland and its landscape of chinampas retain only 2 percent of the fresh water that was originally in the basin. This agricultural landscape is highly threatened by processes linked to urbanization and the devaluation of the farmers’ labor. About  80 percent of the chinampas are abandoned, and water pollution has deteriorated the soil’s fertility. The few agricultural producers that remain face steep competition and low profits, because the intensive agricultural model, mostly subsidized, has forced these producers to lower the prices.

Despite the negative impact of urbanization, Xochimilco’s wetlands remain vital for Mexico City. They provide multiple environmental benefits, such as microclimate regulation, water catchment and recharge of the groundwater reserves, oxygen and food production, nutrient recycling and carbon sequestration. In a city where air pollution levels usually exceed healthy standards, carbon sequestration is fundamental for the city’s resilience. Wetlands sequester large amounts of carbon (0.4-32 Mg ha-1 year-1) in their sediments because of their anaerobic conditions, which slow the rate of decay of organic matter, facilitating carbon accumulation. In turn, carbon sequestration can be optimized by using traditional farming techniques (sustainable) in the chinampas in combination with new organic farming techniques, such as the biointensive method. 

This project seeks to increase carbon sequestration through a water-soil systemic approach. By restoring canals and rehabilitating hectares of idle land, the quality of the water available for watering will improve, and the chinampas’ soil will be regenerated, leading to an increase in the amount of the ecosystem’s carbon sequestration.

The project also will contribute to the local endemic flora and fauna’s habitat protection, such as the axolotl Ambystoma mexicanum, a type of salamander known as the Mexican walking fish. Protecting local flora and fauna will help restore the cultural identity linked to ancestral agriculture that survives in the hands of traditional farmers.

This project for regenerating the chinampas soil (rehabilitation, growing and maintenance) will provide the local community opportunities to increase family income and engage multiple generations, creating a space for the exchange of knowledge and experiences about ancestral farming techniques. Women and children who typically don’t participate directly in food production can become involved in marketing, sales and processing. 

In turn, regenerated chinampas will produce healthier foods. 

As part of the Regeneration International partner network, and applying for the 4 per 1000 initiative, Humedalia project helps improve socio-ecological conditions of Xochimilco’s wetland. Carbon sequestration will have a positive direct impact on the air quality of one of the most polluted cities in the world. But the project will also focus on the social aspect, improving the wellbeing of the community by generating self-employment at the chinampas, and creating the right conditions for social participation through collaborative networks that strengthen the community. 

Mayra Rubio Lozano is director of scientific research and sustainable development for Humedalia A.C. To keep up with Regeneration International news, sign up for our newsletter.

 

How Colombia’s Small Farmers Contribute to Resilience and Food Sovereignty in Post-Conflict and COVID-19 Pandemic Times

By Ana Prada

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA – In his book, “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed“, Jared Diamond analyzes why certain societies prevail and others collapse, and explains how the decline of some, such as the Mayan and the Easter Island civilizations, resulted from the  mismanagement of nature. 

Indeed, the way societies manage their natural resources largely defines their future, according to Diamond.  The abundance of resources and successful adaptation to climate change, together with the correct decision-making by a society’s leaders, are some of the factors that determine a society’s ability to survive over time.

Conversely, the abuse of environmental resources and exploitative agricultural production systems can lead a society to collapse.

Socio-environmental conflicts are not foreign to the Colombian reality. The unequal distribution of land and territory has given rise to Colombian armed conflict. The socio-environmental confrontations in Colombia date back to the time of the Spanish conquest.  However, the trigger for the armed conflict occurred in 1948, with the assassination of political leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán. 

In 1948, the country was ruled by conservatives and landowners, and was totally polarized between extreme poverty and wealth. Thus, one of the longest-running armed conflicts in recent world history was born. It was not until 2016 that the Peace Agreements were signed between the National Government and the extinct guerrilla of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Initially, the guerrillas were driven by political ideals. But later, toward the end of the 1970s, with the arrival and subsequent consolidation of drug trafficking, the conflict became a business matter. The search for concentration of land by the various sides left the Colombian small farmers in the middle, and on the losing end. 

Yet despite being politically marginalized, culturally undervalued and economically excluded, and despite experiencing greater difficulty accessing land than any other social group in the country, small farmers, who represent 30 percent of the country’s total population, produce 70 percent of the food consumed in the country. 

In addition, this disadvantaged but industrious population reminds those of us who live in cities of the value of having roots in our land and territory, and cherishing our identity.

Small-scale agriculture has taught Colombians about resilience and innovation. On less than one hectare, small farmers manage to feed themselves, create surpluses to sell and learn about the diverse Colombian soils and ecosystems through trial and error.  And despite being displaced because of the armed conflict, it has been small farmers who have opened the agricultural border in the country, and started their lives from scratch, in the country with the greatest internal displacement in the world—worse even than Syria.

In the value chains of the drug trafficking industry, small farmers have become the first link. Indeed, it is the most vulnerable link in a chain characterized by the predominance of activities that leave Colombia with nothing but social burdens: land concentration, idle lands ownership, diminished productivity and at-risk national food sovereignty and autonomy.

In the Peace Agreements, small farmers are recognized as victims of the armed conflict. A political framework to reduce the gaps between the countryside and the city was designed, guaranteeing the small farmers the right to political and economic participation and decision-making regarding the future of their territories. 

In points 1 and 4 of the Peace Agreements, Comprehensive Rural Reform and Comprehensive Solution to the Drug Problem respectively, multiple political and legal instruments were created. These include the land fund for Comprehensive Rural Reform, the multipurpose cadaster; Development Plans with a Territorial Approach; and Comprehensive Nations Plans for Substitution, among others. 

Although the implementation of these political and legal instruments has been slow, they have become novel tools to rethink small farmers as a strategic actor in the territorial planning to restore peace, the conservation of the territories and the guarantee of security, sovereignty and food autonomy.

In 2013, there was a national agrarian strike in Colombia, supported by the main farmers’ organizations, as well as workers from other areas, which over time managed to get the recognition of the citizens. Since then, Colombians who live in cities have shown growing empathy towards the small farmers’ movement, appreciating the producers of the food they have on their plates daily, as well as the need to rethink and re-territorialize cities to stop the growing trend of food deserts, which put at risk the right to food, especially for the most vulnerable. These transformations have become more necessary than ever in the context of the COVID-19 crisis.

This is a country whose rulers have lacked the gallantry to guarantee its citizens the right to food, and to preserve the country’s rich biocultural diversity. They have succumbed to globalization and progress in the short term, at the expense of resources that give us life. 

In these days of covid-19, we ​​have witnessed two trends that are two sides of the same coin.

On the one hand, we see citizens who increasingly demand healthy, local and sustainable food, and who are more willing to consume food from small farmers, family and community agriculture. 

On the other hand, small farmers continue to face the traditional challenges of the agricultural Colombia: the appalling road and telecommunications infrastructure, the persistence of the armed conflict, the murder of social leaders, insufficient healthcare system that increases the risk of infection and death due to the epidemic, price speculation and misinformation, among many other challenges.

Despite these challenges, there are reasons to be hopeful. For instance, the creation and strengthening of collaborative networks between the territories, the building of close relationships between producers and consumers, the possibility of resuming peace dialogues between the National Government and the guerrilla of the National Liberation Army (ELN), the use of information and communication technologies to facilitate food distribution and the consolidation of small farmers and/or agro-ecological markets as viable and secure supply alternatives, even in times of epidemic.

The reader may be wondering, how can I put my grain of sand? It is very simple, buy local! Buy from small farmers, family and community agriculture! Go back to the farmers markets, go to meet the producer so you give him your vote of confidence to stay in the territory feeding hope to the country.

In Colombia, The National Network of Family Farming (RENAF) leads the national campaign “Yo llevo el campo Colombiano (I carry the Colombian countryside) that seeks to make visible the farmers markets that exist throughout the country.

By eating local and seasonal food lime the uchuva or the curuba, and supporting the small farmers, Colombians can put their grain of sand in the construction of peace in Colombia.

About 3Colibrís

We are an organization that contributes to the strengthening of marketing and logistics of products from small farmers, family and community and/or agroecological agriculture in Latin America. We work for the construction of sustainable farming that’s connected to the cities in Colombia and Latin America. We seek out and involve producers of healthy food and agro-ecological products so consumers have easier access to these foods. We visit and guide food producers to improve their marketing channels and ensure that we work with ethical and responsible organizations.

Ana Prada is the founder of 3Colibrís and a business administrator and sociologist from the Javeriana University of Bogotá, apprentice for the International Training in Dialogue and Mediation at the University of Uppsala and the International Course on Food Systems at the University of Wageningen. She has worked for Colombian Caritas in the implementation of “Article One” of the Peace Agreements, and on projects for UNDP, UNFAO, EU and the Suyusama Foundation. 

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We don’t farm because it’s trendy; we farm as resistance, for healing and sovereignty

For more than 150 years, from the rural South to northern cities, Black people have used farming to build self-determined communities and resist oppressive structures that tear them down.

Today, agriculture still serves an important role in the lives of Black people, which is why we see urban agriculture projects and programs in Philadelphia, Detroit, and Washington D.C. and other cities across the United States. In all of these cities, there are Black-led organizations cultivating food and land sovereignty by helping individuals and communities regain agency and ownership over their food system.

My journey in food and land work began long before I was born. My ancestors were enslaved Africans forced to farm under abhorrent conditions in South Carolina, Texas, and Georgia. In 2012, I started my first professional job working at a food justice and nutrition education non-profit in Philadelphia. I worked with youth from across West Philly to explore connections between food, agriculture, culture, sustainability, and leadership.

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Regenerative Agriculture Could Save the Planet. Why Doesn’t Everyone Know About It?

Food giant General Mills recently announced that the company is set to partner with farmers to advance regenerative agriculture practices on one million acres of farmland by 2030. The company committed to the idea after researching information about Will Harris’ cattle ranch in Georgia. His ranch, White Oak Pastures, uses targeted agricultural methods that have turned the land into a carbon sink, absorbing the majority of emissions caused by the beef production.

The Climate Reality Project explains that “regenerative agriculture is a system of farming principles and practices that seeks to rehabilitate and enhance the entire ecosystem of the farm by placing a heavy premium on soil health with attention also paid to water management, fertilizer use, and more. It is a method of farming that improves the resources it uses, rather than destroying or depleting them.”

In North Dakota, rancher and farmer Gabe Brown has helped lead this agricultural movement.

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Sustainable Agroecosystems: Cropping Using Regenerative Agricultural Principles

Over the last century, intensive farming practices have had significant negative consequences for the soil and surrounding ecosystems. By disrupting the natural function of these habitats, the valuable ecosystem services they provide are compromised and are the source of the multitude of environmental issues we face as a society. Natural systems make up a complex web of interconnecting functions, with nothing operating at full health if parts of the system are damaged. Thus, we must consider these systems as a whole, examining not only how each component functions, but how they all fit together and interact in the bigger picture.

Agricultural production practices need to be guided by policies that ensure regenerative cropping and grazing management protocols to ensure long-term sustainability and ecological resilience of agroecosystems. It is not sufficient to aim at sustainability alone as we have substantially degraded our agroecosystems with negative consequences over substantial areas of the world. We need to regenerate the soil and ecosystem function.

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Natural, Biodiverse Forests More Reliable at Fighting Climate Change than Plantations

How reliable are long-lived plantations composed of a few species for carbon capture, when compared with natural tropical forests that comprise many species?

Fighting climate change through reforestation activities, such as large-scale plantations, has gained global traction over recent years. To reduce carbon emissions, international efforts such as the Bonn Challenge and Paris Climate Accord have promoted tapping into the power of trees that suck in and sequester carbon in multiple ways.

Researchers conducted a study in one of India’s biodiversity hotspots, the Western Ghats. They compared carbon storage and rates of carbon capture of mature mono-dominant plantations, with those of neighboring natural forests harbouring a diverse mix of native species.

Although mono-dominant plantations could match natural biodiverse forests in terms of carbon capture and storage potential, the latter were more stable and hence more reliable in their ability to capture carbon over the years, particularly in the face of droughts.

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How Farming Can Save Our Lakes and Rivers

Veganism, which is a completely plant-based diet, is on the rise, by some studies as much as 600% since 2014. Six-percent of Americans now identify as vegan. Some vegans even extend the practice to their clothing, eschewing not only leather and fur, but also cosmetics and accessories that do not meet “cruelty-free” standards.

One of the top reasons people give for going completely animal-free in their diet is the environment. Vegan activists point to the fact that one pound of hamburger requires 1,799 gallons of water not only for the cow itself, but for the grain and corn it eats. Added to that is the pollution created not only from animal waste (this can be extremely significant in large feedlot operations for poultry, hogs and beef) but the pesticides, fungicides and herbicides used to grow the food the animal eats.

Increasingly vegans point out that meat production “contributes to land and water degradation, biodiversity loss, acid rain, coral reef bleaching and deforestation.

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Covid-19 Exposes Urgent Need for Regeneration, Resilience in Agriculture

When food companies want to set and meet sustainability targets, they must think about their supply chains — where the food comes from, how it was produced and the route it took to get to reach processing facilities and grocery store shelves.

It’s a rewarding but challenging feat. That’s because for decades, the industrial agricultural system has glorified largely extractive practices, rather than the regenerative ones that have been regaining traction and favor among sustainable food systems advocates.

That was the subject of a recent GreenBiz Group webcast, during which panelists shared insights about an essential question: How can we evolve our food supply system to eliminate the practices we don’t want and get more of those that we do?

“I think for decades we’ve had great examples of smaller-scale responsible sustainable agriculture and as demand from consumers has just skyrocketed for sustainable food, we need mechanisms to scale,” said Jamie Barsimantov, co-founder and COO at SupplyShift, during the webcast.

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Trails of Regeneration: Stemple Creek Ranch Survives COVID-19 by Selling Direct to Consumers

“Trails of Regeneration” is covering the effects of COVID-19 and gathering stories from regenerative farmers, ranchers and ecosystem experts on how the world is rapidly changing and what it means for biodiversity and regenerative food, farming and land use.

 TOMALES, California — Spread of the coronavirus is causing major disruptions in the U.S. food supply chain, as several major meat processing plants have closed their doors and farmers are being forced to dump milk, break eggs and plow under perfectly good produce.

 With the closing of schools, restaurants and businesses, farmers have had to find new and creative ways to connect their products to consumers. The latest episode in our “Trails of Regeneration” video series features a rancher on the frontline of COVID-19 and his journey in adapting to the challenges posed by the pandemic.

Husband and wife, Loren and Lisa Poncia, own Stemple Creek Ranch, a 1,000-acre regenerative farm located in the coastal hills of Northern California. At the ranch, purposeful rotational grazing is key to producing high-quality pastured and humanely raised animal products. It also works to promote biodiversity by preserving sensitive wildlife habitat and restoring natural watersheds.

Like many farmers around the world, the Poncias have been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak. In an exclusive interview with Regeneration International, Loren explains how his farm lost 95 percent of its restaurant business seemingly overnight. 

The farm’s direct-to-consumer sales, on the other hand, have increased significantly. “Our online sales are skyrocketing,” Loren told Regeneration International in a Zoom interview. He and his 15 employees—while practicing social distancing and wearing protective gear—are working around the clock to cut and package products to be shipped direct to customers. 

The couple has also seen an increase in sales at their local farmer’s markets.

 “We sell at two farmers markets in northern San Francisco that are going strong. People are coming out to buy directly from us,” said Loren. “What we noticed is that people are buying more than usual because they are no longer eating out and are forced to prepare 21 homecooked meals a week and that requires a lot of food.”

For decades, the organic regenerative food movement has advocated for more direct-to-consumer sales and better access to local food. That vision is gaining momentum amid the pandemic.  As the industrial food supply chain breaks down amid COVID-19, demand for locally produced food has surged.

 “In my local community people are united in helping and watching out for their neighbors, so we’re actually seeing a surge in solidarity,” said Loren. 

 Stemple Creek Ranch practices purposeful grazing to improve soil health

 In 2013, Stemple Creek Ranch was asked to participate in a 10-year study with the Marin Carbon Project, a consortium of independent agricultural institutions in Marin County, California. The project’s mission is to increase carbon sequestration in rangeland, agricultural and forest soils to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The Marin Carbon Project required the ranch to complete a soil assessment before applying organic compost to a portion of pastureland in an effort to increase soil carbon. The benefits were enhanced by purposefully grazing livestock, which help stomp the compost into the ground and leave behind natural fertilizer. 

On its website, the ranch says it’s “excited to be on the forefront of this ground-breaking research that is showing how best agriculture practices can harness atmospheric carbon to improve soil content on farms, and mitigate the effects of global warming.”

The regenerative practices not only build resilience on the ranch, but they also help educate consumers and get them excited about where their food comes from, said Loren, adding that it’s a win-win for food and farming, human health and the environment. 

“Smallhold regenerative farmers are a resilient bunch and we can get through this because we have all the fertility we need on our farm,” Loren said.

“With COVID-19, we are seeing provisions for inputs such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides getting tighter, and their distribution becoming more complicated. Hopefully, it will push some to look at using compost, worm teas and the greatness of soil health, adopting things like they were before World War II when we didn’t need to use chemicals.”

Despite the challenges, farming in a pandemic has presented the ranch with new opportunities to evolve its business model. The internet has been especially helpful, giving farmers and ranchers around the world the ability to share their successes and failures with one another. 

“We’ve been able to learn from each other by sharing ideas and learning from one another’s mistakes,” said Loren. “I think there’s a lot of really good things that could take off for small-scale agriculturists around the world.”

As far as the quarantine goes, Loren said there’s no other place he would rather be than confined to his ranch with his family. 

“I am really enjoying the fact that I am confined with my family and that I am eating three meals a day with my family and appreciating the bounty we are able to partake on a daily basis,” Loren said. 

“We are adapting and changing to the challenges, trials and tribulations that keep heading in our direction, with things we can’t even predict. So work is very hard, long and stressful but we are making more time to break bread as a family and eat together, which is really awesome.”

Oliver Gardiner is Regeneration International’s media producer and coordinator for Asia and Europe. To keep up with Regeneration International news, sign up for our newsletter.