Waiter, There’s a Problem with My Paradigm!

This article is part of the #CuraDaTerra essay series, focused on Indigenous perspectives and alternatives to industrial capitalism.

Certain humans have plotted for centuries to kill the Amazon.  Photographic evidence confirms that this scheme is now reaching a flaming, thundering crescendo, with tens of thousands of intentional fires and bulldozers tearing through the Amazonian rainforest, destroying acres every second.

We hasten to add that other humans are innocent bystanders, while yet other humans go further and have a plan to save that vast ecosystem.

But we have gotten well ahead of our story; first let’s enjoy a delicious bowl of peach-palm soup. For us, the soup’s richness dominates the culinary experience.  In both aroma and color there is a suggestion of squash, but that hint of sweet flavor is secondary to the dense, opulent texture that coats one’s mouth like whipped butter.

Or when we’re ravenous and need survival calories, we just stew the fruits in salted water, peel them, and eat what seems like the world’s finest roasted chestnut.

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UMass Amherst Microbiologists Clarify Relationship Between Microbial Diversity and Soil Carbon Storage

AMHERST, Mass. – In what they believe is the first study of its kind, researchers led by postdoctoral researcher Luiz A. Domeignoz-Horta and senior author Kristen DeAngelis at the University of Massachusetts Amherst report that shifts in the diversity of soil microbial communities can change the soil’s ability to sequester carbon, where it usually helps to regulate climate.

They also found that the positive effect of diversity on carbon use efficiency – which plays a central role in that storage – is neutralized in dry conditions. Carbon use efficiency refers to the carbon assimilated into microbial products vs carbon lost to the atmosphere as CO2 and contributing to climate warming, DeAngelis explains. Among other benefits, soil carbon makes soil healthy by holding water and helping plants grow.

She and colleagues addressed these questions because they point out, “empirical evidence for the response of soil carbon cycling to the combined effects of warming, drought and diversity loss is scarce.”

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Planet Watch: Regenerative Agriculture as One Answer to Planetary Crisis

Over the last few decades, modern industrialised agriculture has wrought havoc on natural systems. It has razed forests, decimated biodiversity, and has done immense damage to soils. Most individual farmers may just want to turn a profit to feed their families and pay off their mortgages, but collectively, if you look at what’s happening around the world, this form of agriculture is a major contributor to the ongoing degradation of our planet.

A primary impact of agriculture is soil degradation. Land-clearing, overgrazing, the impact of heavy farming equipment, chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and irrigation, all contribute to soil degradation. This has resulted in the degradation of one-third of the world’s soils:

  • 30 per cent of the world’s cropland has been abandoned over the past 40 years due to degradation and desertification,
  • 52 per cent of the land used for agriculture is moderately to severely affected by soil degradation.
  • 12 million hectares of cropland are lost per year (23 hectares per minute)

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Should No-Till Farming Be Adopted by All to Help the Earth?

Farmers around the world are looking for innovative methods to save water, reduce costs and produce higher yields. No-till farming is a popular practice to improve soil quality and reduce soil erosion. Instead of using a plow to disturb soil before planning, it employs a drill or alternative equipment to grow crops without breaking the ground.

Is no-till growing as great as it’s made out to be? Should it be adopted by all to help the Earth? The answer is yes and no. What it really comes down to is the type of no-till farming, and whether it is being used in collaboration with other environmental conservation practices.

In the United States, most no-till cultivation is conventional and uses a drill to plant monocultures like corn and soybeans. This method actually requires more herbicides than regular tillage.

However, there is another type of no-till farming that depends more on supporting the natural ecosystem and minimizing disruption to the soil. Regenerative agriculture is all about returning carbon to the ground instead of farming it out.

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Boost Biodiversity with Regenerative Agriculture

When you were growing up, how often did you have to clean your windshield? And how often do you have to do that now?

The universal answer is that remarkably few insects goo up our windshields today, even relative to a few decades ago.

The insect apocalypse is worldwide in scope, and is directly related to how we produce our food. One study estimates that we’ve lost 76 percent of insect biomass over the past 27 years. Two primary drivers of this staggering biodiversity loss are habitat loss associated with the industrialization of our food system, and the unintended consequences of agrichemical use. Reforming our food system gives us a powerful tool for combating this extensive biodiversity loss, and regenerative food systems can overcome many of the drivers of insect loss.

Ineffective Pest Control

Integrated pest management (IPM) was fighting a battle it could never win. In 1959, it became clear that our over-reliance on chemical pesticides was failing, and some scientists in California devised a systematic approach to pest management that could reduce chemical use and increase crop yield.

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Investors Say Agroforestry Isn’t Just Climate Friendly — It’s Also Profitable

In the latter part of 2016, Ethan Steinberg and two of his friends planned a driving tour across the U.S. to interview farmers. Their goal was to solve a riddle that had been bothering each of them for some time. Why was it, they wondered, that American agriculture basically ignored trees?

This was no esoteric inquiry. According to a growing body of scientific research, incorporating trees into farmland benefits everything from soil health to crop production to the climate. Steinberg and his friends, Jeremy Kaufman and Harrison Greene, also suspected it might yield something else: money.

“We had noticed there was a lot of discussion and movement of capital into holistic grazing, no till, cover cropping,” Steinberg recalls, referencing some of the land- and climate-friendly agricultural practices that have been garnering environmental and business attention recently. “We thought, what about trees? That’s when a lightbulb went off.”

The trio created Propagate Ventures, a company that now offers farmers software-based economic analysis, on-the-ground project management, and investor financing to help add trees and tree crops to agricultural models. One of Propagate’s key goals, Steinberg explained, was to get capital from interested investors to the farmers who need it — something he saw as a longtime barrier to this sort of tree-based agriculture.

Propagate quickly started attracting attention. Over the past two years, the group, based in New York and Colorado has expanded into eight states, primarily in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, and is now working with 20 different farms. Last month, it announced that it had received $1.5 million in seed funding from Boston-based Neglected Climate Opportunities, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham Environmental Trust.

A Propagate Ventures agroforestry project in Hudson, NY, planted in April 2020. Image courtesy of Propagate Ventures

“My hope is that they can help farmers diversify their production systems and sequester carbon,” says Eric Smith, investment officer for the trust. “In a perfect world, we’d have 10 to 20 percent of U.S. land production in agroforestry.”

For the past few years, private sector interest in “sustainable” and “climate-friendly” efforts has skyrocketed. Haim Israel, Bank of America’s head of thematic investment, suggested at the World Economic Forum earlier this year that the climate solutions market could double from $1 trillion today to $2 trillion by 2025. Flows to sustainable funds in the U.S. have been increasing dramatically, setting records even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the financial services firm Morningstar.

And while agriculture investment is only a small subset of these numbers, there are signs that investments in “regenerative agriculture,” practices that improve rather degrade than the earth, are also increasing rapidly. In a 2019 report, the Croatan Institute, a research institute based in Durham, North Carolina, found some $47.5 billion worth of investment assets in the U.S. with regenerative agriculture criteria.

“The capital landscape in the U.S. and globally is really shifting,” says David LeZaks, senior fellow at the Croatan Institute. “People are beginning to ask more questions about how their money is working for them as it relates to financial returns, or how it might be working against them in the creation of extractive economies, climate change or labor issues.”

Agroforestry, the ancient practice of incorporating trees into farming, is just one subset of regenerative agriculture, which itself is a subset of the much larger “ESG,” or Environmental, Social and Governance, investment world. But according to Smith and Steinberg, along with a small but growing number of financiers, entrepreneurs and company executives, it is one particularly ripe for investment.

Although relatively rare in the U.S., agroforestry is a widespread agricultural practice across the globe. Project Drawdown, a climate change mitigation think tank that ranks climate solutions, estimates that some 650 million hectares (1.6 billion acres) of land are currently in agroforestry systems; other groups put the number even higher. And the estimates for returns on those systems are also significant, according to proponents.

Vulcan Farm in Illinois combines intensive perennial polyculture, windbreaks, alley cropping, and silvopasture, and also features an innovative long-term lease model that provides options to non-operator landholders and land access for agroforestry farmers. Photo courtesy of Savanna Institute.

Ernst Götsch, a leader in the regenerative agriculture world, estimates that agroforestry systems can create eight times more profit than conventional agriculture. Harry Assenmacher, founder of the German company Forest Finance, which connects investors to sustainable forestry and agroforestry projects, said in a 2019 interview that he expects between 4% and 7% return on investments at least; his company had already paid out $7.5 million in gains to investors, with more income expected to be generated later.

This has led to a wide variety of for-profit interest in agroforestry. There are small startups, such as Propagate, and small farmers, such as Martin Anderton and Jono Neiger, who raise chickens alongside new chestnut trees on a swath of land in western Massachusetts. In Mexico, Ronnie Cummins, co-founder and international director of the Organic Consumers Association, is courting investors for funds to support a new agave agroforestry project. Small coffee companies, such as Dean’s Beans, are using the farming method, as are larger farms, such as former U.S. vice president Al Gore’s Caney Fork Farms. Some of the largest chocolate companies in the world are investing in agroforestry.

“We are indeed seeing a growing interest from the private sector,” says Dietmar Stoian, lead scientist for value chains, private sector engagement and investments with the research group World Agroforestry, also known by the acronym ICRAF. “And for some of them, the idea of agroforestry is quite new.”

Part of this, he and others say, is growing awareness about agroforestry’s climate benefits.

Gains for the climate, too

According to Project Drawdown, agroforestry practices are some of the best natural methods to pull carbon out of the air. The group ranked silvopasture, a method that incorporates trees and livestock together, as the ninth most impactful climate change solution in the world, above rooftop solar power, electric vehicles and geothermal energy.

If farmers increased silvopasture acreage from approximately 550 million hectares today to about 770 million hectares by 2050 (1.36 billion acres to 1.9 billion acres), Drawdown estimated carbon dioxide emissions could be reduced over those 30 years by up to 42 gigatons — more than enough to offset all of the carbon dioxide emitted by humans globally in 2015, according to NOAA — and could return $206 billion to $273 billion on investment.

Part of the reason that agroforestry practices are so climate friendly (systems without livestock, i.e. ‘normal’ agroforestry like shade grown coffee, for example, are also estimated by Drawdown to return well on investment, while sequestering 4.45 tons of carbon per hectare per year) is because of what they replace.

Photo of silvopasture system in Georgia by Mack Evans. Image via U.S. National Agroforestry Center.

Traditional livestock farming, for instance, is carbon intensive. Trees are cut down for pasture, fossil fuels are used as fertilizer for feed, and that feed is transported across borders, and sometimes the world, using even more fossil fuels.

Livestock raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), produce more methane than cows that graze on grass. A silvopasture system, on the other hand, involves planting trees in pastures — or at least not cutting them down. Farmers rotate livestock from place to place, allowing soil to hold onto more carbon.

There are similar benefits to other types of agroforestry practices. Forest farming, for instance, involves growing a variety of crops under a forest canopy — a process that can improve biodiversity and soil quality, and also support the root systems and carbon sequestration potential of farms.

A changing debate

Etelle Higonnet, senior campaign director at campaign group Mighty Earth, says a growing number of chocolate companies have expressed interest in incorporating agroforestry practices — a marked shift from when she first started advocating for that approach.

“When we first started talking to chocolate companies and traders about agroforestry, pretty much everybody thought I was a nutter,” she says. “But fast forward three years on and pretty much every major chocolate company and cocoa trader is developing an agroforestry plan.”

What that means on the ground, though, can vary widely, she says. Most of the time it is a company’s sustainability department that is pushing for agroforestry investment, not the C-suite. Some companies have committed to sourcing 100% of their cacao from agroforestry systems. Others are content with 5% of their cacao coming from farms that use agroforestry.

Alley cropping is a common form of agroforestry, where annual crops like hay, grains, or vegetables are grown between long rows of useful fruit or fodder trees. Here livestock advisor Gaabi Hathaway and herding dog Bohdi inspect ‘mulberry alley’ at Tennessee’s Caney Fork Farms. Image by Sherman Thomas courtesy of Caney Fork Farms.

What a company considers “agroforestry” can also be squishy, she points out — a situation that makes her and other climate advocates worry about companies using the term to “greenwash,” or essentially pretend to be environmentally friendly without making substantive change.

“What is agroforestry?” says Simon Konig, executive director of Climate Focus North America. “There is no clear definition. There’s an academic, philosophical definition, but there’s not a practical definition, nothing that says, ‘it includes this many species.’ Basically, agroforestry is anything you want it to be, and anything you want to write on your brochure.”

He says he has seen cases in South America where people have worked to transform degraded cattle ranches into cocoa plantations. They have planted banana trees alongside cocoa, which needs shade when young. But when the cocoa is five years old and requires more sun, the farmers take out the bananas.

“They say, ‘it’s agroforestry,’” Konig says. “So there are misunderstandings — there are different objectives and standards.”

He has been working to produce a practical agroforestry guide for cocoa and chocolate companies. One of the guide’s main takeaways, he says, is that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to agroforestry. It depends on climate, objectives, markets, and all sorts of other variables.

This is one of the reasons that agroforestry has been slow to gain investor attention, says LeZaks of the Croatan Institute.

“There really aren’t the technical resources — the infrastructure, the products — that work to support an agroforestry sector at the moment,” LeZaks says.

Pigs raised on New Forest Farm in Wisconsin benefit from tree shade, fruits and nuts. Livestock serve multiple purposes in agroforestry, such as pest management, soil fertilization, and additional farm revenue. Photo courtesy of Savanna Institute.

While agroforestry is seen as having significant potential for the carbon offset market, its variability makes it a more complicated agricultural investment. Another challenge to agroforestry investment is time.

Tree crops take years to produce nuts, berries or timber. This can be a barrier for farmers, who often do not have extra capital to tie up for years.

It can also turn off investors.

“People are bogged down by business as usual,” says Stoian from World Agroforestry. “They have to report to shareholders. Give regular reports. It’s almost contradictory to the long-term nature of agroforestry.”

This is where Steinberg and Propagate Ventures come in. The first part of the company’s work is to fully analyze a farmer’s operation, Steinberg says. It evaluates business goals, uses geographic information system (GIS) components to map out land, and determines the trees most appropriate for the particular agricultural system. With software analytics, Propagate predicts long-term cost-to-revenue and yields, key information for both farmers and possible private investors.

After the analysis phase, Propagate helps implement the agroforestry system. It also works to connect third-party investors with farmers, using a revenue-sharing model in which the investor takes a percentage of the profit from harvested tree crops and timber.

Additionally, Propagate works to arrange commercial contracts with buyers who are interested in adding agroforestry-sourced products to their supply chains.

“Here’s an opportunity to work with farmers to increase profitability by incorporating tree crops into their operations in a way that’s context specific,” Steinberg says. “And it also starts addressing the ecological challenge that we face in agriculture and beyond.”

This report is part of Mongabay’s ongoing coverage of trends in global agroforestry, view the full series here.

Reposted with permission from Mongabay

Seeds of Change in Times of Crisis

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations in the U.S. and Latin America that save, produce and sell seeds have seen a significant increase in the demand for native seeds. This new interest in seeds comes with great opportunities, but also some challenges.

Motivated to learn more about this phenomenon, Valeria García López, a researcher in agroecology in Colombia and Mexico, and David Greenwood-Sánchez, a political scientist specializing in GMO regulation in Latin America, set out to do some research.

Both López and Greenwood-Sánchez are independent researchers who in recent years have been part of different movements in defense of seeds in Latin America and the U.S. Both believe that this new interest in seeds, in the context of the current economic, food and health crisis, highlights the challenges local seed systems are facing in a post-pandemic scenario.

We recently spoke with López and Greenwood-Sánchez to learn more about their work, their love for seeds and biocultural diversity, as well as the motivations for their research.

Seeds and biocultural diversity: a love story

Greenwood-Sánchez is a native of Minnesota but his mother is Peruvian. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and a Master’s Degree in Public Policy. During his studies, he had to do an internship and decided to do it in Peru, looking for his roots.

Over the course of his research, Greenwood-Sánchez found out that Cusco, a city in the Peruvian Andes, had declared itself a GMO-free region, thanks to a push by potato growers and the existing moratorium on GMOs in Peru. Curious to know more, Greenwood-Sánchez ended up doing an internship at the Parque de la Papa (Potatoe’s Park), an association of five indigenous communities that manages more than 1000 varieties of potatoes and works on issues related to biodiversity, intellectual property and biocultural records. There, he discovered agrobiodiversity and its link to culture and traditions, and how people can promote agrobiodiversity through their culture and day-to-day life. He then decided to pursue a Doctorate in Public Policy at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

David Greenwood-Sánchez planting potatoes in Minnesota

Greenwood-Sánchez’s research has focused on the construction of systems that regulate GMOs in Latin America, using Mexico and Peru as case studies. In Mexico, certain GM crops can be planted, while in Peru, there is a moratorium on GMOs. His research focuses on the different groups that come together for the defense of biodiversity, on how the state, society and global markets join their efforts to demand policies that regulate the use of GMOs. This is closely related to the identity of each country, its people and how that identity is connected to their biodiversity, for example corn in Mexico, or potatoes in Peru.

García López is Colombian, but has been living in Mexico for five years. For the past six years she’s worked with networks of seed keepers, mainly in Antioquia, where she is originally from. She studied biology and then did her internship on agrobiodiversity and orchards in southern Colombia, near the border with Ecuador. There she discovered the wonders of agrobiodiversity. Being in love with the High Andean region, she went to Ecuador, where she did a Master’s Degree in conservation of the páramo ecosystem and its relationship with climate change.

Back in Colombia, García López discovered the Colombian Free Seeds Network (RSLC). But in Antioquia, her native region, there was no local seed network, so she and other people were assigned to work to create a division of the network RSLC. Since the end of 2014, she worked to support the creation of community seed houses that would represent the first steps to create a Participatory Seed Guarantee System (GSP). That system would allow a certification of agroecological seeds under criteria internally established by the territories themselves, by indigenous and small farmers’ organizations—not by external entities, whether private or public.

This process has also allowed for progress toward the declaration of GMO-free territories. By taking advantage of protected indigenous reserves, which are exempt from complying with the Free Treaties Trade, García López and others were able to ban GMOs from the indigenouse reserves, and create a program to promote the conservation of native seeds.

García López recently completed her PhD in Ecology and Rural Development at the Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR), Mexico. The topic of her research was how seed guardian networks use different strategies to defend seeds. She studied cases both in Mexico and Colombia after observing that in both countries, the defense of native and creole seeds has intensified and how seed networks have come together to face threats. In fact, seed initiatives that had already existed but worked in isolation are now joining forces around a common goal.

Valeria García López holding a huge and beautiful squash she just harvested.

COVID-19 as catalyst for the agroecological movement

The pandemic of 2020 has exposed the fragility of the conventional food system, with its agribusiness corporations and long supply chains. Food supply problems, especially in urban centers, as well as an increase in prices and speculation have only been symptoms of this fragility.

Today, it is the small farmers who in many places keep local supplies going. In Brazil, for example, farmers from the Landless Workers Movement (MST for its Portuguese acronym) are donating food to people living in the cities. Organized movements in the countryside are mobilizing a lot of food, showing the capacity of alternative movements to respond.

The relationship between food and health is another topic spotlighted by the pandemic. People with chronic diseases linked to bad eating habits—diseases such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension and high cholesterol caused by bad eating habits—are more vulnerable to the virus. In fact, the strength or weakness of the immune system is greatly determined by our diet.

Hippocrates, father of modern medicine, said it more than 2,500 years ago: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” This is why many people today are paying more attention to the food on their plates, its origin, how it was cultivated. People are more interested than ever in healthy eating, planting and having home gardens, and buying local food directly from the producers.

The pandemic has been shown the need to promote local agro-ecological food systems, which have proven to be more resilient than agribusiness systems. In this context, local and resilient seed systems become especially relevant, as they are the foundation upon which food sovereignty is built.

Pandemic times: Panic or hope? Looking for the seeds of change

García López and Greenwood-Sánchez are motivated to show there is hope despite the current global health and economic crisis. They decided to look beyond the mass media’s panic-inducing narrative about food insecurity, and investigate for themselves what was happening with producers. In particular, they wanted to know more about the initiatives related to the defense, reproduction, exchange and commercialization of native seeds, with the aim of learning and preserving traditional knowledge and practices in times where resilient and regenerative systems are much needed.

 To carry on their research, they followed up on the news, and they conducted a series of surveys and personal interviews (though not face-to-face, to comply with current social distancing). More than 25 initiatives from six countries in the Americas participated in the research: U.S., Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Argentina and Peru. Medium-sized and family owned companies and individual, community, rural and urban initiatives gave their insights.

Here are some of the conclusions they drew from their research:

  • People are going back to appreciating what’s essential, the common goods, what sustains life. The crisis highlights the need to know where our food comes from, the importance of soil, water, and food justice.
  • More people are realizing the importance of growing their own food. Many people and organizations are now more aware of the importance of growing food for self-consumption. Many are starting their own gardens for the first time.
  • There’s a greater appreciation for the work seedkeepers do. The pandemic has generated greater awareness regarding the importance of food and farmers, as well as the role of seedkeepers who have preserved agrobiodiversity in a traditional way and who also have the knowledge on how to cultivate and care for seeds.
  • There’s renewed interest in seeds and food exchanges. Many traditional practices from indigenous people, such as Ayni in the Andean region, are becoming even more valuable today and inspire new forms of collaboration through networks of trust, support and solidarity.
  • People are realizing the need to be more creative to meet the rising demand for seeds. Many seed initiatives and ventures have been overwhelmed by the growing demand, exceeding their capacity to respond, and have had to creatively restructure their work in order to cope with the explosion of orders.

Collective planting. Photograph by Valeria García López.

 Who is behind the growing demand for seeds?

García López and Greenwood-Sánchez have found that it is not so much the institutions, companies or the government but the people and the communities who have been organizing themselves to acquire seeds and plant them. People are very interested in finding solutions and helping other people, out of pure solidarity.

Greenwood-Sánchez mentions, for example, an initiative that he promoted together with a group of friends, which today brings together about 700 people. The “Twin Cities Front Yard Organic Gardeners Club” encourages people to grow food on their front yard. Traditionally, in U.S. cities, people would have their vegetable gardens in the backyard, a custom that was especially adopted after the Second World War (Victory Gardens). In general, in the front yard there is just grass. But this is changing with the growing movement to replace grass with food. 

Front yard being turned into a vegetable garden. Photo by David Greenwood-Sánchez

Another example in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where Greenwood-Sánchez lives, is the “Outplant the Outbreak” campaign, which consists of making seed packets and putting them inside boxes where books are normally put, for public use and for free.

Envelopes with seeds for free. Photo by David Greenwood-Sánchez

In Peru, the government has started a campaign called “Hay que papear” to address the crisis by promoting potato consumption, as a complete, nutritious and cheap local food, and also to counter the general tendency to devalue this crop and to make its producers more invisible.

With growing interest come new challenges

While interest in seeds and growing food has spiked during the pandemic, the uptick in  interest has revealed new challenges. As part of their research, García López and Greenwood-Sánchez identified some of these challenges and potential solutions, including:

  • The greater demand for open-pollinated seeds requires a necessary increase in supply, which poses challenges in the organizational, technical, training, economic and legislative areas. Structural changes are needed to facilitate the growth and development of this sector.
  • Current seed laws and international treaties favor transnational seed companies and the promotion of GMOs. These laws threaten local seed systems, which are the basis of food sovereignty. Some examples are UPOV 91, the Seed Production, Certification and Commercialization Law or the Reforms to the Federal Law of Plant Varieties, in Mexico. To strengthen people’s food sovereignty, the first step should be to curb these treaties and laws and promote those that strengthen local seed systems, which have proven to be much more resilient against supply chain outages and the climate crisis. Fortunately, the greater awareness of the importance of agriculture and food, as well as the greater interest in growing your own food, is also bringing to the table the importance of these seed laws and treaties.
  • There need to be efforts to create public policies and laws that stimulate and strengthen local seed systems, including structural reforms at the market level to allow commercialization and seed exchange initiatives that cannot be subject to the same certification criteria as large transnational corporations.
  • One of the main arguments against the creation of seed laws that regulate and control the production of native and creole seeds is that the production of these seeds is not stable, unique or homogeneous. The main value of native and creole open-pollinated seeds is their genetic diversity, which gives them enormous capacity to respond and adapt to new geographic and climatic conditions. In Colombia, over a period of three years, several workshops and forums were held at the local and national level in order to identify the most important principles for seed guardians. The Participatory Guarantee Systems (SPG) has put together its own criteria, based on seven principles. It should be noted that one of the criteria of the Network of Free Seeds of Colombia regarding the sale of seeds specifies that in fact seeds themselves are not sold. What is sold is all the work behind the seeds, and what makes their existence possible. This is great progress, since it recognizes seeds as a common good which cannot be commercialized.
  • It is necessary to promote and protect the autonomy of the communities that have been practicing agriculture and that have cared for, selected and multiplied seeds for thousands of years. They do not need external validation, because these are practices that they have done for a long time. The challenge, rather than imposing external rules, is to ask ourselves how we can support them, how we can be useful for their work to prosper.
  • As more and more people start to grow their own food for the first time, it is essential to generate and promote educational spaces or gardens where these people can learn how to plant and maintain their gardens. It is important to understand the seeds should be planted, not saved and accumulated. Using them, multiplying them, exchanging them, donating them is the way to go.

 Next steps

Once García López and Greenwood-Sánchez complete the analysis of their research, they will share the results with all those who participated. They will also create a report, using plain language so it is suitable for the general public, to highlight the challenges that local seed systems face with this growing interest for native and native seeds.

Would you like to know more about the work Valeria and David do?

Write them a message: vagarcialopez@gmail.com, davidgreenwoodsanchez@gmail.com

Claudia Flisfisch Cortés is an agroecology specialist who is part of the commission of seeds and the articulating commission of RIHE (Chilean Network of Educational Gardens).To keep up with Regeneration International news, sign up for our newsletter.

Living Off the Fat of the Land—Not the Fat of the Lab

All of my life I have heard, and used, the expression “Living off of the Fat of the Land.”

To me, that expression means doing well from the excesses that come from what you have. It is kind of like living on the interest that is paid on your savings account.

The definition of the idiomatic phrase supports that meaning:

To live off the fat of the land means to live well, to live off the surrounding abundance. The term live off the fat of the land was first used in the King James Version of the Bible, translated 1611, Genesis 45:18: “And take your father and your households, and come unto me: and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land.”

An ecosystem that is operating optimally results in an abundance, which is true wealth. This abundance occurs only when the carbon cycle, water cycle, mineral cycle, energy cycle, microbial cycle, and all of the myriad of other cycles are operating properly.

Food that is produced naturally in a good working ecosystem is good for you. It is what nature produces, and what we evolved to eat. It is the true Fat of the Land.

Sadly, industrial, centralized, commodity farming practices are very effective at breaking these natural cycles. Much of the food that we now eat is manufactured in a laboratory. I think of it as the Fat of the Lab.

We now make meat in laboratories through methods that come from reductionist science. We are told that this fat [and protein] of the lab are better for us than the fat [and protein] of the land.

In a recent interview with CNBC, Impossible Foods CEO Patrick Brown expressed how he thinks the meat market will be obsolete in 20 years.

“From a nutritional standpoint our products match the protein quality and content of the animal products that they replace” and “ours is a clear winner from a health and nutrition standpoint,” [Brown] said in a “Mad Money” interview.

“This is why I think people are increasingly aware plant-based products are going to completely replace the animal-based products in the food world within the next 15 years. That’s our mission. That transformation is inevitable,” he told host Jim Cramer.

What could possibly go wrong in these laboratories? Many scientific processes and technologies are invented through reductionist science. These scientific methods almost always have unintended consequences that go unnoticed, often, for decades.

Of course, there can be good consequences (like penicillin for example). But more often than not, what we may call a “scientific breakthrough” at the time can later be recognized and recalled for dangerous unintended consequences.

Think about the number of modifications that we tried to impose on natural cycles, only to find out the unintended consequences later: using chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as a refrigerant or in aerosol sprays that depleted the ozone, adding antibiotics in poultry and livestock feed that are growing antibiotic-resistant diseases, eliminating wolves from national parks that led to overpopulation and starvation.

Brown says that the transformation from meat to to plant-based products made in a lab is “inevitable”. To that I say:

• There is no natural cycle that creates fake meat.

• There is no regeneration of land when meat is made in a lab.

• Nor is there any reversal of the impoverishment of rural America that was caused by industrialized agriculture.

• There is nothing inevitable or permanent about creating a new manufacturing process, unknown to nature.

The Fat of the Lab is very new. The Fat of the Land has been under testing for a really long time. In our family, we’ve been living and eating The Fat of our Land since 1866. I trust cows and hogs a Helluva lot more than I trust chemists and marketers.

Wall Street and Silicon Valley will lie to you. Livestock don’t lie. CEO’S are self-serving. Cows are sincere.

Will Harris, owner of White Oaks Pastures Farm in Bluffton, Georgia, is a fifth-generation farmer and rancher. Harris is a co-chair of the national coalition of U.S. Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal.

Perspectives from Chad, Africa: COVID-19, Climate Change and Indigenous Knowledge

REPUBLIC OF CHAD, Africa – While COVID-19 has forced most of the world into lockdown, we are fortunate to report that our “Trails of Regeneration” video series is alive and well. Over the last few months we’ve focused on reporting the effects of the pandemic on farmers and ranchers and indigenous peoples from around the world. 

In our latest “Trails of Regeneration” episode, “Perspectives from Chad, Africa: Covid-19, Climate Change and Indigenous Knowledge,” we proudly feature Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, an award-winning environmental activist and indigenous woman from the Mbororo pastoralist community in Chad, which practices nomadic cattle herding.

Ibrahim is an expert in adaptation and mitigation of indigenous peoples and women in relation to climate change, traditional knowledge and the adaptation of pastoralists in Africa. She is founder and coordinator of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT), which works to empower indigenous voices and improve quality of life by creating economic opportunities and protecting the natural resources to which pastoralist communities depend on.

Ibrahim was recently named Emerging Explorer 2017 by National Geographic. She has worked on the rights of indigenous peoples and the protection of the environment through the three Rio Conventions—on Biodiversity, Climate Change and Desertification—which originated out of the 1992 Earth Summit. 

The Mbororo pastoralist community reside near Lake Chad, located in the far west of Chad and the northeast of Nigeria. It was once Africa’s largest water reservoir in the Sahel region, spanning 26,000 kilometers. However, the lake has continued to shrink over time and is now thought to be one-fifth of its original size. 

Experts say climate change, population growth and inefficient damming and irrigation systems are to blame. The loss of water in Lake Chad is having serious adverse effects on communities, such as the Mbororo people, who are forced to migrate greater distances in search of water and green pastures. 

In a Zoom interview with Regeneration International, Ibrahim explained that in one year, the Mbororo people can travel up to a thousand kilometers and beyond, relying solely on nature and rainfall. Ibrahim told us:

“Nature is our main health, food and education system. It represents everything for us. In our culture, men and women depend equally on nature in their daily activities. The men herd the cattle towards water and pastures, while the women collect firewood, food and drinking water for the community. This provides a socially strong gender balance to our community.”

However, the degradation of natural resources is threatening these traditions, leading to human conflicts, particularly between farmers and pastoralists whose cattle sometimes roam onto nearby cropland and cause damage. These conflicts have forced Mbororo men to urban areas in search of a new line of work. Sometimes they don’t return, and the women, children and elderly are left behind to fend for themselves, Ibrahim told us.

In an effort to preserve the Mbororo’s nomadic way of life, and to help resolve conflicts between farmers and herders, Ibrahim established a project in 2012 with the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and the World Meteorological Organization. The project uses indigenous knowledge and 3D mapping technology to map Chad’s Sagel region, home to 250,000 Mbororo people. 

Through its 3D maps, the project brings together rival farmers and pastoralists to collaboratively draw lines of land ownership and reach agreements on grazing pathways and corridors. The work has helped farmers and pastoralists agree on land boundaries, as well as established a calendaring system to coordinate grazing patterns with the harvesting of crops. 

The result is a win-win solution where cattle fertilize and enrich the land through purposeful grazing. This prevents crop damage and helps to mitigate climate change. According to Ibrahim:

“When we experience climate change, we use our nomadic way of life as a solution. When we go from one place to another, resting two or three days per location, the dung from our cattle fertilizes the land and helps the ecosystem regenerate naturally.

“Our traditional knowledge is based on the observation of nature which is the common denominator of all the traditional indigenous knowledge around the world. We live in harmony with biodiversity because we observe insects that give us information on the health of an ecosystem.

“We look at bird migration patterns to predict the weather and we learn from the behavior of our animals who communicate a lot of information. We look at the wind. When the wind transports a lot of particulates from nature during the dry season, we know that we are going to have a good rainy season. This is free information we use to help balance community and ecosystem health and adapt to climate change.”

Ibrahim believes that events such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, are nature’s way of letting us know she is mad because we are mistreating her. In order to heal the planet, we must listen to our wisdom and respect nature, she says.

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.

‘Carbon Farming’ Could Make US Agriculture Truly Green

ON A FARM in north-central Indiana, Brent Bible raises 5,000 acres of corn and soybeans that go into producing ethanol fuel, food additives and seeds. In Napa Valley, California, Kristin Belair picks the best grapes from 50 acres of vineyards to create high-end cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc wines. Both are part of a growing number of “carbon farmers” who are reducing planet-warming greenhouse gases by taking better care of the soil that sustains their farms. That means making changes like plowing fields less often, covering soil with composted mulch and year-round cover crops, and turning drainage ditches into rows of trees.

Now Congress is considering legislation that would make these green practices eligible for a growing international carbon trading marketplace that would also reward farmers with cash.

This morning, Bible is scheduled to testify at a Capitol Hill hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee that is considering the carbon farming legislation.

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