March 9: Is Healthy Soil the Solution to Global Warming?

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What: National Press Club event with French Ministry of Agriculture to discuss soil carbon sequestration
When: Wednesday, March 9,  8 a.m. – 11 a.m.
Where: The Holeman Lounge at the National Press Club – 529 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20045

In December, at the COP21 Climate Summit in Paris, the French Ministry of Agriculture launched “4 per 1000: Soils for Food Security and Climate,” an initiative to mitigate, and eventually reverse, climate change by increasing soil carbon worldwide by 0.4% per year. So far, 26 countries and more than 50 organizations have formally signed on to the initiative.

Is healthy soil the solution to global warming? Is the 4 per 1000 initiative realistic?

On March 9, Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle, Director General for the Economic and Environmental Performance of Enterprises of the French Ministry of Agriculture, will join soil scientists and others to discuss the science behind soil carbon sequestration and how to drive the rapid, worldwide adoption of regenerative agriculture techniques that sequester carbon.

Regeneration International would like to invite you to join the conversation about this shovel-ready solution to global warming on March 9 at 8 a.m. at the National Press Club.

PLEASE REGISTER HERE
DOWNLOAD THE PROGRAM HERE
SPEAKERS WILL INCLUDE:

* Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle, Director General for Economic and Environmental Performance of Enterprises, French Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry
* David C. Johnson, Ph.D., New Mexico State University
* Tim LaSalle, Ph.D., Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
* Andre Leu, IFOAM – Organics International
* Kris Nichols, Ph.D., Rodale Institute
* Richard Teague, Ph.D., Texas A & M

MEDIA KIT

Press Release
Speaker Bios (PDF)

Soil-Climate Fact Sheet (PDF)
Media Advisory (PDF)
Program (PDF)

Cover Crops, a Farming Revolution With Deep Roots in the Past

Author: Stephanie Storm

When Mark Anson came home with his hair on fire after a seminar on the seemingly soporific topic of soil health, his younger brother, Doug, was skeptical.

What had Mark lit up was cover crops: fields of noncash crops like hairy vetch and cereal rye that act on soil like a nourishing facial after the harvest.

Mark, 60, and his two brothers, together with assorted sons and sons-in-law, run Anson Farms, a big commercial soybean and corn operation in Indiana and Illinois. Concern about the soil quality of the family’s fields had nagged at him for some time. “Our corn was wilting when temperatures hit 103 degrees,” he said, and such heat isn’t so unusual in the summer. “I felt like I had a gorilla on my shoulder.” What he learned about the benefits of cover crops gave him hope.

But to Doug, planting some noncommercial crops seemed an antiquated practice, like using a horse-drawn plow. Cover crops had long been replaced by fertilizers. Still, he shared his brother’s concern about their soil. Its texture was different, not as loamy as it had once been, and a lot of it was running off into ditches and other waterways when it rained.

Keep Reading in The New York Times

Agents of Hope — the Story of Africa’s Chikukwa Community and TSURO Projects

In Zimbabwe, agriculture is a critical sector for the economy. It accounts for about 18 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 70 percent of employment. Sadly, this critical sector is failing. Rural and communal populations suffer from malnutrition, and chronic droughts, causing chronic dependency on food aid and hand-outs.

As a person with first hand experience of rural poverty, news of hopeful farming practices is always more than welcome. But the best, most hopeful practices are those that are scalable, and can be deployed anywhere, to bring about positive change.

That’s why the story of the Chikukwa Community project, which has influenced and continues to impact the whole of the Chimanimani District, is such a remarkable story of hope.

This story of hope started in 1991, in the eastern and mountainous region of Zimbabwe, at a small communal land called Chikukwa. This area is also part of the Chimanimani Key Biodiversity Area bordering Mozambique. The once-treasured land in one of the Chikukwa villages, Chitekete, had degraded into a desertified landscape, with a drying spring.

Seeing a dire need, the community sought out a one-week training in permaculture design. With that one step, their journey began!

In my 10 years of work as a development worker, I’ve learned this one truth about successful projects: Solutions do not come from outside, they lie within the community. Once people decide it is time for change, then it is time, and the change that follows is more likely to last.

The success of this one village project spread to beautiful six villages, which led in 1996 to the establishment of a community-based organization (CBO), named the Chikukwa Ecological Land Use Community Trust (CELUCT). Initially, this project had a positive impact on about 7,000 people and 110 households. The project now runs a communally owned training centre, the Chikukwa Permaculture Community Centre, a hub for training programs throughout the region.

The Chikukwa Project is designed to exist outside NGO and donor influences. In most cases, programs fizzle out as soon as their funding runs out, because donors and most NGOs really do not have time to build relationships, create ownership and allow communities to determine the pace as they lead the implementation process. However, in participatory and community-driven projects, money and social conflict don’t hinder progress, proving that old saying that “where there’s a will there’s a way.”

Projects that take a community-based approach are empowering as they foster self reliance. The Chikukwa Project has led to 80 percent of the community’s households using permaculture techniques that have made these households self-reliant when it comes to food. Not only that, but community members’ surroundings have been revitalized, as they continue to reverse rangelands desertification.

The Chikukwa project is communally driven (photo credit:Wikimedia localcultures.com)

Now, after 25 years of permaculture practice, the Chikukwa Project has inspired the whole of Chimanimani region in the eastern highlands of Zimbabwe. It has led to the creation of a new organization-TSURO (Towards Sustainable Use of Resources Organization). TSURO is a democratic member-driven grassroots organization with currently 154 subscribed TSURO village groups and a supporting CBO by the name TSURO Trust.

In 2011, CELUCT and TSURO received training in Holistic Land and Livestock Management at the Africa Centre for Holistic Management. Holistic Management (Holistic grazing) is a tool used to restore vast spaces of degraded land. CELUCT and TSURO have deployed these practices in five wards (a ward is a cluster of between 6-14 villages each). These wards are situated in the very dry area of Gudyanga, in the western low parts of the district, in the medium altitude of Chayamiti and Shinja and in the eastern high veld 1500 meters above sea level.

By combining the tools of permaculture and Holistic Management, both powerful approaches for rapid change, communities are addressing both immediate household level needs of food, money and stability, and the long-term needs of healthy land, good management systems and plans that will be ongoing in order to sustain a future of a healthy and self-reliant community. What I find most striking in this project is the building in of farmer led advocacy for farmer rights!

For example, in the Chimanimani District alone, land degradation was once viewed as a monster threat to communal dwellers. Through TSURO, the situation is slowly and steadily improving. TSURO works in all 21 wards of the Chimanimani district, where they have been facilitating a wide range of community-based initiatives, including the introduction of holistic management in five wards, and the establishment of more than 100 Farmer Action Learning Groups that focus on farmer-based research and experimentation. Research also includes climate change and watershed management.

The communities are also implementing community-based seed systems that address production, preservation, storage, saving and exchange. They use open pollinated varieties of seed. Chimanimani farmers are increasingly rejecting genetically modified seeds, which have caused problems in some other countries in southern Africa, and instead planting small grains. The district-wide project also implements household permaculture design, small livestock rearing and horticulture. Bee keeping and commercial marketing of rich organic honey as well as community based agro-processing and marketing, provide added economic benefits.

If 48 percent of Africa’s population depends on agriculture, and yet the agriculture sector has been declining continent-wide, then maybe we need to revisit agriculture strategies that no longer work, and implement new strategies that do work. The Chikukwa and TSURO projects are proof that lands can be restored, and the practices that restore them can be scaled up. If local people everywhere assumed full responsibility for solving their problems, we would see more land, economic and social regeneration across the world.

We will be making efforts to follow and document Chikukwa and TSURO stories, to share with the world just what is possible when local farmers—not big outside donors—take charge!

Precious Phiri is the Zimbabwe-based Africa coordinator for Regeneration International, a project of the Organic Consumers Association.

Scotland launches ambitious organic food plan to build farming resilience

Author: Philip Case

A bold new action plan for organic food production to help build a more sustainable farming future and regenerate the rural economy is being launched for Scotland.

“Organic Ambitions: An Action Plan for organic food and farming in Scotland 2016-2020” will be unveiled on 27 January.

The new plan will be officially launched on the first day of the Organic Research Centre’s annual conference, being held in Bristol.

Organic Ambitions is a major revision of Organic Futures, an organic action plan produced in 2011 and revised in 2013, which aimed to strengthen Scotland’s organic food sector.

Wendy Seel, chairman of the Scottish Organic Forum, who have built the new plan following an extensive consultation, said: “Organic Ambitions will aim to build knowledge about organics, strength in the organic supply chain and skills across the organic sector.”

Keep Reading in Farmers Weekly

Ruminants and methane: Not the fault of the animals

Author: Alan Broughton

Cattle and sheep are blamed for contributing to greenhouse gases, belching out methane, and farmers in the future are likely to be taxed because of it.

The recent Green Left Weekly climate change liftout [issue #1078] calls for a drastic reduction in sheep and cattle numbers. There is a TV advertisement, urging people to “go vego to save the planet”. This is a gross misunderstanding of the ruminant carbon cycle.

Ruminants have always emitted methane; it is not something new. Huge herds of wild buffalo, cattle, goats, sheep, deer, cameloids and wildebeest have grazed the grasslands of the world for millions of years. The American prairies once supported greater numbers of bison than they now do cattle, despite the intensive corn and soy production that feeds them.

Methane emissions from wild ruminants was never a problem because nature does not permit waste — the methane was used as food for methanotrophic bacteria in the soil and neutralised. It was never a problem until agricultural practices started destroying these methanotrophic bacteria, which are very sensitive to chemical fertilisers and herbicides. These bacteria reactivate in biologically managed soil.

However, methane is not the whole picture. When the contribution of livestock to soil carbon sequestration is taken into account it is easy to see that ruminants do not increase greenhouse gases if they are managed well.

Grassland soils are the greatest sequesters of carbon — greater than forests. In the top one metre of soils in temperate grasslands there is an average of 236 tonnes of carbon, compared to 96 in temperate forest soils and 80 in cropland.

Keep Reading in Green Left Weekly

The pulse of life

When pulses are removed from farming systems, synthetic nitrogen fertilisers are used… A recent study has shown that organic farming increased nitrogen content of soil between 44 and 144 per cent.

Pulses are truly the pulse of life: for the soil, for people and the planet. In our farms they give life to the soil by providing nitrogen. This is how ancient cultures enriched their soils. Farming did not begin with the Green Revolution and synthetic nitrogen fertilisers. Whether it is the diversity-based systems of India, or the three sisters planted by the first nations in North America, or the ancient Milpa system of Mexico, beans and pulses were vital to indigenous agro-ecological systems.

As Sir Albert Howard, known as the father of modern agriculture, writes in An Agricultural Testament, comparing agriculture in the West with agriculture in India: “Mixed crops are the rule. In this respect the cultivators of the Orient have followed nature’s method as seen in the primeval forest. Mixed cropping is perhaps most universal when the cereal crop is the main constituent. Crops like millets, wheat, barley and maize are mixed with an appropriate subsidiary pulse, sometimes a species that ripens much later than the cereal. The pigeon pea (cajanus indicus), perhaps the most important leguminous crop of the Gangetic alluvium, is grown either with millets or with maize… Leguminous plants are common. Although it was not until 1888, after a protracted controversy lasting 30 years, that Western science finally accepted as proved the important role played by pulse crops in enriching the soil, centuries of experience had taught the peasants of the east the same lesson.”

The monocultures promoted by the Green Revolution had a direct impact on the decline of pulse production by displacing biodiversity, and with it depleting soil fertility. Mixed cropping was impossible with the intensive use of chemicals of the Green Revolution. With the change from mixed cropping to monocultures, less pulses were planted, production reduced and with the absence of legumes, nitrogen levels in the soil got depleted.

The Green Revolution ensured India produced more rice and wheat, but our pulses have disappeared from the monoculture fields. Between 1960-61 and 2010-2011, acreage under wheat has gone up from 29.58 per cent to 44.5 per cent and rice from 4.79 per cent to 25 per cent. Meanwhile, the area under pulses has dropped from 19 per cent to 0.21 per cent, oilseeds from 3.9 per cent to 0.71 per cent, millets from 11.26 per cent to 0.21 per cent. When measured in terms of nutrition per acre and health per acre, Punjab is actually producing less food and nutrition as a result of the Green Revolution.

Keep Reading on Seed Freedom

Degenerative vs Regenerative Agriculture – A Battle for Your Fork and Fashion

Author: Jon Connors

In the fictitious Star Wars mythology, there are two sides battling for balance of the Universe. Those who serve the Dark Side, represented in the picture above with red light sabers, serve an order of hatred, anger, and absolute power. Those who serve in the Jedi order, serve according to Universal Laws and principles of goodness, fairness, balance and justice. These stories have captured our collective imagination partly because we can intuitively sense their truth in our everyday lives. In a subtle way, we are playing out the myth of Star Wars every time we sit down to eat, or choose clothing to wear; it is time to be aware of the ramifications of our actions.

In the real world, there are similarities between the Dark Side and the Jedi order when it comes down to agricultural production. The majority of agriculture in the United States is degenerative (aka the Dark Side); it pollutes the land, takes up more water than can be replaced naturally, erodes topsoil, and places carbon in the air- contributing to global warming. Most of the world’s agriculture fits this description.

Pollution: Wikipedia

Agricultural pollution refers to biotic and abiotic byproducts of farming practices that result in contamination or degradation of the environment and surrounding ecosystems, and/or cause injury to humans and their economic interests.

Water: USDA Economic Research Service

‘Agriculture… accounts for approximately 80 to 90 percent of U.S. consumptive water use.

Topsoil: University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

In the United States, we lose an estimated 6.9 billion tons of soil each year (Pimentel, 2000).

Carbon: Yale’s Environment 360

The world’s cultivated soils have lost 50 to 70 percent of their original carbon stock.

According to many scientists, the Earth’s Sixth Extinction event is underway, in large part because of global agricultural practices. What this means is that every time most of us choose what food to eat and clothing to wear, we are unconsciously participating in the rapid destruction of our planet- we are unconsciously acting like the Death Star from the first Star Wars movie.

Keep Reading in The Medium

 

Interview: Scientist, Author, Activist Vandana Shiva Leads Movement to Restore Sovereignty to Farmers

Acres U.S.A. is North America’s monthly magazine of ecological agriculture. Each month we conduct an in-depth interview with a thought leader. The following interview appeared in our January 2016 issue and was too important not to share widely.

Americans who visit India often come back more or less overwhelmed by its vast size and complexity, and if they are not stunned into silence they are at least much less willing to engage in generalities. Timeless beauty, explosive economic growth, persistent poverty and about a billion people all make for an intense experience if you’re used to the predictable movements of cars and shoppers. One thing that does emerge from the ancient nation’s recent history, though, is the way societies that seem chaotic and disorganized to outsiders actually offer opportunities for their citizens who are willing to act with boldness, imagination and fierce resolve. Gandhi was one such actor, and Vandana Shiva may well be another. Increasingly well-known here as an author and lecturer, her popularity makes her a pain in the neck to proponents of industrial agriculture. (Corporate ag apologist Michael Specter recently honored her with an attack in The New Yorker.) It’s a whole other story back in India, however — there Shiva is a force for change not only among the commentariat but also on the ground. She agitates for legislation and political change at one end of society while leading a movement to empower farmers at the other. Shiva is that rarity in modern life, an intellectual who sees possibilities for action in the world outside her study and moves to set them in motion, working with fellow sojourners to build and sustain a counterforce opposing the corporate status quo over the long haul. On a recent trip to California, Shiva spoke with Acres U.S.A., covering an amazing amount of ground. Readers who need a little context are advised to consult Wikipedia on the Bhopal disaster — a 9/11-scale tragedy linked to agricultural chemicals — in particular and modern Indian history in general.

Read the Interview on EcoFarmingDaily.com (PDF)

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#LovePulses: 10 Ways to Celebrate the International Year of Pulses

Authors: Danielle Nierenberg and Emily Nink

2016 is the United Nations International Year of Pulses (IYP). Pulses, or grain legumes, include 12 crops such as dry beans, dry peas, chickpeas, and lentils, which are high in protein, fiber, and micronutrients.

In celebration of the global launch of IYP, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) created a short video highlighting unique opportunities for pulses to contribute to the future of food security. Pulses offer many opportunities for reducing the environmental footprint of food production, especially by fixing nitrogen to improve soil quality.

Just 43 gallons of water can produce one pound of pulses, compared with 216 gallons for soybeans and 368 gallons for peanuts. And production of pulses emits only 5 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with beef production.

Furthermore, improvements in pulse productivity could be especially impactful in the developing world. “Pulses are important food crops for the food security of large proportions of populations, particularly in Latin America, Africa and Asia, where pulses are part of traditional diets and often grown by small farmers,” says FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva. Just one serving of chickpeas contains 1.5 times as much iron as a 3-ounce serving of steak, and pulses are a fraction of the cost of other protein sources.

“Pulses can contribute significantly in addressing hunger, food security, malnutrition, environmental challenges and human health,” adds UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The water efficiency of pulses allows the plants to enrich soil where they grow and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers.

Keep Reading on Food Tank

International Year of Pulses Booklet

Meet Pulses: The Next Big Superfood Category

What are Pulses? In technical terms, they’re the dry, edible seeds of plants in the legume family. In understandable terms, they’re a category of superfoods that includes chickpeas, lentils, dry peas, and bean varieties. They’re also incredibly healthy, affordable, sustainable and tasty.

Download the PDF from the Global Pulse Confederation