Take the Long Root Home

The folks at Hopworks Urban Brewery were kind enough to send out samples of their newest project beer, Long Root Ale. HUB is based out of Portland, Ore., so why is it showing up in a Lancaster County column? Agriculture.

When I heard about Long Root I immediately reflected on our area’s rich tradition of farming. Corn, tobacco, and soy make for great cash crops here. Some of that corn may make it into popular beers (Corona, Miller Lite, PBR). Traditionally brewed with some kind of grain — wheat, rye, and most often malted barley — beer is an agricultural pillar.

Adhering to their motto of “using beer as a force for good,” HUB teamed up with Patagonia Provisions (from the parent clothing company who popularized fleece in the ‘80s) to create a beer to revolutionize brewing while significantly benefiting the environment. As its grain component Long Root uses Kernza (a registered trademark of The Land Institute), which is a perennial grain grown using regenerative agriculture practices. I had to look it up. Regenerative agriculture is defined as a practice of organic farming, which helps build soil health or regenerates unhealthy soil. The crop is a perennial, so it doesn’t need to be sowed each year. While the aboveground component of Kernza stands four feet high, the roots tower ten or more feet below the surface.


Agriculture Gets Attention at COP22 With AAA Initiative

For the first time in the 22 years of  Conference of Parties (COP) session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), agriculture is being  given attention during climate discussions at the ongoing  COP22 conference in Marrakech, Morocco.

This will be made possible by the Adaptation of African Agriculture (AAA) to Climate Change initiative adopted in September this year by a coalition of 27 African countries who gave their backing and commitment to placing this initiative at the heart of COP22 negotiations.

Pitched as a major challenge for the COP22, agriculture is for the first time in the history of the COP brought to the forefront of climate discussions.


Zimbabwe: Climate Change Changes Face of Urban Agriculture

Rain is something that Zimbabweans very much look forward to. For years, many have looked up to their rain-fed agricultural projects to bring them food relief in the face of gnawing hunger that has resulted from the country’s economic collapse. The unpredictable pattern that now characterises the rainy seasons, however, has lately been rendering people’s effort useless.

Urban agriculture is part of Zimbabwe’s urban landscape and in Harare; frantic efforts by the city council to put an end to it came to naught — to the extent of the authorities seemingly throwing in the towel. It would seem they finally realised how unreasonable their push was to destroy an activity that brought food relief for many food-insecure urban households, most of who have been left to scrap for a living after their breadwinners lost jobs following either company closures or retrenchments.

Today, however, the council authorities do not pose as much a threat to urban agriculture as does the no-longer-reliable rainfall.

While traditionally, by mid-November the maize crop would be at knee-height, with people at that point simply worrying about the insistent weeds and getting money to purchase fertiliser, today’s mid-November paints a very different picture. Going around most high-density suburbs in Harare on Tuesday afternoon, this writer witnessed people, mostly the elderly, clearing the land and readying it for planting in the sweltering heat. Other fields, however, had already been cleared and people now only await the proper onset of the rainy season so they can plant.


Organic Agriculture Can Help Address Climate Change, Feed the World

The role organic agriculture can play in fighting climate change effects and in boosting food security was the main theme of a debate held in the COP22 Green Zone by the federation of Moroccan organic agriculture professionals (known by its French acronym FIMABIO.)

Speaking on this occasion, Andre Leu, President of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), underscored that organic agriculture can reverse climate change.

He highlighted the global momentum towards adopting organic agriculture to counter climate change, notably through the “4 for 1000” initiative, which aims to increase the amount of organic matter in soil by 4 per thousand (0.4%) each year, which would be enough to compensate for all global greenhouse gases emitted due to human behavior.

Organic agriculture practices are conducive to the global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions before the point of no return, he said.


Moroccan Vault Protects Seeds from Climate Change and War

Should a doomsday agricultural crisis hit the world’s driest environments, scientists and farmers will turn to an up-and-coming research center and seed bank in Morocco to restock their harvests.

Tucked away in the university hub of Irfane in Rabat, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, or ICARDA, hosts the largest collection of seeds in North Africa.

“If for any reason, a particular community lost all their resources, we are capable of providing them with the seeds for restoration and rehabilitation,” says Ahmed Amri, head of ICARDA’s Genetic Resources Unit.

The crucial role of seed banks in protecting biodiversity is receiving increasing attention because of climate change, which threatens to wipe out crops as dry areas of the world get even hotter and drier. The impact on African agriculture is among the topics being discussed at U.N. climate talks taking place through next week in Morocco.


France’s 4 Per 1000 Initiative Makes Important Advances

France’s innovative 4 per 1000 Initiative: Soils for Food Security and Climate has made significant progress over the past year in preparation for the COP22 climate change conference taking place now in Marrakesh, Morocco.

As a reminder, the 4 per 1000 Initiative was launched by France in 2015 to bring together all willing partners (national governments, local and regional government, companies, trade organizations, NGOs, research facilities, and others) to commit together in a voluntary action plan to implement farming practices that maintain or enhance soil carbon stock on as many agricultural soils as possible and to preserve carbon-rich soils. Scientific studies have found that an annual increase of 0.4% of carbon stored in soils would make it possible to stop the present increase in atmospheric CO2, which is a major contributor to the greenhouse effect and climate change.

The aim of the Initiative is to demonstrate that agriculture, and agricultural soils in particular, can play a crucial role where food security and climate change are concerned. Some ways that agriculture can achieve this is by using innovative techniques such as no-till farming practices, which increase the amount of microorganisms present in soils and increase soil fertility and carbon sequestration. Other examples include the promotion of agroforestry, introducing more intermediate crops, restoring soil quality in places with poor conditions, and better landscape management. Increasing carbon sequestration in soils enhances soil fertility and combats land degradation aiming to improve food security.


Implementing Climate Smart Agriculture up for Discussion at COP22

The Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU) will join partners to discuss African agriculture at the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) meeting in Morocco, currently underway. COP22 will look at adaptation, mitigation, transparency, and technology transfer to combat increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

SACAU CEO Ishmael Sunga is one of the several high-profile African speakers who will be speaking on Africa Day Side Events at COP 22 on 16 November 2016. The day will open with a high-level panel discussion on Implementing the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in Africa: Moving from Commitment to Action with speakers from the African Union Commission (AUC), UNECA, African Development Bank (AfDB), President of African Ministerial Conference on Environment (AMCEN), and the Pan-African Parliament.

Sunga will be speaking during a panel discussion on the Implementation of regional climate smart agriculture approaches: the case of East and Southern Africa at a side event.

The session will look at the barriers preventing smallholder farmers from improving their livelihood in the face of negative climate change impact, how systems in which they operate can be strengthened to facilitate transformative change, and how to address youth involvement and gender parity.

Other panelists include Hon Oppah C.Z. Muchinguri (Minister, Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate, Republic of Zimbabwe) and Golden Mahove (Deputy Team Leader and Agricultural Development Facility Lead, Vuna).

“Farmers in southern Africa are at the front-line of this catastrophe, and are arguably the worst affected,” said Sunga before his departure for COP22.


Building a ‘Good’ Anthropocene From the Bottom Up

Author: Andrew C. Revkin 

Over the last few years, I’ve gotten to know a determined cast of characters in academia aiming to identify paths to a good AnthropoceneAnthropocene being the closest thing there is to common shorthand for this span of human-dominated planetary history unfolding around us.

One such researcher is Elena M. Bennett, an ecosystem ecologist and geographer at McGill University. She’s the lead author of “Bright Spots: seeds of a good Anthropocene,” published in the October edition of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. The paper describes an effort to identify and propagate social and environmental projects that could reverse a centuries-long pattern in which human prosperity has come at the cost of substantial harm to ecosystems and excluded communities.


Changes in Soil Microbial Community Structure in a Tallgrass Prairie Chronosequence

Authors: Victoria J. Allison, R. Michael Miller, Julie D. Jastrow, Roser Matamala, and Donald R. Zak 

Increasing the abundance of fungi relative to bacteria should favor C accrual, because fungi use C more efficiently, and are composed of more recalcitrant C compounds. We examined changes in soil microbial community structure following cessation of tillage-based agriculture and through subsequent succession in a C-accruing tall-grass prairie restoration chronosequence. We predicted that the relative abundance of fungi would increase following conversion from tillage-based agriculture. Soil microbial community structure was assessed as relative abundances of phospholipid fatty acids (PLFAs). Cessation of tillage-based agriculture did initially lead to an increase in the abundance of fungi, particularly arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), relative to bacteria. We suggest this is primarily due to reduced disturbance when tilling ceases. Vegetation characteristics also appear to be important, with high cyclopropyllprecursor PLFA ratios indicating bacterial communities under stress in agricultural soils, probably due to low C, and possibly to low C relative to N inputs. A secondary gradient in soil microbial community structure was related to successional time, and tied to soil characteristics, particularly bulk density (D-b), pH, and soil organic C and N. However, while the fungifbacteria (F/B) ratio was high in early succession plots, it declined later in succession. In addition, although the F/B ratio increased with SOC in the agricultural soils, it decreased with SOC in prairie soils. We conclude that increased community metabolic efficiency due to higher relative abundances of fungi is not the primary mechanism leading to enhanced C storage in these soils.


Appeal to the Representatives of Nations and International Institutions Meeting in Marrakech

Author: Slow Food 

The 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 22) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will be held in Marrakech from November 7 to 18, 2016. The first objective of the Marrakech conference will be to start work on the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

In the run-up to this event, which will put the climate at the center of global political debate, attention is focused on the energy, heavy industry and transport sectors, while the relationship between food and climate still has a more marginal role in discussions.

And yet, as Slow Food has already pointed out in the document it produced last year for COP 21, not only does food production represent one of the main causes—and victims—of climate change, it could also become one of the solutions.

The profound connection between agriculture and climate change is also highlighted by this years’s State of Food and Agriculture report from the FAO, which states that the agricultural sector is currently responsible for a fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions, deriving primarily from the conversion of forests to agricultural land, as well as from animal and plant production.

According to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, the planet’s average temperature has risen by 0.85°C in the last 100 years. Monthly heat records were broken for a record 15th month in a row between April 2015 and July 2016, and forecasts leave little hope for improvement in the future. According to climate simulation models, without limits on greenhouse gas emissions the average temperature could rise by up to 5°C by the end of the century, but a rise of even 2°C would bring devastating environmental and social consequences. Once unusual phenomena, such as extreme heatwaves, floods, droughts and hurricanes are becoming more commonplace, and biodiversity is being eroded at an unprecedented rate. Meanwhile, the rising temperature of the oceans and their increasing acidification is undermining their capacity to stabilize the climate.