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Applying the Hard Lessons of Coronavirus to the Biodiversity Crisis

I attended one of three major biodiversity planning meetings this February, originally scheduled for China, but relocated to Rome. The day I arrived, there were three cases of the coronavirus COVID-19 in northern Italy. Two days later there were 21, and five days later there were 229. I left the fifth day, without even attending the primary workshop. A colleague teased me, and I worried that I had over-reacted. From my early training in public health, I suspected this was not just a distant wave, but an unstoppable tsunami that would soon crash upon the world. A few short weeks later, the magnitude of this tsunami became clear, a once-in-a-century crisis that threatens to upend every society on earth.

This year was supposed to be a ‘Super Year for Nature,’ with a number of global meetings; a World Conservation Congress, a UN Ocean Conference, and a UN Nature Summit – all culminating in a global biodiversity conference that would agree on a decade-long ‘Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework‘. 

 

KEEP READING ON UNITED NATIONS DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME

Recuperar la tierra, nuestra comida y nuestra agricultura

Hace poco leí una columna en The Guardian de George Monbiot y su visión distópica del futuro me dejó impresionada. En él, nadie trabajaba los campos y la gente se alimentaba de comida “falsa” producida por grandes fábricas a partir de microbios.

Monbiot terminaba su artículo diciendo que esta comida sintética nos permitirá devolver los espacios ocupados por cultivos, tanto terrestres como marinos, a su estado natural, favoreciendo la vida silvestre y reduciendo las emisiones de carbono. Según sus palabras “esta forma de alimentación nos devuelve la esperanza. Pronto seremos capaces de alimentar al mundo sin devorarlo”.

Al leerlo, no pude evitar que me viniera a la cabeza la famosa frase de Einstein:“ No podemos resolver los problemas utilizando la misma manera de pensar que los originó”.

SER ECOLÓGICO

La idea de que crear comida en laboratorios de última generación puede salvar el planeta forma parte del mismo modelo de pensamiento que nos ha llevado a dónde estamos ahora, es decir, la idea de que somos seres distintos de la naturaleza y de que funcionamos fuera de ella.

CONTINUE LEYENDO EN EL SALTO DIARIO

Constelación Semillas Agroecológicas: A Seed Takes Root in Argentina

MERLO, Argentina – “It’s been a monumental year around here,” Alex Edleson said on the phone from his home in Argentina.

He wasn’t kidding. This year (2019), Edleson and four co-workers launched Constelación Semillas Agroecológicas (Constellation Agroecological Seeds) in the small town of Merlo, in the central Argentine province of San Luis. In August, Edleson and his wife, Belén, welcomed their first child into the world, a daughter.

Constelación is not entirely new. Using unsurprising language for a seed distributor, Edleson, Constelación’s director, told me Constelación was “incubated” for a few years by the Argentine Biodynamic Association. But this year Constelación began to strike out on its own. And like a lot of start-ups, it’s flying by the seat of its pants—at least for now.

Constelación recently bought a seed-cleaning machine, and in September, rented a space in downtown Merlo for its administrative and commercial operations. But Constelación has yet to move into the new space. And until it does, Edleson is working in his kitchen—that is, when he’s not farming.

“I try to farm in the morning and do office work in the afternoon,” said Edleson. “Keeping to my farming is my life source that inspires my work to make change on a larger scale. On our farm, along with seed production, we also carry out variety trials and breeding research.”

That seems to be working well so far. Constelación is growing fast and has ambitious plans for the future.

Last year, Constelación had only seven seed producers in five provinces. Now it has 15 producers in six of Argentina’s 24 provinces. The company currently offers 17 seed varieties. But Edleson hopes to double or triple that number by the end of this year, and he plans to expand into cover crop mixes, and books and tools for small farmers.

In fact, the sky may be the limit for Constelación. Demand for organic food is growing fast in Argentina, which has the ninth-largest agricultural economy in the world, said Edleson. Argentina also ranks second in the world, after Australia, for land area under organic production, though most organic production is destined for export. Organics account for only a few percent of food consumption in Argentina. However, consumption of organics is doubling every year, Edleson said.

“In Argentina, no organic seed was available,” Edleson told me. “One of our motives was to respond to this.”

Constelación’s mission isn’t without its challenges. Though there is widespread organic certification for exports, certification for domestic consumption is limited because of the cost of certification. Limited domestic certification makes it easier for non-organic producers to cash in on the growing popularity of organics by selling fake organic products, and their ability to sell false organics in turn diminishes the demand for organic seeds.

But Constelación is working with the Argentine Biodynamic Association on a “system of guarantee” that will be more accessible to small farmers with limited financial resources.

It was a long road that brought Edleson to Merlo. He was born and raised in Indonesia, of U.S. parents who have lived in Asia for 50 years. He went to college in the U.S. and landed in Argentina in 2001, in the middle of Argentina’s biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Edleson says he was “captured” by the resilience shown by Argentines in the face of such economic hardship. In Patagonia, he co-founded and farmed for a pioneering Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project. He started to build collaborative networks, and he met his wife.

But Edleson’s work isn’t done yet.

“We are building a seed-growing network,” he said. “Seed growers are the essence of the project. In the next year we’re going to bring consumers and growers into the decision-making process. We are responding to specific needs expressed by farmers, who have minimal structure for processing seeds and administration for marketing seeds. We have the infrastructure.”

As Constelación’s first monumental year draws to a close, the future looks bright indeed for Edleson and Constelación Semilla Agroecológicas.

Click here to watch Alex Edleson talk about the importance of food sovereignty and seed saving at Regeneration International’s General Assembly in Santiago, Chile.

 

Lawrence Reichard is a freelance journalist. To keep up with news and events, sign up here  for the Regeneration International newsletter.

 

 

This Revolutionary System Can Help Stop Global Warming

“Unsustainable land use and greenhouse gas emissions are delivering a one-two punch to natural ecosystems that are key to the fight against global climate change.

And without sweeping emissions cuts and transformations to food production and land management, the world stands no chance of staving off catastrophic planetary warming,” HuffPost reported, citing the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.1

Agave plants (the best known of which are blue agave, used to produce tequila), along with nitrogen-fixing, companion trees such as mesquite, huizache, desert ironwood, wattle and varieties of acacia that readily grow alongside agave, are among the most common and prolific, yet routinely denigrated or ignored plants in the world. As India climate scientist Promode Kant points out:

“Agave is to the drier parts of the world what bamboo is to its wetter zones. Capturing atmospheric CO2 in vegetation is severely limited by the availability of land and water. The best choice would be species that can utilize lands unfit for food production and yet make the dynamics of carbon sequestration faster.

As much as 40% of the land on earth is arid and semi-arid, largely in the tropics but also in the cool temperate zones up north. And on almost half of these lands, with a minimum annual rainfall of about 250 mm and soils that are slightly refractory, the very valuable species of agave grows reasonably well.”2

Agave plants and nitrogen-fixing trees densely intercropped and cultivated together have the capacity to draw down massive amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere and produce more above ground and below ground biomass (and animal fodder) on a continuous year-to-year basis than any other desert and semi-desert species.

Ideal for arid and hot climates, agaves and their companion trees, once established, require little or no irrigation to survive and thrive, and are basically impervious to rising global temperatures and drought. Agaves alone can draw down and store above ground the dry weight equivalent of 30 to 60 tons of CO2 per hectare (12 to 24 tons per acre) per year. One hectare equals 10,000 square meters or 2.47 acres.

Now, a new, agave-based agroforestry and livestock feeding model developed in Guanajuato, Mexico, promises to revitalize campesino/small farmer livestock production while storing massive amounts of atmospheric carbon above and below ground.

Scaled up on millions of currently degraded and overgrazed rangelands, these agave/agroforestry systems have the potential to not only improve soil and pasture health, but to help mitigate and potentially reverse global warming, aka climate change.

Climate Emergency 

As international scientists, activists and our own everyday experience tell us, we are facing a Climate Emergency. A “profit at any cost,” fossil fuel-supercharged economy, coupled with industrial agriculture and factory farms, destructive land use and mindless consumption have pumped a dangerous load of CO2 and greenhouse gas pollution into the sky, bringing on global warming and violent climate change.

Degenerative food, farming, livestock and land use practices have decarbonized and killed off much of the biological life and natural carbon-sequestering capacity of our soils, forests and ecosystems.

This degradation and desertification of global landscapes has oxidized and released billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and eliminated much of the above ground carbon biomass once stored in our forests and landscapes.

This global degeneration has depleted so much of the carbon and biological life in our soils, trees and plants that these natural systems can no longer draw down and sequester (through natural photosynthesis) enough of the excess CO2 and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to maintain the necessary balance between CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the carbon stored in our soils, trees and plants.

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) estimates that arid and semi-arid lands make up 41.3% of the earth’s land surface, including 15% of Latin America (most of Mexico), 66% of Africa, 40% of Asia and 24% of Europe.

Farmers and herders in these areas face tremendous challenges because of increasing droughts, erratic rainfall, degraded soils, overgrazed pastures and water scarcity. Many areas are in danger of degenerating even further into desert, unable to sustain any crops or livestock whatsoever.

Most of the world’s drylands are located in the economically underdeveloped regions of the Global South, although there are millions of acres of drylands in the U.S., Australia and Southern Europe as well. Farming, ranching and ecosystem conservation are becoming increasingly problematic in these drylands, especially given the fact that the majority of the farms and ranches in these areas do not have irrigation wells or year-round access to surface water.

Crop and livestock production levels are deteriorating, trees and perennials have typically been removed or seasonally burned, and pastures and rangelands have been overgrazed. Poverty, unemployment and malnutrition in these degraded landscapes are rampant, giving rise to violence, organized crime and forced migration

The good news, however, coming out of Mexico, applicable to many other regions, is that if farmers and ranchers can stop overgrazing pastures and rangelands and eliminate slash and burn practices, and instead reforest, revegetate, rehydrate and recarbonize depleted soils, integrating traditional and indigenous water catchment, agroforestry, livestock and land management practices with agave-based agroforestry, we may well be able to green the drylands and store and sequester massive amounts of carbon.

Via Organica, the ‘Organic Way’

After decades as a food, farm, anti-GMO and climate campaigner for the Organic Consumers Association in the U.S., I now spend a good part of my time managing an organic and regenerative farm and training center, Via Organica, in the high-desert drylands of North Central Mexico.

Our semi-arid, temporal (seasonal rainfall) ecosystem and climate in the state of Guanajuato is similar to what you find in many parts of Mexico, and in fact in 40% of the world. In our valley, we typically get 20 inches or 500 millimeters of precipitation in the “rainy season” (July to October), greening the landscape, followed by eight months with little or no rain whatsoever.

At Rancho Via Organica, we’ve been trying to regenerate our high-desert (6,300 feet elevation) environment, developing farming, livestock and landscape management practices that produce healthy organic food and seeds, sequester carbon in the soil, preserve our monte or natural densely-vegetated areas, slow down and infiltrate rainwater (including runoff coming down the mountains and hillsides) to recharge our water table, and reforest and revegetate our still somewhat degraded corn fields and pasturelands.

Looking across our mountain valley, the most prominent flora are cactus and agave plants (some of which are quite large) along with hundreds of thorny, typically undersized, mesquite, huizache and acacia shrubs/trees.

In order to grow our vegetables and cover crops, maintain our olive, mulberry, citrus and pomegranate trees, and provide water and forage for our animals, we — like most small farmers and ranchers in Mexico — irrigate with only the rainfall that we can collect and store in cisterns, ponds and soils.

Eighty-six percent of Mexican farmers and herders have no source of water other than seasonal rainfall, and therefore have to struggle to maintain their milpas (corn, beans and squash) and raise their animals under increasingly adverse climate conditions.

Greening the Drylands: A New Agroforestry Model

Recently Juan Frias, a retired college professor and scientist, came up to me after attending a workshop at our farm. As we discussed regenerative agriculture practices and climate change, Juan told me about a new system of drylands agroforestry and livestock management (sheep and goats), based upon agave plants and mesquite trees in the nearby community of San Luis de la Paz. They call their agroforestry system Modelo Zamarripa.3

By densely planting, pruning and intercropping high-biomass, high-forage producing, fast-growing species of agaves (1,600 to 2,000 per hectare) amongst preexisting deep-rooted, nitrogen-fixing tree species such as mesquite, or among planted tree seedlings, these farmers are transforming their landscape and their livelihoods.

When the agaves are 3 years old, and for the following five to seven years, farmers can begin pruning the leaves or pencas, chopping them up finely with a machine, and then fermenting the agave in closed containers for 30 days, ideally combining the agave leaves with 20% or more of mesquite pods by volume to give them a higher protein level. In our region mesquite trees start to produce pods that can be harvested in five years.

By Year Seven the mesquite and agaves have grown into a fairly dense forest. In years eight to 10, the root stem or pina (weighing 100 to 200 pounds) of the agave is ready for harvesting to produce a distilled liquor called mescal. Meanwhile the hijuelos or pups put out by the mother agave plants are being continuously transplanted back into the agroforestry system, guaranteeing continuous biomass growth (and carbon storage).

In their agroforestry system, the Zamarripa farmers integrate rotational grazing of sheep and goats across their ranch, supplementing the pasture forage their animals consume with the fermented agave silage. Modelo Zamarippa has proven in practice to be ideal for sheep and goats, and we are now experimenting at Via Organica with feeding agave silage to our pastured pigs and poultry.

The revolutionary innovation of these Guanajuato farmers has been to turn a heretofore indigestible, but massive and accessible source of biomass — the agave leaves — into a valuable animal feed, using the natural process of fermentation to transform the plants’ indigestible saponin and lectin compounds into digestible carbohydrates and fiber.

To do this they have developed a relatively simple machine, hooked up to a tractor, that can finely chop up the tough leaves of the agave. After chopping the agave, the next step is to anaerobically ferment the biomass in a closed container (we use 5-gallon buckets with lids).

The fermented end-product, after 30 days, provides a nutritious but very inexpensive silage or animal fodder (in comparison to alfalfa, hay or cornstalks) that costs less than 1 Mexican peso (or approximately 5 cents USD) per kilo (2.2 pounds) to produce.

According to Frias, lambs readily convert 10 kilos of this silage into 1 kilo of body weight. At less than 5 cents per kilo (2 cents per pound) agave silage could potentially make the difference between survival and bankruptcy for millions of the world’s small farmers and herders.

Agaves and Carbon Storage and Sequestration

The Zamarripa system of drylands afforestation and silvopasture draws down and stores in the plants large quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere. Agronomists have observed that certain varieties of agave can produce up to 43 tons per hectare of dry weight biomass per year, on a continuous basis.4

These high biomass varieties of agave will likely thrive in many of the world’s arid ecosystems, wherever any type of agave and nitrogen-fixing trees are already growing.

Nitrogen-fixing trees such as mesquite can be found in most arid and semi-arid regions of the world. Mesquite grows readily not only in Texas and the Southwestern U.S., Mexico, Central America, Argentina, Chile and other Latin American nations, but also “thrives in arid and semi-arid regions of North America, Africa, the Middle East, Tunisia, Algeria, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Myanmar (Burma), Russia, Hawaii, West Indies, Puerto Rico and Australia.”5

At Via Organica, outside San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato,6 we are utilizing moveable, solar-fenced paddocks for our grazing sheep and goats in order to protect our mesquite tree seedlings, to prevent overgrazing or undergrazing, to eliminate dead grasses and invasive species, and to concentrate animal feces and urine across the landscape in a controlled manner.

At the same time that we are rotating and moving our livestock on a daily basis, we are transplanting, pruning, finely chopping and fermenting the heavy biomass leaves or pencas of agave salmiana plants. Some individual agave pencas or leaves can weigh (wet) as much as 20 kilos or 44 pounds.

The bountiful harvest of this regenerative, high-biomass, high carbon-sequestering system will eventually include not only extremely low-cost, nutritious animal silage, but also high-quality organic lamb, mutton, cheese, milk, aquamiel (agave sap), pulque (a mildly alcoholic beverage) and distilled agave liquor (mescal), all produced organically and biodynamically with no synthetic chemicals or pesticides whatsoever, at affordable prices, with excess agave biomass and fiber available for textiles, compost, biochar and construction materials.

Massive Potential Carbon Drawdown

From a climate crisis perspective, the Modelo Zamarripa is a potential game-changer. Forty-three tons of above-ground dry weight biomass production on a continuing basis per hectare per year ranks among the highest rates of drawing down and storing atmospheric carbon in plants in the world, apart from healthy forests.

Imagine the carbon sequestration potential if rural farmers and pastoralists can establish agave-based agroforestry systems over the next decade on just 10% of the worlds 5 billion degraded acres (500 million acres), areas unsuited for crop production, but areas where agave plants and suitable native nitrogen-fixing companion tress (such as acacia varieties in Africa) are already growing.

Conservatively estimating an above-ground biomass carbon storage rate of 10 tons of carbon per acre per year on these 500 million acres, (counting both agave and companion trees, aboveground and below ground biomass) we would then be able to cumulatively sequester 5 billion tons of carbon (18 billion gigatons of CO2e) from the atmosphere every year.

Five billion tons of additional carbon sequestered in the Earth’s soils and biota equals nearly 50% of all human greenhouse gas emissions in 2018.

More Background on Agaves

To better understand the potential of this agroforestry/holistic grazing system, a little more background information on agave plants, and nitrogen-fixing or trees such as mesquite, huizache or other fodder and food producing trees such as inga or moringa may be useful.

Various varieties of agave plants (along with their cactus relatives and companion nitrogen-fixing trees) are found growing on approximately 20% of the earth’s lands, essentially on the half of the world’s drylands where there is a minimum annual rainfall of approximately 10 inches or 250 mm, where the temperature never drops below 14 degrees Fahrenheit.

Kant has described the tremendous biomass production and carbon-storage potential of agaves in dry areas:

“Agave can … be used for carbon sequestration projects under CDM [the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Climate Protocol] even though by itself it does not constitute a tree crop and cannot provide the minimum required tree crown cover to create a forest as required under CDM rules.

But if the minimum required crown cover is created by planting an adequate number of suitable tree species in agave plantations then the carbon sequestered in the agave plants will also be eligible for measurement as above ground dry biomass and provide handsome carbon credits …

It causes no threat to food security and places no demand for the scarce water and since it can be harvested annually after a short initial gestation period of establishment, and yields many products that have existing markets, it is also well suited for eradication of poverty …”7

Agaves, of which there are 200 or more varieties growing across the world, can thrive even in dry, degraded lands unsuitable for crop production because of their Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) photosynthetic pathway (cacti and other related desert plants also have a CAM pathway) that essentially enables these plants to draw down moisture from the air and store it in their thick tough leaves during the nighttime, while the opening in their leaves (the stomata) close up during daylight hours, drastically reducing evaporation.

Meanwhile, its relatively shallow mycorrhizal fungi-powered roots below the soil surface spread out horizontally, taking in available moisture and nutrients from the topsoil, especially during the rainy season.

In addition, its propagation of baby plants or pups, (up to 50 among some varieties) that grow out of its horizontal roots makes the plant a self-reproducing perennial, able to sustain high biomass growth, and carbon-storage and sequestration on a long-term basis.

Even as a maturing agave plant is pruned beginning in Year Three (to produce fermented silage) and the entire mature agave plant (the pina) is harvested at the end of its life span, in order to make mescal, in our case after eight to 10 years, it leaves behind a family of pups that are carrying out photosynthesis and producing biomass (leaves and stem) at an equal or greater rate than the parent plant.

In other words, a very high level of above-ground carbon storage and below-ground sequestration can be maintained year after year — all with no irrigation and no synthetic fertilizers or chemicals required, if intercropped in conjunction with nitrogen-fixing tree such as mesquite, huizache, inga, moringa or other dryland species such as the acacias that grow in arid or semi-arid areas.

Agaves and a number of their tree companions have been used as sources of food, beverage and fiber by indigenous societies for hundreds, in fact thousands of years. However, until recently farmers had not been able to figure out how to utilize the massive biomass of the agave plant leaves which, unless they are fermented, are basically indigestible and even harmful to livestock.

In fact, this is why, besides the thorns and thick skins of the leaves, animals typically will not, unless starving, eat them. But once their massive leaves (which contain significant amounts of sugar) are chopped up and fermented in closed containers, livestock, after a short period of adjustment, will gobble up this sweet, nutritious forage like candy.

Developing a native species/agroforestry/livestock system on 5 million to 10 million acres of land unsuitable for food crops in a large country like Mexico (which has 357 million acres of cropland and pastureland, much of which is degraded) could literally sequester 37% to 74% of the country’s net current fossil fuel emissions (current net emissions are 492m tons of CO2e).

And, of course, wherever these agave/agroforestry/holistic grazing systems are deployed, farmers and ranchers will also be restoring the fertility and moisture holding capacity of millions of acres of pasturelands and rangelands, thereby promoting rural food self-sufficiency and prosperity.

Scaling up best regenerative practices on the world’s billions of acres of croplands, pasturelands and forest lands — especially those degraded lands no longer suitable for crops or grazing — can play a major role, along with moving away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, in stopping and reversing climate change.

For more information on the global Regeneration Movement go to Regeneration International. Please sign up for our free newsletter and, if you can afford it, make a tax-deductible donation to help us spread the message of Regenerative Agriculture and Agave Power across the world. “Our house is on fire,” as teenage Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg reminds us, but there is still time to turn things around.

 

Reposted with permission from Mercola.com

The Inga Foundation: Changing Lives in a Revolutionary Way

Mike Hands of the Inga Foundation, a Regeneration International (RI) partner, works in Honduras with slash-and-burn farmers who average 20 acres (eight hectares) of land holdings. That’s considerably larger than most slash-and-burn farms, which Mike estimates are no bigger than five acres (two hectares). 

If you use that two-hectare figure as a benchmark, and multiply it by the 300 million slash-and-burn farms worldwide, you’ve got 1.5 billion acres. That’s a lot of slash-and-burn acreage—acreage that with better farming practices, could be turned into carbon-sequestering farms.

According to Hands, converting from slash and burn to the Inga Foundation’s Guama (Spanish for inga tree) farming method sequesters about 35 tons of carbon per acre per year over a 12-year period.

Multiply that by 1.5 billion acres, and if every slash-and-burn farm worldwide were to convert to the Inga Foundation’s Guama model, it could sequester as much as 52.5 billion tons (gigatons) of CO2 over a 12-year period.

According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, one gigaton of carbon sequestration lowers atmospheric carbon levels by almost .5 parts per million. 

So, if all slash-and-burn farmers worldwide were to switch to the Inga Foundation’s Guama model, it would be enough to lower the world’s perilously high carbon level of 400 parts-per-million (ppm) by about 25 ppm, to about 375 ppm, bringing us that much closer to the level of 350 ppm that 350.org is calling for in order to stabilize the world’s climate. 

Clearly, the Inga Foundation is on to something.

The Guardian newspaper seems to think so. It ranked Mike Hands #44 on a list of the 100 most important people for saving the world—ahead of such luminaries as Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi, Charles Darwin and the Dalai Lama. That’s pretty heady company.

The Inga Foundation is active in Costa Rica, the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar and the U.K.. But the foundation’s biggest project is in Honduras, where it’s working with 300 family farmers. That’s a far cry from 250 million. But it’s a start. And it’s growing. 

When I spoke with Mike from his base in the U.K., he said Honduran farmers who have seen the crop yields of their Guama-employing neighbors are lining up to learn Guama techniques and to get Inga Foundation help with getting started—especially in the wake of a major 2016 storm that caused widespread flooding and literally washed away the farms of many non-Guama slash-and-burn farmers. 

Slash-and-burn farms tend to be on hillsides, often steep hillsides, where rough terrain, difficult access and vulnerability to washout makes the land less desirable and lessens competition for the land. All of these factors combine to offer at least some degree of protection from the large and expanding palm oil biofuel plantations that often use violence and even murder to displace farmers on the coastal plains of Honduras.

But those advantages come at a cost, and when Guama-employing farmers bounced back from the 2016 storm and a devastating drought that followed the storm, their neighbors took notice, and interest in the Inga Foundation’s methods spiked.

The Guama basics are not hugely complicated. You plant rows of Inga trees—which have extensive, shallow and fast-growing roots systems—between rows of crops, in a method known as alley cropping. This increases soil retention, especially in the face of challenges such as intense rain, droughts and hurricanes. Then you supplement soil nutrition with decomposing foliage of the Inga trees and with mineral supplements, most importantly rock phosphate—not regular, standard phosphate, which washes away much more quickly.

Slash-and-burn is hard on farmers because the land it clears loses soil nutrition so fast that farmers have to clear new lands every 5-7 years. That’s hard work. It disrupts families and family life. And the endless search for new lands to clear and cultivate brings farmers into sometimes violent conflict with other farmers, landowners and indigenous peoples.

Plus every time farmers slash and burn an hectare of land (2.5 acres), at least 100 tons of carbon are released into the atmosphere, according to Mike Hands. And right now the world is watching in horror as this process is being played out—and accelerating—in the Amazon rainforests of Brazil and Bolivia, particularly in Brazil, where the new far-right government of Jair Bolsonaro is turning a blind eye to, or even encouraging, what is often land theft and subsequent illegal burning.

It’s a long way from the Inga Foundation’s 300 families to the global figure of 250 million slash-and-burn farmers. Not surprisingly, Hands says the biggest challenge to the Inga Foundation’s growth is funding. And government bureaucracies aren’t helping either. In Honduras, a Foundation shipment of 18,800 kilos of rock phosphate has been held up in customs since 2017. And the customs and storage fees keep rising, making eventual release of the rock phosphate less and less likely and further and further out of reach.

Despite all the challenges facing the Inga Foundation, Mike Hands is optimistic. “The Guama Model is changing lives and livelihoods in a revolutionary way,”Mike told me. “We estimate that families in our Land for Life Program have planted over 3 million trees since 2012.” 

That sounds like a pretty good start.

Lawrence Reichard is a freelance journalist. To keep up with news and events, sign up here for the Regeneration International newsletter.

Structurally Complex Forests Better at Carbon Sequestration

Forests in the eastern United States that are structurally complex – meaning the arrangement of vegetation is highly varied – sequester more carbon, according to a new study led by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The study demonstrates for the first time that a forest’s structural complexity is a better predictor of carbon sequestration potential than tree species diversity. The discovery may hold implications for the mitigation of climate change.

“Carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas, is taken up by trees through the process of photosynthesis and some of that ‘fixed’ carbon is allocated to wood,” said Chris Gough, Ph.D., corresponding author on the study and an associate professor in the Department of Biology in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “Our study shows that more complex forests are better at taking up and sequestering carbon in wood and, in doing so, they leave less carbon dioxide in the air.”

KEEP READING ON EUREKALERT

RI’s Mexico Team Takes Part in First Mexican Congress of Agroecology Conference

On January 1, 1994, Mexico’s Zapatista revolution exploded onto the world stage and instantly grabbed the attention and imagination of progressives and activists around the world.  Among those caught up in the Zapatista revolution were activists and academics pushing back against an almost global corporate takeover of agriculture.  Suddenly a new, different world was possible.

It was only fitting then that the First Mexican Congress of Agroecology was held May 12 to 17 this year in San Cristobal de las Casas, capital of the Mexican state of Chiapas, and ground zero for the vision of a new Mexico launched by the Zapatista revolution. The Congress brought together more than a thousand people from peasant, academic, student and activist communities, and organizations from all over Mexico and around the world—including Regeneration International.

The cross-cutting premise of the Congress was to bring academia and existing grassroots agroecological processes together in a social and collaborative way, while creating the opportunity for rural communities themselves determine their real needs and implement actions to address those needs.

The Intercultural University of Chiapas (UNICH) and the College of the Southern Border (ECOSUR) were the prime movers and organizers of the Congress.  Since 2018, UNICH and ECOSUR have worked closely together to strengthen the exchange of traditional knowledge and experience between rural communities and academia.

From the very beginning and throughout the Congress, during discussions on the origin and history of agroecology in Mexico, peasant communities were spoken of as guardians of agrobiodiversity and as the driving force behind the survival of many of the seeds and plants that have existed in the Americas from pre-Hispanic times until today.

The Congress grappled with the history of agroecology, with an emphasis on the need to build a common future based on the great potential that Mexico has in implementing agroecological techniques.

Participants also worked on organizing a common front to present proposals that feed state and national public policies beneficial to the community at large—policies that create resilience and can reverse the harmful effects that the agro-industrial model has on food quality, food sovereignty, soil, water, air and ecosystems as a whole.  There was also much discussion of agro-industry’s substantial contribution to climate change, and resultant forced migration, an issue that has dominated the news and galvanized public opinion in Mexico, the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.  

The wide variety of program topics and the heterogeneity of Congress participants underlined the need to reconcile the multiple perspectives that exist on agroecology in Mexico, in particular the Mayan vision, which from generation to generation has opted for a construction of knowledge and resistance, as well as the academic vision, in Mexico represented by the figure of the well-known late Mexican ethnobotany teacher Efraim Hernández Xocolotzi .

With this goal in mind, of integrating and weaving together Mexico’s many rich and diverse perspectives, Congress roundtables discussed these principal topics: food sovereignty, international experiences in agroecology and good living, farmers’ markets, agroecological production strategies, agroforestry systems, silvopasture and wildlife management, milpa systems, family gardens, pest management, public policy and governance, soils and seeds, women, agroecology and feminism, maize under siege, water and soil, seeds and resilience, and peasant schools, among other topics.

The closing ceremony was held at the historic Teatro Zebadúa in the center of San Cristóbal de las Casas. Speakers at the closing roundtable included Dr. Víctor Suárez Carrera, Mexican Undersecretary of Food Self-Sufficiency of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development; Dr. Crispim Moreira, U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) representative to Mexico; and Dr. Luis García Barrios, director of the southeast region of the National Commission of Science and Technology.

In a packed auditorium, the public peppered authorities with questions on the real capacity for change posed by the Fourth Transformation, a broad proposal put forth by the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador to solve the problems that the Mexican Revolution—the Third Transformation—left unresolved. It became clear that agroecology must be part of the real transformation of the Mexican Republic, and that this will occur to the extent that a strong and organized society demands the necessary changes so that the public policies that the government implements integrate agroecology as a substantial part of that change.

Ercilia Sahores is a member of the Regeneration International steering committee and Latin America Director. To keep up with news and events, sign up here for the Regeneration International newsletter.


Expertos instan a integrar la agroecología con otras formas de producción

Roma, 3 jul (EFE).- La agricultura ecológica debe integrarse con otros métodos de innovación con el fin de que los sistemas alimentarios se vuelvan sostenibles, afirmaron este miércoles asesores de la ONU en un nuevo informe.

El Grupo de expertos de alto nivel del Comité de Seguridad Alimentaria Mundial (CSA), un foro intergubernamental de Naciones Unidas en el que también participan el sector privado y la sociedad civil, presentó en Roma las conclusiones de un estudio centrado en la agroecología.

En las últimas décadas ese concepto “dinámico” se ha expandido del terreno a los paisajes y a los sistemas alimentarios en general, dijo en el acto el jefe del equipo encargado del informe, Fergus Sinclair.

Entre los principios generales por los que se rige la agroecología a nivel local están el reciclaje, la reducción de insumos externos, la salud del suelo y de los animales, la diversificación económica, la gobernanza de los recursos naturales y la participación de distintos actores.

SIGUE LEYENDO EN LA VANGUARDIA

Agroecology as Innovation

On July 3, the High Level Panel of Experts of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released its much-anticipated report on agroecology in Rome. The report signals the continuing shift in emphasis in the UN agency’s approach to agricultural development. As outgoing FAO Director General Jose Graziano da Silva has indicated, “We need to promote a transformative change in the way that we produce and consume food. We need to put forward sustainable food systems that offer healthy and nutritious food, and also preserve the environment. Agroecology can offer several contributions to this process.”

The commissioned report, Agroecological and other innovative approaches for sustainable agriculture and food systems that enhance food security and nutrition, two years in the making, is clear on the urgent need for change. “Food systems are at a crossroads. Profound transformation is needed,” the summary begins. It goes on to stress the importance of ecological agriculture, which supports “diversified and resilient production systems, including mixed livestock, fish, cropping and agroforestry, that preserve and enhance biodiversity, as well as the natural resource base.”

It is not surprising, of course, that those with financial interests in the current input-intensive systems are responding to growing calls for agroecology with attacks on its efficacy as a systematic approach that can sustainably feed a growing population. What is surprising is that such responses are so ill-informed about the scientific innovations agroecology offers to small-scale farmers who are being so poorly served by “green revolution” approaches.

One recent article from a researcher associated with a pro-biotechnology institute in Uganda was downright dismissive, equating agroecology with “traditional agriculture,” a step backward toward the low-productivity practices that prevail today. “The practices that agroecology promotes are not qualitatively different from those currently in widespread use among smallholder farmers in Uganda and sub-Saharan Africa more broadly,” writes Nassib Mugwanya of the Uganda Biosciences Research Center. I have come to conclude that agroecology is a dead end for Africa, for the rather obvious reason that most African agriculture already follows its principles.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. As the new expert report shows, and as countless ecological scientists around the world can attest, agroecology brings much-needed innovations to prevailing smallholder practices. With a long track record of achievements in widely varying environments, the approach has been shown to improve soil fertility, increase crop and diet diversity, raise total food productivity, improve resilience to climate change, and increase farmers’ food and income security while decreasing their dependence on costly inputs.

The failing policies of the present

The predominant input-intensive approach to agricultural development can hardly claim such successes, which is precisely why international institutions are actively seeking alternatives. The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is the poster child for the promotion of input-intensive agriculture in Africa. At its outset 13 years ago, AGRA and its main sponsor, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, set the goals of doubling the productivity and incomes of 30 million smallholder households on the continent.

There is no evidence that approach will come anywhere near meeting those worthy objectives, even with many African governments spending large portions of their agricultural budgets to subsidize the purchase of green revolution inputs of commercial seeds and synthetic fertilizers. National-level data, summarized in the conclusion to my book Eating Tomorrow, attests to this failure:

  • Smallholders mostly cannot afford the inputs, and the added production they see does not cover their costs.
  • Rural poverty has barely improved since AGRA’s launch; neither has rural food insecurity. Global Hunger Index scores remained in the “serious” to “alarming” category for 12 of the 13 AGRA countries.
  • Even in priority crops like maize and rice, few of AGRA’s 13 priority countries have seen sustained productivity increases.
  • Production increases such as for maize in Zambia have come as much from shifting land into subsidized maize production as from raising productivity from commercial seeds and fertilizers.
  • There is no evidence of improved soil fertility; in fact, many farmers have experienced a decline as monocropping and synthetic fertilizers have increased acidification and reduced much-needed organic matter.
  • Costly input subsidies have shifted land out of drought-tolerant, nutritious crops such as sorghum and millet in favor of commercial alternatives. Crop diversity and diet diversity have decreased as a result.

recent article in the journal Food Policy surveyed the evidence from seven countries with input subsidy programs and found little evidence of sustained—or sustainable—success. “The empirical record is increasingly clear that improved seed and fertilizer are not sufficient to achieve profitable, productive, and sustainable farming systems in most parts of Africa,” wrote the authors in the conclusion.

Agroecology: Solving farmers’ problems

Branding agroecology as a backward-looking, do-nothing approach to traditional agriculture is a defensive response to the failures of Green Revolution practices. In fact, agroecological sciences offer just the kinds of innovations small-scale farmers need to increase soil fertility, raise productivity, improve food and nutrition security, and build climate resilience.

Do these innovations sound backward looking to you?

  • Biological pest control: Scientist Hans Herren won a World Food Prize for halting the spread of a cassava pest in Africa by introducing a wasp that naturally controlled the infestation.
  • Push-pull technology: Using a scientifically proven mix of crops to push pests away from food crops and pull them out of the field, farmers have been able to reduce pesticide use while increasing productivity.
  • Participatory plant breeding: Agronomists work with farmers to identify the most productive and desirable seed varieties and improve them through careful seed selection and farm management. In the process, degraded local varieties can be improved or replaced with locally adapted alternatives.
  • Agro-forestry: A wide range of scientists has demonstrated the soil-building potential of incorporating trees and cover crops onto small-scale farms. Carefully selected tree varieties can fix nitrogen in the soil, reduce erosion, and give farmers a much-needed cash crop while restoring degraded land.
  • Small livestock: Reintroducing goats or other small livestock onto farms has been shown to provide farmers with a sustainable source of manure while adding needed protein to local diets. Science-driven production of compost can dramatically improve soil quality.

These innovations and many others are explored in depth in the new HLPE report, the full version of which will be available in English in mid-July. Those advocates of industrial agriculture would do well to read it closely so they can update their understanding of the sustainable innovations agroecological sciences offer to small-scale farmers, most of whom have seen no improvements in their farms, incomes, or food security using Green Revolution approaches. Many farmers have concluded that the Green Revolution, not agroecology, is a dead end for Africa.

Posted with permission from Food Tank

Primer Congreso Mexicano de Agroecología: frente común para revertir los efectos nocivos del modelo agroindustrial

Del 12 al 17 de mayo de 2019 se celebró en San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, México, el Primer Congreso Mexicano de Agroecología.

En el encuentro participaron más de mil personas integrantes de las comunidades campesina, académica, estudiantil, activista y de diversas organizaciones nacionales e internacionales, entre ellas Regeneration International.

La principal premisa que fungió como hilo transversal del Congreso fue la necesidad de que la academia se sume a los procesos agroecológicos de base ya existentes, que se una con un sentido social y colaborativo y que su contenido nazca desde las necesidades de las propias comunidades y esté a su servicio.

Cabe destacar que los organizadores principales de este Congreso fueron la Universidad Intercultural de Chiapas (UNICH) y el Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR), instituciones que desde 2018 trabajan de manera cercana, firmando convenios de colaboración que apuntan a reforzar este intercambio de saberes y conocimientos entre comunidad y academia.

En la apertura del Congreso se hizo un repaso de la génesis y la historia de la agroecología en México: se habló de las comunidades campesinas como guardianes de la agrobiodiversidad y responsables de la subsistencia de muchas de las semillas y plantas que desde tiempos prehispánicos existen y perduran hasta nuestros tiempos. Con una mirada que fue recorriendo la historia y la memoria de la agroecología, se hizo énfasis en la necesidad de construir un futuro conjunto partiendo de la base del gran potencial que tiene México en técnicas agroecológicas y la importancia de organizarse en un frente común para presentar propuestas que alimenten políticas públicas estatales y nacionales beneficiosas para la comunidad en general; que creen resiliencia y puedan revertir los efectos nocivos del modelo agroindustrial en la calidad de la alimentación y la pérdida de la soberanía alimentaria, la degradación de ecosistemas, la pérdida de suelos, la contaminación de agua y aire, el cambio climático y las migraciones forzadas.

En la integración del programa y la heterogeneidad de la asistencia quedó de manifiesto la necesidad de conciliar las múltiples perspectivas que existen sobre la agroecología en México, en particular la mirada maya que de generación en generación ha apostado por una construcción de saberes y resistencia; así como la académica, simbolizada en México en la figura del maestro Xocolotzi.

Con este objetivo, en el programa se integraron por diferentes mesas: soberanía alimentaria, experiencias internacionales en agroecología y el buen vivir, mercados y tianguis, estrategias de producción agroecológicas, sistemas agroforestales, salvopastoriles y manejo de fauna, sistema milpa, huertos familiares, manejo de plagas, política pública y gobernanza, suelos y semillas, mujeres, agroecología y feminismos, el maíz bajo asedio, agua y suelo, semillas y resiliencia, escuelas campesinas, entre otros temas.

El acto de clausura se realizó en el Teatro Zebadúa, en el centro de San Cristóbal de las Casas. En la mesa de cierre participaron como ponentes el Dr. Víctor Suárez Carrera, Subsecretario de Autosuficiencia Alimentaria de la Secretaría de Agricultura y Desarrollo Rural, el Dr. Crispim Moreira, representante de FAO en México, y el Dr. Luis García Barrios, Director de la región Sureste de la Comisión Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología.

En un auditorio lleno, donde no faltaron las interpelaciones entre público y autoridades acerca de la capacidad real de cambio propuesto por la cuarta transformación del gobierno de Andrés Manuel López Obrador, quedó de manifiesto que la agroecología debe ser parte de la transformación real de la República y que esto ocurrirá en la medida en que una sociedad  fuerte y organizada proponga los cambios necesarios para que las políticas públicas que el gobierno implemente integren a la agroecología como una parte sustancial del cambio.