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Resistance Is Fertile: It’s Time to Prioritize Agroecology

Author: Colin Todhunter | Published on: August 29, 2016

Food is becoming unhealthy and poisoned with chemicals, while diets are becoming less diverse. There is a loss of plant and insect diversity, which threatens food security, soils are being degraded, water tables polluted and depleted and smallholder farmers, so vital to global food production, are being squeezed off their land and out of farming.

Over the last 60 years or so, Washington’s plan has been to restructure indigenous agriculture across the world. And this plan has involved subjugating nations by getting them to rely more on U.S. imports and grow less of their own food. Agriculture and food production and distribution have become globalized and tied to an international system of trade based on export-oriented mono-cropping, commodity production for the international market, indebtedness to international financial institutions (IMF/World Bank) and the need for nations to boost foreign exchange (U.S. dollar) reserves to repay debt.

This has resulted in food surplus and food deficit areas, of which the latter have become dependent on agricultural imports and strings-attached aid. Food deficits in the global South mirror food surpluses in the West.

Whether through IMF-World Bank structural adjustment programs, as occurred in Africa, trade agreements like NAFTA and its impact on Mexico or, more generally, deregulated global trade rules, the outcome has been similar: the devastation of traditional, indigenous agriculture.

KEEP READING ON THE HUFFINGTON POST

Bill Mollison: The Birth of a Global Movement

Author: Bill Mollison | Published on: January 28, 2016

In 1981, Bill Mollison, the co-founder of permaculture, won the Right Livelihood Award. This is his acceptance speech. It explains his motivations, how he began the global permaculture movement from nothing and his determination to find solutions amid ecological collapse.

I grew up in a small village in Tasmania. I was born in 1928, but my village might have existed in the 11th century. We didn’t have any cars; everything that we needed we made. We made our own boots, our own metal works, we caught fish, grew food, made bread. I didn’t know anybody who lived there who had one job, or anything that you could define as a job. Everybody had several jobs.

As a child I lived in a sort of a dream and I didn’t really awake until I was about 28. I spent most of my working life in the bush or on the sea. I fished, I hunted for my living. It wasn’t until the 1950s that large parts of the system in which I lived were disappearing. First, fish stocks became extinct. Then I noticed the seaweed around the shorelines had gone. Large patches of forest began to die. I hadn’t realised until those things were gone that I’d become very fond of them, that I was in love with my country. This is about the last place I want to be; I would like to be sitting in the bush watching wallabies. However, if I don’t stand here there will be no bush and no wallabies to watch. The Japanese have come to take away most of our forest. They are using it for newsprint. I notice that you are putting it in your waste‑paper basket. That’s what has happened to the life systems I grew up in.

It’s always a mark of danger to me when large biological systems start to collapse, when we lose whole stocks of fish, as we’ve lost whole stocks of herring, and many stocks of sardines, when we lose huge areas of the sea bottom which were productive in scallops and oysters. When we enquire why this happens, it comes back to one thing: the use of energy sources not derived from the biological system.

KEEP READING ON PERMACULTURE

Urban Farming, Africa Style

Author: Richard Farrell | Published on: September 7, 2016

When I was in junior school in Cape Town in the late fifties / early sixties, ‘grand apartheid’ had not yet kicked in. While schools and buses already had racial segregation, we lived in an integrated suburb comprising different cultures some of whom set their gardens aside for agriculture.

The government’s final solution included separating the races, and passing stricter urban planning rules. These prohibited all forms of business on residential plots, including keeping livestock and agriculture. We emerged as a free country in 1994. Ten years later, the Tshwane University of Technology Centre for Organic and Smallholder Agriculture reported that 48% of the people still lived below the breadline.

Many of these have abandoned their traditional homes in the hinterland, and trekked to South African metropolitan municipalities in hope of a better life. They congregate in vast squatter camps the government tries to replace with starter houses. The people continue to stream in. Demand will grow faster than supply until entrepreneurship replaces social dependence.

NEW DIRECTIONS FOR CITY AGRICULTURE

This change has started. On 11 March 2016 David Olivier, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Global Change and Sustainability Research Institute, University of the Witwatersrand posted a paper titled ‘Uprooting Patriarchy: Gender and Urban Agriculture on South Africa’s Cape Flats’. The Cape Flats is a low-lying area around Cape Town Airport between the Cape Town mountain massif and the hinterland.

Geologically speaking, the area is essentially a ‘vast sheet of aeolian sand, ultimately of marine origin, which has blown up from the adjacent beaches over a period of the order of a hundred thousand years.’ In the summer, blistering winds blast the sand against your legs. In the winter, every winter, there are floods.

KEEP READING ON PERMACULTURE REASEARCH INSTITUTE

Cover Crop Mixtures Increase Agroecosystem Services, First-of-Kind Study Suggests

 

Author: Jeff Mulhollem | Published on: September 8, 2016

Planting a multi-species mixture of cover crops — rather than a cover crop monoculture — between cash crops, provides increased agroecosystem services, or multifunctionality, according to researchers in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

That was the conclusion drawn from a two-year study of 18 cover-crop treatments, ranging in diversity from one to eight plant species. Cover crops were grown at the Penn State Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center preceding a corn crop. The researchers measured five benefits provided by cover crops — ecosystem services — in each cover crop system to assess the relationship between species.

Those services included weed suppression and nitrogen retention during the cover-crop season, cover-crop aboveground biomass, inorganic nitrogen supply during the subsequent cash-crop season and subsequent corn yield.

The study was the first field-based test of the relationship between cover-crop species and multifunctionality — the quality of cover crops to simultaneously provide multiple benefits — noted research team member Jason Kaye, professor of soil biogeochemistry. Never before had this relationship been examined and analyzed in a crop rotation.

As continued research yields more precise information about optimal cover-crop seed mixtures and planting rates, Kaye predicted, farmers will deploy this strategy to enhance soil quality, control weed growth, manage critical nutrients such as nitrogen, improve crop yields and reduce nutrient runoff.

“This kind of ecological study identifying a positive relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem services suggests that higher plant diversity will increase services from agroecosystems, and that has immediate implications for management practices and policies for sustainable agriculture, including Chesapeake Bay water quality,” Kaye said. “In a corn production system, simply increasing cover-crop species richness will have a small impact on agroecosystem services, but designing mixtures that maximize functional diversity may lead to agroecosystems with greater multifunctionality.”

KEEP READING ON SCIENCE DAILY

5 Food Systems Lessons the U.S. Can Learn from Africa

Author: Jennifer Lentfer| Published on: September 7, 2016

A recipient of the 2016 Food Sovereignty Prize from Ethiopia shares his insights on food and farming in the U.S., threats to smallholder farmers in Africa, and communicating across ideological differences.

As food activists work to localize food systems in the United States, small farmers who sell their food locally still produce around 80 percent of the food in sub-Saharan Africa. But that does not mean that farmers and food activists on the African continent can be complacent. Quite the opposite. Corporate industrialization of African agriculture is resulting in massive land grabs, destruction of biodiversity and ecosystems, displacement of indigenous peoples, and destruction of livelihoods and cultures.

Yonas Yimer works to create a united voice for food justice across more than 50 countries in Africa. He leads communications for the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, a policy advocacy group that fights to protect small family farming and community-based food production, and is a recent recipient of the 2016 Food Sovereignty Prize.

Despite the recurring argument that a “green revolution” is needed to feed Africa’s growing population, Yimer says, “we’re here to say that agroecology already feeds Africa.” He describes agroecology as a set of practices that integrates scientific understanding about how particular places work—their ecology—with farmers’ knowledge of how to make their local landscapes useful to humans.

Agroecology also encourages people to think about their own relationship to land, to the ecosystem, and with other people. We sat down with Yimer during his recent visit to San Francisco to talk about what we in the U.S. can learn from the wealth of knowledge that exists within African communities about how to defend and build upon sustainable and indigenous approaches to growing food. Here are the five key lessons that emerged.

KEEP READING ON CIVIL EATS

Valuing What Really Matters: A Look at Soil Currency

Author: Randall Coleman | Published: July 2016

We have all heard the expression “cheaper than dirt.” But many experts disagree. Soil is a vital resource that the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates contributes about USD $16.5 trillion in ecosystem services annually. In fact, FAO named 2015 the International Year of the Soils in order to highlight the importance of soils in our food system.

Unfortunately, arable soil is depleting very rapidly due to erosion, by around 24 billion tons each year. This rate of erosion is 10 to 100 times greater than the rate at which soil is being replenished. The major contributing factors are urban development, desertification, and industrial agriculture. The use of chemicals, intensive machinery, and monoculture are increasing productivity in the short term but leading to fallow soil and desertification over the long term. The most widely discussed solutions around these issues include polyculture, reforestation, and climate-smart agricultural practices. But, what if the reason we do not see soil being replenished is because we are not properly valuing it? I believe soil can provide a way to increase food access in urban food deserts, increase healthy diets among low-income communities, and shield communities from increasingly volatile global markets. To do this, we can look to the world of economics for a solution.

Some practitioners, artists, and scholars are exploring the idea of soil as a currency. Economists, agronomists, and ecologists have already agreed and estimated the economic benefits we receive from soil ecosystem services. Because we can create certain types of topsoil and because we know how valuable it is, we can create an economic system that is based on the value of soil.

KEEP READING ON THE SOLUTIONS JOURNAL

California Releases Vision for Healthy Soils Initiative

 

Author: Valley Grower | Published on: September 15, 2016

Sacramento, California – California’s Climate Future and Soils: California’s Healthy Soils Initiative is a collaboration of state agencies and departments, led by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, to promote the development of healthy soils on California’s farm and ranch lands. Innovative farm and ranch management practices contribute to building adequate soil organic matter that can increase carbon sequestration and reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions.

The Healthy Soils Initiative is a key part of California’s strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by increasing carbon sequestration in and on natural and working lands. Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.’s Executive Order B-30-15 (April 2015), codified by SB 32 in September 2016, established a new interim statewide greenhouse gas emission reduction target at 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. The Executive Order points to carbon sequestration in California’s forests and farmlands as one way to help meet that goal. The Brown administration also recognized the importance of soil health in the Governor’s 2015-16 proposed budget by highlighting that “as the leading agricultural state in the nation, it is important for California’s soils to be sustainable and resilient to climate change.”

In building soil health, California can also make use of wasted resources bound for the landfill. Currently, some 12 million tons of compostable or mulchable organic waste is sent to California landfills annually, where it generates methane and other public health threats that must be managed or mitigated. The Healthy Soils Initiative presents an opportunity to return those organic materials back to the soil, where they can serve as a resource for California’s critical agricultural economy.

 

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Moving up the Mountain: Coffee Farmers Fight Against Climate Change

This story is part of a campaign called Living on the Edge of Climate Change, showing how the changing environment is affecting the world’s most vulnerable.

It’s only 10 a.m. on a Thursday, but no one here is lingering over a last morning cup of coffee.

No, in the community of Nuevo Eden in the department of San Marcos in Guatemala, these people are growing your coffee. It’s hard work that gets more difficult by the year.

Person after person—man, woman and child—pass with a quick “buenos días” and a smile, but they don’t linger. They have a long, dusty mountain road ahead of them as they carry huge sacks of coffee cherries on their backs. These cherries will eventually become cups of steaming coffee. But to these farmers that’s not their immediate concern. Just getting the beans to this point has been an uphill battle: a battle against circumstance, a battle against the climate, a battle against poverty. And it’s a fight that is still not won, especially against climate change.

This part of Guatemala is known for its quality coffee, and for its beauty. The mountains provide both a gorgeous landscape and a good location for growing the valuable beans. But these tall peaks also serve as symbols of struggle. This has not been a smooth road, and these farmers are definitely not rich. In fact, they are some of the most vulnerable people in our world. And we want you to meet them.

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Is Going Organic Key to Saving Vermont’s Struggling Dairy Industry?

Author: Kyle Midura| Published on: August 31, 2016

HINESBURG, Vt. -Dairies across the Northeast face nightmarish market forces with high feed costs and revenue spoiled by low milk prices. But in Hinesburg, Matt Baldwin is preparing to fulfill his dream of opening a dairy farm.

“I’m going into this with my eyes wide-open,” he said.

He’s banking his farm and family’s future on strong demand for organic milk.

“This is the only way we see that we can financially justify doing it,” Baldwin said.

His fields are certified or heading that way, and he’s transitioning his newly purchased cows off antibiotics and onto a strict diet. Baldwin will hedge his bet by selling other organic crops as well.

“It’s an exciting transition that we’re really excited about and readily looking forward to doing,” he said.

“Organic is more stable because they’re able to balance supply and demand,” said Roger Allbee, Vermont’s former agriculture secretary.

Allbee recently penned an opinion piece arguing that if Vermont dairy has a future, it’s in organic milk production. He says Vermont’s farmers simply can’t compete with the sheer volume of milk produced in massive farms out West and globalization is not helping, either. But organic demand is growing, and Allbee says that is Vermont’s opportunity to maintain its traditional brand, and for dairies to rise back to the top.

“Dairy is a big part of what Vermont’s all about, certainly for its economy and certainly for tourism,” Allbee said.

KEEP READING ON WCAX.COM

Why Farm-to-Institution Sourcing is the Sleeping Giant of Local Food

Author: Leilani Clark | Published on: August 29, 2016

The next time someone points to the need for more farmers’ markets as a way to help move local food from a trend to a substantive cultural shift, you might consider telling them about the power of institutional purchasing. It may sound less interesting and, on the surface, it certainly is. (Who doesn’t love buying purple carrots to the sound of a didgeridoo?) But bear with us.

You see, public and private institutions spend billions of dollars each year on food.Schools, universities, hospitals, prisons, corporate cafeterias, and senior care facilities share one thing in common—they prepare, cook, and serve thousands of meals every day. Now, a rising national movement wants to persuade these institutions to source a higher percentage of food from regional producers—with an emphasis on farms, fishermen, and and ranches that follow ecologically sound, socially just, and humane practices. It’s called institutional food procurement, and, while it might not have quite as much romance as some other elements of today’s Good Food Movement, some say this follow-the-money strategy could hold the key to transforming the American food system.

A shift in institutional food buying has the potential for major impacts on not only the local economy, but on food access, according to Amanda Oborne, Vice President of Food and Farms at Ecotrust, an Oregon-based nonprofit that works to advance farm-to-institution initiatives in the Pacific Northwest.

“We put the focus on the buyers with multi-million dollar food procurement budgets because even if they just redirect a couple of percentage points of their budget into the region, that’s going to drive change all the way through the [local] supply chain,” says Oborne. In one example, chefs at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon can order whole hogs from local producers thanks to an innovative partnerships with a meat distribution company.

For Ecotrust, and other farm-to-institution groups across the nation, the goals are two-fold. First, they aim to sway large institutions with huge food budgets to leverage their purchasing power in support of small and mid-sized regional farmers, ranchers, and fisherman as a way to boost the local economies. And to pivot away from consolidated global distributors like Sysco. A second, and just as important goal, is to open up access to healthy, local, and sustainable food for the populations generally served by public institutions.

KEEP READING ON CIVIL EATS