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$1M a Minute: The Farming Subsidies Destroying the World – Report

The public is providing more than $1m per minute in global farm subsidies, much of which is driving the climate crisis and destruction of wildlife, according to a new report.

Just 1% of the $700bn (£560bn) a year given to farmers is used to benefit the environment, the analysis found. Much of the total instead promotes high-emission cattle production, forest destruction and pollution from the overuse of fertiliser.

The security of humanity is at risk without reform to these subsidies, a big reduction in meat eating in rich nations and other damaging uses of land, the report says. But redirecting the subsidies to storing carbon in soil, producing healthier food, cutting waste and growing trees is a huge opportunity, it says.

The report rejects the idea that subsidies are needed to supply cheap food. It found that the cost of the damage currently caused by agriculture is greater than the value of the food produced. New assessments in the report found producing healthy, sustainable food would actually cut food prices, as the condition of the land improves.

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Reginaldo y la Revolución de las Gallinas

Reginaldo no habla desde un “yo”, sino desde un “nosotros”. Él sabe que en un mundo individualista, la verdadera revolución son los proyectos colectivos para el bien común.

Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquín nació y creció en Petén, en una familia de 13 hermanos. Como las mayorías en este país, su familia vivió al borde, en la supervivencia, en pobreza extrema.

En la Cumbre de Migrantes en 2017 y en diversos espacios, Reginaldo ha presentado el proyecto de la Revolución de las Gallinas.

Reginaldo comienza su charla diciendo que para hacer algo, es importante saber qué nos motiva. Dice que lo que a él le ha motivado es el hambre, la miseria, la pobreza. “Crecí en pobreza material, pero en gran riqueza espiritual”.

“No hay negocio más lucrativo que el que toma el control de una necesidad tan básica como lo es la alimentación. Ese el el origen de la agroindustria, no tiene nada que ver con la salud, sino con la acumulación de dinero, es en buena medida el sistema que domina hoy el mundo”.

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Is Grass-Fed Beef Really Better For The Planet? Here’s The Science

For the environmentally minded carnivore, meat poses a culinary conundrum. Producing it requires a great deal of land and water resources, and ruminants such as cows and sheep are responsible for half of all greenhouse gas emissions associated with agriculture, according to the World Resources Institute.

That’s why many researchers are now calling for the world to cut back on its meat consumption. But some advocates say there is a way to eat meat that’s better for the planet and better for the animals: grass-fed beef.

But is grass-fed beef really greener than feedlot-finished beef? Let’s parse the science.

What’s the difference between grass-fed and feedlot beef?

Feedlot calves begin their lives on pasture with the cow that produced them. They’re weaned after six to nine months, then grazed a bit more on pasture. They’re then “finished” for about 120 days on high-energy corn and other grains in a feedlot, gaining weight fast and creating that fat-marbled beef that consumers like.

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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.


Plant Sentience and the Impossible Burger

What is consciousness? It is awareness of self, others and our surroundings. What is sentience? It is the ability to perceive, experience and feel things.

The concept of sentience is a key part of animal rights. This is because it is necessary for animals to be sentient in order to experience pain and distress and the reason why reasonable people oppose animal cruelty. It is also part of the concept of the sanctity of life.

Scientific research shows that plants possess these same attributes. Plants are conscious, sentient beings.

In 1973, The Secret Life of Plants, by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird documented experiments that showed plant sentience. The book gave many examples of plant responses to human care, their ability to communicate, their reactions to music, their lie-detection abilities and their ability to recognize and to predict. It was a best seller. However, despite quoting from a range of research, it was met with skepticism by many scientists and academics.

Since then, thousands of published studies present a body of evidence that plants are conscious, sentient beings.

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How Fake Food Accelerates the Collapse of the Planet and Our Health

Food is not a commodity, it is not “stuff” put together mechanically and artificially in labs and factories. Food is life. Food holds the contributions of all beings that make the food web, and it holds the potential of maintaining and regenerating the web of life. Food also holds the potential for health and disease, depending on how it is grown and processed. Food is therefore the living currency of the web of life.

As an ancient Upanishad reminds us “Everything is food, everything is something else’s food”. Good and real food are the basis of health. Bad, industrial, fake food is the basis of disease. Hippocrates said “Let food be the medicine”. In Ayurveda, India’s ancient science of life, food is called “sarvausadha”: the medicine that cures all disease. Industrial food systems have reduced food to a commodity, to “stuff” that can then be constituted in the lab. In the process both the planet’s health and our health has been nearly destroyed.

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Can Meat Actually Save The Planet?

Meat has had a rough few years. Since a shocking 2006 report found that livestock are a major contributor to climate change, there has been a nationwide ― if not global ― movement to eat less meat.

But many experts say that the war on meat is missing the point. There is an extensive body of research suggesting that livestock should not shoulder blame for the climate crisis. In fact, these experts would argue that grazing animals are a crucial part of the solution.

“The current methods of meat production are absolutely unacceptable from an environmental and animal welfare standpoint, but that doesn’t logically lead us to the conclusion that we should get rid of meat,” said Nicolette Hahn Niman, an environmental-lawyer-turned-cattle-rancher and author of “Defending Beef.” “The conversation tends to miss this basic point: It’s not whether or not we have animals, it’s how they’re managed.”

Niman’s bookexplains in great scientific detail how, through proper management systems, livestock have the potential to positively impact ― even reverse ― the effects of climate change.

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The Green New Deal Must Include Regenerative Agriculture and an End to Factory Farming

This week, a petition signed by more than 100,000 people was delivered to Congress, outlining issues that should be addressed in Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey’s (D-MA) Green New Deal. This petition shows overwhelming support for the Green New Deal, and calls for more attention to be brought to how our food system can be reformed to combat climate change. With the food and farming sector being the United States’ largest employer, and the country being one of the highest contributors toward climate change, citizens are calling for action to be taken to protect our world.

As someone in their mid-twenties, I have grown up seeing how climate change is actively impacting me and my community. Here in California, I expect droughts in the summer and extreme wildfires or mudslides in the fall; learning from a young age to always conserve water because the next shortage is just around the corner. Young activists from all across the U.S. have seen similar changes in their home states, and we recognize that our future depends on action being taken to stop the climate crisis before it is too late.

A unique opportunity to address climate change can be found in our agriculture sector—an area which must be made sustainable if we’re going to survive. Climate scientists have identified agriculture as one of the largest contributors to climate change. This an opportunity to shift agricultural practices away from the large scale, conventional farms that currently dominate our food system to a regenerative, locally-focused, small-scale system that values the welfare of the land and those who work it. CFS has identified several focus points that should be implemented with the passing of the GND resolution to cut back greenhouse gas emissions and create a healthier, more sustainable food system.

1. Invest in regenerative, local agriculture

The future of agriculture lies in the shifting of practices away from large scale monocultures towards small and medium-sized diversified farms. We must wean away from the mass amounts of toxic chemical pesticides and fertilizers being used, and instead integrate regenerative practices such as cover cropping, the use of compost, and the implementation of hedgerows as alternatives that not only add nutrients into the soil, but provide many other ecosystem services. Among these, regenerative agriculture protects biodiversity, including the native bees and pollinators that are currently being decimated by conventional agriculture. Our “Regenerating Paradise” video series covers many practices currently being practiced in Hawai’i—including several that can be implemented nationwide—to reduce carbon emissions and protect our soils. Implementing these practices can sustain our food production all while sequestering carbon, protecting pollinators, and promoting on-farm biodiversity.

Switching to these regenerative agriculture practices will not be easy, but it will be beneficial. Despite research showing the vast benefits that come from cover cropping and other regenerative practices, farmers have been slow to start implementing them. Government and university grants, technical assistance, and further research should be funded to help promote these practices, transition farms, and aid the continuous education of farmers and farmworkers. This investment will have far-reaching effects on farms—preserving native pollinator habitat, sequestering carbon, and providing climate-smart food to local communities.

2. Cut meat consumption and shut down environmentally-harmful animal factory farms

Disinvestment from factory farms is necessary, not only from a climate standpoint, but from a larger human and environmental health perspective as well. Large scale animal operations pollute the water, lead to a higher risk of disease in humans, and contributelarge amounts of methane and other greenhouse gases into the air. Cutting back meat consumption, purchasing meat from local sources, and shifting toward plant-based sources of protein are all ways that individuals can help. More people than ever, especially young people, have recognized the harmful impacts of meat consumption and we are turning toward a flexitarian diet, vegetarianism, and veganism as a way to cut back on our carbon footprint. The government has the opportunity to support this effort on a larger scale by providing financial support and technical assistance to ranchers to help them transition to pasture-based and integrated livestock operations that reduce livestock’s impact on climate change and help sequester carbon in the soil.

CFS’s recently launched EndIndustrialMeat.org, a website that highlights some of the negative impacts that come with factory farming, including the vast amount of carbon released into the air and heavy metals being drained into the ground; serious consequences that disproportionately affect rural populations and disadvantaged communities. The GND’s goal to secure clean air and water, healthy food, and a sustainable environment for all communities mean that shutting down these harmful operations is imperative.

3. Reverse the trend of consolidation within the agriculture sector

For decades now, there has been increasing consolidation of seed, livestock, and other agriculture-related companies. These mega-corporations have purchased vast quantities of land and set the rules for how a farm has to run, undercutting disadvantaged farmers and farmworkers, and wrecking rural communities. GND policies can be used to break up these mega-farms, and empower local communities to take back the food system. Breaking up these predatory mega-farms would not only reinvigorate the economies of rural areas, but it would also give these communities access to the healthy, climate-friendly food necessary to slow the rate of climate change.

The growth of small and medium-sized farms would allow farmers and farmworkers to set fair wages and provide safe and humane conditions for themselves and a future for their children. Doing so would not only allow current farmers to continue their operations, but also would open the door for young farmers to have access to the land, resources, and funds needed to operate for a viable, sustainable farm. 

4.  Support young and disadvantaged farmers

Finally, we must utilize the GND to support disadvantaged and young farmers, paving the way for a climate-friendly food future. For a long time, people have been turning away from farming, instead opting for job opportunities found in cities. For the past several years, there has been a renewed interest in working the land in a regenerative, holistic manner. We must support these new farmers, along with the farmworkers who have been subjugated to the abuses of industrial agriculture, to forage a community-focused, regenerative food system.

The principles of equity and justice outlined in the GND must guide our transition away from industrial monocultures, and toward a food system that supports and uplifts disadvantaged groups, providing the economic assistance and infrastructure needed to improve these communities, and ultimately improving our economy as a whole. Likewise, many young and disadvantaged farmers have limited access to the equipment and mentorship needed to run a successful farm enterprise. Having grants and training programs available to take on the huge costs of tractors, land, and resources necessary to start a farm should be central to the Green New Deal.

Young people have paved the way for the Green New Deal and our future depends on immediate action being taken to stop climate change. Not only will this resolution allow for the huge changes needed to prevent climate change, but will allow for new opportunities for farmers. While the challenge ahead of us won’t be easy, there are many things that can be done to mitigate current greenhouse gas emissions that aren’t being implemented. The GND is an opportunity to reform our way of farming to allow for huge cuts to current emissions, all while creating a more equitable food system.

Posted with permission from Common Dreams

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.

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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