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Thailand: ‘We Need to Save Our Seeds, Climate, Seasons to Protect Our Communities!’

Author: Lee Ayu Chuepa | Published: October 5, 2017

This is what we try to do daily at the Akha Ama coffee factory. My name is Ayu and I am a young coffee farmer and a social entrepreneur. I belong to the Akha indigenous community living in the Maejantai, in the Northern Thailand. I grew up in a small village where people used to provide everything for themselves, from building houses and tools to foods by doing subsistence agriculture.

I was lucky because my parents worked hard to give me the chance to study. Later on, whilst working for an NGO, which supports village kids by teaching them how to build social enterprises, I understood that was my mission too!

Making a living as a coffee farmer is not easy. So I went back to my village and started a social business, a coffee factory dealing with the whole value chain, from the seed to the coffee bean, to avoid middlemen and maximise income for the farmers. We apply integrated agriculture and agroforestry to grow coffee and other foods such as cherries, peaches and persimmons. Thus, aside from the coffee we sell, we also have food to eat. These production systems allow us to gain twice: we earn an income to support our livelihoods whilst growing our food and preserving a resilient land which ensures long-term food security and the continuity of our income-generating activities. Moreover, in a healthy forest we can find plenty of useful plants which thrive without any human intervention, from mushrooms to bamboos and the plants used in traditional medicine: if you treat the forest well, the forest will treat you!

This is what I believe in, and what made me join the Slow Food movement, whose mission is to promote this kind of sustainable agriculture and to support and protect the work of small producers.

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Bionutrient Food Association: “We Can Solve These Problems”

Published: May 2017 

The Bionutrient Food Association is working with producers to establish growing practices that yield more nutritious crops, while developing a standard for nutrient-dense foods and a handheld tool to measure those nutrient levels. The idea behind the tool is to use existing technology, like the camera in a Smartphone, to scan produce right in the grocery store, measuring the nutrient-density of the consumer’s food options.

The Association’s mission is to empower consumers to choose the most nutrient-dense foods, ultimately rewarding farmers for their improved growing practices.

Food Tank spoke with Dan Kittredge, founder of the Bionutrient Food Association and an organic farmer himself, to discuss why he thinks we need a definition of nutrient density, and the power he sees in this standard to transform the food system.

Food Tank (FT): What first inspired you to start working on nutrient density in food?

Dan Kittredge (DK): It started when I, as somebody who grew up on an organic farm, when I got married I had no other viable skillsets besides farming. And I came to terms with the fact that my crops were not healthy. They were succumbing to infestation and disease, and I was not economically viable. And I knew I needed to do a better job.

FT: What does the Bionutrient Food Association do to promote nutrient density in our food supply?

DK: Our core work is training growers. We work with growers of all sizes across the country, across North America, in what we call principles of biological systems. And we walk them through the growing season, walk them through the year, and talk about how plants grow in relation to the soil and microbiology, and help farmers identify what the main factors are so they can address them. That’s been our core work.

Our overt mission is to increase quality in the food supply. And by quality, I’m referring to flavor, aroma, and nutritive value, which is often times virtuous to nutrient density. So we’re now at a point where we have, I think, sixteen chapters across the country.

And we’re actually working on a definition of what quality means to density in the amount of nutrients. You know, what is the variation in nutrient levels in crops and trying to give consumers the ability to test that at point of purchase. Something along the lines of a handheld spectrometer, something that would be essentially, if a Smartphone had the right sensors, something that could be in your phone. You know, give the consumer the ability to test quality at point of purchase and then make your decisions accordingly, as an incentive to inspire the supply chain to change its practices.

FT: What does soil have to do with nutrient density?

DK: Well for the general public, I think we need to understand what nutrient density is first, because it’s a term that is thrown around a lot without a clear understanding of what it means. So for us, nutrient density is, you have greater levels of nutrients per unit calorie in a crop, better flavor, better aroma, and better nutritive value.

Basically, those compounds that correlate with nutrition, with flavor, and aroma in crops, are built from the soil and through a well-functioning microbial ecosystem. So plants evolved with a gut flora, in the same way that we have a gut flora, that digests their food for them. The bacteria and the fungi in the soil are fed by the plants. When the plant makes sugar in the leaves, it injects that sugar into the soil to feed the soil life, who then digest the soil and feed the nutrients up to the plant.

So it’s only when you have a well-functioning soil life, when the soil is actually flourishing, with vitality, with life, that’s the only time when you’re going to get the plants having access to the nutrients necessary to have nutrient dense crops.

So in many cases, farmers engage in management practices that are counterproductive. Tillage, bare soil, adding fertilizers, fungicides, insecticides, a lot of the basic practices of agriculture are systemically counterproductive to nutrient density in crops. Which is why we have pretty categorical data from USDA and other sources about the decreasing levels of nutrition in food over time.

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Regenerating Public Health: Beyond Obama and Trump

Author: Ronnie Cummins | Published: February 5, 2017

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As evidenced by the 2016 primary and general elections, Americans–Democrats, Republicans, Greens, and Independents–want real change, radical change, not just “business as usual.” That’s why Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) nearly won the Democratic Party nomination in 2016 with his call for a “Revolution,” including Medicare for All, reining in Wall Street, higher taxes on corporate profits, an end to wars in the Middle East, and free tuition for students at public colleges. Polls consistently indicated that had Sanders survived the dirty tricks of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, and actually won the Democratic Party nomination, he could have defeated Trump by a significant margin.

On the Republican side of the partisan divide, 63 million (mainly white),bitterly dissatisfied Americans cast their votes against Hillary Clinton and for Donald Trump, a self-proclaimed revolutionary, who promised to “Make America Great Again,” by reducing taxes, and by raising the living standards of everyday Americans. Trump’s platform included putting an end to Obamacare and providing a more effective and affordable system of healthcare by devolving power to the states.

Since his inauguration, Trump and his minions have unfortunately declared war on the majority of Americans with a divisive, indeed alarming, series of sexist, racist, authoritarian and homophobic policy pronouncements and executive orders. After declaring he would “drain the swamp” of lobbyists and special interests, Trump has instead hypocritically put forth the nominations of corporate millionaires, billionaires, Wall Street insiders, militarists and climate deniers to his Cabinet, along with an anti-abortion extremist to the Supreme Court, and has enacted a series of executive decrees on immigration, environmental pollution, and pipelines that have brought millions of protesters out into the streets.

According to the well-respected Institute on Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP),

“Trump has issued instructions to effectively gag government scientists, thus threatening continuity and public accountability in research, and is preparing to gut regulations across multiple sectors that were designed in the public interest. He is building a cabinet of powerful millionaires and billionaires, some of whom oppose the very purpose that their agencies are mandated to serve. He is perpetuating the idea that recognition of climate change is subject to a belief system rather than to scientific evidence. He is attempting to reverse the social-, economic- and environmental-achievement and promise of renewable energy. –IATP newsletter Feb. 4, 2017.

One of the most pressing crises we face, a major topic in the 2016 elections, is our rapidly deteriorating public health and healthcare system. See the linked article and video at the end of this article. Unfortunately, neither Establishment Democrats (Clinton et al) nor Republicans (Trump) appear ready to “bite the hand that feeds them” (Big Pharma, the American Medical Association, insurance companies, junk food conglomerates, corporate agribusiness, chemical polluters) and offer a real solution, in terms of effective and affordable healthcare and public policy that address the underlying causes of rampant disease and sickness, not just the symptoms.

The root causes of the world’s most expensive and ineffective system of healthcare—the U.S. healthcare system—are not only medical errors (failing to focus on prevention and nutrition for example) and malpractice (the third leading cause of death in America), but also the self-destructive lifestyle choices or addictions (junk food, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and lack of exercise) of the majority of the population. The everyday behavior of consumers in our Fast Food nation, compounded by the routine “profit-at-any-cost” contamination of our environment, have not only degenerated public health, but have also raised healthcare costs ($3.3 trillion per year and rising) to the point where they are threatening to bankrupt our entire economic system.

We literally cannot afford to provide universal healthcare for all as long as our medical model is focused on treating the evermore serious and widespread sicknesses of the body politic (for example obesity and diabetes) rather than the underlying causes. However, with the right preventive and holistic approach, we could easily afford Medicare for All–and it would cost much less for both consumers and employers than what we are spending now.

We do need socialized medicine, accessible to everyone regardless of their income level. But we need universal healthcare based upon a fundamentally different model, whereby we stop just treating the symptoms of our degenerating public health and start treating the causes.

U.S. healthcare costs in 2016 averaged $10,345 per person for a total of $3.35 trillion dollars, a full 18 percent of the entire economy, twice as much as any other industrialized country. Healthcare costs are projected to grow at 6 percent a year over the next decade, eventually likely bankrupting not only millions of consumers, but the entire federal government.

Whatever your opinion on the merits and drawbacks of the so-called Affordable Care Act, Trump and Congress appear poised to put an end to Obamacare. Millions of Trump supporters say that one of the main reasons they voted for Trump and the Republicans was to get rid of Obamacare. The ACA, launched with great fanfare by Obama and Congressional Democrats, supposedly to make quality healthcare available and affordable to all Americans, became increasingly unpopular once it proved incapable of taming Big Pharma’s insatiable lust for profits. As costs and deductibles rose, and once people realized they were forced by federal law to purchase health insurance, no matter what the cost, Obamacare lost support.

Although millions of previously uninsured Americans with pre-existing conditions or low incomes have undoubtedly benefited from Obamacare (along with Big Pharma and insurance companies whose profits increased because the law made it mandatory to purchase health insurance), it looks like the ACA will now be replaced by a system of taxpayer-funded, but state-administered block grants and health savings accounts.

Trumpcare, in most states, will likely lead to reduced benefits for low-income individuals or families, and make it harder for the tens of millions of Americans with chronic and often serious pre-existing conditions to afford health insurance. At the same time it will likely provide tax advantages for large businesses and upper-income Americans. On the positive side, from the standpoint of natural health consumers, Trumpcare may indeed offer more choice for middle- and upper-income consumers on how they spend the money in their health savings accounts, including more flexibility on vaccine choice and expanded coverage for natural health remedies, supplements and practices, including naturopathy and homeopathy.

Meanwhile polls indicate that more than 60 percent of Americans are not that enthusiastic about either Obamacare or Trumpcare. Most consumers say they would prefer a Medicare for All program of universal healthcare paid for by employers and individuals—with the wealthy and the corporations paying their fair share. Under the popular Medicare for All plan proposed by Bernie Sanders, employers would pay a 6.2-percent health tax and workers a 2.2-percent tax to pay for healthcare for all, with an average saving in healthcare costs of $5,000 for middle class families, savings of $9,000 per employee for businesses and $6 trillion in healthcare cost savings over a decade for the entire country.

But with the Trump Administration and the current make-up of Congress and state legislatures, don’t hold your breath waiting for a Bernie Sanders-style Medicare for All program. If we’re ever going to see universal healthcare for all with a focus on prevention, natural health and consumer choice–what we call Regenerative Health–we will  have to elect a Brand New Congress  along with a brand new slate of radical-minded local and state elected political officials, what Bernie Sanders supporters call “Our Revolution.”

In the meantime, welcome to Degeneration Nation. Swimming in a toxic soup of 90,000 basically unregulated industrial and agricultural chemicals–carcinogens, neurotoxins, pesticides, hormone disruptors, immune suppressors, excitotoxins, GMOs. Worn down by corporate junk food, tainted consumer products, air and water pollution, incessant advertising, infectious disease, synthetic pharmaceutical drugs, dangerous vaccines, cigarette smoke, and alcohol. Zapped 24/7 with electromagnetic radiation. Stressed out by poverty and economic insecurity, fear of crime, rampant consumerism, and a murderous work pace.

A growing majority of Americans are chronically sick and dispirited

Ignoring, in fact profiting off of this public health crisis, mainstream medical practitioners, the corporate media, and elected public officials continue to ignore or cover-up the toxic, business-as-usual, roots of Degeneration Nation.

Corrupt politicians, Democrats and Republicans alike support a powerful Medical Industrial Pharmaceutical Complex that offers expensive, yet mostly ineffective, drugs and treatment to allay our growing public health crisis. Then they proceed to collect their payoffs in the form of campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry, insurance companies, and HMOs (Health Maintenance Organizations).

A recent case in point is the rejection by the U.S. Senate of a commonsense bill put forward by Bernie Sanders to require U.S. government, taxpayer-funded health care programs (Medicare, Medicaid, and the Veterans Administration) to bargain with Big Pharma to lower prescription drug prices and to allow the importation of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada. Not only did Senate Republicans vote against this bill, but they were provided a margin of victory by the support of 13 Democratic Senators. And of course President Trump, notwithstanding his recent rhetoric about how Big Pharma is gouging us, said nothing.

Big Pharma spends more on lobbying than any other industry in the United States, according to the Center for Public Integrity. In addition, Big Pharma feeds the insatiable appetite of the mainstream media, spending more than $5 billion dollars a year on advertising, including advertising pharmaceutical drugs, a practice banned in every other industrialized nation except New Zealand. Last but not least, U.S. doctors make more money than any other medical practitioners in the world, though they typically pay a steep price in terms of a 70-hour workweek, skyrocketing malpractice insurance, and indentured servitude to Big Pharma, insurance companies and giant hospitals.

The Emperor of Degeneration Nation has no clothes, but very few of our so-called political leaders, other than Bernie Sanders, are talking seriously about what to do about it.

American consumers and employers will spend over three trillion dollars this year on health insurance, pharmaceutical drugs, hospitals, and medical bills, yet we remain–mentally and physically–among the unhealthiest people on Earth. Forty-eight percent of U.S. men and 38% of women can now look forward to getting cancer. A third of our children suffer from chronic disease, eight percent suffer from serious food allergies, 10% from asthma, 17% are diagnosed with learning or behavior disabilities, almost two percent from autism, while a third of low-income preschool kids are already overweight or obese. Heart disease, diabetes, mental illness, cancer, and obesity are spiraling out-of-control among all sectors of the population.

The fundamental causes of most of our chronic health problems are not genetic or inherited, but rather derive from couch potato/commuter lifestyles; over consumption of highly processed, high-cholesterol, nutritionally deficient, and contaminated factory-farmed and industrialized foods; and an increasingly polluted, stressful, and toxic environment.

These, of course, are problems that even the most expensive prescription drugs and high-tech medical procedures cannot cure. Unfortunately, the worst is yet to come. Within a few years, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation and others, America’s health care costs will soar beyond four trillion dollars annually, bankrupting Medicare and millions of American families and businesses.  Unless we quickly change our priorities from “maintaining” our Degeneration Nation to universally preventing disease and promoting overall wellness–including cleaning up our food supply and environment–America’s health crisis will become terminal.

With millions of Americans mentally or physically debilitated, permanently hooked on the world’s most expensive prescription drugs, Big Pharma, HMOs, and insurance tycoons rake in billions.

According to Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor in chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, in 2002:

“The combined profits for the ten drug companies in the Fortune 500 ($35.9 billion) were more than the profits for all the other 490 businesses put together ($33.7 billion). Over the past two decades the pharmaceutical industry has [become] a marketing machine to sell drugs of dubious benefit, [using] its wealth and power to co-opt every institution that might stand in its way, including the US Congress, the FDA, academic medical centers, and the medical profession itself.”

Keep in mind these figures are from 14 years ago. Currently big pharma rakes in over $500 billion in revenues in the U.S .and Canada alone.

In order to bring about radical change (Medicare for All with a major emphasis on prevention and natural health practices), we will have to put the “fear of the grassroots” into the minds of Congress and the nation’s several hundred thousand elected public officials. But we will only be able to accomplish this if can move beyond partisan tunnel-vision politics and Big Pharma industrial medicine.

The critics of corporate healthcare and Big Pharma must stop quibbling. It’s time to close ranks, and mobilize a massive united front to support the progressive Medicare for All healthcare movement, representing the 40 million Americans with no or inadequate health insurance, the 20 million with pre-existing conditions, and the 60 million more who simply can’t afford Obamacare or Trump healthcare prices. These 120 million dissatisfied and economically stressed out Americans need to be reinforced by an army of radicals and libertarians, the 50 million alternative heath consumers who have rejected Big Pharma’s trillion-dollar drug and health maintenance scam altogether. Unless we bring together liberals, radicals, and natural health advocates, and mobilize this new majority, around a new model of public health focused on disease prevention and wellness promotion, rather than so-called “health maintenance,” we will fail.

The toxic side effects of Degeneration Nation are poisoning the body politic. With much of the population fixated on their personal or family’s health and psychological problems, worried about losing their jobs or their health coverage, doped up on prescription drugs or alcohol, and, for many, compensating for their alienating jobs with rampant consumerism, corrupt politicians and corporations run amuck.

National and global mega-crises–climate change, environmental destruction, poverty, unemployment, and endless war–steadily grow worse. Out-gunned and out-maneuvered, public interest organizations have defensively barricaded themselves in their respective single-issue silos–competing rather than cooperating, seldom if ever making the crucial links between food, environment, lifestyle, work, tax policy, military spending and health. Intimidated and/or bought off by Big Pharma and the medical industrial complex, few of the nation’s elected public officials dare talk about the obvious solution to our national health crisis: universal health care with a preventive and holistic focus.

We need universal, publicly funded healthcare because millions of sick and disadvantaged Americans are suffering and dying. We need universal healthcare because Big Pharma, HMOs and insurance companies are gouging consumers for $3.35 trillion dollars a year, profitably “maintaining” their illnesses, rather than curing them, steadily moving the nation along a trajectory that, combined with out-of-control military spending and corporate tax evasion, will eventually bankrupt the economy.

Can we afford universal healthcare with a focus on prevention and wellness?

In every industrialized country in the world, except for the U.S, medical care is considered a basic human right, alongside food and shelter, which a civilized society must provide for all. Of course it’s very difficult for a corporate-indentured government like the U.S. to afford universal healthcare, if big pharmaceutical companies, for-profit hospitals and health insurers are allowed to jack up their profit margins at will, while the rich and the corporations are allowed to evade taxes. Healthcare reform in the U.S. must be coupled with price controls on drugs and medical costs, as well as tax reform, whereby the corporations and the wealthy are forced to pay their fair share of federal taxes, including a transaction tax on Wall Street speculators. Taking the profits out of healthcare and eliminating the vast army of bureaucrats who administer our current for-profit healthcare system in favor of turning over responsibility to our federal Social Security and Medicaid administration will save us $360 billion dollars in administration costs.

And of course slashing our bloated military budget will bring in hundreds of billions of dollars, plenty of money to pay for every American to be enrolled in Medicare for All and receive the medical care they choose (including natural health products and practitioners) and need, and plenty of money to start changing our food and farming and land-use system from one that makes people sick, to one that makes people healthy.

In the U.S. corporations paid almost 40 percent of all federal taxes in 1943. Now they pay less than 10 percent. In 1960, millionaires were taxed at the rate of 90 percent. Now the top rate for millionaires and billionaires is 35 percent. Trump plans to reduce this tax rate on the rich and large corporations even more. Putting an end to this institutionalized tax evasion is a prerequisite for being able to afford publicly funded universal healt care–without raising taxes for the middle class, the working class and low-income communities.

Regenerating public health

To repeat: Federally funded Medicare for All healthcare is not enough. We need non-profit universal healthcare that promotes wellness and prevents people from getting sick–before they end up in the hospital or become permanently addicted to expensive prescription drugs with dangerous side effects. Simply giving everyone access to Big Pharma’s overpriced drugs, and corporate hospitals’ profit-at-any-cost tests and treatment, will result in little more than soaring healthcare costs, with uninsured and insured alike remaining sick or becoming even sicker.

To regenerate and cure Degeneration Nation and revitalize the body politic, we need to connect the dots between food, diet and health; exercise and health; exposure to toxics and health; stress reduction and health; and poverty and health.

As 75 million organic consumers and alternative health consumers can attest, complementary and preventive medicine, utilizing natural herbs, minerals, natural vitamins and supplements, organic whole foods, lifestyle changes, and holistic healing practices are safe, affordable and effective. Preventive healthcare, natural medicine, and proper nutrition have been linked to a broad range of health and social benefits, including disease reduction, increased academic performance, and lower healthcare costs.

Of course we still need conventional medicine and practitioners: hospitals, diagnostic tests, surgeons, and specialists, as well as preventive and holistic healers. I am a vocal advocate for organic food and integrative medicine, but if I suffer a heart attack, break my leg or get shot in an anti-war demonstration, I want to be taken to a well-equipped and staffed hospital, not to a health food store or my local acupuncturist. But after my hospital treatment, I don’t want to become a prescription drug junky or be driven into bankruptcy court by a $100,000+ hospital bill.

Millions of Americans currently have no health insurance whatsoever, while 50 million or more are woefully underinsured. Meanwhile Big Pharma and profit-obsessed HMOs and hospitals are focused mainly on selling you overpriced (often hazardous) prescription drugs, running expensive tests, and keeping you on permanent health maintenance, rather than preventing and/or curing our most common ailments such as cancer, hypertension, heart disease, lung problems, diabetes, obesity, stroke, and mental illness. Rampant medical malpractice and the failure of conventional medicine to address our serious ailments is the primary reason that 50 million alternative health consumers are taking matters into their own hands and paying $50 billion dollars a year out of their own pockets for nutritional supplements, herbal remedies and natural health practitioners.

Even worse than just expensively maintaining–rather than curing–chronic illnesses, the collateral damage of Big Pharma’s business-as-usual approach can only be described as catastrophic. As an AMA (American Medical Association) publication admitted a decade ago, drug-related “problems” annually kill, 198,815 people, put 8.8 million in hospitals, and account for up to 28 percent of hospital admissions.” Over the past decade this carnage has increased. Newsweek magazine, among others, has reported that side effects from prescription drugs are now the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S.

As medical analyst Gary Null warned almost a decade ago:

“A definitive review and close reading of medical peer-review journals, and government health statistics shows that. the number of people having in-hospital, adverse drug reactions (ADR) to prescribed medicine is 2.2 million, the number of unnecessary antibiotics prescribed annually for viral infections is 20 million. The number of unnecessary medical and surgical procedures performed annually is 7.5 million. The number of people exposed to unnecessary hospitalization annually is 8.9 million.

The problem is clear. The solution is obvious. The multi-trillion-dollar life-or-death question is whether we can overcome our partisan and sectarian divisions and mobilize the grassroots power of the majority of Americans who are sick and tired of living in Degeneration Nation. Can we heal the perennial split between proponents of conventional medicine and the alternative health consumer movement? Can progressives and natural health advocates reach out to the economically disadvantaged and stressed-out majority to create a massive grassroots pressure that will literally force our currently indentured politicians to “do the right thing?” Can we figure out how to change people’s self-destructive eating and lifestyle decisions, while still respecting individual liberty?

The time for action is now.

It’s time to overthrow Big Pharma’s control over our government, our health and our pocketbooks. It’s time to regenerate public health and the body politic. It’s time for a Regeneration Revolution.

For more Information: Surprising Links: How Big Banks Manipulate and Influence Your Health

Call to the World Bank: Enable Farmers, Not Agribusiness

Author: Shiney Varghese | Published: January 19, 2017 

Ahead World Bank’s release of the 2017 “Enabling the Business of Agriculture” (EBA) project report this month, 156 organizations (including IATP) and academics from around the world, denounced the Bank’s scheme to undermine farmers’ rights to seeds and destroy their food sovereignty and the environment. In letters to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and EBA’s five Western donors, the group has demanded the immediate end of the project, as a key step to stop the corporatization of global agricultural development.

The Obama administration played a lead role in launching the highly controversial New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition at the 2012 G8 Camp David Summit. From the White House fact sheet, G-8 Action on Food Security and Nutrition, it appears that the New Alliance was instrumental in urging the World Bank to develop options for generating a “Doing Business in Agriculture Index.” The index involved a ranking of the ease of doing business in a country, to help investors with agricultural investment decisions. This G8/New Alliance initiative appears to have given rise to Enabling the Business of Agriculture project, formerly called Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture. EBA focuses on identifying and monitoring regulations” which the Bank considers to “negatively affect agriculture and agribusiness markets”.

When taken together with other initiatives that seek to lower the barriers to investment, EBA becomes a problematic initiative. This is especially so in the context of small-holder food production systems, since such approaches often exclude a long-term view about the future of smallholder farming communities, and the interests of those engaged in such food systems. For example, the EBA awards the best scores to countries that ease private companies’ – but not farmers’ – access to public gene banks.

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Curbing Climate Change Starts With Healthy Soil

It’s barely May, but Aspen Moon Farm is bustling with fall harvest-like activity. The inclusion of seedlings in its offerings makes today’s farmers market preparations hum. At least half a dozen helpers line the long dirt drive up to the house, where owner Jason Griffith breaks for a sandwich in his enclosed patio. At 45, Griffith has been farming this plot of land in Hygiene, Colorado, for just a few years—but long enough to expand to 10 acres and learn some critical lessons.

“When I first started farming I was gearing all of my production toward ‘how many crops can I get out of this bed or that bed and how intensely can I plant?'” he says. That approach—despite organic and biodynamic cultivation—resulted in soil degradation, evidenced by diminished plant health and increased pests. Griffith reassessed his multiple annual harvests.”We realized we were going to wear that field out quickly. It was interesting to see how fast it could happen.” Wearing out the field is not unique—modern agriculture relies on synthetic chemicals for fertility, too often viewing soil simply as an inert growing medium. What’s unique about Griffith—as with other small-scale organic farmers dependent on nutrient- rich soil—is he chose to do something about it.

For Griffith, the solution unfolded by reframing the farming effort. “It’s really just about changing the focus from the crop to the soil and what does the soil need so we don’t have to add a ton of fertility every year.” Reducing added fertilizers—natural or otherwise—meant giving scheduling priority to soil-building crops above revenue-producing ones. “Instead of setting up my schedule and saying, ‘I need to plant carrots, beets and all this stuff where I want, whenever I want,’” Griffith says, “I’m basically saying: ‘I need to have a cover crop in this field by this date.’” Then he determines what vegetables work in rotation. The result is a productive farm with a year-round focus on maintaining or improving soil fertility.

The dirty truth

It would be difficult to find a more passionate soil advocate than Tom Newmark. The former CEO of New Chapter supplement company, Newmark is cofounder and board chair of The Carbon Underground and co-owner of Finca Luna Nueva lodge and biodynamic farm in Costa Rica.

By phone, Newmark launches into a landslide of daunting truths. “Because of the worldwide destruction of between 50 and 70 percent of the fertile soil in which we grow our food … ” he says, also citing the FAO, “we have only 60 harvests [years] left before the world loses its ability to produce any food.”

Beyond dwindling food production, Newmark lists impending dangers, such as desertification—or drying up—of farm and range lands and a water cycle “so warped and distorted that much of the planet is whipsawed by either drought or flood.” If you’re concerned about the devastating weather extremes that have become far too common, he says, “You have to be concerned about soil.”

He explains how soil carbon correlates with soil organic matter: the rich, decomposing material and microbiology of the soil ecosystem. Acting as what he calls “the soil/water battery,” each percentage point of soil organic matter is able to hold between 20,000 and 70,000 gallons of water per acre. “When you don’t have the top soil, when you don’t have the organic matter in the soil, then the soil can’t store the rain, and plants can’t handle climate extremes because they don’t have water reserves in the soil,” Newmark says. The ripple effect of this includes local relative humidity, which distorts cloud formation and rain. “The destruction of the planet’s soil therefore has an immediate and direct effect on drought, crop failure and desertification.”

Possibly the biggest and most overlooked ecological service soil provides, however, is its role in climate change—via carbon sequestration. Global soils are, in fact, massive carbon storehouses—yes, that carbon: the temperature-raising, sea level-raising stuff of inconvenient headlines. The opportunity to lock this excess atmospheric carbon into the ground is at the root of a movement called regenerative agriculture. But with this comes awareness of the inverse impact: the vast release of carbon by agricultural means. “In fact,” Newmark says, “somewhere around 40 percent of the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere comes directly from the soil.” That’s astounding in a world where human solutions to human-caused climate change tend toward the cars we drive and the lights we turn off. Newmark’s 40 percent is difficult to substantiate.

A U.N. paper puts it closer to 30 percent. But, says Newmark, that doesn’t account for the soil organic matter oxidized due to tilling or nitrogen fertilization.

Regardless, in the broad view of climate change there’s a double win that comes from carbon-rich soil. In addition to slowing or even reversing atmospheric carbon, soils richer in carbon (read: sticky, quenched) are also more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

This is good news, and it sounds even better the astonishingly simple way Newmark puts it: The soil lost its carbon, it wants it back and it knows how to get it. “There’s actually technology that is time-tested, safe and available worldwide for free that will take all the carbon we have irresponsibly let loose in the environment and bring it back to earth. That technology is called photosynthesis.” There’s a third win, too: Getting that carbon into the soil is synonymous with the soil fertility Griffith is looking for.

“The bad news is, we’ve absolutely botched things up with agricultural malpractice in the last 50 years,” Newmark says. “The good news is we can put the carbon back in the soil, recreate fertility, recreate the soil/water battery, recreate food stability and reverse climate change by using agriculture that is in accordance with the laws of nature and not at war with the laws of nature.”

Fixing nitrogen

“The number-one thing we absolutely have to do is to stop using synthetic nitrogen fertilizer,” Newmark says. “It’s just that simple, and the research worldwide is clear: The use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer corresponds with the destruction of soil organic matter and the release of CO2 into the atmosphere.”

We have long known the dangers of nitrogen fertilizer. Its rampant use has been linked to coastal dead zones, fish kills, groundwater pollution, air pollution and even “reduced crop, forest and grassland productivity,” according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). What is newer to the dump on nitrogen is its direct correlation to carbon release and climate change. But, hold on: Nitrogen is a necessary plant nutrient, and the now 100-year-old ability to synthesize nitrogen from thin air is a key part of the agricultural “Green Revolution” that brought more food, more quickly, to more mouths in the mid-twentieth century. The need for nitrogen is what makes synthetic fertilizer so effective, and effectiveness is what makes its use so widespread.

What Newmark describes, though, is a distorted ecosystem, starting with an artificial growth factor—synthetic nitrogen—that stimulates a “rapid, wild cascade of growth of soil microbiome in an almost cancerous form.” Microbiological aliveness is a measure of soil health, but its unchecked growth creates an imbalance. It all comes
down to complex underground trade negotiations, Newmark explains. In order to uptake nitrogen naturally, plants undergo an elaborate exchange with soil bacteria. Although both carbon and nitrogen are amply available in the air, they are inaccessible depending on who’s asking for it. Plants can’t get at the nitrogen; bacteria can’t get the carbon. “But,” says Newmark, “the bacteria have the nitrogen and the plants have this carbohydrate [carbon in the form of plant sugars] so at the tip of the root of every plant there’s an exchange that can happen, where the plants can swap their carbon-rich sugars for the biologically available nitrogen that the bacteria have. Brilliant!” And natural.

Until the introduction of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, that is. With it the plant has received biologically available nitrogen without having to put forth the effort of feeding the bacteria. A conditioned laziness ensues, closing a trade that includes not just nitrogen, but a host of micronutrients, too. “The whole underground economy shuts down,” says Newmark, “because we’ve been giving crack cocaine to the plants.”

What needs to happen, Newmark says unequivocally, is “all agricultural systems that rely on synthetic nitrogen fertilizers have to be abandoned, and they have to be abandoned quickly. We don’t have time to debate this issue.”

The second thing we have to do, Newmark says, is leave the carbon in the soil when it gets there. “If you have carbon that is in a relatively stable form in the soil, you have to leave it there, leave that structure undamaged.” But, he says, deep and repeated plowing, or tilling, breaks apart soil structure and releases CO2 back into the atmosphere. “We have to stop doing that,” says Newmark. “We have to stop ripping apart the thin layer of topsoil that covers much of our land surfaces on the planet.”

KEEP READING ON NEW HOPE NETWORK

American Agriculture in the Cross-Hairs — Is the Farm Bill Helping or Hindering Food Security, Health and Democracy?

Food security. Health. Environmental sustainability. Democracy. All of these things are interconnected like spokes around the hub of agriculture. Agriculture, in turn, has undergone massive changes over the past several decades. Many of them were heralded as progress that would save us from hunger and despair.

Yet today, we’re faced with a new set of problems, birthed from the very innovations and interventions that were meant to provide us with safety and prosperity.

The Price of Divorcing Ourselves From Nature

You don’t have to go very far back in history to get to a point where “What should I eat?” was a nonexistent question. Everyone knew what “food” was. They harvested food off trees, bushes and out of the ground, and they ate it, either raw or cooked in some fashion.

Our current confusion about what is healthy and what is not is basically rooted in having divorced ourselves from the actual growing of food. What’s worse, this separation has led to an even greater forgetfulness about our place in the ecosystem, and our role as shepherds of the natural world.

Soil health, for example, is a crucial component of human health that many are clueless about these days. And because people don’t understand this connection, they fail to realize the importance of regenerative agriculture, and the dangers of industrial farming.

For decades, food production has been all about efficiency and lowering cost. Today, we see what this approach has brought us — skyrocketing disease statistics and a faltering ecosystem.

KEEP READING ON MERCOLA.COM

Some Plants Use an Internal Thermometer to Trigger Growing Season

Author: Dr. Joseph Mercola 

Although they may look like bystanders in your garden, plants are actually active communicators and engage in a complex relationship with their environment. They don’t just soak up the sun each day.

More than just providing food, plants have played an important part in human history. Before modern-day medicine, there were plants that provided for medicinal needs. Ancient Egyptian scrolls detail 700 herbs and how they were used to treat patients.1

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 80 percent of the world’s population primarily uses traditional remedies, a major part of which is derived from plants.2

They also play a significant role in the development of the majority of new medications, as manufacturers are using plants to model their synthetic drugs.3

Plants have a unique interconnectedness between each other, soil, microbes, pests and human health. Some of the newest research has now detected how plants know exactly when to increase their growth patterns in preparation for spring and summer.

Initially, scientists believed that plants only used phytochromes to detect light during the daylight hours. Phytochromes are a photoreceptor pigment used mainly to detect the red and far-red visible light spectrum.5 In the plant, it was mainly believed to be responsible for germination, shade avoidance and light detection.

Exposure to red light produces a chemical reaction that moves chromprotein to a functional active form, while darkness makes it inactive.6 The plant will grow toward the sun as the red light converts the chromprotein to an active form that triggers an increased growth in the plant cells.

KEEP READING ON MERCOLA.COM

Sustainable Incentives: How Not to Eat the Planet

More than seven billion people currently call our planet home, and their lives depend on finite resources. With both climate change impacts and populations on the rise, we need to understand how we can meet the growing food demand while simultaneously preserving the environment and building community resilience. Agriculture and the environment are often in competition, because one needs to use what the other needs to conserve. Building sustainable agriculture is therefore critical for our future, especially in view of climate change.

Agriculture is severely affected by climate change. It is estimated that by 2050, 22 per cent of cultivated areas will suffer impacts, agricultural production will shrink by 2 per cent every decade and rising ocean temperatures and acid levels will lead to declines in fish stocks. At the same time, demand for food will increase by 14 per cent and we will need twice as much dairy and meat products than were produced in 2000.

The 2.5 billion smallholder farmers around the world, who are predominantly poor, have been seen as both the victims and the culprits of climate change. Poverty can lead to people to act in self-defeating ways, for example farming in destructive ways that are unsustainable and contribute to climate change.

Farmers know that “eating the planet” in order to feed their families undermines the very sustainability of their production systems and their own food security in the future. But they continue to do so for three main reasons.

KEEP READING ON THE HUFFINGTON POST 

Declaración Latinoamericana en la Asamblea de los Pueblos en la Haya en el marco del Tribunal a Monsanto

English | Español ]

Por: Naturaleza de Derechos | fecha:14th – 16th de octubre, 2016

Denunciamos:

Que el actual sistema extractivista en nuestros países está destruyendo nuestra diversidad biocultural, poniendo en riesgo la vida en la Tierra.

Considerando:

Que el agronegocio, como expresión del modelo extractivista, ha cambiado el eje de la agricultura suplantando la producción de alimentos por mercancías, y que las consecuencias directas para nuestros pueblos son el despojo de los territorios; la eliminación de los pueblos originarios y las comunidades campesinas; la concentración de la tierra; la deforestación de bosques nativos; la degradación irreversible del ambiente y la biodiversidad.

Que los actos de biopiratería sobre nuestro germplasma vulneran nuestra soberanía alimentaria, económica, política y cultural.

Que el poder político en su mayoría no esta cumpliendo con su misión de promover el bien común y proteger la vida, sometido al poder económico y a los intereses de las grandes transnacionales.

Declaramos:

Que asumimos nuestra propia defensa frente a los intereses del agronegocio y protegeremos nuestros pueblos y nuestros territorios. Para ello:

  • Exigimos a cada uno de nuestros Gobiernos que apoye el reconocimiento del Ecocidio como el quinto crimen contra la paz y la seguridad de la humanidad ante la Corte Penal Internacional.
  • Postulamos la construcción del principio de equiparación por el cual deben universalizarse los criterios de mayor beneficio y/o protección alcanzados sobre la salud y el ambiente en una región o continente.
  • Exhortamos el cumplimiento del principio de no regresión, ya que nuestros países están siendo sometidos a procesos legislativos de flexibilización de las normas de protección ambientales, que en la mayoría son el resultado de luchas populares.
  • Exigimos el cumplimiento del Principio de Solidaridad intergeneracional e Indubio Pro-natura: en caso de duda, a favor de la naturaleza
  • Sostenemos que la educación es un motor de transformación social al servicio de los pueblos y la naturaleza, y no una herramienta de dominación.
  • Instamos a los consumidores europeos a dejar de comprar carne, soja y otras materias primas latinoamericanas, cuya producción vulnera los Derechos Humanos.
  • Rechazamos los Tratados de Libre Comercio por someter las autonomías de los pueblos.
  • Defendemos las semillas criollas y nativas dado que son fuente de diversidad biológica y cultural, que inspiran la creación individual y colectiva en las comunidades y son fuentes de Vida. Reivindicamos el derecho de guardar, reproducir, multiplicar, intercambiar, donar, compartir y vender libremente las semillas.
  • Manifestamos nuestro compromiso con la defensa y la promoción de la agricultura campesina, especialmente con las prácticas agroecológicas.
  • Desconocemos los organismos genéticamente modificados e híbridos degenerativos como semillas, ya que no cumplen la función de generar y sostener la vida.
  • Nos solidarizamos con el pueblo haitiano, victima de una catástrofe climática producto del modelo económico.
  • Rechazamos el gobierno ilegítimo hetero, patriarcal, racista y saqueador de Brasil.
  • Refrendamos la firma de los acuerdos de Paz en Colombia entre el Gobierno y las FARC como una oportunidad de construcción de paz, estable, duradera y con justicia social. Respaldamos a quienes han vivido la guerra.
  • Rechazamos las políticas desestabilizadoras que amenazan la autonomía y la soberanía de Latinoamérica.

Herederos de las luchas liberadoras de la historia latinoamericana, confiamos en nuestra capacidad para recuperar la soberanía, y abrazamos fraternalmente la lucha emancipadora de los pueblos del mundo.

Latin American Declaration of the Peoples’ Assembly and the Monsanto Tribunal

English | Español ]

Author: Naturaleza de Derechos October 14th – 16th, 2016

Traducción por: Equipo Regeneration International

We denounce:

That our countries’ current extractive systems are destroying biocultural diversity, putting life on Earth at risk.

Considering:

That agrobusiness, as an expression of the extractive model, has changed the key focus of agriculture by replacing the production of food with commodities. Therefore, the direct consequences for our people are: the dispossession of our lands; the elimination of indigenous peoples and peasant communities; land concentration; the deforestation of native forests; the irreversible degradation of the environment and biodiversity.

That acts of biopiracy over our germ-plasm harm our economic, political, cultural and food sovereignty.

That the majority of the political system remains controlled by economic factors and the interests of huge transnational companies and is therefore unable to fulfill its mission of promoting the common good and protecting life.

We declare:

That we will defend ourselves against agribusiness interests and that we will protect our people and our land. Therefore:

  • We demand each of our governments support the recognition of Ecocide as a fifth crime against peace and security of mankind before the International Criminal Court.
  • We propose the application of a principle of parity by universalizing best practices in health and environment protection standards across regions or continents.
  • We exhort the application of a non-regression principle, as our countries have been subject to legislative processes that have undermined the environmental protection norms fought for and established through grassroots movements.
  • We demand the application of the Intergenerational Solidarity principle and Indubio Pro-natura: if in doubt, nature should take precedence.
  • We maintain that education is a force for societal transformational at the service of the people and nature and not a tool of domination.
  • We urge European consumers to stop buying meat, soy and other Latin American commodities whose production violates Human Rights.
  • We reject Free Trade Agreements as suppressing the autonomy of the people.
  • We defend heritage and native seeds as sources of biological and cultural diversity that inspire both individual and collective creation within communities and are the very essence of life. We claim the right to save, reproduce, multiply, trade, donate, share and freely sell seeds.
  • We declare our promise to defend and promote peasant agriculture, especially agroecological practices.
  • We reject categorizing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and degenerative hybrids as seeds, as they do not comply with the function of generating and sustaining life.
  • We express our solidarity with the Haitian people, victims of a climate catastrophe produced by the current economic model.
  • We reject the illegitimate, patriarchal, racist and plundering government of
  • We endorse the signing of a Colombian Peace Agreement between the government and the FARC as an opportunity for constructing stable, socially just and lasting peace. We support those that have survived the war.
  • We reject the destabilizing policies that threaten the autonomy and sovereignty of Latin America.

We are heirs of Latin America’s history of liberation movements, we trust our ability to recover our sovereignty, and we fraternally embrace the emancipating struggles of peoples around the world.