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Soil Carbon Sequestration in Conservation Agriculture: A Framework for Valuing Soil Carbon as a Critical Ecosystem Service

Conservation agricultural systems sequester carbon from the atmosphere into long-lived soil organic matter pools – while promoting a healthy environment and enhancing economically sustainable production conditions for farmers throughout the world. Soil organic carbon is fundamental to the development of soil quality and sustainable food production systems. Soil, soil organic carbon, and soil quality are the foundations of human inhabitation of our Earth. We must enhance the ability of soil to sustain our lives by improving soil organic carbon.

Conservation agricultural systems have been successfully developed for many different regions of the world. These systems, however, have not been widely adopted by farmers for political, social and cultural reasons. Through greater adoption of conservation agricultural systems, there is enormous potential to sequester soil organic carbon, which would:

(1) help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global warming and

(2) increase soil productivity and avoid further environmental damage from the unsustainable use of inversion tillage systems, which threaten water quality, reduce soil biodiversity, and erode soil around the world.

Download the Report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Hungry for Land: Small farmers Feed the World With Less Than a Quarter of All Farmland

It is commonly heard today that small farmers produce most of the world’s food. But how many of us realise that they are doing this with less than a quarter of the world’s farmland, and that even this meagre share is shrinking fast? If small farmers continue to lose the very basis of their existence, the world will lose its capacity to feed itself.

GRAIN took an in depth look at the data to see what is going on and the message is crystal clear. We need to urgently put land back in the hands of small farmers and make the struggle for agrarian reform central to the fight for better food systems.

Download the PDF version of this report here

Download the printer friendly dataset in PDF format here

Download the fully-referenced dataset as a spreadsheet here

Governments and international agencies frequently boast that small farmers control the largest share of the world’s agricultural land. Inaugurating 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming, José Graziano da Silva, Director General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), sang the praises of family farmers but didn’t once mention the need for land reform. Instead he stated that family farms already manage most of the world’s farmland1 – a whopping 70%, according to his team.2 Another report published by various UN agencies in 2008 concluded that small farms occupy 60% of all arable land worldwide.3 Other studies have come to similar conclusions.4

But if most of the world’s farmland is in small farmers’ hands, then why are so many of their organisations clamouring for land redistribution and agrarian reform? Because rural peoples’ access to land is under attack everywhere. From Honduras to Kenya and from Palestine to the Philippines, people are being dislodged from their farms and villages. Those who resist are being jailed or killed. Widespread agrarian strikes in Colombia, protests by community leaders in Madagascar, nationwide marches by landless folk in India, occupations in Andalusia – the list of actions and struggles goes on and on. The bottom line is that land is becoming more and more concentrated in the hands of the rich and powerful, not that small farmers are doing well.

Rural people don’t simply make a living off the land, after all. Their land and territories are the backbone of their identities, their cultural landscape and their source of well-being. Yet land is being taken away from them and concentrated in fewer and fewer hands at an alarming pace.

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Don’t be fooled! Civil society says NO to “Climate Smart Agriculture” and urges decision-makers to support agroecology

We, the undersigned, belong to civil society organizations including social movements, peasants/farmers organizations and faith-based organizations from around the world. We are working to tackle the impacts of climate change that are already disrupting farming and food systems and threatening the food and nutrition security of millions of individuals. As we move towards COP21 in Paris, we welcome a growing recognition of the urgent need to adapt food systems to a changing climate, and the key role of agroecology within a food and seed sovereignty framework in achieving this, while contributing to mitigation through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

However, despite these promising signals, we share deep concerns about the growing influence and agenda of so-called “Climate-Smart Agriculture” (CSA) and the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture (GACSA). Climate change is the biggest and the most urgent threat our societies face. We need a radical transformation of our food systems away from an industrial model and its false solutions, and toward food sovereignty, local food systems, and integral agrarian reform in order to achieve the full realization of the human right to adequate food and nutrition. We therefore urge decision-makers at country and UN levels to reject the dangerous rhetoric of Climate-Smart Agriculture.

Climate Smart Agriculture must not be confused with agroecology

Climate Smart Agriculture must not be confused with agroecology. Agroecology is a holistic approach to agriculture, based on principles of ecology as well as food and nutrition security, food sovereignty and food justice which seek to enhance agricultural systems by using and recycling natural resources instead of relying on externally-purchased inputs. It encourages local/national food production by small food producers and family farmers, and is based on techniques that are not delivered from the top-down, but developed from farmers’ traditional knowledge and practices as well as from farmer innovations. This approach is based on farmers’ participation and makes nature a powerful ally in ensuring food and nutrition security, building healthy soils and conserving water. It increases farmers’ incomes and resilience in the face of climate change, while improving biodiversity and crop diversity. It is therefore crucial for all efforts to realize the human right to adequate food and nutrition. Governments must recognise that industrial approaches that degrade soil health and water retention, pollute water systems, poison nature and create dependency on external inputs, impoverish biodiversity and ecosystems are not only harmful and unnecessary, but also deeply misguided for a planet facing hunger, ecological crises and climate change.

Keep Reading on Climate Smart Agriculture Concerns

Women and Biodiversity Feed the World, Not Corporations and GMOs

The two great ecological challenges of our times are biodiversity erosion and climate change. And both are interconnected, in their causes and their solutions.

Industrial agiculture is the biggest contributor to biodiversity erosion as well as to climate change. According to the United Nations, 93% of all plant variety has disappeared over the last 80 years.

Monocultures based on chemical inputs do not merely destroy plant biodiversity, they have destroyed soil biodiversity, which leads to the emergence of pathogens, new diseases, and more chemical use.

Our study of soils in the Bt cotton regions of Vidharba showed a dramatic decline in beneficial soil organisms. In many regions with intensive use of pesticides and GMOs, bees and butterflies are disappearing. There are no pollinators on Bt cotton plants, whereas the population of pollinators in Navdanya’s biodiversity conservation farm in Doon Valley is six times more than in the neighbouring forest. The UNEP has calculated the contribution of pollinators to be $200 billion annually. Industrial agriculture also kills aquatic and marine life by creating dead zones due to fertilizer run off. Pesticides are also killing or damaging aquatic life.

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