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The Slow Food View on FAO’s State of Food and Agriculture Report 2016

Published on: October 17, 2016

The climate is changing; food and agriculture must too. This was the main message UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) chose to transmit as they honored the global World Food Day 2016 at the FAO Headquarters in Rome.

World Food Day, celebrated annually on October 16th, the day that FAO was founded in 1945, was initiated to increase public awareness of issues relating to world hunger, underline the importance of helping rural communities and create an international solidarity network in the war against hunger and poverty. On this World Food Day, FAO called attention to the profound and intrinsic relationship between the food industry and climate change, taking the Paris Agreement as a signal that:

“the international community is now committed to making transformative and sustainable changes in the face of an unprecedented challenge: ending hunger and poverty while addressing the impacts of climate change.”

In acknowledging this challenge, and the necessity for immediate and concrete action to limit the impact of climate change on food security in already food-insecure regions, it is essential that the discussion focuses on what strategies will bring about the most positive impacts.

Farmers, fishers and pastoralists are hit hard by rising temperatures and the increasing frequency of weather-related disasters. By 2030, the negative impacts of climate change will put an increasing squeeze on food production as the essential nutritional values of crops, such as of zinc, iron and protein, will diminish. Furthermore, as emphasized by FAO, the impacts of climate change are more strongly observed in rural communities, where there is a higher dependency on agriculture both as a source of income and for sustenance. The negative effects of the West’s dependence on imported foods are clear for all to see, the transport costs of which contribute significantly to carbon emissions. It is imperative that this dependence is reduced, and indeed, that nutritionally self-sustaining communities remain so.

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Agriculture Must Transform to Feed a Hotter, More Crowded Planet, UN Says on World Food Day

Author: UN News Centre | Published on: October 16, 2016

To mark World Food Day 2016, the United Nations is highlighting the close links between climate change, sustainable agriculture, and food and nutrition security, with the message: “The climate is changing. Food and agriculture must, too.”

“As the global population expands, we will need to satisfy an increasing demand for food,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his message commemorating the Day.

“Yet, around the world, record-breaking temperatures, rising sea levels and more frequent and severe droughts and floods caused by climate change are already affecting ecosystems, agriculture and society’s ability to produce the food we need,” he added.

Mr. Ban pointed out that the most vulnerable people are world’s poorest, 70 per cent of whom depend on subsistence farming, fishing or pastoralism for income and food.

“Without concerted action, millions more people could fall into poverty and hunger, threatening to reverse hard-won gains and placing in jeopardy our ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” he emphasized.

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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.

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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.

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Four Areas of Agriculture That Can Help Solve Many Environmental Problems and Improve Human Health

 

Author: Dr. Joseph Mercola | Published on: September 10, 2016

Agriculture has a significant impact on life on Earth. It provides food, sure, but it’s also an integral part of the ecosystem as a whole. Done correctly, it supports and nourishes all life.

When abused — as it’s been done since the “green revolution” in the 1930s — agriculture contaminates and destroys soil, air and water, reducing biodiversity and threatening wildlife and humans alike, thanks to toxic chemicals and destructive farming methods.

The featured short film, “Unbroken Ground,” explores four areas of agriculture, featuring pioneers in each field, that can help solve many of the environmental crises’ currently facing us:

Reinventing Food

As noted in the film, there’s a growing movement toward more sustainable agriculture; a shift so great that it’s almost like we’re reinventing the food system all over again.

However, rather than focusing on more and newer technologies, this shift involves a return to basics — a going backward, if you will — which is really the only way to make progress at this point.

Continuing to destroy the soil, air and water we need to sustain life simply isn’t a viable option anymore. Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard says:

“I’ve always thought of my company, Patagonia, a clothing company, as an experiment; making decisions based on quality and responsibility. And I can tell you, it’s not an experiment anymore.

I’ve proven to myself, it works! Applying that to food — this is another experiment. But I think it’s the most important experiment we’ve ever tried.”

The Land Institute — Regenerative Farming

According to Wes Jackson, Ph.D., founder of the Land Institute, grains account for about 70 percent of our daily calories, and grains are grown on about 70 percent of acreage worldwide.

The continuous replanting of grain crops each year leads to soil degradation, as land is tilled and sprayed each year, disrupting the balance of microbes in the soil. Top soil is also lost each year, which means that eventually, our current modes of operation simply will no longer work.

We will not have any usable topsoil left, and this may actually occur far sooner than most people realize. Soil erosion and degradation rates suggest we have less than 60 remaining years of topsoil.1

Forty percent of the world’s agricultural soil is now classified as either degraded or seriously degraded; the latter means that 70 percent of the topsoil is gone.

Agriculture also accounts for 70 percent of our fresh water use. When the soil is unfit, water is wasted. It simply washes right through the soil and past the plant’s root system.

We already have a global water shortage that’s projected to worsen over the coming two or three decades, so this is the last thing we need to compound it.

Soil degradation is projected to cause 30 percent loss in food production over the next 20 to 50 years. Meanwhile, our global food demands are expected to increase by 50 percent over this span of time.

“Regenerative agriculture actually BUILDS topsoil,” Chouinard says. “Wes is doing the most important thing in agriculture in the last 10,000 years.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Future of Food: Seeds of Resilience

Robust seed systems are central to sustainable food systems that are renewable, resilient, equitable, diverse, healthy, and interconnected. We also believe that there is an urgency to supporting community based and farmer managed seed systems in order to protect and enhance seed diversity.

Recognizing this, the Global Alliance for the Future of Food commissioned experts from around the world to weigh in on a future that protects and improves resilient seed systems. This Compendium, which includes an Opportunities Report by agricultural biodiversity researchers Emile Frison and Toby Hodgkin, as well as twelve commentaries from a diverse range of experts, including farmers, community activists, business representatives, researchers, and scientists to better understand where we could collectively focus our efforts to address this issue.

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