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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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The Green New Deal Wants Farmers to Restore the Land, Not Keep Wrecking It

By the time California rancher Doniga Markegard picks up the phone around lunchtime, she has already moved the chickens, fed the chickens, fed the pigs, cared for a new litter of 11 piglets, moved the sheep, tended to the horses, milked the cow, and completed a business advising session about the future of her family’s 10,000-acre operation. Overall, a pretty typical Monday.

“We’re good at working with the land and working with the animals, but then all of a sudden you have to add marketing and sales and inventory management,” says Markegard. Based 50 miles south of San Francisco in Half Moon Bay, Markegard and her family produce grass-fed beef and lamb and pastured pork and chicken for customers in the Bay Area. If they operated in a more traditional way, they would specialize in a single product and plug neatly into the industrial agriculture system. Instead, in order to break even, they have to run the equivalent of a consumer-facing small business with a farm attached.

“We’d love to just be out on the land with the livestock, doing what we do, but that’s not practical when you really want to be fully regenerative,” she says.

Regenerative agriculture might sound at first like a subtle variation on organic. But if the term “organic” highlights what’s absent—no chemical fertilizers, no pesticides—”regenerative” goes a step further, advocating for practices like adaptive multi-paddock grazing, in which ruminants like cows and sheep are slowly rotated across a property, so they graze on and fertilize one section of the farm at a time while allowing the rest to naturally regrow and replenish. Methods like this require more hands-on planning involvement from the farmers, but they’ve been found to restore soil health, capture carbon, and help ranches thrive over the long term.

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Why the Food and Regeneration Movement Should Support a Green New Deal

“The Green New Deal we are proposing will be similar in scale to the mobilization efforts seen in World War II or the Marshall Plan… Half measures will not work… The time for slow and incremental efforts has long past [sic].” – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, then-candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, Huffington Post, June 26, 2018

“Just transitioning 10 percent of agricultural production to best-practice regenerative systems will sequester enough CO2 to reverse climate change and restore the global climate. Regenerative Agriculture can change agriculture from being a major contributor to climate change to becoming a major solution.” – Andre Leu, international director, Regeneration International, “Reversing Climate Change with Regenerative Agriculture,” October 9, 2018

Photo credit: Pixabay

The ‘Great Climate Awakening’ of 2018

The final months of 2018 will likely be remembered as the decisive moment when the global grassroots awakened to the life-or-death threat posed by global warming. With violent weather and climate disasters becoming the norm, and international scientists finally shedding their customary caution to report that we must drastically slash (by at least 45 percent) global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, hundreds of millions of ordinary people across the world seemed to simultaneously wake up.

Young climate activists under the banner of the Sunrise Movement in the U.S. and the Extinction Rebellion in the UK and other countries, sat in at politicians’ offices. They blocked streets and roadways. They demanded immediate and bold action.

The Green New Deal is born

In the U.S., an insurgent slate of newly elected members of Congress, inspired by the Sunrise Movement and led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have generated headlines and popular support by calling for a Green New Deal (GND), a 21st Century upgrade of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal carried out during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Given the severity of the climate crisis, and the deterioration of the U.S. and global status quo (economic, political, health and environment), it’s no exaggeration to state that the GND is perhaps the most significant blueprint for system change in 100 years.

The GND’s call for a mass conversion to renewable energy and zero emissions of greenhouse gases in the U.S. by 2030, is in line with what most scientists say is necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change.

But what’s new, and long overdue in this  evolving manifesto is that the GND also calls for the greening, “just transition” and elimination of greenhouse gas emissions from our multi-trillion-dollar food and farming system as well. That call is long overdue, especially given that our degenerative food system generates 44-57 percent  of all global greenhouse gases.

The GND draft statement calls for “eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from the manufacturing, agricultural and other industries, including by investing in local-scale agriculture in communities across the country.” It also calls for funding “massive investment in the drawdown of greenhouse gases.”

Beyond offering comprehensive energy and agricultural solutions for our climate emergency, what is truly game-changing and revolutionary about the GND is that it calls for system-wide economic regeneration as well: full employment, $15/hr. minimum wage, universal health care, free public education, and economic justice for all—policies extremely popular with the overwhelming majority of the body politic, including students, working class communities and low-income groups.

By bringing together the concerns of youth, food, farmer, environmental and climate activists, with the bread-and-butter concerns of workers and frontline communities, the GND offers nothing less than a contemporary roadmap for survival and regeneration.

As Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director of the Organic Consumers Association, pointed out in a recent email urging groups to sign on to the GND, it is economic injustice, the lack of money in the pockets of workers and consumers, the 80 percent of ordinary people who live from paycheck to paycheck, that has, in large part, held back the greening of America:

Who wouldn’t drive a Tesla, put up solar panels, or buy an energy efficient home in a walkable neighborhood with great public transportation? Everyone wants these things. We all want to enjoy good health, breathe clean air and drink pure water. There aren’t many families who would have to be convinced to eat locally grown organic health food if it were available and they could afford it. The problem is we’ve got student debt. Our mortgages are under water. We’ve got medical bills and childcare to pay for. And many of us have been too poor to go to college, buy a house or start a family. Our country’s struggling family farmers have the same problem. Sure, they’d love to go organic and pay their workers fairly. They want to do what’s best for their families, their communities and their environment. They just have to figure out how to avoid foreclosure and bankruptcy first.

Support grows quickly for the GND, but so do attacks

With unprecedented speed, Ocasio-Cortez, insurgent Democrats and the Sunrise Movement have stimulated massive media coverage and generated significant public support for the GND, putting radical change on the national agenda. 84 members of Congress, and 11 U.S. Senators, leading 2020 presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, hundreds of local officials, and over 600 activist organizations have already endorsed the GND.

In late-2018, polls indicated that 81 percent of Americans support full employment, economic justice and renewable energy, as outlined in the GND.

Yet despite initial strong support for the GND among activists and the general public, establishment politicians (both Democrats and Republicans) and the corporate media have launched a massive counter-attack, denouncing the GND (and Ocasio-Cortez and her allies) as “utopian,” “radical,” “impractical” and even “dangerous.”

The unfortunate truth is that Congress and the mass media are infected and dominated by powerful climate emergency deniers and establishment politicians taking money from fossil fuel companies, climate-destructive industrial agribusiness and Wall Street. Yet with global scientists sounding the alarm that the onset of runaway global warming (with atmospheric CO2 levels of 450 ppm or higher) is not 80 years away or even 50 years away, but more like a dozen years away unless we drastically change course, it can hardly be called “utopian” to organize around a bold emissions-reduction, drawdown and economic development plan that can avert catastrophe, and improve the lives of everyday people at the same time.

Painting Ocasio-Cortez and the Sunrise Movement as “radical” is not likely to derail the growing insurgency. Because a radical emergency more serious than anything humans have ever faced in our 200,000-year evolution demands a radical solution. As Cortez said in an interview on “60 Minutes” on January 6 (watched by 11 million people), she admits to being a “radical”—not unlike previous “radicals” in American history, including Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, who likewise confronted severe crises demanding radical solutions.

Is it possible to achieve zero emissions in the U.S. by 2030?

On the same “60 Minutes” show, Ocasio-Cortez was pressed on the practicality of zero fossil fuel emissions by 2030. The host tried to trip her up by asking if zero emissions meant that all of us would be driving electric cars within a decade. She responded by saying that there are technological breakthroughs on the horizon that we can’t even imagine yet.

Although it’s undoubtedly true that there are technical breakthroughs in renewable energy and electric cars on the horizon, I wasn’t fully satisfied with Ocasio-Cortez’s answer (even though I admit she’s my favorite political leader of all time). Here’s how I would have answered that question:

“Millions of Americans are going to be driving electric cars in 2030. But you’re right, a lot of us will still be driving our old gasoline-powered vehicles. If you read the details of our proposed Green New Deal carefully, you’ll see that we’re not just talking about rapid reductions in fossil fuel emissions, the CO2 and other greenhouse gases we put up into the sky by burning fossil fuels. We’re also talking about drawing down these same greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, utilizing climate-friendly farming practices that qualitatively increase plant photosynthesis, soil fertility and natural carbon sequestration. These regenerative practices include farming organically, holistic grazing, improving soil health, and restoring our forests, grasslands and wetlands. In other words, we can and must reach zero net emissions in 2030 by drawing down as much atmospheric carbon as we’re still putting up.

“The Green New Deal aims to change not only our climate-destructive energy, manufacturing and transportation systems, but also our degenerative food and farming systems. The Green New Deal is designed to raise the living standards for all Americans, including low-income workers in both rural and urban communities, so that all of us can choose and afford healthier and more climate-friendly lifestyles. In the next decade we must facilitate a just transition away from climate-destabilizing factory farms and fossil fuel-intensive agriculture, at the same time as we switch, as rapidly possible, to 100-percent renewable energy. With renewable energy and regenerative food, farming and land use working in synergy, there is no doubt that we can reach zero net emissions by 2030, significant negative net emissions by 2050, and literally, along with the rest of the world, reverse global warming and avert climate catastrophe.”

We know what to do. The best practices and practitioners in alternative energy, infrastructure rebuilding and regenerative food and farming are already visible in or near our local communities. We simply need to mobilize politically to scale up these practices utilizing the power of a GND. But we’re running out of time unless we can quickly build a massive united front, elect new GND supporters to Congress and the White House in 2020, and pass federal legislation for a GND starting in 2021, as Ocasio-Cortez puts it, “similar in scale to the mobilization efforts seen in World War II or the Marshall Plan.”

The time to join the GND revolution is now. For more information on the Sunrise Movement’s upcoming activities, click here.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association and a member of theRegeneration International steering committee.

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams

Soil Biodiversity and Soil Organic Carbon: Why Should Nations Invest in It to Keep Drylands Alive?

Author: Graciela Metternicht | Published: June 18, 2018

The 2018 World Day to Combat Desertification calls to reflect on the true value of land and the need to invest in it; healthy soils are central to sustainable development. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development increases the demand on soils to provide food, water and energy security, protect biodiversity, and mitigate climate change, increasing the centrality of soils in global environmental and development politics. SDG target 15.3, on Land Degradation Neutrality, reflects the growing awareness that land, and by extension soil biodiversity and soil organic carbon, is both a natural resource and a public good that underpins wider sustainable development.

Soil Organic Carbon (SOC) and soil biodiversity are key to the multifunctionality of a landscape, and the reason why strengthening investment and legislation in sustainable land management is considered to be central to achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals.

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Soil Candidates Running for the Climate

Authors: Karl Thidemann, Seth Itzkan and Bill McKibben | Published: May 30, 2018

Across the nation, the first wave of a political movement rooted in agriculture’s role as a climate solution is gathering momentum. Unseen by most city dwellers and suburbanites, a carbon farming revolution is sweeping over the land. Driven by a mix of economic and ecological reasons, a growing number of farmers and ranchers are adopting practices to draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, where it overheats the planet, into soil, where it boosts fertility. Plants have performed this pollution-to-nutrition alchemy nearly forever, with the deep, dark loam found in the world’s breadbaskets attesting to soil’s ability to keep carbon out of the air for thousands of years. Research suggests photosynthesis could “lock up” enough carbon to help civilization avert a climate catastrophe – assuming, of course, emissions from coal, oil, and natural gas are swiftly reduced through the deployment of renewable energy technologies.

Converting agriculture, from a net source of greenhouse gases to a net sink, flips the climate imperative from “do less harm” to “do more good,” a proactive planetary healing that recognizes ecological restoration is climate mitigation. As one sign that so-called regenerative agriculture is going mainstream, Kiss The Ground, a California-based advocacy organization, will soon release a soil documentary featuring cameos by a celebrity couple not known for farm activism: Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen.

The right policies, of course, will be key to hastening a transition to climate-friendly agriculture, and democracy is answering the call. Healthy soil has risen from an obscure topic to a key issue for a small but swelling cadre of candidates able to think beyond the next election cycle.

Audrey Denney, candidate for Congress in California’s 1st District, encourages voters to send her to Washington, D.C. to “fight for the health of our soils, our planet, and our future.” Denney, raised in a farming family, studied Agricultural Education then learned agro-ecology by assisting with projects in El Salvador and Ghana. “At a federal level, I’d work for more funding to increase the staff of the Natural Resource Conservation Service, which does a great job providing technical assistance on stewarding and building our soil health. I’m also committed to an outcome-based system rather than a practice-based system, empowering farmers to find creative and economically viable climate mitigation solutions,” said Denney.

Bob Massie, a social justice activist, ordained minister, and former head of Ceres, an organization working to green the world’s largest companies, is campaigning to be the next governor of Massachusetts on a platform supporting agriculture’s unique role in reversing global warming. “Farmers, businesses, government agencies – even backyard gardeners – can manage land to capture carbon dioxide in soil and improve soil health,” said Massie.

Also in Massachusetts, PhD physicist Gary Rucinski, Northeast Regional Coordinator for Citizens Climate Lobby, is hoping to unseat U.S. Representative Joe Kennedy III in the 4th Congressional District. According to the challenger, the incumbent doesn’t support the bold action needed to address the climate crisis, such as a transition to farming practices that mitigate climate change. “I am encouraged by draft Massachusetts legislation seeking to advance the practice of regenerative agriculture in the Commonwealth. Agriculture that improves soil carbon content is both a climate and a food security measure. As a representative in the U.S. Congress, I would advocate for changes to the federal Farm Bill to promote soil health,” said Rucinski.

Nate Kleinman, well known Occupy activist and co-founder of the Experimental Farm Network, is running for U.S. Congress in New Jersey’s 2nd district. Equal parts organizer and farmer, Kleinman’s nonprofit is devoted to the collaborative breeding of plants resilient to a changing climate, with a focus on long-rooted perennial food crops that sequester carbon in soil. Kleinman promises to “Incentivize regenerative organic agriculture and small family farms, and support farmers who choose to transition to sustainable methods.”

Arden Andersen, a physician, farmer, and regenerative agriculture educator running for governor of Kansas, recently tweeted, “Appropriate farm technology can make Kansas carbon neutral in 5 years due to carbon sequestration into soil humus.” Andersen is credited with coining the term “nutrient-dense,” used to describe food high in minerals and vitamins. Crops raised in carbon-rich soils derive all the nutrition they require for vigorous growth from bacteria and fungi working symbiotically with a plant’s root system, with no need for costly fossil fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides.

Billy Garrett, running for lieutenant governor of New Mexico, wrote recently in the Santa Fe New Mexican that, “Regenerative agriculture and ranching practices – such as shifting from inorganic to organic fertilizer, planting cover crops and applying compost to rangeland – have the potential to substantially increase the amount of carbon sequestered in the soil while increasing yields and enhancing water retention.” Economic revitalization is also promised. “A revolution in regenerative agriculture could mean a new source of income for New Mexico’s rural communities, allowing farmers and ranchers to generate carbon offsets,” said Garrett.

Regenerative agriculture candidates have found a home on social media in the Twitter feed of Citizens Regeneration Lobby (CRL), the political lobbying arm of the 850,000-member strong Organic Consumers Association. Alexis Baden-Mayer, director of CRL, notes that the roster of traditional farm issues, such as the regulation of pesticides and fertilizer runoff, has expanded this political season to include recognition of agriculture’s role as the only sector of the economy poised to reverse climate change. “One of the most exciting aspects of regenerative agriculture is how quickly this climate mitigation tool can be ‘switched on.’ Farmers and ranchers can, within a few years, transition to land management practices that make their farms not just carbon-neutral but carbon-negative, sequestering more CO2 than is emitted. The remarkable potential of agriculture to sequester literally billions of tons of carbon annually offers a much needed glimmer of hope on the climate front,” said Baden-Mayer.

Elizabeth Kucinich, Board Policy Chair for the Rodale Institute, the oldest organic research organization in America, observes that improving degraded land offers economic and health benefits. “Returning carbon to soil boosts the natural capital of farms by helping farmers become more profitable and, by decreasing nutrient runoff, prevents algal blooms linked to human illness and harm to wildlife,” said Kucinich.

Heralded by California’s pioneering Healthy Soils Program, paying farmers to return carbon to soil, and France’s aspirational “4 per 1000” international initiative, encouraging farmers worldwide to enrich soil organic matter by 0.4% each year to stabilize the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, the regenerative agriculture transformation is well underway. It must accelerate, lest the planet bake for millennia.

Seth Itzkan and Karl Thidemann are co-founders of Soil4Climate, a Vermont-based nonprofit advocating for soil restoration to reverse global warming. Bill McKibben is the Schumann distinguished scholar at Middlebury College and founder of the anti-climate change campaign group 350.org.

Reposted with permission from Soil4Climate.

EU Agrees Total Ban on Bee-Harming Pesticides

The world’s most widely used insecticides will be banned from all fields within six months, to protect both wild and honeybees that are vital to crop pollination

Author: Damian Carrington | Published: April 27, 2018

The European Union will ban the world’s most widely used insecticides from all fields due to the serious danger they pose to bees.

The ban on neonicotinoids, approved by member nations on Friday, is expected to come into force by the end of 2018 and will mean they can only be used in closed greenhouses.

Bees and other insects are vital for global food production as they pollinate three-quarters of all crops. The plummeting numbers of pollinators in recent years has been blamed, in part, on the widespread use of pesticides. The EU banned the use of neonicotinoids on flowering crops that attract bees, such as oil seed rape, in 2013.

But in February, a major report from the European Union’s scientific risk assessors(Efsa) concluded that the high risk to both honeybees and wild bees resulted from any outdoor use, because the pesticides contaminate soil and water. This leads to the pesticides appearing in wildflowers or succeeding crops. A recent study of honey samples revealed global contamination by neonicotinoids.

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Any Talk About Regenerative Agriculture Must Involve Policy: Clif Bar Exec

Author: Stephen Daniells | Published: March 27, 2018

“I wish we had as much energy around a regenerative, climate-smart Farm Bill as we did around the marketing of regenerative, because now is the time to craft a Farm Bill that could actually improve climate and the quality of our farming,” says Clif Bar’s director of agriculture.

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Regenerative Farming Advocates Hoping to Have a Say in the Farm Bill

Author: Ed Maixner | Published: March 21, 2018

A range of advocates for what’s called regenerative agriculture convened in a U.S. House of Representatives hearing room Monday to talk about ways the upcoming farm bill might change farm programs and how they might join together to change the way Congress supports farmers.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and the Citizens Regeneration Lobby (CRL) hosted the briefing for congressional staff largely to update them on a bevy of super-organic concepts in farming that have been emerging, tagged broadly as regenerative agriculture (RA), and how Congress might support such farming methods.

Speakers at the event, in general, called for upending the USDA funding cart of crop subsidies. They want a shift to support for what they see as better ways of farming and improving land and the environment, rather than bankrolling farmers’ yields and income for major commodities.

Blumenauer urges many of the same changes in farm programs as do the RA advocates and is promoting his own alternative farm bill, the Food and Farm Act. He says only one in four applications for USDA grants to help farmers with improving natural resources is approved, “and of the grants approved, many don’t actually enhance the environment but are used to pay for things farmers need to do anyway, such as hog (manure) lagoons or fencing.”

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Regeneration International: Taking the Organic Standard One Step Higher

Author: Simi Summer, Ph.D. | Published: April 2, 2018

In response to the decision of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to certify hydroponic crops and sanction “taking the soil out of organics” (Many individuals consider this to be the demise of the organic standard) scientists, consumers, farmers and those concerned about protecting the future of organics, are taking a visionary approach. They see the future of organics in regenerative agriculture.

In September 2017, the Rodale Institute presented a draft for organic standards called a new third party Regenerative Organic (RO) Certification. Once finalized, the RO certification will reflect a standard far beyond USDA organic. This will be achieved by establishing higher standards for soil health, land management, animal welfare and fair labor/fair trade practices for farmers and workers. The RO label will appear on certified regenerative products, next to the USDA Organic label, signifying a standard which exceeds those set currently by the NOSB and the USDA.

A growing number of consumers have come to understand that non-organic, genetically engineered, industrially produced and chemically-laden food products and production methods are health hazardous. Unfortunately, degenerative agriculture produces effects which are the opposite of carbon sequestering practices. Such degenerative practices damage the environment, contaminate the air, pollute the world’s water supply and destabilize climate. And increasing levels of greenhouse gas pollution comes from degenerative food, farming and land use practices.

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Community Food & Water and Farm Bill

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