Posts

Look after the Soil, save the Earth: Farming in Australia’s Unrelenting Climate

From the red soil of his hometown in the Western Australian outback town of Wiluna, Michael Jeffery very nearly became a farmer.

He opted for being a soldier instead, serving in Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam, where he was awarded the Military Cross and the South Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. After a distinguished military career, he served as governor of his home state of Western Australia and governor general of Australia – who represents the Queen, Australia’s head of state.

Photo credit: Unsplash

So he doesn’t enter public debate lightly. But he is highly exercised by his latest topic: restoring Australia’s ancient soils.

It was a world first when he was appointed by Julia Gillard’s Labor government as the first national soil advocate in 2012 and his term was extended under the former National party leader and agriculture minister, Barnaby Joyce.

KEEP READING ON THE GUARDIAN

We’re Altering the Climate So Severely That We’ll Soon Face Apocalyptic Repercussions. Sucking Carbon Dioxide Out of the Air Could Save Us.

Deadly hurricanes seem to be becoming more frequent, 12 of the 15 largest wildfires in California history have occurred in the last two decades, and cities like Cape Town, South Africa are facing severe water shortages.

This isn’t a coincidence.

These kinds of dangerous weather events are linked to carbon-dioxide emissions. In human history, the atmosphere has never had as much CO2 in it as it does today. Burning fossil fuels for energy, clearing forests, and demolishing wetlands all contribute to the problem.

CO2 stops heat from leaving the planet, which is why Earth’s average temperature is a degree Celsius higher than it used to be. Now we’re on track to see so much warming over the next several decades that apocalyptic repercussions could result.

recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that just another half-degree temperature rise — which is predicted to happen by the year 2040.

KEEP READING ON BUSINESS INSIDER

 

Creating a Carbon-based Local Economy

How can local economies value carbon farming practices in finished consumer goodsFibershed represents a 160-member producer community, spanning from the Oregon border to San Luis Obispo and from the Pacific Ocean to the Sierra foothills, that is managing working landscapes strategically to sequester carbon. Burgess gave this talk, transcribed and edited below, as part of the Bioneers Carbon Farming Series.

Photo credit: Pexels

How do basic human needs – food, fuel, flora, fiber – get met within an economically and ecologically strategic geography?

There are 25 million hectares of rangelands in California and a key question is whether we can manage them to help lower Earth’s temperature. Most rangeland systems have very low amounts of carbon. California has lost around 40% of its carbon in its rangelands due to the loss of perennials. These soils are in a massive carbon debt.

Fibershed is organizing place-based economies around carbon.

 

KEEP READING ON BIONEERS

The Chicken and the Egg: Stop Linear Farming and Embrace Circular Agriculture

Agronomist Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin wants to transform the food system from the ground up by introducing poultry-powered, planet-cooling, regenerative agriculture. Ashoka’s Simon Stumpf caught up with Haslett-Marroquin to hear more about his approach, what his Tree-Range™ system is all about, and what’s on the horizon for the smallholder farmers in his network.

Photo credit: Regeneration International

Simon Stumpf: You’re championing what you call a “non-linear” approach to farming. What do you mean by that?

Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin: As farmers we don’t produce anything. Nature does. We simply manage the process, a non-linear process, by which inedible energy is transformed into edible energy — from soil to carrots, from grain to eggs and chickens. When we understand this, a whole world of possibility opens up because we are no longer constrained by linear, input-and-output based methods that waste energy and pollute our soil, waterways and air.

KEEP READING ON FORBES

How Can Soil Quality Slow Global Warming?

A new study from the University of Berkeley in California has found that improving soil quality could make a substantial contribution to slowing down global warming. What’s more, the practices needed to make this scenario a reality are already widely-practiced around the world and involve little technological or financial investment to implement.

Photo credit: Pixabay

The authors of the paper found that if simple initiatives like planting cover plants, sowing legumes and optimising grazing terrain were introduced on a worldwide scale, they could reduce global warming by as much as a quarter of a degree Celsius. If the controversial additive biochar was factored in, the reductions could amount to as much as half a degree. However, none of the above will have any meaningful impact without attendant reductions in carbon emissions

KEEP READING ON ENVIRONMENTAL TECHNOLOGY

Navdanya Farm Hosts Third RI General Assembly in India

“Regenerative Agriculture provides answers to the soil crisis, the food crisis, the health crisis, the climate crisis and the crisis of democracy.” Vandana Shiva

Thirty eight representatives from more than thirty organizations met at Dr. Shiva’s Navdanya Farm to network and explore next steps for Regeneration International, a cooperative of stake holders committed to promoting small scale organic farming as a solution to climate change.

The meetings began with introductions and short presentations about each participant’s work, which ranges from soil science to filmmaking. The group represented seventeen countries from Africa, Asia and Europe, as well as North, South and Central America.

The diversity of the groups’ roots was fitting, given that many participants attended the International Biodiversity Conference that took place at the Forest Research Institute in Dehradun over three days before.

After introductions, there were more in-depth reports from Belize,

Brazil, India, Kenya, Lesotho, Mexico, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Tanzania, United States, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

There was much interest in each region’s various strategies and challenges. One benefit of the meeting was the opportunity for the different countries to come together and share information about their work, that has a little-known but profoundly positive impact on climate change.

In the spirit of action and inspiration, Becket Films screened a soon-to-be finished cut of The Seeds of Vandana Shiva, a documentary about Dr. Shiva’s life of activism for a regenerative and peaceful world.

The next part of the meeting centered on strategies for the future and how the Regeneration International network can scale up and support the work of its members.

First there was clarification of the mission: Regeneration International exists to promote the message and practice of organic food, fiber and farming that regenerates the environment, the climate and human communities. This means that the regeneration is inclusive of partners working with nature to restore the health and biodiversity of soil, seed, water, land, food and fiber in ways that also supports the rights and welfare of small farmers, women, the indigenous, and other minorities.

There was consensus to use the film, The Seeds of Vandana Shiva as a tool for education, outreach and fundraising for our affiliate groups.

The meeting looked forward to UNFCC COP25, scheduled to take place in Brazil in November 2019 where participants decided the next international gathering of Regeneration International partners should take place. Despite the 4/1000 initiative that was signed at COP15, the issue of agriculture and food systems is still fundamentally ignored by the COP and the climate movement. For this reason it is Regeneration International’s agenda at COP25 to bring greater attention to the issue of small scale organic food and farming as a solution for climate change.

The meeting concluded with resolutions to deepen relationships, to continue to share experiences and information, to support and broadcast partners’ initiatives, and to work together on planning for COP25.

Reversing Climate Change through Regenerative Agriculture

This year’s Acres U.S.A. Conference features numerous speakers, who can show how we can reverse the disruptive effects climate change by adopting best practice regenerative production systems. These systems will also make our farms and ranches more productive and resilient to the current erratic climate disruption that we are all facing.

The increasing erratic and disruptive weather events caused by climate change are the greatest immediate threat to viable farming and food security. We are already being adversely affected by the longer and more frequent droughts, and irregular, out-of-season and destructive rainfall events.

The world is already around 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the industrial revolution. The energy needed to heat the atmosphere by 1.8 degrees is equivalent to billions of atomic bombs. I am using this violent metaphor so that people can understand how much energy is being released into our atmosphere and oceans and why we will get more frequent and stronger storms wreaking havoc in our communities.

This extra energy is violently fueling and disrupting our weather systems. It means storms are far more intense. Winter storms will be colder and can be pushed further south and north than normal due to this energy. Similarly, summer storms, especially hurricanes, cyclones, tornadoes, typhoons, tropical lows, etc., are far more intense with deluging destructive rainfall.

Droughts are more frequent and are resulting more frequent and damaging forest and grass fires that are changing the ecology due to not allowing time for recovery. The current intense northern hemisphere heatwave, global drought and unprecedented number of ferocity of forests fires are being exacerbated by climate change.

The frequency and intensity of these types of events will only get exponentially worse when the world warms to 3.6 degrees, which is the upper limit that the Paris climate meeting agreed to.

Some people don’t really care if the world is 3.6 degrees warmer — however it is not the average temperatures that are the concern, but rather the regular extremes, especially the out-of-season heatwaves and rain events, that we are experiencing now.

Managing Climate Change Now

Atmospheric CO2 levels have been increasing at 2 parts per million (ppm) per year. The level of COreached a new record of 400 ppm in May 2016. This is the highest level of CO2 in the atmosphere for 800,000 years. However, in 2016, despite all the commitments countries made in Paris in December 2015, the levels of CO2 increased at record levels in 2016 (3.3 ppm of COentered the atmosphere, creating a new record).

According to the World Meteorological Organization, “Geological records show that the current levels of COcorrespond to an ‘equilibrium’ climate last observed in the mid-Pliocene (3-5 million years ago), a climate that was 2-3 °C (3.6 – 5.4° F) warmer, where the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets melted and even some of the East Antarctic ice was lost, leading to sea levels that were 10-20 meters (30-60 feet) higher than those today.”

Global sea level rises will cause the atoll island countries, large parts of Bangladesh, Netherlands, coastal United States, New York, New Orleans, Miami, San Francisco/Bay Area, London, Manila, Bangkok, Jakarta, Shanghai, Singapore, Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Perth and other low lying areas to go under water

Even if the world transitioned to 100 percent renewable energy tomorrow, this will not stop the temperature and sea level rises because it will take more than 100 years for the CO2levels to drop. These sea level rises will cause a huge refugee crisis for over a billion people by 2050 and throw our planet into chaos. The world cannot cope with 2 million refugees from Syria. How do we cope hundreds of millions of climate change refugees? There will be wars over food, water and land.

The fact is we have to speed up the transition to renewable energy and we have to make a great effort to draw down the COin the atmosphere.

The Solution Is Under Our Feet!

In order to stop the present increase in atmospheric CO2, agricultural systems would have to sequester 2.3 ppm of CO2 per year. Using the accepted formula that 1 ppm CO2 = 7.76 Gt CO2 means that 17.85 Gt of CO2 per year needs to be sequestered from the atmosphere and stored in the soil as soil organic carbon (SOC).

Stopping the increase in GHGs and then reducing them must be the first priority, and this should be non-negotiable. Moving to renewable energy and energy efficiency will not be enough to stop the planet from warming over the next hundred years and going into damaging climate change. The amount of 405 ppm is past the level needed to meet the Paris objective of limiting the temperature increase to +1.5/2°C (2.7/3.6° F). The levels need to be well below 350 ppm. The excess CO2 must be sequestered from the atmosphere to stop damaging climate change.

Soils are the greatest carbon sink after the oceans. There is a wide variability in the estimates of the amount of carbon stored in the soils globally. According to Professor Rattan Lal, there are over 2,700 gigatons (Gt) of carbon stored in soils. The soil holds more carbon than the atmosphere (848 Gt) and biomass (575 Gt) combined. There is already an excess of carbon in the oceans that is starting cause a range of problems. We cannot put any more CO2 in the atmosphere or the oceans. Soils are the logical sink for carbon.

Most agricultural systems lose soil carbon with estimates that agricultural soils have lost 50-70 percent of their original SOC pool, and the depletion is exacerbated by further soil degradation and desertification. Agricultural systems that recycle organic matter and use crop rotations can increase the levels of SOC. This is achieved through techniques such as longer rotations, ground covers, cover crops, green manures, legumes, compost, organic mulches, biochar, perennials, agro-forestry, agroecological biodiversity and livestock on pasture using sustainable grazing systems such as holistic grazing. These systems are starting to come under the heading of “regenerative agriculture” because they regenerate SOC.

Regenerative Agriculture Potential

BEAM (Biologically Enhanced Agricultural Management), is a process developed by Dr. David Johnson of New Mexico State University, that uses compost with a high diversity of soil microorganisms. BEAM has achieved very high levels of sequestration. According to Johnson et al., “… a 4.5 year agricultural field study promoted annual average capture and storage of 10.27 metric tons soil C ha-1 year -1 while increasing soil macro-, meso- and micro-nutrient availability offering a robust, cost-effective carbon sequestration mechanism within a more productive and long-term sustainable agriculture management approach.” These results have since been replicated in other trials.

Soil Organic Carbon x 3.67 = CO2 which means that 10.27 metric tons soil C ha-1 year -1 = 37.7 metric tons of CO2 per hectare per year. (38,000 pounds of CO2 per acre per year – close enough)

If BEAM was extrapolated globally across agricultural lands it would sequester 184 Gt of CO2/yr.

Regenerative Grazing

The Savory Institute, Gabe Brown and many others have been scaling up holistic management systems on every arable continent. There is now a considerable body of published science and evidence-based practices showing that these systems regenerate degraded lands, improve productivity, water holding capacity and soil carbon levels.

Nearly 70 percent of the world’s agricultural lands are used for grazing. The published evidence is showing that correctly managed pastures can build up SOC faster than many other agricultural systems and that it is stored deeper in the soil.

Research by Machmuller et al. 2015: “In a region of extensive soil degradation in the southeastern United States, we evaluated soil C accumulation for 3 years across a 7-year chronosequence of three farms converted to management-intensive grazing. Here we show that these farms accumulated C at 8.0 Mg ha−1 yr−1, increasing cation exchange and water holding capacity by 95 percent and 34 percent, respectively.”

To explain the significance of these figures: 8.0 Mg ha−1 yr−1 = 8,000 kgs of carbon being stored in the soil per hectare per year. Soil Organic Carbon x 3.67 = CO2, means that these grazing systems have sequestered 29,360 kgs (29.36 metric tons) of CO2/ ha/yr.

If these regenerative grazing practices were implemented on the world’s grazing lands they would sequester 98.5 gt CO2 per year.

Conclusion

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.

Ten percent of agricultural lands under BEAM would sequester 18.4 Gt of CO2/yr. Ten percent of grasslands under regenerative grazing would sequester 9.8 Gt of CO2/yr. This would result in 28.2 Gt of CO2/yr being sequestered into the soil which is just under double the amount of sequestration needed to draw out more CO2 than is currently being emitted.

These examples are shovel-ready solutions as they are based on existing practices. There is no need to invest in expensive, potentially dangerous and unproven technologies such as carbon capture and storage or geo-engineering. All that is needed is to scale up the existing good regenerative agriculture practices.

The real goods news is that these systems will make our farms and ranches more resilient and productive.

Regenerative agriculture can change agriculture from being a major contributor to climate change to becoming a major solution. The widespread adoption of these systems should be made the highest priority by farmers, ranchers, governments, international organizations, industry and climate change organizations.

André Leu is international director of Regeneration International. He is a longtime farmer in Australia and past president of the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements. He is the author of The Myths of Safe Pesticides and Poisoning Our Children, published by Acres U.S.A.

Here’s What Agriculture of the Future Looks Like: The Multiple Benefits of Regenerative Agriculture Quantified

At the Union of Concerned Scientists, we have long advocated agricultural systems that are productive and better for the environment, the economy, farmers, farmworkers and eaters than the dominant industrial system. We refer to such a system as our Healthy Farm vision. Based on comprehensive science, we have specified that healthy farm systems must be multifunctional, biodiverse, interconnected and regenerative.

The scientific case for agricultural systems that renew rather than diminish resources is comprehensive, and research demonstrates the productivity and agronomic feasibility of such systems. Yet, economically viable real-world examples are necessary to spur acceptance and adoption of such schemes. Further, we need to overcome the limitations of economic thinking and measures that were developed in the 19th century—when it seemed that the Earth’s resources and its capacity to absorb waste were inexhaustible—and improve them to create more modern assessments, appropriate for the 21st century and beyond. A new report from our colleagues at Farmland LPDelta Institute and Earth Economics will make a major contribution toward this end.

KEEP READING ON THE UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS

At Philo Ridge, a Couple Invests in Vermont’s Farming Future

On a mid-August morning at Philo Ridge Farm in Charlotte, sheep were grazing the paddock near the one-acre market garden as a straggler from the cow herd moved out to fresh pasture across Mount Philo Road. A group of 15 visitors sampled farm-grown zucchini sticks and mint leaves offered by tour guides who led them past rows of leafy greens shrouded under white fabric to protect them from pests.

Among the vegetables, perennials such as elderberries, highbush cranberries and hazelbert trees (a hazelnut and filbert cross) had been planted to attract pollinators and other beneficial wildlife, as well as to provide a windbreak for the ridgetop garden, detailed Francine Stephens, Philo Ridge’s food and farm director.

All the farm’s animals, including laying chickens and meat birds, she said, are moved regularly through the fields. This method, called intensive rotational grazing, is optimal for livestock, soil health and overall ecosystem resilience.

Philo Ridge’s approach falls under the category of “regenerative agriculture,” Stephens said, offering what she called a “super-simplistic” definition: “We’re trying really hard to put more nutrients into the soil than we’re taking out.”

KEEP READING ON SEVEN DAYS

Expanding Organic Agriculture

Farmer, Author & International Organic Authority André Leu Discusses Expanding Scope of Regenerative and Organic Agriculture and its Existing Challenges

As two-term president of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (better known as IFOAM — Organics International), André Leu has logged hundreds of thousands of air and land miles on behalf of sustainable farming. From 2012 until the fall of 2017, his portfolio took him to dozens of countries where he met farmers, government officials, NGO activists, scientists and diplomats. He is a familiar face at various United Nations agencies as well. Somehow he also found time to write an essential book for Acres U.S.A. Press called The Myths of Safe Pesticides and its newest companion, Poisoning Our Children: The Parent’s Guide to the Myths of Safe Pesticides. It is safe to say that precious few people share the depth and breadth of Leu’s knowledge about sustainable agriculture around the globe. Along with devoting more time to his 150-acre fruit farm in tropical Queensland, Australia, Leu will bring his expertise to the presidency of Regeneration International, the education and advocacy organization of which he is a founding member. Thus, the talk below functions as both an exit and an entry interview.

Interviewed by Chris Walters

How IFOAM Supports Organic Agriculture

ACRES U.S.A. When governments come to IFOAM for guidance, how does that relationship work?

ANDRÉ LEU. Whenever we come into these situations, we also work with our local people on the ground and bring them into the process. This is very important. This is where a lot of governments make mistakes — they try to copy the United States’ or Europe’s regulations, but if you try that it’s not going to work so well in Zambia or Peru. It’s really important that countries have regulations that work for the way agriculture works in their countries because what we really want to do is to make it easier for people to become organic rather than the opposite. This is very important to us, and it is one of the reasons that governments come to us. Governments can see how they can make mistakes, and make it very difficult for the average farmer to access organic markets because the requirements are so stringent or inappropriate to the way they produce. We have this expertise, and particularly our members have this strong local knowledge. We can work together, and being regular and consistent benefits the producers in the country, the exporters and the processors in their own domestic market. It can also get them into high-value export markets as well.

ACRES U.S.A. How many countries have the strong local expertise you can tap to help their farmers convert and get into those markets?

LEU. At the moment it is 127 countries. We have 950 member organizations in 127 countries.

ACRES U.S.A. Does this pose a great organizational challenge?

LEU. Of course it does! We’re trying to run an international organization with a budget of about $4 million (U.S. dollars). We’re very lucky that we have the best expertise, employing some of the best people in the world for this. We have an office that is run very well, and we are always working on how to meet these challenges with the least amount of organizational time and cost.

ACRES U.S.A. Over your two terms as president of IFOAM, how has the ground shifted concerning the definitions of the various approaches to sustainable food production — agroecological, organic, regenerative and so on?

LEU. Wearing my Regeneration International hat for a moment, the reason we chose “regenerative” is that we wanted to bring all the like-minded forms of agriculture together. Agroecology, holistic grazing, permaculture, organic — there are so many of them. It was important to have a neutral term as an umbrella. Now — once again wearing my IFOAM hat — what we’ve done with IFOAM is, yes we have standards, and standards are important, especially when people want to put products into markets. However, we have four principles of organic agriculture, and principles go above standards. One is the principle of health, two is the principle of ecology, three is the principle of fairness, and finally there is the principle of care. What we say is that any farming systems that work within those four principles are organic. We could say, for instance, that any agroecology system that is not using GMOs or toxic pesticides is organic whether it’s certified or not — the same goes for permaculture or holistic grazing. But if they start using things that we specifically prohibit like the two I mentioned, then they can’t say they are organic.

ACRES U.S.A. Were these principles crafted to make sure the perfect doesn’t become the enemy of the good?

LEU. Exactly. That’s a nice way of putting it. The reason why I say IFOAM is an umbrella organization is that we want to bring people in, not exclude people. We call ourselves a change agent because what we’d like people to do is continuously improve, bring in better systems.

ACRES U.S.A. Does IFOAM take a position on the Savory Institute and its work in holistic planned management in many countries?

LEU. IFOAM itself doesn’t take a position, but from my perspective I have a lot of regard for holistic planned grazing because I’ve seen it on every arable continent. I’ve seen it in the United States, I’ve seen it Latin America, I’ve seen it in Africa and in Asia. I know that when you look at the good practitioners it makes an incredible difference. What’s really good now is a guy named Richard Teague at Texas A&M University who is doing great research, and getting it published in peer-reviewed publications, showing the multiple advantages of holistic grazing. As more of this gets published, the critics will just disappear because there is now hard science showing the many benefits in terms of improving soil quality, improving productivity and also turning cattle, a major source of greenhouse gases, from a major problem into a major solution. These systems essentially sequester or mitigate more greenhouse gases than they emit. If we could move all the world’s grazing systems into properly managed holistic grazing, we could make a significant difference to climate change.

ACRES U.S.A. Has the carbon capturing potential of regenerative agriculture made an impression on the governments of any authoritarian countries such as China, where a decision by leadership can ripple downward quickly?

LEU. In terms of governments being influenced by the potential of organic agriculture to make an impact on climate change, the answer is yes. It is just starting to happen now. IFOAM has been very active in this since before the Copenhagen meeting on climate change in 2009. We formed a round table there on organic and climate change with help from the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization and FiBL, the organic agriculture research group funded by the Swiss government. With their help, we started getting good peer-reviewed evidence published to underpin what we say when we go to governments. That is really important. When you go to governments you can’t just say ‘we want the whole world to go organic because it’s a great thing’ and all that. You should come to them with good science that has been published and checked by other people — peer reviewed — to make sure it’s accurate. Then you’ve got evidence-based science, and governments become interested. With that science we’ve been very active in getting information out to governments around the world. One of the outcomes of this was at the Paris climate change meeting where the French agriculture minister announced the 4 Pour 1000 initiative. He made the point that if we could increase the amount of carbon contained in soils by 0.04 percent, we could halt the increase in carbon and bring it back to carbon neutral levels like we had before the Industrial Revolution. We could begin to reverse the effects of climate change. Not to discount promoting renewables and all the other important things we need to do.

Organic Agriculture in Different Countries

ACRES U.S.A. Since you began traveling the world and meeting farmers, have you seen a nation or a region where sustainable farming has penetrated the heart of agriculture rather than boring in from the edges of the commodity food production system?

LEU. The main place where I’ve been actively involved is in Bhutan in the Himalayas. It’s a country where instead of gross national product they measure gross national happiness. People may find that ridiculous, but when you look at the criteria and what they are trying to do, you see they say it’s not about how much money you make, it’s about how well you feel about your community. It’s about everybody having this feeling of well-being. It’s not about a few individuals who come in and get rich; it’s about the greater common good. For them, organic agriculture fits firmly within that. They want an agriculture that is healthy, that brings good returns to farmers, that provides healthful, high-quality food to consumers and that looks after the environment. That is why they decided they want to be 100 percent organic, and now they are close to it. The last survey they did showed there is really only about 2 percent of agriculture that uses chemicals in Bhutan. We’re working with them now on their organic regulations. They will become a 100 percent organic country. Their neighbor Nepal has also started down that pathway. For instance, nearly all the coffee grown in Nepal is organic now. Other countries are leaning significantly toward it, such as Austria. In Austria, 25 percent of the farms are organic, and that number is increasing. Denmark is doing exactly the same now. Denmark already has the highest amount of shelf space for organic products in the world, 30 percent or more. The government is facilitating the change strongly in Denmark. Everywhere I go now governments are looking at significant goals. My contacts in Japan say they want to have 20 percent of the farms go organic — it’s probably around 5 percent now.

ACRES U.S.A. Do you know of any countries facing environmental crises where people near the top of the government have made the connection between bad farming techniques and the crises?

LEU. What is interesting is that the governments that are most interested are generally the provincial or state or local governments rather than the federal government. The bigger the government, the further away, and concern drops away. In India the provincial heads of government can now see the damage done by the Green Revolution. For example, in Punjab they have the Cancer Train, because so many people have cancer. It’s an epidemic. They fill this train up to take them to hospital and back. Thousands of people, about 60-75 a day or more, plus family members, go on this train. The soils are destroyed. The rivers are wrecked; they are poisonous. The air is poisonous, and enough is enough. I’ve heard that governor, at an all-India organic conference held in Punjab, say they now have a plan to change 20 percent of the agriculture to organic. Organic is the best known. It’s the one with a proven track record; it’s the one with the proven markets. The Green Revolution has been an absolute disaster there. It left a legacy of children born with birth defects, and even all around the world we are seeing a rise in non-communicable diseases like heart disease, diabetes, depression and obesity. None of these are contagious. We now have the scientific proof showing the link to environmental toxins such as pesticides, chemical fertilizers and other additives put in our food, our soap and the combination of fat, salt and sugar that in some ways is as addictive as heroin.

ACRES U.S.A. Do you see Big Food, the industrial food colossus, emerging in the minds of ordinary people — not just activists and scientists — in various countries as a major culprit behind these maladies that afflict them?

LEU. Exactly and strongly. The reason we are the fastest-growing agricultural sector in the world is because of the amount of consumer concern over food.

ACRES U.S.A. Do we need to improve international watchdog mechanisms because of fraud and corner-cutting internationally?

LEU. We have some very good consumer-conscious organizations. The Organic Consumers Association is one of the best for that, and the Center for Food Safety. You have organizations in the United States that work on behalf of consumer consciousness for Americans but are actually followed all around the world. The Organic Consumers Association is highly regarded internationally, and other countries have formed their own versions of it. Cornucopia Institute as well does an excellent job. It’s online, and people can see things from drones flying overhead, dairies or whatever, where it’s the middle of the day and there is not one animal outside grazing. It’s important to have organizations like Cornucopia and the Center for Food Safety that investigate and let the world know. They are our conscience, and they need to be supported.

Aiding African Agriculture

ACRES U.S.A. Do you ever encounter the Gates Foundation, and can you speak about the influence of billionaire philanthropists who roam the world pushing agendas that may not turn out especially beneficial to farmers?

LEU. Gates is a good example of that. Everybody thinks it’s this wonderful, benevolent organization that’s saving the world. They are very active in Africa, and they are very good at getting governments on their side for their African Green Revolution, as they call it. There they are trying to get farmers who are largely what we call organic by default — not organic by management — into buying fertilizers, pesticides and GMO seeds. It’s the same market economy that has destroyed farmers around the world as they went into debt to buy these products. They push microfinance as this wonderful tool to help farmers buy things. The reality of microfinance is that now these farmers who were too small to go into debt to the finance industry are now captured and go into debt. Then what happens is the crops fail, they can’t pay back their debt, and they lose their land. I’ve seen this in many cases. On the other hand, there is no evidence showing that these communities are better off. A good example of this is Malawi. Malawi was the poster child of this new green revolution. First they got an increase in yield and they thought, how wonderful, this is the way to go. After the government gives out free fertilizer and free pesticides, at some point the farmers have to start paying for it. Then they go into debt because they can’t afford it. Then the yields plummet because they can’t get access to these chemicals.

ACRES U.S.A. We’re talking about people who may not even have telephones or bank accounts, and now they are in debt?

LEU. That’s right. Microfinance is not always this wonderful thing it is made out to be, more often than not it puts people into debt. When you are now working to pay your debt, you are a slave to debt. Whether we like it or not, this is the model for most farmers in the world, both in my country and the United States. They are always running a certain amount of debt. When the bank has to take the farm and the value of the land becomes less than the debt, they become tenant farmers on their own land. Back in Africa, you see them in the shantytowns on the edges of the cities scavenging for goods in rubbish heaps or working in factories to make ends meet. The model needs to be changed so that farmers can stay on their farms.

ACRES U.S.A. What finally happened in Malawi?

LEU. At the moment Malawi, East Africa, southern Africa and parts of West Africa are in the middle of the worst drought in recorded history. Malawi has gone from the poster child the chemical companies bring out to speak at all these UN events to the basket case. The World Food Program has to go in now and bring in food aid, but they’re not getting enough. They are experiencing what is called “donor burnout.” Since there are all these major issues going on right now, people just can’t donate to all of them. The issue in Malawi is people starving to death. You remember the Live Aid concerts in the ’80s to relieve the Ethiopian famine? It was a drought and people were starving. That was a drought where thousands of people died, and it was nothing as severe as the one at the moment. After the Live Aid effort helped them through and the good seasons returned, one of our member organizations, the Institute for Sustainable Development, started working in northern Ethiopia at a place called Tigray. It borders Djibouti where the Red Sea starts, that area. That’s a pretty dry area where they regularly had droughts during which thousands of people died. One of the reasons they had severe droughts or crop failures was degradation of the land through overgrazing — eroded, topsoil washed away. They worked with the local community to restore the whole environment, not just the farms but also the whole environment.

ACRES U.S.A. What steps did they take?

LEU. The first was managed grazing. They didn’t stop grazing because people needed it for milk and such. All the hillsides began to regenerate. They were able to have more animals than in the past. At the same time, they worked with the local farms to fix up erosion gullies and in many cases turn them into ponds for fishing. They encouraged them to build up the organic matter in their soils by planting edible legumes such as fava beans. They then had those as a very good protein source in their diet. The planted alternate rows of the fields with legume trees to work as windbreaks, and they planted insectary plants that bring in the beneficial insects and birds to eat up the pests. They mixed crop waste and manure in biodigesters to make biogas. As a result, they had clean cooking so they no longer had to chop down trees for firewood. They used it for light at night so they could read to their children. They could also use it for running small electrical generators and small machinery. So they got all the benefit for the biogas, and that slurry they once used to compost got put out in the fields. The net result after several years of doing this was that the yields more than doubled.

ACRES U.S.A. How are they doing now?

LEU. I recently got in touch with the ISD folks and asked them how Tigray was holding up under the drought. They said, “Look, they’re fine. They’re doing okay.” What was really interesting came two months later when she sent me a preliminary report about a research program they’re doing. It’s called push-pull. It’s a way of integrating a cover crop with your cash crop at the same time. You use it for pest control, increasing water retention, nitrogen and a lot of other benefits. You can get dramatic increases in yield by bringing this into different farming systems. I get the report and I look at the first page. It says the yield increases weren’t as big as we hoped because of the drought, and they were disappointed. I looked at the figures and thought it was absolutely incredible! Here is a drought where millions of people had their crops fail and now need food aid, and Tigray got a yield increase! That should be in headlines. The other thing I want to say is that because organic farmers don’t go into debt to buy chemicals, the farmers in Tigray have a surplus of money at the end of the year. They can save and buy things. They’re building nice houses, their children are in school, and they can afford medical costs whereas before they had no money and people died. One story I heard was that the women started to buy new clothing. I thought, okay, what is so great about that? It was explained to me that because they were so poor, women had holes in their clothes and they felt indecent. They couldn’t go out in public. Once they could buy nice clothing, they could go out and socialize. And that brings us back to the point of community. Once they had been so poor to the point where people died of hunger or the children would leave for the city as soon as they got old enough. Now, because they regenerated the forest, they have another activity — making honey. The young people are coming back now to run beehives and work on the farm because they have a future in their community. They can earn more money than they can in the city. That is the model that we need to scale up globally.

ACRES U.S.A. It is wonderful, hopeful and exemplary. Unfortunately it seems like a chunk of Africa the size of Benelux has been bought up by land investors for massively scaled agriculture, mirroring the consolidation of farmland here in the United States.

LEU. It’s disastrous. First of all, it’s not their land to buy up, since native peoples have traditionally owned it for thousands of years. The term we have for what’s happening in Africa is “land grabbing.” You have governments that are corrupt, and they just go ahead and sell that land to big investors, and then people are kicked off the land without any compensation. The justification is, “Oh, they’ll get good jobs on the farm.” And they’ve lost everything. Those that do get jobs have to work under pretty poor conditions, and they are spraying all those toxic chemicals without any training, without any protective clothing. A whole host of diseases appear along with birth defects the children have to start off life with. It really is a poor model. They’re not even growing food; they’re growing commodities, things like palm oil used to make soap and biodeisel. The only time palm oil is put in food, it’s in the types of industrialized food we call obesogenic.

Sustainable Land Trusts for Organic Agriculture

ACRES U.S.A. Here in the United States, in Iowa, there is something called a sustainable land trust. They buy a piece of land and lease it to a farmer under something called an organic easement, meaning it can never be farmed industrially. The terms of the lease are generous to encourage young farmers. Do you see anything like that going on overseas?

LEU. The best one I know is called Common Land, and in various countries they have worked with farmers on about 4 million acres. They want to restore ecosystems on parts of this land and at the same time they operate organic/regenerative farms on the rest of it. That’s the biggest one. There are smaller, more local initiatives. Most of these initiatives have to fight for funding. It’s very hard to get enough money to buy land to do this with. The other important initiative to stop land grabbing is a United Nations organization called the Committee for Food Security. IFOAM, along with a lot of other non-governmental organizations, worked with that agency to put into place a series of voluntary guidelines about land tenure. It outlines what should be done and how governments ought to act. Of course no government would accept it if it was made compulsory. Many countries watered down these guidelines from what we originally wanted. The document is not as strong as we wished, but it’s a start. You can take it to governments and say, “You signed this, but you are not doing it.” Essentially it’s the governments that take this land from their own people and give it to these foreign companies.

ACRES U.S.A. It’s not hard to imagine that some of these deals will rear up and bite back, since the industrial techniques will wreck the topsoil, then a drought will hit, you’ll have pests and desertification, and then they’ll want to get rid of the land.

LEU. This is already happening. They don’t care. The people who grab this land are not there because they want to look after the land and it’s precious to them. They want to make money off of it. If it’s not productive they’ll grab some other land and work that until it’s destroyed. The only driver for them is a return to shareholders.

ACRES U.S.A. After years of traveling the world for IFOAM, what are you hoping to do for Regeneration International?

LEU. My hopes and goals for Regeneration International are for it to become the global change agent that facilitates a fundamental shift from one type of agriculture to another. We need to move from agriculture that presently constitutes a significant cause of climate change and environmental destruction while fueling the epidemic of non-contagious chronic diseases. It also destroys farming communities globally. Our goal is an agriculture that will have a major role in reversing climate change while regenerating our soils, environment, health and communities while promoting democracy and making a considerable contribution to the well-being of our planet.

Poisoning Our Children: The Parent’s Guide to the Myths of Safe Pesticides by André Leu, is coming soon from Acres U.S.A. For more information, visit acresusa.com or call 800-355-5313.

André Leu spoke on a panel of internationally known experts at the 2017 Acres U.S.A. Eco-Ag Conference and Trade Show in Columbus, Ohio. For more information call 800-355-5313.

Reposted with permission from Eco-Farming Daily.