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New Study Confirms: Degenerative Food & Farming System Poses Mortal Threat

A new study calling for a “radical rethink” of the relationship between policymakers and corporations reinforces what Organic Consumers Association and other public interest groups have been saying for years: Our triple global crises of deteriorating public health, world hunger and global warming share common root causes—and that the best way to address these crises is to address what they all have in common: an unhealthy, inequitable food system perpetuated by a political and economic system largely driven by corporate profit.

Photo credit: Unsplash

The study, the result of three years of work by 26 commissioners from several countries, was released this week by the Lancet Commission on Obesity.  Boyd Swinburn, a University of Auckland professor and co-chair of the commission, as reported by Channel News Asia, said:

“Until now, undernutrition and obesity have been seen as polar opposites of either too few or too many calories. In reality, they are both driven by the same unhealthy, inequitable food systems, underpinned by the same political economy.”

According to the report, nearly a billion people are hungry and another 2 billion are eating too much of the wrong foods, causing epidemics of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Boyd said that malnutrition in all its forms, including undernutrition and obesity, is by far the biggest cause of ill health and premature death globally, and that both are expected to be made “significantly worse” by climate change.

A familiar, but welcome call for reform

We have long called for the reform of our degenerative industrial agriculture system. We’ve drawn attention to the impact of industrial agriculture on global warming and deteriorating health. And we’ve highlighted the remarkable potential for organic regenerative agriculture to naturally draw down and sequester carbon, through nature’s own photosynthesis.

We’ve also called on global policymakers to connect the dots between degenerative agriculture, poor health and climate change.

We’ve said all along that the influence of self-serving corporations over policy is largely to blame for U.S. and global policymakers’ collective failure to address our degenerative food and farming system, and the devastation that system has wrought on human health and the environment.

This latest study comes at a time when climate scientists have sounded their most urgent and alarming warnings to date. It also comes at a time of keen interest in a Green New Deal, whose backers are calling for nothing less than radical solutions to the most pressing issues of our time.

Degeneration Nation: the frightening truth

Welcome to Degeneration Nation, where the frightening truth is this: Big Food companies, fast food chains, chemical and seed giants such as Bayer/Monsanto, and corporate agribusiness, aided and abetted by indentured politicians in both the Republican and Democratic parties, are slowly but surely poisoning us with unhealthy, nutrient-deficient, contaminated food.

The pesticides, GMOs, hormone disruptors and antibiotic residues in non-organic produce, grains and meat, coupled with the excessive sugar, salt and bad fats in the processed foods and beverages that make up the majority of the American diet, have supersized and degenerated the body politic. An epidemic of chronic diseases directly related to our toxic food and environment has spread across the U.S. and much of the world.

The overwhelming evidence is that human health is seriously deteriorating, and that the underlying causes of this health crisis are directly related not only to our highly toxic industrial practices, but also to our degenerate food, farming and land-management practices.

In the agricultural sector alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies more than 1,400 pesticides and 1,800 so-called “inerts” chemicals in use, in addition to a toxic stew of animal drugs, antibiotics, synthetic fertilizers and GMOs. Few of these have been properly tested, singly or in combination, for safety.

The public health and economic consequences of our degraded environment and food system are alarming. A recent Rand Corporation study found that 60 percent of Americans suffer from at least one chronic health condition, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and arthritis; 42 percent have two or more; and that these chronic diseases now account for more than 40 percent of the entire U.S. health care spending of $3.5 trillion.

One out of every two Americans will get cancer at least once in their lifetime. According to recent research, U.S. men born in 1960 have a lifetime cancer risk of 53.5 percent. For women, it’s 47.5 percent.

Seventy percent of U.S. drinking water is contaminated with Monsanto’s top-selling herbicide, Roundup, while 93 percent of consumers now have traces of this toxic poison (active ingredient glyphosate) in our urine.

The authors of “What’s Making Our Children Sick?” report that one in 13 U.S. children have serious food allergies; 6 – 24 percent have serious intestinal problems; 20 percent are obese; 60 percent have chronic headaches; 20 percent suffer from mental disorders and depression. One in every 41 boys and one in every 68 girls are now diagnosed with autism.

Beyond destroying our health, chemical and fossil fuel-intensive factory farms and GMO monocultures are polluting our water and air, degrading our soils, forests and wetlands, killing off biodiversity and heating up the planet.

The delicate rhythms of nature—the Earth’s carbon cycle circulating between the atmosphere, oceans, soils and forests, the water or hydrological cycle and the climate—are unraveling.

Cook organic, not the planet

The Lancet Obesity Commission study is clear: Climate change, obesity and poor nutrition can all be linked in some way to the mass production of processed, nutrient-poor food. This is an idea that doesn’t get as much attention as it should.

When most people think about climate-destabilizing greenhouse gas emissions and global warming, the first thing that usually comes to mind is the impact of fossil fuels—our non-renewable fossil fuel-based energy system for transportation and for utilities and manufacturing, including the construction and the heating and cooling of our homes, offices and buildings.

What few people understand is that a full 44-57 percent of all global GHG emissions are generated by chemical- and fossil fuel-intensive industrial farm production, food processing, packaging, refrigeration, transportation and destructive land-use practices, such as deforestation, heavy plowing, lack of cover crops and wetlands destruction.

Let’s take a closer look at the 44-57 percent of human GHG emissions coming from our industrial, GMO, factory farm food system, and compare how transitioning to regenerative food, farming and land-management practices would not only drastically reduce these emissions, but actually draw down excess atmospheric carbon and sequester it in our soils, trees and wetlands—and in the process, produce more nutrient-dense, chemical-free food.

Direct use of oil and gas in farming: 11 to 15 percent

Most climate analysts agree that fossil fuel use on farms and ranches, including chemical farm inputs (fertilizers and pesticides), is responsible for at least 11-15 percent of all global CO2, methane and nitrous oxide emissions. Most of these emissions come from the use of fossil fuel-powered farm and irrigation equipment and petroleum-derived chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

In addition, the excess manure generated by factory farms, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) as the industry calls them, releases significant quantities of methane and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere and the oceans.

How can we reduce these on-farm emissions? By converting chemical- and energy-intensive farms to organic and regenerative crop production and planned rotational grazing and free range livestock production. This will require a combination of conscious consumers and farmers working together, on a local-to-global scale to reject factory farm, GMO, chemically tainted, highly processed food, and radical changes in public policy and investment practices.

Food- and farming-derived deforestation: 15 to 18 percent

Global “land use change” or deforestation is generally recognized as contributing to approximately 20 percent of all GHG emissions over the past 200 years.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says that expansion of agriculture, especially for export crops such as GMO soybeans (primarily for animal feed) in Latin America, or palm oil (for biofuels and processed food) in Asia, accounts for 70-90 percent of global deforestation.

Worldwide, industrial agriculture is pushing into grasslands, wetlands and forests, destroying what were previously carbon-sequestering forests and grasslands. Food and farming’s contribution to deforestation thus accounts for 15-18 percent of global GHG emissions.

Over the next 50 years we need to preserve the forests we have left, and plant and nurture a trillion or more new trees. Since the areas of tropical forest deforestation are also the areas of greatest poverty and unemployment, reforestation and forest restoration can provide several hundred million jobs to those local residents and forest dwellers who need them most.

Food transport/food miles: 5 to 6 percent

Globally it is generally agreed that transportation accounts for 20-25 percent of all GHG emissions. According to the ETC group, “we can conservatively estimate that the transportation of food accounts for a quarter of global GHG emissions linked to transportation, or 5-6 percent of all global GHG emissions.” In the U.S. it is commonly estimated that the average food item in your grocery store or restaurant has travelled 1,500 miles before it reaches its final destination. Multi-ingredient processed foods, burn up even more food miles.

If we are to significantly reduce global emissions we will need to drastically reduce the food miles and carbon footprint of our food purchases and focus on fresh non-processed or minimally processed and packaged food produced locally and regionally, including food produced through urban agriculture. Before the second World War most food consumed in the U.S. and other industrialized nations came from a 100-mile radius of where people lived. During the Second World War, 40-50 percent of all food consumed by Americans came from urban “Victory Gardens,” while 30 percent of all food in Great Britain similarly came from urban gardens.

Food processing/packaging: 8 to 10 percent

Food processing has become a major part of the industrial food chain. In the U.S. , the overwhelming majority of food purchased in grocery stores or restaurants (70 percent) is processed food.

ETC group states that the “ . . . transformation of foods into ready-made meals, snacks and beverages requires an enormous amount of energy, mostly in the form of carbon. So does the packaging and canning of these foods. Processing and packaging enables the food industry to stack the shelves of supermarkets and convenience stores with hundreds of different formats and brands, but it also generates a huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions—some 8 to 10 percent of the global total.”

More and more consumers are recognizing that highly processed food, whether served at home or in fast food restaurants is bad for our health, and that wasteful packaging, misleading advertising and plastic bags and packages are harmful both to our health (especially children’s health) and to our environment, including the oceans.

This awareness has caused a boom in sales of fresh organic produce and animal products in natural and organic food stores and farmer’s markets. Many cities and even entire nations are now moving toward banning plastic bags. Unfortunately, U.S. consumers still spend almost half of their food dollars eating in restaurants and fast food outlets where highly processed, packaged foods dominate the menu. Similarly, in schools and cafeterias pre-cooked processed foods delivered by food service conglomerates have displayed hand-cooked meals prepared from fresh ingredients.

If we are to reduce the 8-10 percent of global fossil fuel emissions coming from food processing and packaging we will need to get back to healthy, organic, regionally produced foods, cooked from scratch with natural ingredients. This will not only benefit our health but will also be better for the health of the climate and the environment.

Food refrigeration & retail: 2 to 4 percent

Approximately 15 percent of all global electricity consumption is for cooling and refrigeration. Of course global food sourcing depends upon keeping fresh produce and animal products cold.

As ETC group says: “Considering that cooling is responsible for 15 percent of all electricity consumption worldwide, and that leaks of chemical refrigerants are a major source of GHGs, we can safely say that the refrigeration of foods accounts for some 1-2 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions. The retailing of foods accounts for another 1-2 percent.”

Again, reducing our food miles, buying locally and regionally—this is not only good for the planet, but good for our health and the economic well-being of our local farmers and ranchers as well. Until the electricity grid is converted over to renewable energy, food refrigeration, and refrigeration in general (especially air conditioning), will continue to belch out an unsustainable amount of greenhouse gases.

In the meantime we can all do our part, not only by turning down our thermostats, but by buying fresh foods produced locally and regionally, pressuring politicians to require local purchasing for schools and institutions, or better yet, by growing some of our own.

Throwing food into landfills instead of composting 3 to 4 percent

Our industrial food and farming system currently discards 30-50 percent of all the crops and the food that is produced. Not only is this a prodigious waste of the fossil fuel energy and labor involved in producing this food, but the food waste itself generally ends up in garbage dumps and landfills, (rather than being converted into compost) releasing substantial amounts of methane and other GHGs.

Quoting again from ETC Group: “Between 3.5-4.5 percent of global GHG emissions come from waste, and over 90 percent of these are produced by materials originating within the food system.”

Our planet has five pools or repositories where greenhouse gases are absorbed and stored: the oceans, the atmosphere, the soils, vegetation (plants, especially perennial plants, grasses, and forests) and hydrocarbon deposits.

Our global challenge over the next 25 years is to stop putting more carbon into the atmosphere and the oceans, leave the remaining fossil fuels (oil, coal, uranium, and natural gas) in the ground, and move a critical mass of excess atmospheric carbon (250 billion tons of carbon) back into the soil, by transitioning to regenerative food, farming and land-use practices. By doing this we will not only be able to reverse global warming—we’ll also produce healthier food and healthier people.

 

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

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams

How Regenerative Agriculture ‘Supplements’ Health

Myriad regenerative agriculture conferences are popping up, complete with bucolic photos of lush grazing lands. Some of the health and nutrition industry’s champions are investing in a movement that is capturing hearts. Young men and women are stepping into ranching and farming to make a difference, carefully tending to the limited resources we have for the sake of our food supply and the generations to come. It is reminiscent of the dietary supplement movement at its inception, driven by a mission to maximize nature’s restorative health attributes.

Photo credit: Unsplash

On the surface, this movement seems to have little relation to the integrity of the dietary supplement supply chain. “Dig” a little deeper into the issues relating to soil health, and you’ll find that the connection to nutrient health is profound, and science is moving quickly to ascertain the impact of these practices on nutrient density.

KEEP READING ON NATURAL PRODUCTS INSIDER

Revisiting a Geography of Hope

To be a farmer, at any point in history, means you grow food. You steward the land—soil, water, air, energy, plants, and animals—and make a living from its increase. It seems simple, at least in purpose, if not in practice: Grow good food. Now, in the twenty-first century, awareness is growing that we depend on farmers for more than food. We need farmers and their farmland to sequester carbon, to buffer against floods, and to provide wildlife habitat. Perhaps less evidently, we also need farms to inspire us with their beauty, to cultivate our respect and awe of the more-than-human, and to light the pathways to a more just and prosperous world.  

This is a lot to ask of farmers, but the scope of climate change and biodiversity loss demands more than isolated solutions such as limiting emissions and protecting forests can accomplish.

KEEP READING ON CENTER FOR HUMANS & NATURE

Regenerative Agriculture: A Better Way to Farm?

Twelve years ago, Ryan Boyd faced a wreck that changed the way he farms today.

“I had big plans,” said Boyd, who farms with his wife and parents north of Brandon, Man. “We had a nice crop coming, and then the weather went against us and the markets dropped.

“The long and short of it was we had a bad year, and I figured we needed to make some changes if I was going to carve a living out on the farm.”

Photo credit: Unsplash

For Boyd, that meant shifting some of the practices on their 2,000-acre mixed farm to be more sustainable.

“We’re trying to practise what we would call regenerative agriculture — trying to build a profitable, resilient system that’s maintaining a good level of production while reducing the amount of inputs we’re relying on,” Boyd said while hosting a group of visiting farm journalists last month.

KEEP READING ON ALBERTA FARMER EXPRESS

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

Organic Agriculture Can Feed the World

Organic agriculture practices are often blamed for being unsustainable and not able to feed the world. In fact, several high-profile advocates of conventional agricultural production have stated that the world would starve if we all converted to organic agriculture. They have written articles for science journals and other publications saying that organic agriculture is not sustainable and produces yields that are significantly lower than conventional agriculture.

Thus, the push for genetically modified organisms, growth hormones, animal- feed antibiotics, food irradiation and toxic synthetic chemicals is being justified, in part, by the rationale that without these products the world will not be able to feed itself.

Photo credit: Pexels

Ever since Thomas Malthus wrote An Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798 and first raised the specter of overpopulation, various experts have been predicting the end of human civilization because of mass starvation.

The theme was popularized again by Paul Ehrlich in his 1968 book, The Population Bomb. According to Ehrlich’s logic, we should all be starving now that the 21st century has arrived: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines; hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.”

The only famines that have occurred since 1968 have been in African countries saddled with corrupt governments, political turmoil, civil wars and periodic droughts. The world had enough food for these people — it was political and logistical events that prevented them from producing adequate food or stopped aid from reaching them. Hundreds of millions of people did not starve to death.

The specter of mass starvation is being pushed again as the motive for justifying GMOs. In June 2003, President Bush stated at a biotechnology conference, “We should encourage the spread of safe, effective biotechnology to win the fight against global hunger.”

We must now ask ourselves: Is global hunger due to a shortage of food production?

In this first decade of the 21st century, many farmers around the world are facing a great economic crisis of low commodity prices. These low prices are due to oversupply.

Current economic theories hold that prices decrease when supply is greater than demand.

Most of our current production systems are price driven, with the need for economies of scale to reduce unit costs. The small profit margins of this economic environment favor enterprises working in terms of large volume, and as a result the family farm is declining. Many areas of the United States and Australia have fewer farmers now than 100 years ago, and the small rural centers they support are disappearing. Hundreds of thousands of farmers have had to leave their farms in Argentina due to higher production costs and lower commodity prices. The sugar industry in Australia is on the verge of collapse for the same reason. Australian dairy farmers continue to leave the industry since deregulation forced down the prices they receive. Most of the major industrial countries are subsidizing their farmers so that their agricultural sectors do not collapse.

Europe, North America, Australia and Brazil are in the process of converting a large percentage of their arable land from food production to biofuels such as ethanol in an effort to establish viable markets for their farmers. The latest push in GMO development is BioPharm, in which plants such as corn, sugarcane and tobacco are modified to produce new compounds such as hormones, vaccines, plastics, polymers and other nonfood compounds. All of these developments will mean that less food is grown on some of the world’s most productive farmland.

Grain farmers in India have protested about cheap imports that are sending them deeper into poverty. Countries such as India and China, once considered as overpopulated basket cases, export large quantities of food. In fact, India, one of the world’s most populated countries, is a net food exporter in most years.

South American rainforests are cleared for pasture that is grazed with beef destined for the hamburger chains of North America. Once the soil is depleted, new areas are cleared for pasture and old, degraded areas are abandoned to weeds. In Asia, most of the forests are cleared for timber that is exported to the developed industrial economies. One of the saddest things about this massive, wasteful destruction of biodiversity is that very little of the newly cleared land is used to feed the poor. Most of this production of timber and beef is exported to the world’s richest economies.

The reality is that the world produces more than enough food to feed everyone and has more than enough suitable agricultural land to do it. Unfortunately, due to inefficient, unfair distribution systems and poor farming methods, millions of people do not receive adequate nutrition.

Can Organic Agriculture Feed the World?

Organic agriculture needs to be able to answer two major questions:

  1. Can organic agriculture produce high yields?
  2. Can organic agriculture get the food to the people who need it?

An editorial in New Scientist for February 3, 2001, stated that low-tech, sustainable agriculture is increasing crop yields on poor farms across the world, often by 70 percent or more. This has been achieved by replacing synthetic chemicals with natural pest control and natural fertilizers.

Professor Jules Pretty, director of the Centre for Environment and Society at the University of Essex, wrote, “Recent evidence from 20 countries has found more than 2 million families farming sustainably on more than 4-5 million hectares. This is no longer marginal. It cannot be ignored. What is remarkable is not so much the numbers, but that most of this has happened in the past 5-10 years. Moreover, many of the improvements are occurring in remote and resource-poor areas that had been assumed to be incapable of producing food surpluses.”

An excellent example of this type of agricultural extension has been published in the January 2003 World Vision News. Working in conjunction AusAID, World Vision linked farmers from the impoverished Makuyu community in Kenya with the Kenya Institute of Organic Farming (KIOF).

They arranged workshops where KIOF members taught the principles of organic farming, including compost making, preparing safe organic pesticides, organic vegetable gardening and organic care of livestock.

Maize yields increased by four to nine times. The organically grown crops produced yields that were 60 percent higher than crops grown with expensive chemical fertilizers.

The wonderful thing is that many of these farmers now have a surplus of food to sell, whereas previously they did not even have enough to eat. They are organizing marketing co-ops to sell this surplus.

The profits are going back to the community. They have distributed dairy goats, rabbits, hives and poultry to community members and have planted 20,000 trees, including 2,000 mangos. Several of the organic farmers are training many other farmers in the district and helping them to apply organic farming techniques to their farms.

The mood of the community has changed. They are now confident and empowered with the knowledge that they can overcome the problems in their community. These types of simple, community based organic agricultural models are what is needed around the world to end rural poverty and starvation, not GMOs and expensive toxic chemicals.

The Makuyu community in Kenya is not an isolated example. Professor Pretty gives other examples from around the world of increases in yield when farmers have replaced synthetic chemicals and shifted to sustainable/organic methods:

  • 223,000 farmers in southern Brazil using green manures and cover crops of legumes and livestock integration have doubled yields of maize and wheat to 4-5 tons/hectare.
  • 45,000 farmers in Guatemala and Honduras used regenerative technologies to triple maize yields to 2-2.5 tons/ha and diversify their upland farms, which has led to local economic growth that has in turn encouraged remigration back from the cities.
  • 200,000 farmers across Kenya as part of sustainable agriculture programs have more than doubled their maize yields to about 2.5 to 3.3 tons/ha and substantially improved vegetable production through the dry seasons.
  • 100,000 small coffee farmers in Mexico have adopted fully organic production methods and increased yields by half.
  • A million wetland rice farmers in Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam have shifted to sustainable agriculture, where group-based farmer field schools have enabled farmers to learn alternatives to pesticides and increase their yields by about 10 percent.

Nicolas Parrott of Cardiff University, U.K., authored a report entitled The Real Green Revolution. He gives case studies that confirm the success of organic and agroecological farming techniques in the developing world:

  • In Madhya Pradesh, India, average cotton yields on farms participating in the Maikaal Bio-Cotton Project are 20 percent higher than on neighboring conventional farms.
  • In Madagascar, SRI (System of Rice Intensification) has increased yields from the usual 2-3 tons per hectare to yields of 6, 8 or 10 tons per hectare.
  • In Tigray, Ethiopia, a move away from intensive agrochemical usage in favor of composting has produced an increase in yields and in the range of crops it is possible to grow.
  • In the highlands of Bolivia, the use of bonemeal and phosphate rock and intercropping with nitrogen-fixing lupin species have significantly contributed to increases in potato yields.

One of the most important aspects of the teaching farmers in these regions to increase yields with sustainable/organic methods is that the food and fiber is produced close to where it is needed and in many cases by the people who need it. It is not produced halfway around the world, transported, and then sold to them.

Another important aspect is the low input costs. Growers do not need to buy expensive imported fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. The increase in yields also comes with lower production costs, allowing a greater profit to these farmers.

Third, the substitution of more labor intensive activities such as cultural weeding, composting and intercropping for expensive imported chemical inputs provides more employment for local and regional communities. This employment allows landless laborers to pay for their food and other needs.

As in the example of the Makuyu community in Kenya, these benefits lead to a positive change in the wealth and the mood of the community. These communities are revitalized, proactive and empowered to improve their future.

Can Organic Agriculture Achieve High Yields in Developed Nations?

Since 1946, the advent of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, improved crop varieties and industrial paradigms are credited with producing the high yields of the “green revolution.” Because organic agriculture avoids many of these new inputs, it is assumed that it always results in lower yields.

Organic carrots.

The assumption that greater inputs of synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides are required to increase food yields is not accurate. In a study published in The Living Land, Professor Pretty looked at projects in seven industrialized countries of Europe and North America. He reported, “Farmers are finding that they can cut their inputs of costly pesticides and fertilizers substantially, varying from 20 to 80 percent, and be financially better off. Yields do fall to begin with (by 10 to 15 percent, typically), but there is compelling evidence that they soon rise and go on increasing. In the USA, for example, the top quarter of sustainable agriculture farmers now have higher yields than conventional farmers, as well as a much lower negative impact on the environment.”

Professor George Monbiot, in an article in the Guardian (August 24, 2000), wrote that wheat grown with manure has produced consistently higher yields for the past 150 years than wheat grown with chemical nutrients, in U.K. trials.

A study of apple production conducted by Washington State University compared the economic and environmental sustainability of conventional, organic and integrated growing systems in apple production. The organic system had equivalent yields to the other systems. The study also showed that the break-even point was nine years after planting for the organic system and 15 and 16 years, respectively, for conventional and integrated farming systems.

In an article published in the peer review scientific journal Nature, Laurie Drinkwater and colleagues from the Rodale Institute showed that organic farming had better environmental outcomes as well as similar yields of both products and profits when compared to conventional, intensive agriculture.

Gary Zimmer, one of the American pioneers of biological farming, runs an organic dairy farm with his son in Wisconsin. In 2000 one of his remineralized alfalfa (lucerne) fields produced a yield four times greater than the average for the district. He has increased the nutrient value of pasture by 300 percent and currently calves 150 cows every year without a single health problem.

Dick Thompson, a founding member of the Progressive Farmers of Iowa, engages in organic farm research in conjunction with the University of Iowa, the Rodale Institute and the Wallace Institute. He obtains some of the highest yields in his district using composts, ridge-tilling and crop rotations.

The innovative system of rotationally grazing several species of animals developed by Joel and Theresa Salatin of Polyface Farm in Virginia is one of the best examples of a high-yield organic system. They use 100 acres of dryland pasture to cell-graze cattle, sheep, pigs, meat chickens, laying hens, turkeys, pheasants and rabbits.

Their system is based on native pastures, without cultivation or new, “improved” pasture species. The only input has been the feed for the poultry.

This multi-species rotational grazing system builds one inch of soil a year and returns the family 15 times the income per acre than is received by neighboring farms using a set stocking of cattle.

Steve Bartolo, president of the Australian Organic Sugar Producers Association, produced similar yields of commercial sugar per hectare from his organic Q124 cane and his conventional cane in 2002. The average yield of sugar for his best organic cane “achieved higher tonnes per hectare compared to the average of all conventionally grown Q124.”

Greg Paynter, an organic farmer who works for the Queensland Department of Primary Industries, conducted the organic section of grain comparison trials at Dalby Agricultural College in 2002. The organic wheat produced 3.23 tonnes to the hectare compared to the conventional wheat yield of 2.22 tonnes. This trial was conducted during one of the worst droughts on record.

Graham McNally of Kialla Farms, one of Australia’s significant organic pioneers, consistently achieves yields comparable to those of the conventional farms in his region.

Dr. Rick Welsh of the Henry A. Wallace Institute reviewed numerous academic publications comparing organic and conventional production systems in the United States. The data showed that the organic systems were more profitable. This profit was not always due to premiums, but was instead a result of lower production and input costs as well as more consistent yields. Dr. Welsh’s study also showed that organic agriculture produces better yields than conventional agriculture in adverse weather events, such as droughts or higher-than-average rainfall.

Will GMOs Feed the World?

Argentina is a good example of what happens when a country pursues the policies of market deregulation and GMO crops. It is the third-largest producer of GMO crops, with 28 percent of the world’s production. By the 1999-2000 season, more than 80 percent of the total soybean acreage, or 6.6 million hectares, had been converted to GMOs. These are some of the results according to a study published by Lehmann and Pengue in theBiotechnology and Development Monitor:

  • Declining profit margins — prices for soybeans declined 28 percent between 1993 and 1999.
  • Farmers’ profit margins fell by half between 1992 and 1999, making it difficult for many to pay off bank loans for machinery, chemical inputs and seeds.
  • A 32 percent decrease in producers — between 1992 and 1997, the number of producers dropped from 170,000 to 116,000, meaning 54,000 farmers were forced to leave the industry.
  • At least 50 percent of the acreage is now managed by corporate agriculture.
  • There is an increasing role of transnational companies in the agricultural sector.
  • Industrialization of grain and soybean production has boosted dependence on foreign agricultural inputs and increased foreign debt.
  • Removal of import tariffs led to the bankruptcy of domestic farm machinery manufacturers and a loss of employment.
  • The commercial seed sector has become increasingly controlled by subsidiaries of transnational corporations.

Since the above data was published, the Argentinean economy collapsed, causing riots and the resignations of several governments. The country is now currently in deep debt, with its economy under the control of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Its standard of living has declined, and thousands more farmers have been forced off their farms. Rural and urban poverty and hunger has increased.

According to Caritas Argentina, the social services agency of the Catholic Church in that country, over 40 percent of all Argentinean children are now undernourished: “World Health Organization standards for daily caloric intake are unmet for nearly 40 percent of Argentinean children under 18, and for up to half in the poorer northeast region of the country. Even in the comparatively wealthy capital city Buenos Aires, at least 19 children have died of malnutrition in recent months.”

If GMOs cannot feed the children in the country that is the world’s third largest producer of GMO crops, how will they feed the rest of the world?

Conclusion: Organic Agriculture Can Feed the World

The data thus shows that it is possible to obtain very good yields using organic systems. This is not uniform at the moment, with many organic growers not yet producing at the levels that are achievable.

Education on the best practices in organic agriculture is a cost-effective and simple method of ensuring high levels of economically, environmentally and socially sustainable production where it is needed.

Organic agriculture is a viable solution to preventing global hunger because:

  • It can achieve high yields.
  • It can achieve these yields in the areas where it is needed most.
  • It has low inputs.
  • It is cost-effective and affordable.
  • It provides more employment so that the impoverished can purchase their own needs.
  • It does not require any expensive technical investment.

It costs tens of millions of dollars and takes many years to develop one genetically modified plant variety. This money would be spent far more productively on organic agricultural education, research and extension in the areas where we need to overcome hunger and poverty.

Organic agriculture is the quickest, most efficient, most cost-effective and fairest way to feed the world.

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.

Reposted with permission from Eco-Farming Daily

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

As Climate Changes, Himalayan Farmers Return to Traditional Crops

Climate change is making food production harder for communities in the Indian Himalayas. Over the past few decades, there have been significant changes including higher temperatures, lower rainfall and more extreme and unpredictable weather.

Making sure communities have the food they need is key. Not just in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals’ target of zero hunger, but to make sure the Himalayas can withstand the challenges created by climate change. This requires agricultural systems that sustain natural resources, biodiversity and traditional crop varieties that give options for adaptation.

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and its partners, Lok Chetna Manch in Ranikhet, Uttarakhand, and the Centre for Mountain Dynamics in Kalimpong, West Bengal, have been conducting participatory action-research  with a number of traditional farming villages.

These villages lie in the central Himalayas’ Almora district, and Lepcha and Limbu villages near Kalimpong in the eastern Himalayas. The research is part of an EU-funded project, Smallholder Innovation for Resilience (SIFOR), which is designed to understand and strengthen the role of traditional biodiverse farming in food security and climate adaptation.

KEEP READING ON THE THIRD POLE

Restoring Land Means Restoring Communities

Author: Alaina Spencer | Published: July 2018

Wood Turner, Senior Vice President of Agriculture Capital, believes we are at a pivotal time in food production: “We’re at a point where we are trying to produce so much food for so many people, that it’s absolutely critical that large producers and managers of large acreage move aggressively into responsible farming. By responsible, I mean I’m articulating a broad view that ranges anywhere from organic to sustainable to regenerative farming.”

Agriculture Capital is trying to expand responsible food production methods by investing in farmland and food processing to “build consumer driven, vertically integrated, appropriately scaled and regenerative businesses that support the planet and communities.” In his role, Turner focuses his time integrating and bringing to life the company’s various sustainability strategies to help find solutions to large-scale environmental problems through responsible and regenerative agriculture. Agriculture Capital will release their 2018 Impact Report later this summer to inspire “conversation around the regenerative management of land in permanent crop agriculture.”

KEEP READING ON FOOD TANK