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How To Fix A Food System That’s Not Designed To Feed People

Earlier this year, Americans learned what it looks like when a food system reliant on industrial agriculture, near monopolies and exploited laborers breaks down.

Just two months into the pandemic, the meat industry in the most powerful nation in the world was buckling.

In March and April, COVID-19 swept through meatpacking plants, infecting thousands of workers. In Colorado, an outbreak at a huge JBS beef processing facility killed six workers. In South Dakota, as cases surged in a Smithfield pork plant, officials offered bonuses to employees who kept coming to work (although the company said any worker missing work due to COVID-19 exposure or diagnosis would still get the money). By November, more than 11,000 Tyson Foods workers had been diagnosed with COVID-19 ― 9% of its total workforce.

“It was like drinking out of a fire hose,” said reporter Leah Douglas, who began tracking COVID-19 outbreaks across the food system in April. “The pace of the spread was so intense.”

Why Agroecology, not Agribusiness, Will Save Our Food System

The global food system needs transforming, and family farmers can get us there. With centuries of knowledge in sustainable agriculture, farmers innovate daily to adapt and respond to the existential crises of COVID-19 and climate change. For our organization, ActionAid USA, showing up for farmers means standing up to the political leaders who claim to represent them but instead align with agribusiness.

Over the past year, Donald Trump’s Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies in Rome, agribusiness baron Kip Tom, has unleashed repeated attacks on the UN Food and Agricultural Organization for discussing how agroecology can improve food security.

While it is hardly surprising to see the Trump administration taking shots at multilateralism or pushing corporate interests, Tom’s comments reveal how threatened agribusinesses are by the movements of farmers and workers to create a global food system for all.

The ambassador’s latest attack comes in an op-ed, in which he vilifies agroecology, accuses agroecology of spreading the locust invasion in African countries, and preys upon people’s worst fears of hunger. These statements are dangerous at worst, baseless at best.

According to Tom, agroecology is part of a global conspiracy in which nongovernmental organizations trick developing countries into rejecting genetically modified crops and synthetic chemical inputs, thereby depriving them of these technologies and keeping them poor.

He calls for the U.S. to reclaim its role in leading and spreading the so-called “Innovation Imperative” for agriculture, meaning the administration and U.S. agribusiness companies should take more control over land and agriculture.

It’s alarming to hear a diplomat make such an inaccurate, neo-colonialist pronouncement, ignoring the reality of family farmers and people who face hunger around the world.

The ambassador’s version of the Green Revolution fails to count the environmental and human cost. Tons of pesticides have poisoned both water and people and have robbed the soil of its ability to regenerate. Farmers everywhere have been forced to take on insurmountable levels of debt to afford the proprietary and expensive technology he touts as miraculous.

In the U.S., farmers are paying out-of-pocket for the massive mechanization and industrialization of agriculture that dismantle small farms in favor of large monoculture. In India, far too many farmers fall into debt after adopting high-cost, high-tech solutions and attempt suicide, seeing no other way out.

Tom also blames agroecology’s aversion to pesticides for causing the locust outbreaks. This accusation is false. Pest management is an important part of farming, including agroecology, and the massive use of chemical pesticides provokes further problems as they remain in the soil and water for long periods and are dangerous to humans, livestock, fauna, and the whole environment.

It’s clear that the factors leading to the locust outbreak, including cyclones, favorable climate favorable conditions for swarms, COVID-19 measures restricting movement, and the lack of permanent infrastructure to respond quickly, have nothing to do with agroecology. On the contrary, agroecology can revert some of these factors by building a more diversified and resilient agricultural system.

As for Tom’s claim that we can’t feed the world farming this way, it ignores the reality that most people already depend on smallholder farmers for their food. Across developing countries, an estimated 500 million smallholder farms support almost 2 billion people. These farms produce about 80 percent of the food consumed in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Tom wants you to believe agroecology is anti-technology. Yes, millions of small-scale food producers want to farm in harmony with nature. But they don’t reject technology. What they reject is highly priced, patented technology that locks them into a cycle of debt to agribusiness companies. They reject the power agribusiness has amassed in developed countries to dictate agricultural policy.

As CEO of Tom Farms, one of Bayer-Monsanto’s biggest seed growers, the ambassador speaks for powerful interests beyond the high-tech industry and big agribusiness that promise great benefits for the few that can afford them, at the expense of the poorest people and the environment. Tom also has the backing of an administration that tried to block progress on agroecology at last year’s UN Committee for World Food Security meetings. Under their logic, those who gain are not farmers but the shareholders of big corporations.

Family farmers are clear: if we are going to protect our planet and keep healthy food on our table, agroecology is the way forward.

And they aren’t alone.

In a report comparing sustainable agriculture approaches, the High-Level Panel of Experts recognized how “agroecology practices harness, maintain and enhance biological and ecological processes in agricultural production, in order to reduce the use of purchased inputs that include fossil fuels and agrochemicals and to create more diverse, resilient and productive agroecosystems.”

The movement for agroecology is growing, built on the logic that power should be distributed equally. That’s why aggressive opponents to agroecology like Tom are firing back. They’re scared.

 

Reposted with permission from Food Tank

The Importance of a Regenerative Food System for Sustainable Agriculture

A regenerative food system focuses on feeding humanity without depleting the Earth. It is a holistic systems approach, stressing the importance of finding solutions that address problems collectively.

There is no single definition of regenerative agriculture, but most people agree that regenerative farming includes things such as no-till farming, cover crops, perennial and native plants, integrated livestock and crop diversity. Building a regenerative food system is vital to feeding humanity while also repairing damaged ecosystems. In the face of climate change, a regenerative food system will create resiliency by localizing economies, sequestering carbon and building greater food security.

Carbon Sequestration

One of the main benefits of a regenerative food system is the ability to sequester carbon. Agriculture is a top contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and industrialized agriculture has a serious carbon footprint. Soil erosion and nutrient depletion are also two common side effects of conventional agriculture.

Utilizing techniques such as cover crops and no-till growing help sequester carbon, keeping carbon in the soil instead of releasing it into the atmosphere.

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Reginaldo y la Revolución de las Gallinas

Reginaldo no habla desde un “yo”, sino desde un “nosotros”. Él sabe que en un mundo individualista, la verdadera revolución son los proyectos colectivos para el bien común.

Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquín nació y creció en Petén, en una familia de 13 hermanos. Como las mayorías en este país, su familia vivió al borde, en la supervivencia, en pobreza extrema.

En la Cumbre de Migrantes en 2017 y en diversos espacios, Reginaldo ha presentado el proyecto de la Revolución de las Gallinas.

Reginaldo comienza su charla diciendo que para hacer algo, es importante saber qué nos motiva. Dice que lo que a él le ha motivado es el hambre, la miseria, la pobreza. “Crecí en pobreza material, pero en gran riqueza espiritual”.

“No hay negocio más lucrativo que el que toma el control de una necesidad tan básica como lo es la alimentación. Ese el el origen de la agroindustria, no tiene nada que ver con la salud, sino con la acumulación de dinero, es en buena medida el sistema que domina hoy el mundo”.

SIGUE LEYENDO EN EL PERIODICO

UN Biodiversity Conference: UNDP Capacity-building Portal, Yucatán Peninsula Agreement on Sustainability 2030 Launched

Author: Elena Kosolapova | Published on: December 10, 2016

The first week of the UN Biodiversity Conference concluded with the launch of a UN Development Programme (UNDP) web portal to build capacity for biodiversity and ecosystem services, and the signing of the Yucatán Peninsula Agreement on Sustainability for 2030 (ASPY).

On Friday, 9 December, and Saturday, 10 December, the Rio Conventions Pavilion (RCP) addressed three themes: ‘Forest and Agriculture: Complementing the roles of agriculture and forestry to achieve socio-ecological and sustainable development priorities’; ‘Sustainable Food Systems for Biodiversity, Nutrition and Health’; and ‘Linking Public Health and Ecosystem Management: A One Health approach.’ Various side events took place throughout Friday and Saturday.

The Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (BES-Net) Web Portal launched on 9 December will be managed by the UNDP. BES-Net is a capacity-building “network of networks” that promotes dialogue in the science, policy and practice communities for more effective management of biodiversity and ecosystem services, contributing to long-term human well-being and sustainable development.

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Four Important Lessons from Cuba’s Urban Food Survival Strategy

Author: Aurel Keller

Cuba has come a long way since the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the loss of imports crucial for the island nation’s industrial agriculture system—such as chemical pesticides and fertilizers—left Cuba with a severe food crisis in the 1990s. Today, Cuba has become a regional leader in sustainable agricultural research. Within its practices and institutions lies a model for localized and small-scale urban agriculture.

With the loss of the Soviet market, which had imported sugar at subsidized prices, and the fall of global sugar prices in the late 1980s, sugar monoculture production in Cuba collapsed. Out of necessity, Cuba underwent a social, scientific, and economic push toward self-sufficiency. This shift required radical change for the authoritarian communist state as desperation and cooperation drove innovation in sustainable agriculture and urban farming. Although Cuba’s successes relied on country-specific policy adoptions and favorable geographic conditions, the country’s scientific frameworks and practices are widely applicable in other regions.

Reforms Propelled by the Government

Cuba’s success hinged on the adoption of Article 27 of the constitution in 1992, which recognized the state’s innate duty to ensure the sustainable use of resources and to protect the nation’s environment and people. The Cuban state and the Ministry of Agriculture instituted austerity measures, re-adjusting priorities and resources into support roles. State companies in many sectors became employee-owned co-ops, and small-farm distribution programs were greatly expanded. Realizing the need to meet the population’s basic food needs with limited resources, funding for agricultural research infrastructure was expanded to optimize low-input, small-scale farming. The government stepped back from direct management and worked with grassroots organizations and co-ops to provide support through extensive research partnerships to optimize and spread beneficial practices.

Grassroots Organizations and Co-ops Were Key

Grassroots organizations—representing small-scale farmers, animal producers, and agricultural and forest technicians—became essential in forming cooperatives and spreading services and education in Cuba. The small farmer organization, ANAP, has been active since the 1980s, working with farmers and the government to teach beneficial practices and create farmer’s cooperatives—groups of farmers who combine their resources and create employee-owned businesses that provide production, credit, and service assistance. Initially slow, the spread of farm co-ops grew once President Fidel Castro recognized their benefits, with official support commencing in 1987, and picked up speed as land-distribution and support programs expanded. Working with agricultural research outposts and universities, ANAP was instrumental in facilitating the extensive spread of research extension programs through its network, as well as propagating resulting improvements. Many peasant farmers were members of ANAP and participated in co-ops, successful to the point of producing 60 percent of produce on 25 percent of worked land in 2003.

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