The last few years have not been good for the factory farm industry. High prices for corn and other crops (in part driven by the growth of ethanol) made feed costs incredibly high, while at the same time, environmental and animal welfare advocates have been winning ballot and marketplace battles to shift more meat production out of intensive confinement and industrial systems. Hog and cattle producers have been hit by disease, drought and weather related disasters, resulting in losses in both sectors.
The controversial Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA) was officially launched yesterday at the U.N. Climate Summit. The announcement came in the wake of rising criticism from civil society, including IATP, about the intentionally vague term “climate smart” versus the more established science of agroecology, as well as the corporate-led participation of GACSA.
The agriculture session of the summit, where GACSA was announced, took place late in the day, after countries had made their declarations and commitments. Earlier, President Obama began by naming climate change the defining issue of today—above terrorism, instability, inequality and disease. “Deepening science says this once-distant threat has moved firmly into the present,” he said, adding that “we need to work together as a global community to attack this global threat before it’s too late.”
Unfortunately, the president’s support of “Climate Smart Agriculture”—the latest corporate spin on false solutions—only contradicted his urgency as he, like GACSA, failed to bring agroecology into the fold. He said that the U.S. has helped farmers around the world practice Climate Smart Agriculture by planting “more resilient crops”—referring to seeds genetically modified to be drought resistant.
On Monday, the Carbon Underground, Rodale Institute and Organic Consumers Association held a press conference featuring leading scientists to explain why cutting emissions alone won’t solve climate change, and how nurturing healthier soil is an essential part of the climate solution. Speakers included “Coach” Mark Smallwood, the Executive Director of the Rodale Institute; Dr. Kristine Nichols, Chief Scientist at the Rodale Institute; Dr. Richard Teague, Professor at Texas A&M; Andre Leu, President of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM); Vandana Shiva, Founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy; Dena Hoff of La Via Campesina; and Tom Newmark, Co-Founder of the Carbon Underground.
The speakers had a powerful message to convey: we already have the tools to slow climate change. The metaphor used throughout the press conference was of a 400-pound man who visits a doctor hoping for advice on how to restore his health and the best solution the doctor offers is a diet plan that can slow the rate of weight gain. In this scenario, it’s obvious that the solution is not to slow the rate of weight gain, but to lose excess weight. The same applies to CO2 emissions: we not only need to slow the rate of emissions, but take CO2 out of the atmosphere. This is a task that regenerative organic agriculture (also called agroecology by many groups, including IATP) can achieve by building healthy soils to sequester carbon underground.
Nearly 70 scientists and scholars of sustainable agriculture and food systems sent an open letter to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) today, praising the organization for convening an International Symposium on Agroecology for Food and Nutrition Security. Given the multiple, overlapping challenges posed by continued food insecurity, rural poverty, climate change, drought and water scarcity, the letter calls for a solid commitment to agroecology from the international community.
In a new paper led by collaborators at Leuphana University Lueneburg (Germany) and just released in print in the scientific journal Frontiers in Ecology & the Environment, my colleagues and I question one of the buzzwords in international conversations about hunger and conserving the environment: sustainable intensification (SI). Explained briefly, sustainable intensification seeks to produce the most food, on the least land, with the lowest environmental impact.
SI has been the subject of a recent European Union report, proposals by prominent scholars, and is a major theme area of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. SI is often seen by some experts as “key” to agriculture’s future, particularly in Africa, and has been the subject of a number of high-profile publications in some of the world’s top scientific journals. It is, in short, an idea on the rise.
Extreme weather brought on by climate change will affect each community differently. Rural communities face particular challenges, as they often have higher transportation and energy costs, and their economy is frequently linked to agriculture—a sector directly impacted by a changing climate. But as we learned at the first Rural Climate Dialogue held in Morris, Minn., last week there are effective community-level options to respond to these climate concerns—as well as important opportunities for rural communities to be part of the climate solution.
The small town of Morris lies in west-central Minnesota along the Pomme de Terre River. This town of 5,000 is surrounded by farms, and is also home to the University of Minnesota-Morris. Last week, 15 Morris-area citizens came together for a remarkable conversation about climate change, how it is affecting their community and what can be done for the future. The citizens were part of a Citizens Jury process perfected and run by the Jefferson Center. The Citizens Jury is a randomly selected, but demographically representative group, who, over the course of three days, had access to independent resources and experts to produce their own recommendations that respond to the Morris-area community’s needs, priorities, concerns and values. As we reported earlier, Morris High School students played a critical role in assembling data for the meeting through a series of local energy surveys.
This week, IATP and the Jefferson Center will host the first Rural Climate Dialogue in Morris, Minnesota. This dialogue will convene a randomly chosen but demographically representative jury of 15 Morris citizens to discuss how they would like to handle the impacts of changing weather patterns and extreme weather events.
An important part of the work leading up to this dialogue took place at the Morris Area High School, as described in an earlier post. Students heard from University of Minnesota climatologist Mark Seeley (see picture) and other experts, disseminated surveys to their families and neighbors to create a map of Morris’ energy use patterns and gauge interest in renewable energy solutions, and discussed climate impacts and how they would like to see the Morris community respond.
Natasha Mortenson, the high school Agricultural Education teacher, said that “the whole experience changed the student’s outlook on climate change and sparked great conversation.” The students were excited as well, and a ninth grader stated, “I really thought about how climate change is going to affect my generation and those who will come after me so I am ready to do something.”
The public is welcome to attend the Rural Climate Dialogue later this week. Although participation is limited to the 15 citizens on the jury, anyone is invited to sit in on the conversations. The event will be held at the West Central Research and Outreach Center (46352 State Highway 329, Morris, MN) from June 12–14 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. each day. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Jump straight to IATP’s new report, Measuring Success: Local Food Systems and the Need for New Indicators.
In agriculture, policymakers, analysts and researchers often use a set of indicators to assess whether a farming system, or new technology, is succeeding. The most common indicators focus on increasing “yield,” often of a singular crop or animal unit, within large-scale production systems. The use of indicators focused almost exclusively on production helps to shape scientiﬁc research and public policy. But just as weight alone is not a good measure of human health, a single-minded focus on production is an inadequate measure of the health of a farming system. So long as yields are high, this narrow focus supports the illusion that our agricultural system is meeting the nutrition, health, environmental sustainability, rural development and other needs of the population.
Farming produces multiple products. The most obvious are food, feed, ﬁber and raw materials for conversion into other food and non-food products (such as energy, materials, etc.). Done right, farming also contributes to better soil health and water quality, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities and carbon storage. Unfortunately, less desired products are often produced as well, such as pollution to ground and surface water and air, with detrimental impacts to human and animal health.
Negotiating text on the EU-U.S. trade agreement leaked by the Huffington Post exposes the European Union’s hypocrisy when it comes to renewable energy and climate protection. Despite the moral and economic leadership that Europe claims around these issues, trade positions outlined by the E.U.’s negotiators (which are shared by their U.S. counterparts, as discussed previously) makes clear that these globally critical goals are less important than the potential profits of transnational companies. As explained in an excellent analysis of the leaked text by Sierra Club and the German organization PowerShift, the E.U. negotiators are very clear about their support for expansion of fossil fuel extraction and trade and imposing limits on national policies for and local benefits from renewable energy policy. The direct result is that renewable energy and green jobs programs around the world and here in the U.S., such as the Made in Minnesota Solar Program, are now at risk.
The U.S. Global Change Research Program released their Third National Climate Assessment on May 6; compiled by over 300 experts and peer reviewed by members of the public, climate change experts, federal agencies, and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences, the report details the impacts of climate change on the United States, including impacts on water, energy, transportation, agriculture, and human health, among other sectors.
One chapter of the report focuses on rural communities, which are at-risk to be disproportionately affected by the direct impacts of climate change because of their high dependence on natural resources. At the same time, rural communities have a limited capacity to invest in public infrastructure, decreasing their preparedness for climate impacts. The National Climate Assessment says it best: “Responding to additional challenges from climate change impacts will require significant adaptation within rural transportation and infrastructure systems, as well as health and emergency response systems. Governments in rural communities have limited institutional capacity to respond to, plan for, and anticipate climate change impacts.”