sábado, octubre 10, 2009


In this issue...

In this special edition of Seedling we examine the role of the world’s farming and food systems both in causing the climate crisis and potentially in helping to resolve it. The link between the industrial food system and global warming is not often addressed directly, largely because of the way the statistics on the factors behind the climate crisis are generally presented, and some of our conclusions may well be surprising.

It is clear that the move away from traditional methods of farming to industrial agriculture and modern food production has been hugely important in creating the crisis. As we spell out in one of our main articles, the extensive use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, the expansion of the meat industry and the destruction of the world’s savannahs and forests to grow agricultural commodities are together responsible for about one third of the greenhouse gases that are causing global climate change. When you add to this the extraordinary amount of fossil-fuel energy used to transport commodities around the world, to process them, to freeze them and then finally to package and to distribute the final products to supermarkets, the food industry’s role in creating the crisis increases significantly. The global food system may well be responsible for almost half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

A return to agro-ecological farming on a massive scale would mitigate a large part of the present crisis. As all agronomists know, soils contain enormous amounts of carbon, mostly in the form of organic matter. The rise of industrial agriculture, with its use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, has provoked a huge depletion of this organic matter in the soil. Much of the lost matter has ended up in the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. As we demonstrate in our opening article, it would be possible to recapture this carbon dioxide by a wholesale return to agro- ecological farming. In about half a century (which is the same amount of time in which large-scale soil depletion has occurred) the lost organic matter could be reincorporated into the soils, capturing in the process more than two-thirds of the present excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Although it may already be too late to avert widespread environmental damage, such a strategy would offer the world a way out of the crisis.

Such a radical change in our farming methods would clearly require fundamental changes in what food we eat and how we produce it. The current anti-farmer policies, such as laws that foster the monopolisation and privatisation of seeds and regulations that protect corporations but kill off traditional food systems, would have to be dismantled. The current trends towards increased land concentration and the expansion of industrial farming would have to be reversed. Millions of farmers and farming communities would have to gain access to the land so that they could join in the task of restoring billions of tonnes of organic matter to the soil. It all adds up to a daunting political challenge.

Such an approach, based on tried-and-tested farming techniques developed by farming communities over millennia, would produce results. The obstacles it faces are political, not technical. Such confidence cannot be felt with respect to the plethora of new technical fixes (such as biochar, “climate-ready” genetically modified crops and the breeding of cows genetically engineered to produce less methane) that the corporate sector is developing as its response to the crisis. As is shown in another article in this issue, these so-called solutions may well create far more problems than they solve.

Time is running out, for the climate crisis is gaining momentum at an alarming rate. Climate change is already seriously affecting 325 million people a year – with 315,000 dying from hunger, illness and weather disasters induced by climate change. The annual death toll could well rise to half a million by 2030, with 10 per cent of the world’s population seriously affected. As a consequence of the increased stress induced by the climate crisis on soils, plants and animals, agricultural yields are expected to fall calamitously throughout the century, particularly in the warmer countries in the South. Such a scenario would inflict unimaginable suffering upon billions of people. It is high time to turn this situation around. In this issue of Seedling we show that it can be done, resulting in a healthier planet, improved soils and more sustainable agricultural production, more and better food, and vigorous rural communities.

The editor


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