Industrial agriculture ought to move away: agroecology is the only safe option

by Maria

It is pretty clear that the planet is increasingly warming up as we keep emitting carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels and extracting natural gas from the ground. Or at least it is pretty clear to more than half the world’s population who in recent decades have been dealing with periods of abnormal rainfall, intense floods and droughts, heat waves, and loss of biodiversity. While this half of the world’s population living in developing countries are forced to resist direct consequences of climate change, they are also trying to survive in an increasingly more violent capitalist market, which often leaves them without tools or resources to adapt to climatic impacts. Right now, it is virtually too late to repair the losses and damages mainly caused by developed nation’s expanded industrialization in the past century.

YES, still the question is basically how to get developed countries to reduce their carbon emissions by making them responsible for what they have done in the past and for their current emissions. YET, the question now is also: how do we adapt to a more and more challenging global climate change; but especially, how do developing countries, which are more vulnerable and less guilty for this situation, adapt to a global temperature increase of at least 2 Celsius in the upcoming decades?

 Since adaptation has come to be equally urgent as mitigation, the Cancun Adaptation Framework, adopted at COP16 Cancun in 2010 as part of the Cancun Agreements, is currently working on the implementation and the support (financial, technological, and capacity building) of adaptation actions; the establishment of global, national, and regional institutions for enhanced action on adaptations under principles that are coherent with the objectives of the Convention, while building transparency and inclusiveness for multiple stakeholders. The Adaptation Fund established by the Kyoto Protocol members, is meant to finance concrete adaptation projects and programmes in developing countries, (the fact that the Adaptation Fund is currently without monetary resources to work with is an image of the weak political will and ambition from developed countries.  We can talk about that later). Under the UNFCCC, what types of projects and initiatives must be included within the Cancun Adaptation Framework? Where are the funds from the Adaptation Fund really needed the most?

For agriculture in the Global North and South, adaptation to climate change means a radical change from the current trend. The urgency of building a resilient agricultural system exceeds the efforts currently made by developed countries to achieve it. Without an agricultural system that protects and restores natural resources, feeds the increasing global population with nutritious and healthy food, and restores the social and economic disparities among us all, we are walking faster and faster towards the destruction of life on Earth.

On one hand, 70% of the food produced in the world comes from the Global South lands, often from small-scale farmers. On the other hand, intensive conventional agriculture primarily thriving in the Global North is doing exactly everything to enhance climate change, plus is spreading like a disease over the Global South with fake promises of development and economic growth.

If we are aware enough to know that we need to pursue a resilient agriculture, we must demand that the principles under the Cancun Adaptation Framework and the existing financing opportunities under the Adaptation Fund, do not support in any possible way intensive conventional agriculture, including biofuels crop production, which seems to be the panacea for fossil fuel alternatives, however creating even more challenges to the achievement of food security and sustainable agriculture. You can read more about the list of negative impacts on food security from biofuel production in the High Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) report of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) here.

For example, an industrial agricultural business of blueberries in Maine, Wyman’s Blueberries in Cherryfield,  has 10,000 acres in production nowadays, and only 50 workers, who are in the majority migrant workers under deplorable labor conditions who, forced by the harsh social and economical conditions in their home countries (usually Mexico and Guatemala), migrate North to work on the fields. 10,000 acres and 50 workers. 20 years ago this same business employed 750 – 1,000 workers coming mostly from the same town as this business. This indicates that the use of machinery has come to replace manual labor, considerably decreasing the availability of jobs for local people. For this blueberry monoculture to thrive as a business, gallons of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers are sprayed over the soil, getting rid of plant and insect competition, contaminating soil organic matter, the internal structure of the blueberry bushes, and the water supply with toxic chemicals. These long lasting environmental damages are done while a large amount of money is spent on the used chemical inputs. The spraying must be done with tractors which have 100 miles of iron tubes which cut across the fields, spraying the land and beyond, while compacting the soil and, clearly, using hundreds of gallons of oil to work.

The land is being heavily tilled which leads to erosion and destruction of soil organic matter, forests are cut down, and bees for pollination are imported from different parts of the world costing a fortune and disturbing the natural ecosystem of both the bees’ colonies and the wild blueberry fields. Thousands of blueberries are harvested, processed at highly carbon-intensive factories and shipped around the world, out competing smaller or local businesses. What is the carbon footprint of this business? It seems not many people care about the answer, while the profits are unequally distributed, mostly ending up in the pockets of the managers of this corporation, the largest one in North America. Everything about this case, one of millions all over the developed countries and definitely not the worst, is working against a resilient agriculture and is, by all means, contributing to climate change. The Cancun Adaptation Framework and the Adaptation Fund must not promote intensive conventional agricultural businesses with the excuse that these would create better opportunities for development, food production, reduction of poverty and inequality, and much less, would alleviate climate change.

Instead, all adaptation efforts and investments for a resilient agriculture must be directed to agroecological practices, so that farmers can[1]: ensure the improvement of soil  health and fertility, preventing erosion and chemical runoff through different techniques like composting and cover cropping, while securing productivity. Additionally, ensure that farmers can abandon monocultures and diversify their crops, increasing biodiversity and making the crops more resilient to pests and diseases[2]. And ensure that farmers can find efficient water managements techniques that allow farmers to store rainfall, especially in regions where desertification and deforestation are big threats. To support and ensure that these agroecological methods can be put into place, adaptation within the Cancun Adaptation Framework and the Adaptation Fund must also be directed to the reduction of the impacts and risks of climate change to small-holders farmers by building the necessary infrastructure and communication channels – this often entails a financing and technological transfer from developed to developing countries, plus strengthening the research on agroecological methods acknowledging that many farmers, especially in developing countries, already have the knowledge in their hands.

Honestly, investing in agroecology is the most convenient and necessary option under the challenging climatic and social circumstances we are facing today, knowing that the impacts of climate change are going to become harder every day. Transforming the dominant conventional agricultural system into an agroecological one is a challenge that entails a radical change and a real effort from  grassroots, to national, governmental, institutional and the international community. An important place to start would be a top-down approach where the UNFCCC bodies mandate what actually needs to be done to reach such transformation. We must demand that at least from the UNFCCC Adaptation Fund and Cancun Adaptation Framework every effort and investment is going to agroecology, since it is already too late to think of other options.

 


 

[1] Ecological agriculture is climate resilient, TWN Briefing Paper, http://www.twnside.org.sg/title2/climate/briefings/durban01/twn_bp01_durban.pdf

[2] Integrated pest management: the push-pull approach for controlling insect pests and weeds of cereals, and its potential for other agricultural systems including animal husbandry, The Royal Society, Biological Sciencie, http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/363/1491/611.full

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