Rome Summit Takes Bold Step Toward Agroecology

Leaders endorse agroecology as one of the cutting-edge innovations we need to help small-scale farmers adapt to climate change.

The Climate Action Summit at the UN last month was widely considered a disappointment, failing to garner the kinds of government actions needed to address the climate crisis. Sadly, the same can be said for actions on agriculture and climate change, despite a well-publicized commitment of $790 million to “to enhance resilience of over 300 million small-scale food producers in the face of mounting climate impacts.”

That is not because the investment isn’t needed. It is, desperately. Small-scale farmers in developing countries are already bearing the brunt of climate change yet they have received little of the promised funding to help them adapt to drought, flooding, heat, and other climate changes.

These new initiatives won’t bridge that gap. Just as government actions to date are proving far too weak to address the climate emergency, these agriculture programs support familiar measures that have thus far failed to help small-scale farmers. Some measures have left them even more vulnerable to climate change.

Many recognized that business as usual, in the face of climate change, is not an option. They moved beyond the failed policies of the present, endorsing agroecology as the kind of innovation farmers need to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. We need a more decisive shift. Fortunately, government leaders took a major step in that direction gather in Rome next last week at for a different summit, the annual meetings of the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS). They will be discussing approved an expert report on agroecology, an innovative and cost-effective way a more promising innovation to  address rising hunger and malnutrition while helping farmers adapt to climate change. A host of recent UN reports calls for just this sort of break.

“Agroecology is the only solution we have to address the multiple crises we are facing,” said Aisha Ali Aii Shatou of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa to the government representatives at the summit.

When the solutions are part of the problem

The new $790-million agriculture initiative is driven by recommendations from the Global Commission on Adaptation (CGA), which is co-chaired by Bill Gates, former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva. Its report, “Adapt Now: A Global Call for Leadership on Climate Resilience,” has as one of its core initiatives enhancing the resilience of smallholder producers.

Unfortunately, the Commission largely doubles down on the misguided effort to “modernize” agriculture in developing countries by encouraging farmers to adopt precisely the sorts of fossil-fuel-intensive practices that have made agriculture one of the greatest contributors to global greenhouse-gas emissions. As I saw in researching my book, Eating Tomorrow, crop diversity and soil fertility often decline as a result.

In its recommendations, the commission includes agroecology only as an afterthought, warning that we need to improve “the evidence-base for the effectiveness of adopting different agroecological approaches” – as if we don’t know enough yet to act.

They clearly hadn’t read the new expert report on agroecology and other innovations for sustainable food systems, released July 3 by the CFS’s High Level Panel of Experts. The expert report, two years in the making, is clear on the urgent need for change. “Food systems are at a crossroads. Profound transformation is needed,” the summary begins. It goes on to present a wide range of evidence that such methods have been shown to simultaneously increase soil fertility, diet diversity, and food security for small-scale farmers.

Agroecology promotes just the kinds of soil-building practices that “agricultural modernization” often undermines. Multiple food crops are grown in the same field. Compost and manure, not fossil-fuel-based fertilizer, are used to fertilize fields. Biological pest control decreases pesticide use. Researchers work with farmers to improve the productivity of their seeds rather than replacing them with commercial seeds farmers need to buy every year and douse with fertilizer to make them grow. As the expert report documents, soil fertility increases over time, and so do food security and climate resilience.

Agroecology: a proven response to the failing policies of the present

The growing global interest in agroecology comes in response to the widespread failures of input-intensive programs like the Gates-inspired Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Fed by heavy doses of government subsidies for commercial seeds and synthetic fertilizers, AGRA has promoted monocultures of a few staple crops, decreased crop and diet diversity, undermined soil fertility, and produced disappointing gains in productivity and farmer incomes. Global Hunger Index scores remained in the “serious” to “alarming” category for 12 of the 13 AGRA countries.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in its influential report on “Climate Change and Land,” echoed the urgent need for change and the direction that change should take: “[I]ncreasing the resilience of the food system through agroecology and diversification is an effective way to achieve climate change adaptation….”

Fortunately, in Rome government leaders were forward-looking. Many recognized that business as usual, in the face of climate change, is not an option. They moved beyond the failed policies of the present, endorsing agroecology as the kind of innovation farmers need to adapt to a rapidly changing climate.

As African farmer Aisha Ali Aii Shatou told the summit, “Agroecology allows small-scale producers a dignified life, producing affordable, healthy food in healthy conditions. It eliminates dependence on costly inputs and adopts practices which regenerate seeds and soils while mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change.”

The CFS next year will take up the challenge of translating this visionary report into practical policies.

Author attended the UN’s Committee on World Food Security summit in Rome October 14-18 as a civil society delegate.

Timothy Wise

Timothy A. Wise directs the Land and Food Rights Program at the U.S.-based Small Planet Institute and is a Senior Researcher at Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Institute. Wise is the author of Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, and the Battle for the Future of Food (The New Press).

Originally published on
by

Save a species-rich wet meadow for wildlife

Here’s an opportunity not to be missed!  A crowd-funder set up by Rob Thomas.  His description as follows:

 

“This pair of small fields on the banks of the river Tamar on the Devon-Cornwall border is a precious surviving fragment of unimproved wet-meadow habitat that is rich in wildlife and conservation potential. We are seeking to raise £10-15,000 in order to bid for the site at auction on Tuesday 15th October.  The site is valuable for a range of flora and fauna, with habitat suitable for water shrews, marsh fritillary butterflies, and a wide range of plant life typical of this increasingly rare habitat. If saved, the site will be used as a base for conservation, environmental education, and as a seed-source for larger-scale wilding projects in the area. “

 

As of this morning (Oct 8)  £11,572 has been raised of the £15,000 goal.

To find out how to support the crowdfunder please click here

Movement Building workshop in Bristol October 19 2019

This from the organisers, Stir to Action

Are you a movement builder, or aspire to be one? Do you recognise the impact you can have when you think big about change? Have you faced challenges of getting hundreds or thousands of individuals and organisations to create, speak and act together? Do you want to add greater value to your movement?

This movement building workshop centres on The Social Change Agency’s Movement Building Canvas. The Canvas is a practical framework to help you, your team or interested stakeholders to design and improve your movement for maximum impact.

The Canvas is designed to help you to get to grips with the essentials of your movement. Who is a part of it, and who could be brought in? What do you stand for? Where are you taking the people who sign up? And what do you need to get going and keep moving?

Details to be found here

Unprocessed red meat and processed red meat consumption: the research review that calls official dietary guidelines into question

 

Johnston BC, Zeraatkar D, Han MA, et al. Unprocessed Red Meat and Processed Meat Consumption: Dietary Guideline Recommendations From the Nutritional Recommendations (NutriRECS) Consortium. Ann Intern Med. [Epub ahead of print 1 October 2019] doi: 10.7326/M19-1621

This from the BBC News report of the research:

The researchers – led by Dalhousie University and McMaster University in Canada – reviewed the same evidence others have looked at before.

The findings suggest if 1,000 people cut out three portions of red or processed meat every week for:

  • a lifetime, there would be seven fewer deaths from cancer
  • 11 years, there would be four fewer deaths from heart disease

And if every week for 11 years, 1,000 people cut out three portions of:

  • red meat, there would be six fewer cases of type 2 diabetes
  • processed meat, there would be 12 fewer cases of type 2 diabetes

The risks reported are broadly similar to what has been suggested before – but the interpretation of what they mean is radically different.

The researchers say:

  • the risks are not that big
  • the evidence is so weak, they could not be sure the risks were real

 

Environmental Audit Committee’s call to end support for fossil fuel energy projects oversees rejected by UK Gvt

Press Release (Monday September 30 2019)

Government rejects EAC’s call to end support for fossil fuel energy projects overseas and allows eleven times increase in “dirty” investment by UK Export Finance

The Environmental Audit Committee’s UK Export Finance Report published in June identified an ‘unacceptably high’ level of support for fossil fuel projects in poorer countries and called for an end to Government investment in new fossil fuel energy projects from 2021.

UK Export Finance’s Annual Report 2018-19, published later that month, revealed a ballooning in support for fossil fuel projects over a 12-month period.

Environmental Audit Committee Chair Mary Creagh MP said:

“It is unbelievable that, despite an elevenfold increase in support for fossil fuel energy projects last year, the Government has rejected our call to end taxpayer money being poured into new high carbon projects by 2021.

“We called for the Government to commit to only back British business export projects that support the UK’s climate goals. Their refusal to do so completely undermines the Government’s commitment to get to net zero emissions by 2050. “People expect their political leaders try to stop, not accelerate, the pace of climate breakdown.”

 

ENDS

 

UK Export Finance agreed to share with EAC the exact support figures for fossil fuels and renewable energy projects for 2018/19.

They show:

  • UKEF’s 2018/19 figures show support for fossil fuel energy projects increased eleven times from £183 million in 2017/18 to £2.049 billion maximum liability in 2018/19.
  • Support for renewable energy projects fell from £69 million to £46 million maximum liability.

 

Among key recommendations in UK Export Finance Report with Government Response:

ENDING FOSSIL FUEL INVESTMENT:

We recommend that UKEF’s fossil fuel investment should finish by the end of 2021.

At the very least, UKEF should follow Sweden’s Export Credit Corporation (SEK) in introducing a 5% cap on gross lending to fossil fuel operations (coal oil and gas) as a proportion of total support.

From Government response:

  • “To end UKEF’s support for fossil fuel projects by the end of 2021 would not achieve an effective or “just” transition for UK workers into the low carbon economy and would be too rapid to support the transition that the UK’s oil and gas industry is beginning to make towards lower carbon and renewable energy sources. ln developing countries, energy security is a key component for development and poverty alleviation and these countries will continue to need to use a mix of energy sources.”
  • “We would note that, in introducing its cap on fossil fuel support, SEK does not have the same “just transition” considerations as does the UK since Sweden does not have a significant oil and gas sector.”

TRANSITION TO NET ZERO:

UKEF to commit to only support British businesses in projects that support the UK’s climate goals.

From Government response:

  • “The projects UKEF supports can have positive developmental and climate impacts, however UKEF’s primary statutory mandate is to support UK exports. UKEF’s support is demand-led and provided where overseas buyers have chosen to procure from the UK supply chain and are seeking financing support.”

ALIGN UKEF’s WORK WITH NET ZERO EMISSIONS:

UK Government should set out how UKEF will work towards net-zero emissions by 2050 to show climate leadership and a willingness to align the UK’s domestic and international approaches to job creation and climate change.

From Government response:

  • “UKEF is working with other government departments to ensure that UKEF appropriately takes into account the UK’s international climate commitments, including the Paris Agreement, in its activities. However, the emissions released by UKEF supported projects overseas will be subject to the limitations imposed by the Nationally Determined Contributions agreed by host governments as part of their Paris Agreement commitments rather than any commitments made by the UK. The emissions from these projects are owned and managed by other countries and not the UK or UKEF.”

RINGFENCE MONEY TO SUPPORT DEVELOPING CLEAN TECHNOLOGIES:

UKEF returned £500m to the Treasury in the last 5 years. Noting that key technologies to achieve net-zero emissions are still to be developed fully, we recommend that Treasury ringfences at least 20% of money returned by UKEF from all historic category A (highest risk to environment) projects as well as all projects with forecast emissions of more than 25,000 tonnes of COequivalent per year, for at least the next ten years. This money should be invested in renewable energy and low-carbon transition research and development.

From Government Response:

  • “The Government recognises the importance of supporting renewable energy and low-carbon transition research and development, but does not agree with the proposed approach. Hypothecating income in this way would restrict our ability to respond flexibly to changing priorities or react quickly to unforeseen circumstances… The UK is already a world leader in clean growth.”

Link to: Government Response in full with letter from International Trade Secretary Liz Truss

 

Notes:

UK Export Finance (UKEF) is the operating name of the Exports Credits Guarantee Department, the UK’s export credit agency (ECA). Its mission is “to ensure that no viable UK export fails for lack of finance or insurance, while operating at no net cost to the taxpayer.” UKEF works with around 70 private credit insurers and lenders to help UK companies access export finance.

Over a five-year period, 21% of UKEF’s support (£2.6 billion) went to the energy sector.

“Land restoration the cheapest solution to climate change and biodiversity loss”

This from the Climate News Network

Unless nations act now to halt the spread of deserts, they may face wars over food shortages and starvation by mid-century, the UN says.

DELHI, 26 September, 2019 − A stark warning that the exposure of more and more people to water scarcity, hunger and outright starvation may lead to the “failure of fragile states and regional conflicts” has been given by the United Nations as it attempts to galvanise governments into halting the spread of deserts before more cropland is lost.

The climate summit in New York was presented with a plan to try to halt the annual loss of 12 million hectares (30mn acres) of productive land caused by the nations which are parties to the UN’s Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which recently ended a high-level meeting here.

The plan was the list of actions nations agreed at the meeting of more than 190 countries to attempt to reverse the spread of land degradation that the UN estimates will displace 135 million people by 2045. The battle to halt the spread of deserts is seen by the UN as an integral part of the international effort to halt climate change.

How successful the new plans will be remains to be seen, as although  the Convention, like the Climate Change Convention, has been in existence since the last century, the problems continue to get worse. However, all the countries involved now have national plans to halt land degradation and restore croplands and forests.

One of the key new promises made at the Delhi meeting, which ended on 13 September, was to grant land tenure to groups to give them an incentive to protect soils and the ability of the land to grow crops.

“Land restoration is the cheapest solution to climate change and biodiversity loss”

Delegates also agreed to improve the rights of women, promote land restoration and reduce land-related carbon emissions, both from poor soil management and the destruction of trees. New ways of financing these schemes from government and private sources were proposed.

The scale of the problem is enormous. Close to a quarter of global land is almost unusable, and by the middle of the century humans will need to produce twice as much grain as they do today to keep up with global population growth, the UNCCD says.

At the closing session Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the UNCCD, said: “Land restoration is the cheapest solution to climate change and biodiversity loss; land restoration makes business sense if we have regulations and incentives to reward investment.”

In addition, he said, preparing for the increasing number of droughts and coping with them are critical in the face of climate change. He emphasised the need to involve young people and women and to secure land rights.

However, despite the adoption of the New Delhi Declaration, in which ministers and delegates expressed support for new initiatives or coalitions aiming to improve human health and well-being and the health of ecosystems, and to advance peace and security, there were dissenting voices at the conference.

Dilution and omissions

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said in a statement: “The New Delhi Declaration has diluted the role of international funding bodies in combating desertification. It has also sidestepped the contentious issue of tenure rights to land.”

The CSE said the statement had removed any mention of the Green Climate Fund, the Global Environment Facility and the Adaptation Fund  from the Declaration and there were no mentions of specific measures that could be used for adaptation nor, in fact, the word “adaptation” itself. Countries were left to develop their own plans.

Local politics also plays an important part in creating the problem. For example, across South Asia severe drought areas are used for water-guzzling crops such as sugarcane, or for very large monoculture plantations for palm oil or rubber.

Some speakers felt it was going to be an uphill struggle for poorer countries to get funding for restoring degraded land.

Early warning systems, climate-resilient infrastructure, improved dry land agriculture, mangrove protection and investments in making water resources more resilient were all vital. Adapting to land degradation and climate change was in everyone’s strong economic self-interest, Thiaw said. − Climate News Network

EFRACOM to cross question SoS Theresa Villiers on preparations for a no-deal Brexit for food and farming Sept 9 2019

House of Commons  Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee

New Environment Secretary to appear before Committee on preparations for a No Deal Brexit

The new Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers will appear before the EFRA Select Committee for the first time on Monday 9 September to discuss DEFRA’s readiness for Brexit, including contingency planning for a no-deal Brexit. Issues the session may cover include the Government’s reported plans for emergency support to farmers in the event of a no-deal, and the impact on the price and availability of food.

This is the evidence session that was originally scheduled for Wednesday 4 September.

Witnesses

Monday 9 September, Room 8, at 3pm:

  • Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • Tamara Finkelstein, Permanent Secretary, DEFRA

 

 

Increasing organic stocks in agricultural soils: Knowledge gaps and potential innovations

This from Soil and Tillage Research

 

Abstract as follows:

Recent initiatives, such as the United Nations declaring 2015 as the International Year of Soils and the French « 4 per 1000 » initiative call attention on soils and on the importance of maintaining and increasing soil organic matter stocks for soil fertility and food security, and for climate change adaptation and mitigation. We stress that soil organic carbon storage (i.e. an increase of soil organic carbon stocks) should be clearly differentiated from soil organic carbon sequestration, as the latter assumes a net removal of atmospheric CO2. Implementing management options that allow increasing soil organic carbon stocks at the local scale raises several questions, which are discussed in this article: how can we increase SOC stocks, at which rate and for how long; where do we prioritize SOC storage; how do we estimate the potential gain in C and which agricultural practices should we implement? We show that knowledge and tools are available to answer many of these questions, while further research remains necessary for others. A range of agricultural practices would require a re-assessment of their potential to store C and a better understanding of the underlying processes, such as no tillage and conservation agriculture, irrigation, practices increasing below ground inputs, organic amendments, and N fertilization. The vision emerging from the literature, showing the prominent role of soil microorganisms in the stabilization of soil organic matter, draw the attention to more exploratory potential levers, through changes in microbial physiology or soil biodiversity induced by agricultural practices, that require in-depth research.

Regenerative Agriculture

by Ian Perkin* 

Regenerative Agriculture is a system of holistic land management practices that leverage the power of photosynthesis in plants to close the carbon cycle, and build soil health, crop resilience and nutrient density. It can be defined as a system of farming principles and practices that increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves watersheds and enhances ecosystem services.(International 2018)

“Regenerative Agriculture” describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.(Massy 2017)

Regenerative agriculture is firmly based on principles described by Massy, Yeomans, Andrews, Savory, Tudge, Berry, Ikerd and many others.

Charles Massy describes regenerative agriculture as more than just sustaining something, but rather an active rebuilding or regeneration of existing systems towards full health. (Massy 2017) The term regenerative agriculture began to be used in the late 1980’s to describe agricultural systems that go beyond sustainability towards regeneration (Massy 2017) and is a term that covers a broad spectrum of agricultural and land management activities.  Charles Eisenstein, taking a bigger picture view describes regenerative agriculture as more than a shift of practices.  It is a shift in paradigm and in our basic relationship to nature. Regenerative agriculture seeks to mimic and participate in nature, not dominate it. (Eisenstein 2018) Eisenstein believes we have become separated from nature and from each other and it is this separation that we need to address. (Eisenstein 2013) The re establishment and strengthening of the relationship between people and nature is a cornerstone of regenerative agriculture

The principles of regenerative agriculture form the basis of a number of other developing agricultural systems across the globe. Colin Tudge describes Enlightened Agriculture as an Agrarian Renaissance bringing new types of farms – polycultural, low-input, skills intensive with appropriate markets and culture. He describes present day agriculture as being above all – industrialised, and a system that is failing to produce good food or to care for the land. (Tudge 2016, Tudge 2019)  Jules Pretty talks about a phase of ecolution and the need to recognize the tightly coupled nature of ecological and social systems, pointing out that our condition is linked to that of the planet. (Pretty 2007) He talks about ecoagriculture and suggests that agricultural systems with high levels of social and human assets will be more able to innovate in the face of uncertainty. (Pretty 2002) Simon Fairlie makes a good case for an ongoing involvement of livestock in agricultural systems and argues for moving towards a permaculture livestock economy. (Fairlie 2010) Judith Schwartz discusses the absolute importance of soil and presents an argument for the role of livestock in building soil, reversing desertification and mitigating climate change. (Schwartz 2013)

Ecological Agriculture is another term for a new ecological approach to agriculture. The Australian Institute of Ecological Agriculture believes that ecology is the foundation stone of all agriculture. The AIEA believes farming ecologically is the most appropriate road to producing healthy food and environment in a world beset with falling carbon reserves coupled with the dangers of climate change (AIEA 2018).

Disillusionment with the industrialised model of farming has resulted in the development of a wide range of alternative approaches to the production of food, fibre and any other products of farming systems. Impacts attributed to the industrialised farming system on human health, biodiversity, ecological sustainability, animal welfare and climate change are now widely described and have lead to considerable discussion among farmers, researchers, activists and consumers. These discussions have spawned the above descriptions and movements among many others.

Organic Agriculture has developed along with this movement, as an important principle of Regenerative Agriculture is reduction of artificial and non-renewable inputs. Organic agriculture has become a rapidly growing agricultural sector world wide.

The 2017 edition of FiBL and IFOAM’s statistical yearbook The World of Organic Agriculture, based on data from the end of 2015, shows that the organic market worldwide has grown to more than US$80 billion, with strong growth expected to continue in coming years. Consumer demand for organic products is increasing, as evidenced by double-digit growth in most major markets, including the largest organic market on the planet, the United States (Willer 2017).

The global market for organic food reached US$81.6 billion (AU$103.4b) in 2015, with most major organic markets demonstrating double-digit annual growth. The US led the pack at AU$53.4 billion; Germany ranked second at AU$12.8 billion. France came in third at AU$8.2 billion, with China hot on its heels at AUD$7 billion (but likely to grow faster than any other market).

More primary producers worldwide are farming organically and more land is now ‘certified organic’. By the end of 2015, reports the FiBL-IFOAM study, a total of 50.9 million hectares were managed according to organic principles – that’s 6.5 million more hectares farmed organically than were reported in 2014. This is the largest annual growth in organic farm and rangeland ever recorded. Australia continued to claim the largest organic acreage at 27.1 million hectares, up significantly from 17.5m hectares a year earlier. Most of Australia’s organic agricultural acreage is extensive grazing land used to raise ‘free-range’ grass-fed beef cattle (Willer 2017).

PHILOSOPHICAL UNDERPINNINGS

The movement towards organic, regenerative and ecological agriculture has solid philosophical underpinnings and for many advocates the agricultural and land management practices that the movement employs form an integral part of an holistic approach to life. Awareness of the perils of moving away from nature have been documented since the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. In the late 1700’s and early 1800’s Wordsworth wrote, “Getting and spending we have laid waste our powers, little we see in nature that is ours” and Hopkins bemoaned, “… and nor can foot feel being shod”.  John Clare wrote with feeling and an accuracy born of experience of the impacts of the enclosure of the commons and the nascent development of industrial agriculture (Clare 1964).

Thoreau and Thomas Berry describe the awakening sense of the need for appreciation of grandeur in the natural world for human development to continue and the importance of understanding where we, humans, fit in the universe (Thoreau 1960, Berry 1999). Thomas Berry makes a compelling case for change based on awareness of the crisis and an appreciation of the place of humans in the broader cosmos.

The transformation required is a transformation from an anthropocentric norm of reality and value to a biocentric or geocentric norm.  This will affect every aspect of our human thought and action. “

“Each particular being in the universe is needed by the entire universe.  With this understanding of our profound kinship with all life, we can establish the basis for a flourishing earth community” (Berry 2006).

Wendell Berry, the American farmer poet describes in detail the removal of people from the landscape, the loss of knowledge, skill and stewardship and the resultant decline in the health of people and land (Berry 1981, Berry 2018).

Alan Savory, who has worked and taught extensively throughout Africa, the Americas and Australia describes the situation in graphic detail  “poor land leads to poor people, social upheaval and political unrest” (Savory 1988).

Timothy Morton, the Philosopher Prophet of the Anthropocene talks about the trauma humans suffer as a result of severing the connection with non-human beings (Morton 2018). He talks about coexisting in a non violent manner with non-human beings and transitioning to caring about non-humans in a more conscious way (Morton 2018) Charles Eisenstein says “Human intervention is necessary to restore ecosystems to a state of health.  The question is not whether to participate, but how.” (Eisenstein 2018)

It is apparent from reading and talking to practitioners that regenerative agriculture, ecological agriculture and enlightened agriculture entail much more that a series of agricultural practices and ways of interacting with the landscape. These approaches, in fact involve a belief system, an entire philosophy and way of life and have common threads across the planet. The philosophical beliefs underpinning regenerative agriculture are shared across the world and are shared by urban and rural people, city and country dwellers.

AUSTRALIA

Australia has a long and valuable history of innovation in agricultural practices and modern, researchers, writers and farmers such as Charles Massy, Christine Jones, David Holmgren, Peter Andrews, Bruce Maynard and Col Seis are in the forefront of the movement towards a regenerative agriculture. Two hundred years of attempting to introduce European crops, animals and management systems to a profoundly differently environment have taken their toll and the time is right for change.

In Australia we are fortunate to have the experience of thousands of years of land management on which to draw and publications by Stephen Muecke, Bill Gammage and Bruce Pascoe have shed light on the incredibly complex land management systems employed by Indigenous Australians. (Muecke 1996, Gammage 2012, Pascoe 2014) Indigenous Australians lived with a unique understanding of the Australian environment, which encompassed cultural, spiritual and practical aspects of living. As with western poets and philosophers from Wordsworth to Morton, Indigenous Australians talk of the connections between humans and the non-human world.  Big Bill Neidjie (Neidjie 1989) says –

Listen carefully this, you can hear me.

I’m telling you because earth just like mother

and father or brother of you.

that tree same thing

Deborah Bird Rose talks of indigenous understanding of the connection between ecological and human rights and the requirement of recognizing that link if we are going to be able to truly care for country (Rose 1996). David Tacey has written eloquently on the importance of spiritual connection to land and the potential for indigenous knowledge and our ancient landscape to facilitate a true connection to country and a spiritual revival (Tacey 1995). The opportunity for that potential to be realized is growing in Australia as indigenous communities and people own and manage considerable areas of the country and recognition is growing of the sophistication and complexity of indigenous relationships to land. The ongoing process of reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians is absolutely fundamental to the future of survival in this country.

Authors and practitioners who have had a major influence on regenerative agriculture throughout Australia include PA Yeomans, Peter Andrews, Bill Mollison, David Holmgren, Allan Savoury and Charles Massy. (Yeomans 1981, Savory 1988, Mollison 1990, Andrews 2001, Massy 2017, Holmgren 2019)

Regenerative agriculture in Australia has developed its own unique approaches and has naturally tended to concentrate on issues which are of particular concern in the Australian environment. (Perkins 2008) These include extensive livestock management, management of water flows and water conservation in the landscape, fire management, soil health, salinity management and prevention and cropping and food production in an environment of unpredictable and highly variable rainfall. Areas of focus include –

  • grazing land management through holistic resource management theories, including such practical applications as time control grazing and self herding
  • water management based on Keyline and Natural Sequence Farming ideas
  • pasture cropping and conservation tillage using the techniques pioneered by Colin Seiss
  • the use of edible trees and shrubs in grazing situations
  • soil health, Australian soils are generally considered poor from an agricultural perspective and appropriate soil management is a key component of regenerative agriculture
  • carbon sequestration using a range of measurable techniques including savannah burning (Langton 1998, O’Brien 2012)

Livestock form an integral part of many regenerative agriculture systems and livestock are seen as an indispensible element of an integrated semi-natural environment, providing benefits such as carbon sequestration, soil disturbance, nutrient distribution and weed control. (Savory 1988, Harvey 2002, Pollan 2006, Fairlie 2010) Using a grazing system that ensures greater than 50% of the available green leaf remains after a grazing period results in more forage production, greater carbon sequestration and improved water retention (Jones 2018). Intensive grazing followed by rest, the value of animal impact and the use of natural herding behaviour are principles of grazing management which are now implemented widely across the extensive pasture lands of Australia. Flexible fencing and watering systems and self herding strategies are utilized to practice a variety of rotational grazing methods and a majority of Australia’s grazing animals are now managed under a type of rotational grazing system. The impacts of this change in management on soil health, biodiversity and animal production are widely recognized.

In a dry continent with unpredictable rainfall, water management and alternative approaches to movement, storage and water flows are an important component of regenerative agricultural systems in Australia and are described by practical land managers such as PA Yeomans and Peter Andrews. (Yeomans 1981, Andrews 2001) Holding water in the landscape, encouraging water infiltration and storage in the soil are critical components of regenerative agriculture in this country and the implementation of these principles is providing results across a diversity of situations throughout Australia (Mulloon 2019).

The pasture cropping revolution introduced by Colin Seis and Daryl Cluff in 1993 and conservation tillage have enabled Australian farmers to expand cropping to more arid areas and are being used to deal with salinity problems which have affected much of Australia’s cropping land. Conservation tillage, while extensively practiced across Australia’s cropping lands enabling moisture to be stored in the soil and the restoration of soil structure is heavily reliant on chemical use and does not fit into the category of regenerative agriculture. Pasture cropping however, reduces cultivation and works with nature to improve ground cover, water infiltration and use, soil structure and carbon storage in soil and is a technique being utilized widely across Australia’s cropping and grazing lands (Perkins 2008, Seis 2018)

Australian soils are generally considered to be low in nutrients, frequently highly erodible and fragile. Soil health has seen a resurgence in interest and understanding in Australia as in many parts of the world and this includes an appreciation of the life within the soil. Regenerative agriculture is a movement beginning in the soil. Elaine Ingham, Christine Jones and others in Australia have focused on soil health, soil microbiology and promotion of management techniques to enhance the life in the soil (Jones 2018, Ingham 2019) while David Montgomery has written extensively on “dirt” from a more global perspective. “Extending the life of our civilization will require reshaping agriculture to respect the soil not as an input to an industrial process, but as the living foundation for material wealth – as something other than dirt” (Montgomery 2008). This focus on soil, while not uniquely Australian is critical to regenerative agriculture in this country.

Organic agriculture is rapidly growing in Australia as it is in many parts of the world. Australia has the world’s largest area of land under organic certification, 27.1 million hectares (Willer 2018). This represents 53% of the world’s organic farmland (Monk 2017).  The area involved is largely a reflection of the extensive scale of beef production in central and northern Australia where significant numbers of cattle are run on large areas under relatively natural systems. The number of certified organic operations is growing in Australia and the organic market is expected to surpass a value of $2 billion in 2018. (Monk 2017)

The annual growth of this market is estimated at 6.5% in the period 2015-2020. Large supermarkets stocking organic produce have increased the convenience of purchasing organic products by the general public. It is estimated that over 60% of all organic food sales are attributable to supermarkets. Meat & Livestock Australia, the peak meat industry body, have estimated that organic beef sales increased by 127% from 2011 to 2014. Despite such high growth, certified organic beef producer numbers remained relatively low, with an estimated 195 producers across Australia in 2013. (Wills 2015)

MLA are also heavily involved in the grass fed beef sector and have concluded that branded grassfed beef is a growth sector and more processors and retailers are launching programs that make guarantees to consumers about lifetime nutrition, meat eating quality, animal welfare standards, antibiotic and chemical use, and lifetime traceability. (Wills 2015)

Small scale organic and chemical free food production is increasing across Australia. Farmer’s markets with an organic or clean production focus can be found in capital cities and regional towns and cities across Australia. These markets provide opportunities for consumers to meet producers and encourage local production and consumption.  Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) models are found in many larger cities and community gardens are flourishing in many regional centres as well as large cities. Australians are per capita the world’s 16th highest spenders on organic produce buying mainly fruit and vegetables, eggs and dairy products. (Parkes 2018) There has been little government or industry support for organic agriculture in the past unlike some in European countries such as Denmark, and the organic sector remains small relative to conventional agriculture. However, this is changing and the organic market is expected to grow by 18.2% in the current year.(IBIS 2018)  Demand for organic products is driven largely by health concerns, a desire to know where food is coming from and a hunger to connect with production of food. (Perkins 2008)

As in other parts of the world organic certification is subject to interpretation and there are examples of industrial organic agriculture which do not fit the term regenerative agriculture. Small scale regional and local food production is in many cases filling gaps resulting from the industrialisation of organic agriculture.

Australia has a highly urbanised population in a very large country, most of which is lightly populated.  Much of Australian agriculture is conducted at considerable distance from population centres and in the form of medium to large scale enterprises. A large proportion of Australian agricultural output is exported. Innovative approaches aimed at facilitating regional production and consumption such as farmer’s markets, community supported agriculture and eco communities do exist but it will require innovative approaches to develop this movement beyond the current small scale. Examples of innovation that encompass governance, ownership, finance and distribution as well as production do exist in Australia as well as in other parts of the world including Food Connect in Queensland (FoodConnect 2019), The Agrarian Trust in the USA (Trust 2019) and Colin Tudge’s Campaign for Real Farming (Tudge 2019). These initiatives and many others have elements that will facilitate a shift towards sustainable regional production and consumption in this country and are facilitating change at a number of levels.

Charles Massy summarises the Australian situation well in his book, The Call of the Reed Warbler. (Massy 2017) He describes five landscape functions based on Savoury’s work –

  1. the solar energy function (focused on maximizing the capture of solar energy by fixing as many plant sugars by photosynthesis as possible),
  2. the water cycle (focused on maximizing the infiltration, storage and recycling of water in the soil),
  3. the soil mineral cycle (focused on encouraging biologically active and healthy soils that contain and recycle a rich and diverse lode of minerals and chemicals),
  4. dynamic ecosystems (focused on maximum diversity and health of integrated ecosystems at all levels) and,
  5. the human–social aspect (focused on human agency triggering landscape regeneration by working in harmony with natural systems) (Massy 2017) .

CONCLUSION

Regenerative agriculture is a term which describes old and new practices and approaches and is in itself a dynamic expression. The growth of regenerative agriculture is documented across the world and has the potential to bring about positive change to land use and management and to the essential relationship between people and nature with wide ranging results.

In a recent publication edited by Paul Hawken, titled Drawdown, in which an international coalition of scientists and practitioners researched and modelled the one hundred most substantive ways we can reverse global warming, regenerative agriculture figured prominently.  The study concluded that from an estimated 108 million acres of current adoption regenerative agriculture will increase to a total of 1 billion acres by 2050. This increase could result in a total reduction of 23.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide, from both sequestration and reduced emissions. (Hawken 2018)

A report published by the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (ibpes) in May 2019 has highlighted the plight of biodiversity across the planet and sheeted a considerable proportion of the responsibility for loss of biodiversity to agricultural practices (IBPES 2019). The importance of regenerative agriculture for the future of our planet cannot be overstated.

As in the original definition by Charles Massy, regenerative agriculture has the potential to address a range of issues caused by the industrial agricultural model while also facilitating a closer and more meaningful relationship with the non-human aspects of our world.

REFERENCES

AIEA (2018). “Australian Institute of Ecological Agriculture.” from http://ecoag.org.au.

Andrews, P. (2001). Back from the Brink. Sydney, NSW. Australia.

Berry, T. (1999). The Great Work. New York, USA, Bell Tower.

Berry, T. (2006). Evening Thoughts – Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community. San Fransisco, USA, Sierra Club Books.

Berry, W. (1981). The Gift of Good Land. San Fransisco, USA, North Point Press.

Berry, W. (2018). The World Ending Fire. UK, Penguin.

Clare, J. (1964). The Shepherd’s Calendar. Oxford UK, Oxford University Press.

Eisenstein, C. (2013). The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible. Berkeley, California, USA, North Atlantic Books.

Eisenstein, C. (2018). Climate A New Story. Berkeley, California, USA, North Atlantic Books.

Fairlie, S. (2010). Meat, A benign Extravagance. USA, Chelsea Green Publishing.

FoodConnect (2019). “Food Connect.” from https://foodconnect.com.au/pages/howitworks.

Gammage, B. (2012). The Biggest Estate on Earth. Sydney, Australia, Allen & Unwin.

Harvey, G. (2002). The Forgiveness of Nature. London UK, Vintage.

Hawken, P., Ed. (2018). Drawdown, the Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. Random House, London, UK, Penguin Books.

Holmgren, D. (2019). “Holmgren Design.” from https://holmgren.com.au/.

IBIS (2018). Organic Farming, Australian Market Research Report October 2018. IBIS.

IBPES (2019). “Global Assessment Report.” from https://http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/06/human-society-under-urgent-threat-loss-earth-natural-life-un-report.

Ingham, E. (2019). “Soil Food Web.” from https://http://www.soilfoodweb.com.au/.

International, T. G. (2018). “Regenerative Agriculture.” from http://www.regenerativeagriculturedefinition.com/.

Jones, C. (2018). “Light farming : Restoring carbon, nitrogen and biodiversity to agricultural soils.” from http://www.amazingcarbon.com/.

Langton, M. (1998). Burning Questions. Darwin Australia, Centre for Indigenous Natural and Cultural Resource Management, NTU.

Massy, C. (2017). Call of the Reed Warbler. St Lucia, Australia, UQP.

Mollison, B. (1990). Permaculture, A Designer’s Manual. Washington DC, USA, Island Press.

Monk, A. (2017). Australian Organic Market Report 2017. A. C. Organic.

Montgomery, D. (2008). Dirt, The Erosion of Civilisations. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California, USA, University of California Press.

Morton, T. (2018). Being Ecological. St Ives, Great Britain, Pelican Books.

Muecke, S. (1996). Reading the Country. Fremantle, Australia, Fremantle Arts Centre Press.

Mulloon (2019). “The Mulloon Institute.” from https://themullooninstitute.org/.

Neidjie, B. (1989). Story About Feeling. Broome, WA., Australia, Magabala Books.

O’Brien, K. (2012). Northern Savannah burning to earn carbon credits, ABC.

Parkes, B. (2018). “Growing Hunger for Organics; Can Australia keep up with demand ?”. from https://http://www.intheblack.com/articles/2017/09/01/organic-food-demand-australia.

Pascoe, B. (2014). Dark Emu. Broome WA, Magabala Books.

Perkins, I., Gleeson, T., Keating, B. (2008). Review of Farmer Initiated Innovative Farming Systems, Land and Water Australia.

Pollan, M. (2006). The Omnivore’s Dilemma. London UK, Bloomsbury Books.

Pretty, J. (2002). Agri-Culture. Reconnecting People, Land and Nature. London, UK, Earthscan.

Pretty, J. (2007). The Earth Only Endures. London, UK, Earthscan.

Rose, D., B. (1996). Nourishing Terrains Australian Views of Landscape and Wilderness. Canberra ACT, Australia, Australian Heritage Commission.

Savory, A. (1988). Holistic Resource Management. Washington DC, USA, Island Press.

Schwartz, J., D. (2013). Cows Save the Planet. USA, Chelsea Green Publishing.

Seis, C. (2018). “Pasture Cropping.” from http://www.pasturecropping.com/pasture-cropping.

Tacey, D. (1995). The Edge of the Sacred. Blackburn, Victoria, Australia, Harper Collins.

Thoreau, H. D. (1960). Walden. New York, Signet Classics.

Trust, A. (2019). “Agrarian Trust.” from https://agrariantrust.org/.

Tudge, C. (2016). Six Steps back to the Land. Cambridge UK, Green Books.

Tudge, C. (2019). “The Campaign for Real Farming.” from http://www.campaignforrealfarming.org/.

Tudge, C. (2019). “The College for Real Farming and Food Culture.” from http://collegeforrealfarming.org/.

Willer, H., Lemond, J., Ed. (2017). The World of Organic Agriculture, Statistics and Emerging Trends 2017, Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, FiBL, Frick, Switzerland; IFOAM – Organics International, Bonn Germany.

Willer, H., Lernoud, J., Ed. (2018). The World of Organic Agriculture, statistics and emerging trends summary 2018, FiBL & IFOAM.

Wills, M. (2015). Increasing Beef Production on Australian Farms. MLA. North Sydney, Australia, MLA.

Yeomans, P. A. (1981). Water for Every Farm. Katoomba, NSW, Australia, Griffin Press.

*Ian grew up on a sheep farm in Western Australia; trained as a vet; and has spent 35 years in the agricultural sector as a vet, a researcher and a resource manager.  Much of his current consultancy work is with indigenous people and community land and enterprise management using the principles of regenerative agriculture. 

Only a Climate Revolution can Cool the World

This from the Climate News Network

by Paul Brown, London July 31 2019

An academic book on fossil fuel consumption reaches a startling conclusion: only a climate revolution can force governments to act to stop the planet overheating.

Governments have completely failed to make progress in tackling the planetary emergency, and a climate revolution is the sole hope that they will do so.

This sounds like a sound bite from Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who is inspiring schoolchildren worldwide to go on strike, or a slogan from Extinction Rebellion, which has been disrupting city life in the UK and elsewhere to secure an urgent government response to the climate emergency.

Both campaigns might agree with the statement, but it is in fact from a scholarly book, Burning Up, A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption, a detailed study into the burning of fossil fuels since 1950.  It looks at fuel consumption in individual countries but also at the political forces that have driven and still drive the ever-growing inferno of fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas, across the world.

The book illustrates the reasons behind the rather frightening fact that since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, despite many promises and warnings, governments have failed to take decisive action on climate change and in fact have made it decidedly worse by continuing to subsidise fossil fuels more than renewables.

Simon Pirani, a senior research fellow at the UK’s Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, takes the reader through an exhaustive examination of fossil fuel consumption and the driving forces behind it.  One point he makes is that governments, particularly in the US, have contrived to kill off the use of buses and trains and instead promoted private cars.

And even if people wanted a choice, they don’t have the chance to make one, so we have to contribute to the increased use of fossil fuels if we want to lead a normal life. Producing many consumer goods and nearly all food depends on fossil fuels. Agriculture depends on oil-based fertiliser; and buying cars, washing machines and fridges leaves customers willy-nilly indirectly consuming fossil fuels.

Pirani is also scathing about the rich world’s reaction to the sort of crisis that is here already and will become more commonplace in a warming world.  He gives the example of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, when there was indifference from the government to the poor and disadvantaged who were most affected – an attitude mirrored across the world in subsequent disasters, especially in developing countries.

Climate change is already affecting swathes of Africa, causing crop failures and famine – again largely ignored by the rich world, which he identifies as the main cause of climate change, continues to cause it, but refuses to take responsibility for its consequences.

His third example is our attitude to refugees. He admits that most of the migrants converging now on Europe and the US are on the move because of wars or political oppression, but says that when millions are forced to migrate by climate change the pattern has already been set.

“There is little hope of world leaders taking the action required to keep the world temperature from increasing more than 2°C, let alone 1.5°C”

The attitude of governments in the rich world, increasingly in the EU but already in the US, is to build walls to keep them out rather than tackle the problem at source.

Altogether it is a fascinating and disturbing analysis of how the influence of the fossil fuel industry and its short-term financial advantage has come to outweigh the scientific evidence and the welfare of humanity in the minds of politicians. It certainly demonstrates why there is little hope of world leaders taking the action required to keep the world temperature from increasing more than 2°C, let alone 1.5°C.

However, Dr Pirani claims that ordinary people can have an impact on governments.  He points to the example of China where the government, fearful of the reaction of its people to the effects of air pollution on its children’s health, has taken decisive action to reduce the damage. India is currently going through the same process.

His book was written and with the publisher before the rise of Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes, but perhaps that is exactly the sort of citizen action he would advocate.

His conclusion is that unless ordinary people reject the continued dominance of the fossil fuel industry and force governments to act by continued acts of civil disobedience. there is no hope of keeping the world temperature below a dangerous level. − Climate News Network