Crop diversity or intensive monocultural farming – guess which is better for biodiversity and climate change?

Here’s the abstract for this new study published in Nature March 18 volume 579pages 393–396 (2020)  Authors: J. Nicholas Hendershot, Jeffrey R. Smith, Christopher B. Anderson, Andrew D. Letten, Luke O. Frishkoff, Jim R. Zook, Tadashi Fukami & Gretchen C. Daily

Agricultural practices constitute both the greatest cause of biodiversity loss and the greatest opportunity for conservation1,2, given the shrinking scope of protected areas in many regions. Recent studies have documented the high levels of biodiversity—across many taxa and biomes—that agricultural landscapes can support over the short term1,3,4. However, little is known about the long-term effects of alternative agricultural practices on ecological communities4,5 Here we document changes in bird communities in intensive-agriculture, diversified-agriculture and natural-forest habitats in 4 regions of Costa Rica over a period of 18 years. Long-term directional shifts in bird communities were evident in intensive- and diversified-agricultural habitats, but were strongest in intensive-agricultural habitats, where the number of endemic and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List species fell over time. All major guilds, including those involved in pest control, pollination and seed dispersal, were affected. Bird communities in intensive-agricultural habitats proved more susceptible to changes in climate, with hotter and drier periods associated with greater changes in community composition in these settings. These findings demonstrate that diversified agriculture can help to alleviate the long-term loss of biodiversity outside natural protected areas1.

And the write up by Stanford University in Physics News (March 18 2020)

Crop diversity can buffer the effects of climate change

How we farm can guard against climate change and protect critical wildlife—but only if we leave single-crop farms in the dust, according to a new Stanford study.

The research provides a rare, long-term look at how farming practices affect bird biodiversity in Costa Rica. “Farms that are good for are also good for other species,” said Jeffrey Smith, a graduate student in the department of biology and a co-author on the paper. “We can use birds as natural guides to help us design better .”

By and large, the team found that diversified farms are more stable in the number of birds they support, provide a more secure habitat for those birds and shield against the impacts of climate change much more effectively than single-crop farms.

“The tropics are expected to suffer even more intensely in terms of prolonged dry seasons, and forest dieback under climate change,” said Gretchen Daily, director of the Stanford Natural Capital Project and the Center for Conservation Biology and a senior author on the paper. “But diversified farms offer refuge—they can buffer these harmful effects in ways similar to a natural forest ecosystem.”

The findings, published in this week’s issue of the journal Nature, highlight the importance of farms that grow multiple crops in a mixed setting instead of the more common practice of planting single-crop “monocultures.”

“This study shows that climate change has already been impacting wildlife communities, continues to do so, and that local farming practices really matter in protecting biodiversity and building climate resilience,” said Nick Hendershot, a graduate student in the department of biology and lead author on the study.

Threatened in the tropics

Tropical regions are some of the most species-rich in the world, but they also face the to biodiversity. As their forests are felled to plant cash crops like bananas and sugarcane, the amount and availability of natural habitats have shrunk dramatically. Meanwhile, climate change has resulted in longer, hotter dry seasons that make species survival even more challenging.

“It’s the one-two punch of land-use intensification and ,” Hendershot said. “Wildlife populations are already severely stressed, with overall decreased health and population sizes in some farming landscapes. Then, these further extreme conditions like prolonged drought can come along and really just decimate a species.”

Until now, little had been known about how agricultural practices impact biodiversity in the long term. This study’s researchers used nearly 20 years of meticulously collected field data to understand which birds live in natural tropical forests and in different types of farmland.

“It is only because we had these unusually extensive long-term data that we were able to detect the role of diversified farmlands in helping threatened species persist over multiple decades,” said Tadashi Fukami, an associate professor of biology in the School of Humanities and Sciences and a senior author on the paper, along with Daily.

The varied agricultural systems at work in Costa Rica provided the research team with an ideal laboratory for studying bird communities in intensively farmed monoculture systems, diversified multi-crop farms, and natural forests. They compared monoculture farms—like pineapple, rice, or sugar cane—to diversified farms that interweave multiple crops and are often bordered by ribbons of natural forest.

Who’s there matters

Surprisingly, the researchers found that diversified farmlands not only provide refuge to more common bird species, they also protect some of the most threatened. Species of international conservation concern, like the Great Green Macaw and the Yellow-naped Parrot, are at risk in Costa Rica due to habitat loss and the illegal pet trade.

In intensive monocrop farmlands, these species are declining. But in the diversified systems the researchers studied, the endangered birds can be found year after year.

“Which species are in a given place makes a huge difference—it’s not just about numbers alone, we care about who’s there,” Daily said. “Each bird serves a unique role as part of the machinery of nature. And the habitats they live in support us all.”

Changing the paradigm

In Costa Rica and around the world, the researchers see opportunities to develop integrated, diversified agricultural systems that promote not only crop productivity and livelihood security, but also biodiversity. A paradigm shift towards global agricultural systems could help human and wildlife communities adapt to a changing climate, Daily said.

“There are so many cash crops that thrive in diversified farms. Bananas and coffee are two great examples from Costa Rica—they’re planted together, and the taller banana plant shades the temperature-sensitive coffee bean,” she added. “The two crops together provide more habitat opportunity than just one alone, and they also provide a diversified income stream for the farmer.”

ORFC in the field @ FarmED July 7 & 8 2020

We’re pleased to announce that the first ORFC in the Field will be going ahead on 7th and 8th July, in partnership with FarmED at their beautiful new venue in the Cotswolds.

The two-day event will build on sessions from this year’s Oxford Real Farming Conference and dive deeper into the practical application of agroecology and regenerative farming techniques.

Participants will be able to choose from a number of field-based workshops including agroforestry design; growing, harvesting and utilising heritage grains; building and monitoring soil health; and creating and running a CSA. The full programme will be available shortly.

There will also be plenty of opportunity to share knowledge with others and to enjoy seasonal meals cooked by local chefs, including a celebratory feast on the Tuesday night. There will be plenty of music and poetry too!

There are only 100 places available for this inaugural event, which promises to be a dynamic follow-up to this year’s sold-out Oxford Real Farming Conference. We suggest you get in early and book your place now. There are also a few bursaries available – to find out more please contact

The price for two days of workshops and lunches is £125. The evening meal is £20 extra. Camping is available on site for a small fee, or you can look at the recommended list of accommodation options here.

“Regenerative Agriculture”: What does the term mean? And why is its use becoming so fashionable?

Colin Tudge in his recent blog has this to say of Regenerative Agriculture: ” . .  [A]lthough much that is excellent has been achieved in the name of Regenerative Agriculture the term implies that we are trying to restore something, which in turn implies that there was some past state that we should be trying to get back to. But what exactly is it that we are trying to get back to? When and where did the thing we are trying to get back to exist?”

This article by Nathaniel Johnson and published in Grist, March 12 2019, gives a useful overview of the origin and current use and purpose of the term – from the coining of “regeneration” by Bob Rodale in the 1980s to its multiple uses today. Thus it can be “a way organic and conventional farmers can work together on achieving environmental ends, rather than fighting over the means”;  “a move to make farms sop up carbon”; greenwash to attract customers who don’t like the term organic; or even he suggests it can carry an evangelistic message:  the “acknowledgement of having done wrong, and the promise of redemption”.

Keeping to farm practice. . .

Johnson makes the point that be it mob grazing, minimum tillage, rotation of crops and livestock, even for some the use of GM, at its heart – and to be applauded – is the concern to sequester carbon from the air into the soil i.e. help farmers tackle climate change.

But he can only lament the lack of scientific evidence backing many of the claims, some of which he reckons are quite wild!

11th Real Bread Week: February 22 – March 1 2020

An invitation from the Real Bread Campaign to join in Real Bread Week.

Its key aims are encouraging people to:
Buy Real Bread from local bakeries: Look for The Loaf Mark!
Bake Real Bread and share those skills with others

A particular focus this year is on the power that Real Bread making has to help people transform their lives.

This about raising awareness from the campaign organisers, Sustain:
“Disempowered women, people with learning disabilities, and prisoners are just some of the many people who’d previously faced challenges finding their place in the workforce but are now gaining skills for employment as Real Bread bakers.
Meanwhile, people who, for one reason or another, have had a tougher time than many of us are enjoying the therapeutic benefits of making Real Bread by hand. In many cases, they’re doing so in the mutually-supportive company of others.
Throughout Real Bread Week, the Real Bread Campaign will be throwing the spotlight via social media and a series of new articles on just some of the amazing enterprises and organisations helping to make this happen.”

And their campaign ask – “Raising dough” . . .
“Sustain, the charity that created and runs Real Bread Week is raising money so that the Real Bread Campaign can build on its work celebrating, connecting and supporting the people, enterprises and organisations behind the rise of Real Bread. You can help in one (or more) of these ways to ensure that more people can benefit from the employment, therapeutic and social opportunities of Real Bread making:
– Join the Campaign
Make a doughnation of £10 – £100 (or whatever you feel)
– Buy a t-shirt, mug, apron, recipe book or dough scorer

Details of bakeries, baking schools, Real Bread Week events and the whole shebang above can be found at:

Food, Futures & Ecological Restoration

From Barbara Heinzen, 29 January 2020

Recently, I received a link to a website promising a revolution in food production based on “advances in precision biology and an entirely new model of production we call Food-as-Software.” Not only would this new, plant-based industrial technology feed all future populations, it would make the cattle industry bankrupt and allow millions of acres to be reforested.

As a simple geographer, based on the Hudson River in the USA after decades in London, I read through this link with considerable skepticism.

Professionally, I have been doing futures work since the 1980s and this article struck me as a good example of extravagant thinking based on simple projections of some flashy new technology.  What it does not do is explore why this technology is likely to dominant or explore what might be needed (such as energy or regulations) to achieve that goal.  Nor does it look at the many social, economic & ecological factors that actually determine how we use land or raise the food we need.  Even if the premise were true — that we will all be eating engineered food in the near future —  what is to say that former agricultural land will return to forests, grasslands, wetlands or whatever is your favorite ecosystem?  It is just as likely to turn into suburban housing estates.  In short, this website reads more like technological propaganda than serious analysis.

For a long time, I have been preoccupied with how social-ecological systems change, first studying patterns in the developing world, and then looking at the challenge of shifting from an industrial model for society to an ecological model.  We are currently facing a massive systemic change where new technologies will be important, but they are not the only forces driving such change.  Values, crises, new necessities (like reducing greenhouse gases), experiments (like those in regenerative agriculture), formal and informal rules, as well as the accidents of history, have all been important in the past.  They are likely to be just as critical in the coming years.

I am now managing a smallholding of 20 acres on the Hudson River as an experimental environmental restoration project.  Our ‘livestock’ are the deer, the occasional bear and smaller animals like raccoons, various members of the weasel family, beaver (who refuse to accept any limits on their appetites), and two species of fox, red and gray.

We have made progress in the past eight years, but I am acutely aware that this work is currently a gift, employing whatever we can afford in finance and labour. What we need at places like this is not a new technology, but an economic system that rewards smallholders and others who are finding ways to support the natural world so that it will continue to support all of us.

These selected photographs of plants, animals, birds and butterflies found where the Hannacroix Creek enters the Hudson River, Coeymans & New Baltimore, New York were taken between January and December 2019


Agriculture Bill Committee Stage call for written evidence

Public Bill Committee

Call for written evidence: Agriculture Bill

Do you have relevant expertise and experience or a special interest in the Agriculture Bill, which is currently passing through Parliament?

If so, you can submit your views in writing to the House of Commons Public Bill Committee which is going to consider this Bill.

The Public Bill Committee is now able to receive written evidence. The sooner you send in your submission, the more time the Committee will have to take it into consideration.

The Committee will meet for the first time on Tuesday 11 February 2020. It will stop receiving written evidence at the end of the Committee stage, which is expected to be not later than 5.00pm on Tuesday 10 March 2020. However, please note that when the Committee concludes its consideration of the Bill it is no longer able to receive written evidence and it can conclude earlier than the expected deadline of 5.00pm on Tuesday 10 March 2020.You are strongly advised to submit your written evidence as soon as possible.

Aims of the Bill

The Government introduced an Agriculture Bill 2017-19 in the last Parliament which fell at dissolution in October 2019.

This Bill does several key things that the 2017-19 Bill did:

First: it provides enabling powers for Ministers to develop new farm support approaches in England. Direct payments to farmers are currently based on how much land is farmed. These will be phased out starting in 2021 over a seven year period. New schemes to pay farmers for producing ‘public goods’ such as environmental or animal welfare improvements will be introduced. New items have been added to the list of purposes in the previous Bill that can be given financial support, notably soil protection and improvement;

Second: it gives Ministers powers to intervene in agricultural markets in exceptional conditions, such as to provide farmers with financial support or operate public intervention and private storage aid schemes;

Third: it sets out measures to increase transparency and fairness in the supply chain for farmers and food producers. It does this by: introducing new requirements on collection and sharing of data; by placing fair dealing obligations on business purchasers of agricultural products; and by introducing new measures on Producer Organisations. However, this Bill has increased the reach of the fair dealing measures so that any business purchaser must comply and a wider range of people selling products can benefit from the provisions;

Fourth: the Bill includes measures on marketing standards and carcass classification. For example, to amend or revoke EU and domestic legislation or to set new standards tailored to suit UK agricultural sectors. New clauses are included in this Bill on certification of organic products. These are important for imports and exports as well as domestic sales;

Fifth: the Bill sets out provisions to enable the UK to meet its obligations under the World Trade Organisation Agreement on Agriculture. The WTO Agreement sets limits on how support that is considered trade-distorting a country may provide.

What’s new?

There are several additions to this Bill compared to the previous Bill. New measures include:

  • A requirement for Ministers to consider the need to encourage the production of food in England, in an environmentally sustainable way;
  • A requirement for Ministers to set out multi-annual plans about how they will use their financial assistance powers. The first plan will start in 2021 for seven years. Beyond that plans must be of at least five years’ duration;
  • A requirement to report on food security at least once every five years; and
  • Several varied measures in a new Part 4 on matters relating to farming and the countryside. Measures relating to agricultural tenancies, fertiliser regulation, identification and traceability of animals, and the Red Meat Levy are included.

How does this Bill apply to the UK nations?

The provisions on new farm support schemes mainly apply to England. Powers are included in a Schedule for Northern Ireland to enable preparation of replacement schemes. Some provisions in the Bill apply to Wales (for example to amend Direct Payments rules) but these are intended to be temporary. Notably provisions mirroring English provisions on new support schemes that were in the previous Bill have not been included in this Bill. Welsh Ministers intend to introduce this Assembly term a Wales (Agriculture) Bill. The Scottish Government introduced legislation in November 2019 which proposes to keep farm support approaches largely the same until 2024.

Aside from farm support, some measures such as those on food security and fair dealing in the supply chain apply to the four nations, while the various measures in the new Part 4 have different applications. Measures on meeting WTO obligations also apply across the UK. It is reported that the Scottish Government considers these matters to be devolved so intends to withhold legislative consent.

Follow the progress of the Agriculture Bill

The Agriculture Bill 2019–21 was introduced to the House of Commons on 16 January 2020. Second reading was held on 3 February 2020.

This Bill has now been committed to a Public Bill Committee which will hold its first meeting on Tuesday 11 February 2020. Oral evidence sessions will be held on 11 and 13 February.

Guidance on submitting written evidence

Deadline for written evidence submissions

The Public Bill Committee is now able to receive written evidence. The sooner you send in your submission, the more time the Committee will have to take it into consideration and possibly reflect it in an amendment. The order in which amendments are taken in Committee will be available in due course under Selection of Amendments on the Bill documents pages. Once the Committee has dealt with an amendment it will not revisit it.

The Committee will meet for the first time on Tuesday 11 February 2020. It will stop receiving written evidence at the end of the Committee stage, which is expected to be not later than 5.00pm on Tuesday 10 March 2020. However, please note that when the Committee concludes its consideration of the Bill it is no longer able to receive written evidence and it can conclude earlier than the expected deadline of 5.00pm on Tuesday 10 March 2020. You are strongly advised to submit your written evidence as soon as possible.

What should written evidence cover?

Your submission should address matters contained within the Bill and concentrate on issues where you have a special interest or expertise, and factual information of which you would like the Committee to be aware.

Your submission could most usefully:

  • suggest amendments to the Bill, with supporting explanation; and
  • (when amendments are published) support or oppose amendments tabled to the Bill by Members of Parliament, with supporting explanation

It is helpful if the submission includes a brief introduction about you or your organisation. The submission should not have been previously published or circulated elsewhere.

If you have any concerns about your submission, please contact the Scrutiny Unit (details below).

How should written evidence be submitted?

Your submission should be emailed to Please note that submissions sent to the Government department in charge of the Bill will not be treated as evidence to the Public Bill Committee.

Submissions should be in the form of a Word document. A summary should be provided. Paragraphs should be numbered, but there should be no page numbering. Essential statistics or further details can be added as annexes, which should also be numbered.

As a guideline, submissions should not exceed 3,000 words.

Please include in the covering email the name, address, telephone number and email address of the person responsible for the submission. The submission should be dated.

What will happen to my evidence?

The written evidence will be circulated to all Committee Members to inform their consideration of the Bill.

Most submissions will also be published on the internet as soon as possible after the Committee has started sitting.

Those making a submission to a Committee inquiry should note the following:

  • Committees publish most of the written evidence they receive on the internet (where it will be accessible to search engines).
  • If you do not wish your submission to be published, you must clearly say so and explain your reasons for not wishing its disclosure. The Committee will take this into account in deciding whether to publish. If you wish to include private or confidential information in your submission to the Committee, please contact the Clerk of the committee to discuss this. The Scrutiny Unit (details below) will be able to provide you with contact details for the clerk.
  • A Committee is not obliged to accept your submission as evidence, nor to publish any or all of the submission even if it has been accepted as evidence. This may occur where a submission is very long or contains material to which it is inappropriate to give parliamentary privilege (see Guide for Witnesses for further information on parliamentary privilege).
  • Material already published elsewhere should not form the basis of a submission, but may be referred to within a submission, in which case it should be clearly referenced, preferably with a hyperlink.
  • You should be careful not to comment on matters currently before a court of law, or matters in respect of which court proceedings are imminent. If you anticipate such issues arising, you should discuss with the Clerk of the Committee how this might affect your submission.
  • Once submitted, no public use should be made of any submission prepared specifically for the Committee unless you have first obtained permission from the Clerk of the Committee. If you are given permission by the Committee to publish your evidence separately, you should be aware that you will be legally responsible for its content.
  • Evidence which is accepted by the Committee may be published online at any stage; when it is so published it becomes subject to parliamentary copyright and is protected by parliamentary privilege.
  • Once you have received acknowledgement that the evidence has been published you may publicise or publish your evidence yourself. In doing so you must indicate that it was prepared for the Committee, and you should be aware that your publication or re-publication of your evidence may not be protected by parliamentary privilege.
  • Public Bill Committees do not investigate individual cases of complaint or allegations of maladministration.

Data protection

  • The personal information you supply will be processed in accordance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act 2018 for the purposes of attributing the evidence you submit and contacting you as necessary in connection with its processing.
  • The Clerk of the House of Commons is the data controller for the purposes of the Act.
  • If you have any queries or concerns about the collection and use of this information please advise the committee team providing your full contact details.
  • For more information please see House of Commons Data Protection Information

Scrutiny Unit contact details

Telephone: 020 7219 8387
Address: Ian Hook
Senior Executive Officer
Scrutiny Unit
House of Commons
London SW1A OAA

From Seed to Peasant Bread: a three day course in St David’s with Nicolas Supiot

Nicolas has been a peasant baker in Brittany for over 20 years, growing, milling and baking landrace wheat and buckwheat using regenerative farming methodologies.

The course will last for three days from Monday January 12 – Wednesday January 15 2020.

Further information including cost and how to book can be found here

It will be hosted by Rupert Dunn of  who are growing, milling and baking with landrace wheat on the St Davids Peninsula.

Scottish Farm Land Trust announce crowdfunder for more land for agroecological farmers in Scotland!

This from the Scottish Farm Land Trust – a community benefit society established in 2015 to increase access to land for agroecological farmers in Scotland which has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise £10,000 by the end of November – and is more than halfway there, with matchfunding from grantfunders promised:
“We are a group of farmers, landseekers and environmentalists motivated to support more people to start farming.  Access to land in Scotland is particularly difficult due to the high level of concentrated land ownership: 8% of landowners owning 77% of farmland, and 40% owning 0.8% of the land.  There has also been a significant decline in agricultural tenancies over the past century despite attempts to change this trend through legislation.
In 2017 we carried out a survey of people who might want to start farming agroecologically in Scotland.  Over 1000 people responded, with 989 people wanting to start farming.  Significantly access to land was the biggest barrier to starting farming, with 71% of people saying this was their primary barrier.
Our vision is for a food system where farms are connected to their communities and produce nutritious food in a way that makes a positive contribution to local communities and the natural environment.  We want to see our farming system thrive, with a greater diversity of farmers and business models. Improving access to land and widening participation in the ownership of land is essential for this to happen. We will achieve this primarily through acquiring farmland to rent out to agroecological farmers on a long-term basis, and also working with other organisations to support a network of agroecological farmers across Scotland and influence policy changes.
We’re inspired by successful models such as Terre de Liens in France and the Ecological Land Cooperative in England and Wales.  TdL has set an impressive example.  Since it was established just over 15 years ago, it has acquired 177 farms covering 4,250 hectares of land, providing tenancies for 376 active agroecological farmers, and raised €65million in public shares offered at a 0% interest rate, with social and environmental benefit and citizen engagement being the primary motivations for investors.
Support SFLT today by donating to our crowdfunding campaign to raise £10,000 by the 30th November.  All donations will be doubled by match funding from grant funders, making your donation go further.”

Nourish Scotland Conference: Game Plan for a Good Food Nation

November 21 & 22 2019 in Edinburgh

– for more information and to book go here

This from Nourish:

The conference is all about achieving change – how we get from where we are to where we need and want to be? What will it take to be a Good Food Nation?

Scottish Government have set ambitious targets in line with the Sustainable Development Goals and committed to bringing forward the Good Food Nation Bill. Now is the time to seize the opportunity for a healthier, fairer and more sustainable future for Scotland’s food system – we hope you will join us.

Developing a Game Plan

For much of the two days you will be working in a team with a facilitator to come up with your team’s game plan – how can we deliver on the Good Food Nation goals? Along the way you will have the chance to listen to and work with pioneers, thinkers and changemakers, and to access ideas from Scotland and around the world.

  • How can we increase dissatisfaction with the status quo (because without that there is no change)?
  • Do we have a clear sharp vision of what better looks like?
  • How locked in are we in the present system (resistance), what makes it so hard to change?
  • And given all that, where should we focus our efforts on next steps?

At the end of the event, we’ll publish every team’s work in a conference report.

Conference format

We will kick off with a contribution from Mairi Gougeon MSP, Minister for Rural Affairs and Natural Environment and we finish with a panel of MSPs discussing the big ideas from the event.

For the remaining time, participants will be working in small teams developing and presenting their game plan. There will be time for sharing your knowledge and experience, plenary inputs from inspiring contributors, access to written material and video, a facilitator for each team and access to experts in attendance.

Over two full days, you will…

  • Hear from Mairi Gougeon MSP, Minister for Rural Affairs and Natural Environment
  • Have the opportunity to engage with a panel of MSPs
  • Learn different theories of systems change
  • Acquire practical tools to use in your own work about how change happens
  • Share information about your project, campaign or enterprise with colleagues working across all parts of the food system
  • Meet old friends and make new connections
  • Leave knowing you are a part of a bigger movement working for a healthy, sustainable and fair food system

Do I need to attend both days?

Yes. Food system and social change are complex subjects. While we need more action for things to happen, occasionally we also need time to reflect and to do so collectively.  You will be working with a team of people from across the food system – building towards a collective game plan. Because of this, we do not have a day pass option.

What is included in the delegate fee?

All attendees – team coaches, expert witnesses and participants – are asked to pay the delegate fee (£65). This includes:

  • Two full days of facilitated group work with contributions from leading experts
  • Free entrance to evening event with Dr. Katherine Trebeck, co-author of The Economics of Arrival 
  • Delicious, locally-sourced lunches and snacks freshly prepared by Chef Steve Brown

The conference is not free for us to put on. While our time spent preparing it is covered by our funders (thank you Tudor Trust and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation!) there are additional costs.

Evening with Dr. Katherine Trebeck, 6-8pm, 21st November

Dr. Katherine Trebeck is Research Director at the Wellbeing Economy Alliance and co-author of The Economics of Arrival. She will be joining us on the evening of Thursday, 21st November to share insights on food, wellbeing and the economy.

Conference delegates are invited to stay for the evening event, which will include drinks and freshly prepared nibbles by Chef Steve Brown. Evening-only tickets are

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