Stephen Leahy, International Environmental Journalist

Discovering Global Environmental Interconnections

Double Food Production in 10 Years AND Reduce Global Warming

with 6 comments

Greening of the Sahel desert region with eco-ag

Yields went up 214 percent in 44 projects in 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa

“If we don’t radically transform the direction of the global food system we will never feed the billion who are hungry,” De Shutter warns.

“Nor will we be able to feed ourselves in the future.”

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Feb 8, 2011 (IPS)

Eco-farming could double food production in entire regions within 10 years while mitigating climate change, according to a new U.N. report released Tuesday in Geneva.

An urgent transformation to ‘eco-farming’ is the only way to end hunger and face the challenges of climate change and rural poverty, said Olivier De Schutter, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to food, following the presentation of his annual report focusing on agroecology and the right to food to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

“Agroecology mimics nature not industrial processes. It replaces the external inputs like fertiliser with knowledge of how a combination of plants, trees and animals can enhance productivity of the land,” De Schutter told IPS.

“Yields went up 214 percent in 44 projects in 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa using agro-ecological farming techniques over a period of 3 to 10 years… far more than any GM [genetically modified] crop has ever done.”

Other recent scientific assessments have shown that small farmers in 57 countries using agro-ecological techniques obtained average yield increases of 80 percent. Africans’ average increases were 116 percent.

“Today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilisers in boosting food production in regions where the hungry live,” De Schutter said. [Video Interviews with De Schutter]


Agroecology applies ecological science to the design of agricultural systems. It enhances soil productivity and protects crops against pests by relying on the natural elements.

Eco-farming doesn’t require expensive inputs of fossil-fuel- based pesticides, fertilisers, machinery or hybrid seeds. It is ideally suited for poor smallholder farmers and herders who are the bulk of the one billion hungry people in the world. Efforts by governments and major donors such as the 400-million- dollar Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to subsidise fertilizer and hybrid seeds will produce quick boosts in yields but are not sustainable in the long term, De Schutter said.

Malawi is touted as an AGRA success story by funders such as the Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation who have massively subsidised fertilizer and created a corresponding improvement in food production. However the country simply cannot afford to continue those subsidies and is shifting its strategy to agro-ecology. “The [Malawi] government now subsidises farmers to plant nitrogen-fixing trees in their fields to ensure sustained growth in maize production,” he said.

De Shutter says AGRA is looking for quick results and is getting them. He has found it difficult to overcome AGRA proponents’ suspicions about the effectiveness of agro-ecology, despite the mounting evidence. “I expect countries to express scepticism towards these solutions because they are not in accord with the dominant paradigm,” De Schutter said.

The dominant view of agriculture is the industrial approach – of maximising efficiency and yield. However that system is utterly dependent on cheap fossil fuels and never having to be held accountable for environmental degradation and other impacts.

One the most under-acknowledged but astonishing impacts is on the global climate.

“It is fair to say that between 45 and 50 percent of all human emissions of global warming gases come from the current form of food production,” De Shutter says.

Climate-damaging emissions from industrial agriculture are more than just carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels. They include massive amounts of the super-heating greenhouse gases like methane from animals and nitrous oxide from chemical fertiliser. Add in deforestation – which is mostly done to increase farmland or plantations – and that’s around a third of all emissions. Now add on the emissions from food processing and the long distance transport of foods around the world and it comes close to half of all human emissions.

The food system doesn’t have to be a major source of emissions, the problem is just the way we have designed it around cheap fossil fuel energy, he said. Eco-farming can produce more food for the world’s poorest people, while also resulting in a fraction of the emissions. It can even store carbon in the soil.

The international movement of millions of small-scale peasant farmers called La Via Campesina have been trying to make the same point since at least 2009. “Peasant farmers from La Via Campesina and others can help cool the planet,” Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, a Haitian farmer told IPS.

“The evidence is irrefutable. If we can change the way we farm and the way we produce and distribute food, then we have a powerful solution for combating the climate crisis,” said Henk Hobbelink, coordinator of GRAIN, an international non-governmental organisation that produced a report in 2009 showing that industrial agriculture was by far the biggest source of climate- disrupting emissions of greenhouse gases.

“There are no technical hurdles to achieving these results, it is only a matter of political will,” Hobbelink told IPS.

Trade, economic and agricultural policies are all skewed in favour of the current industrial food production system. And many of those policies are pushing small farmers – the ones who are by far the most efficient in terms of carbon emissions and energy use according to GRAIN – off the land.

De Shutter says the techniques and benefits of agro-ecology are now well established, so his role is to push governments to change policies and support the transformation of food production. His report offers policy- relevant recommendations for countries, such as increasing public funding for research and training.

Agro-ecology is knowledge-intensive and farmers don’t have access to training except in a few countries like Brazil and Benin.

“Private companies will not invest time and money in practices that cannot be rewarded by patents and which don’t open markets for chemical products or improved seeds,” De Shutter said.

“If we don’t radically transform the direction of the global food system we will never feed the billion who are hungry,” De Shutter warns. “Nor will we be able to feed ourselves in the future.”

First published as: Save Climate and Double Food Production With Eco-Farming – IPS ipsnews.net.

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6 Responses

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  1. A better definition of agroecology and some good examples would help those of us who would like to use this information in our writing.

    David McLaren

    12/10/2012 at 9:32 am

    • David, the UN report offers examples and there is plenty of information on the web:

      Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems at UC Davis http://casfs.ucsc.edu/

      Lots of reports/examples around the world here: http://agroeco.org/publications/

      From another of my articles:

      Parts of Kenya have been hit hard by a multi-year drought, but “Mrs. Kimonyi is never hungry” said Patrick Mangu, an ethnobotanist at Kenya’s National Museums.

      The local farmer’s one-hectare plot of land has 57 varieties planted in a mix of cereals, legumes, roots, tubers, fruit and herbs. Mangu conducted studies in the drought-stricken region because there are farms that were doing quite well while many were disasters.

      It is this diversity that produced edible products virtually every day of the year, buffering Kimonyi from the impacts of drought, said Mangu. “Often it was local varieties she planted that survived best during the drought.”

      “Is this the basis for a new green revolution for Africa? The answer is yes.”

      http://www.ipsnews.net/2010/05/seeds-of-hope-take-root-in-kenya/

      Stephen

      12/10/2012 at 10:29 am

  2. Here is a link to the best solution I have found for this problem: http://garden-life.ws/

    subtleenergies

    31/10/2012 at 2:22 pm

  3. I was recently in Nepal and was struck at the incredible productivity AND diversity from a one hectare family farm that was still using a cattle driven plow. The thing is, they have experimented and adopted a lot of new ideas and technology that makes sense within their local environment. Mushroom farming from straw, community fish farms, biogas generator to turn waste into fuel, green roofs that incorporate principles of permaculture. Very little fossil fuel input too.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Isaac

    31/01/2013 at 11:37 pm

  4. You can find a cheap and simple, open-source way to double food production and carbon sequestration in two years using half the water at: http://garden-life.ws/ This is the best thing that anyone can do in their yard, garden or farm to stop or reverse global warming.

    subtleenergies

    01/02/2013 at 12:10 am

  5. [...] stephenleahy.net, 30-1-2013. Segons un informe de la ONU presentat recentment a Ginebra, a partir de l’ecoagricultura es podria duplicar la producció d’aliments en algunes regions en el termini de deu anys i al mateix mitigar els efectes del canvi climàtic. El relator sobre el dret a l’alimentació d’aquesta institució, Oliver De Schutter afegeix que “l’agricultura ecològica és la única manera d’acabar amb la fam i afrontar els desafiaments del clima i la pobresa rural” . Les dades de l’informe ho posen de relleu: els rendiments van augmentar més d’un 200€ en els 44 projectes en 20 països de l’Àfrica i emprant tècniques d’agricultura ecològica que minimitza l’ús d’inputs. Per llegir la noticia i per despenjar l’informe cliqueu aquí [...]


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