An International Farmers Alliance Links Climate Change to Industrial Agriculture

Rural America In These Times

In Mongolia, drought and extreme changes in seasonal temperature are becoming more common. Severe winters, in which many grazing livestock die from starvation, are known as "dzuds."

Accord­ing to the Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Pan­el on Cli­mate Change (IPCC) agri­cul­ture is respon­si­ble for a major por­tion of the increase of green­house gas­es. Not all agri­cul­ture has the same impact, how­ev­er — the vast major­i­ty of the effect comes from the post WWII indus­tri­al agri­cul­tur­al system.

This sys­tem — an agri­cul­tur­al mod­el based on cap­i­tal con­cen­tra­tion, high fos­sil ener­gy con­sump­tion, over­pro­duc­tion, con­sumerism and trade lib­er­al­iza­tion — has put our planet’s ecosys­tems at risk and pushed human com­mu­ni­ties toward disaster. 

Indus­tri­al­ized coun­tries and the indus­tri­al­iza­tion of agri­cul­ture are the biggest con­trib­u­tors to glob­al warm­ing, but it is farm­ers and rur­al com­mu­ni­ties — espe­cial­ly in devel­op­ing coun­tries — that are among the first to suf­fer from cli­mate change. Chang­ing weath­er pat­terns bring unknown pests along with unusu­al droughts, floods and storms, destroy­ing crops, farm­lands, farm­stock and farmer’s hous­es. More­over, plants, ani­mal species and marine life are threat­ened or dis­ap­pear­ing at an unprece­dent­ed pace due to the com­bined effects of warm­ing and indus­tri­al exploita­tion. It is esti­mat­ed that by 2080, Latin Amer­i­ca will like­ly see a 24.3 per­cent decline agri­cul­tur­al yields, Asia 19.3 per­cent and Africa 27.5 per­cent. Life at large is endan­gered by the decreas­ing avail­abil­i­ty of fresh water resources. By 2050 an esti­mat­ed 4 bil­lion peo­ple will live in high­ly water-stressed environments.

In trop­i­cal regions, glob­al warm­ing is like­ly to lead to a seri­ous decline in agri­cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion and to the accel­er­a­tion of the deser­ti­fi­ca­tion of farm­land. On the oth­er hand, vast regions of Rus­sia and Cana­da will turn into crop­land for the first time in human his­to­ry. Yet it is still unknown how these regions will be able to grow crops. Farm­ers have to adjust to these changes by adapt­ing their seeds and usu­al pro­duc­tion sys­tems to an unpre­dictable situation.

What is expect­ed is that mil­lions of farm­ers will be dis­placed from the land. Such shift­ing is regard­ed by indus­try as a busi­ness oppor­tu­ni­ty to increase food exports and imports, when the real­i­ty is that hunger and depen­den­cy will only increase around the world.

Via Campesina, a transcon­ti­nen­tal move­ment bring­ing togeth­er of small farm­ers and pro­duc­ers, asserts that it is time to rad­i­cal­ly change the indus­tri­al way to pro­duce, trans­form, trade and con­sume food and agri­cul­tur­al prod­ucts. We believe that sus­tain­able small-scale farm­ing and local food con­sump­tion will help reverse the dev­as­ta­tion and sup­port mil­lions of farm­ing fam­i­lies. Agri­cul­ture can also cool down the earth by using farm­ing prac­tices that store CO2 and reduce the use of ener­gy on farms.

Via Campesina march­es against the World Trade Orga­ni­za­tion in Jakar­ta, Indone­sia. (Pho­to: www​.deinayurve​da​.net)

Five Ways that indus­tri­al agri­cul­ture is con­tribut­ing to glob­al warm­ing and cli­mate change

1. By unnec­es­sar­i­ly trans­port­ing food all around the world:

Fresh and pack­aged food is being shipped thou­sands of miles, while local farm­ers are denied appro­pri­ate access to local and nation­al mar­kets. In Europe and the Unit­ed States, for exam­ple, it is now com­mon to find fruits, veg­eta­bles, meat or wine from Africa, South Amer­i­ca or Ocea­nia. In the Amer­i­c­as or Africa it is easy to find Asian rice. Fos­sil fuels used for food trans­port are releas­ing tons of car­bon diox­ide into the atmos­phere. In fact, the Swiss peas­ants’ orga­ni­za­tion UNITERRE cal­cu­lat­ed that one kilo of aspara­gus import­ed from Mex­i­co needs 5 liters of oil to trav­el by plane (11,800km) to Switzer­land, while a kilo of aspara­gus pro­duced in Switzer­land only needs 0.3 liters of oil to reach the consumer.

2. By impos­ing indus­tri­al forms of pro­duc­tion, most notably fer­til­iz­ers and pesticides:

The use of fer­til­iz­ers and pes­ti­cides — so-called mod­ern­ized” agri­cul­ture — is destroy­ing nat­ur­al soil process­es and result­ing in car­bon deposits in soil organ­ic matter.

Due notably to the use of chem­i­cal fer­til­iz­ers, inten­sive agri­cul­ture and ani­mal pro­duc­tion mono­cul­tures pro­duce sig­nif­i­cant quan­ti­ties of nitrous oxide (NO2), a nox­ious green­house gas. In Europe, 40 per­cent of the ener­gy con­sumed on the farm comes from the pro­duc­tion of these nitro­gen fertilizers.

3. By destroy­ing bio­di­ver­si­ty and its capac­i­ty to cap­ture carbon:

Car­bon is cap­tured from the air by plants and stocked in wood and organ­ic mat­ter in the soil. Some ecosys­tems includ­ing native forests, peat lands and mead­ows stock more car­bon than others.

This car­bon cycle has been part of the cli­mate bal­ance for thou­sands of years, but cor­po­rate agribusi­ness has now shat­tered this bal­ance by impos­ing wide­spread chem­i­cal agri­cul­ture (with mas­sive use of oil-based pes­ti­cides and fer­til­iz­ers), by burn­ing forests for mono­cul­ture plan­ta­tions and by destroy­ing peat lands and biodiversity.

4. By con­vert­ing land and forests into non-agri­cul­tur­al areas:

Forests, pas­tures and cul­ti­vat­ed lands are rapid­ly being con­vert­ed into indus­tri­al agri­cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion areas or into shop­ping malls, indus­tri­al com­plex­es, hous­ing devel­op­ments, large infra­struc­ture projects and tourist resorts. This caus­es mas­sive car­bon emis­sions and reduces the capac­i­ty of the envi­ron­ment to absorb the car­bon released into the atmosphere.

5. By trans­form­ing agri­cul­ture from an ener­gy pro­duc­er into an ener­gy consumer:

In terms of ener­gy con­ver­sion, the first role of plants and agri­cul­ture is to trans­form solar ener­gy into ener­gy in the form of sug­ars and cel­lu­lose that can be direct­ly absorbed in food or trans­formed by ani­mals into ani­mal prod­ucts. This is a nat­ur­al process, which brings ener­gy into the food chain. How­ev­er, the indus­tri­al­iza­tion process of agri­cul­ture over the last two cen­turies has lead to a con­sump­tion econ­o­my rather than pro­duc­tion one.

Three prob­lem­at­ic solu­tions to the grow­ing agrar­i­an crisis

1. Agro­fu­els:

Agro­fu­els (fuels pro­duced from plants, agri­cul­ture and forestry) are often pre­sent­ed as one of the solu­tions to the cur­rent ener­gy cri­sis. Under the Kyoto Pro­to­col, 20 per­cent of the glob­al ener­gy con­sump­tion should come from renew­able sources by 2020; this includes agro­fu­els. How­ev­er, leav­ing aside the ethics of pro­duc­ing food to feed cars while so many peo­ple are starv­ing, indus­tri­al agro­fu­el pro­duc­tion will actu­al­ly increase the effects of glob­al warm­ing instead of reduc­ing them.

Inten­sive agro­fu­el pro­duc­tion is not a solu­tion to glob­al warm­ing, nor will it solve the glob­al cri­sis in the agri­cul­tur­al sec­tor. The impacts will again be felt most seri­ous­ly in devel­op­ing coun­tries, as indus­tri­al­ized coun­tries will not be able to cov­er their agro­fu­el demand and will need to import huge amounts from the Glob­al South.

2. Car­bon trading;

Under the Kyoto Pro­to­col and oth­er inter­na­tion­al schemes, car­bon trad­ing” is pre­sent­ed as a solu­tion for glob­al warm­ing. It is a pri­va­ti­za­tion of car­bon after the pri­va­ti­za­tion of land, air, seeds, water and oth­er resources. It allows gov­ern­ments to allo­cate per­mits to big indus­tri­al pol­luters so they can trade rights to pol­lute” amongst them­selves. Some oth­er pro­grams encour­age indus­tri­al­ized coun­tries to finance cheap car­bon dumps such as large-scale plan­ta­tions in the Glob­al South as a way to stall the reduc­tions of their own emis­sions. This allows com­pa­nies to make a dou­ble prof­it while claim­ing false­ly that they con­tribute to car­bon seques­tra­tion. On the oth­er hand, parts of Asia, Africa and Latin Amer­i­ca are being treat­ed as mere car­bon sinks and pri­va­tized through the so-called sale of envi­ron­men­tal ser­vices, thus kick­ing com­mu­ni­ties out of their land and reduc­ing their access to their own forests, fields and rivers.

3. GMOs:

Genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied trees and crops are now being devel­oped for agro­fu­el pro­duc­tion. Genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied organ­isms will not solve any envi­ron­men­tal cri­sis as they them­selves pose a risk to the envi­ron­ment as well as to health and safe­ty. More­over, they increase cor­po­rate con­trol over seeds, depriv­ing farm­ers of their right to grow, devel­op, select, diver­si­fy and exchange their own seeds.

Food sov­er­eign­ty as the key to pro­vid­ing liveli­hoods to mil­lions while pro­tect­ing life on earth

Via Campesina believes that solu­tions to the cur­rent cri­sis have to emerge from orga­nized social actors that are devel­op­ing modes of pro­duc­tion, trade and con­sump­tion based on jus­tice, sol­i­dar­i­ty and healthy com­mu­ni­ties. No tech­no­log­i­cal fix will solve the cur­rent glob­al envi­ron­men­tal and social disaster.

A set of true solu­tions should include: Sus­tain­able small-scale farm­ing, which is labor-inten­sive and requires lit­tle ener­gy use, and can actu­al­ly con­tribute to stop and reverse the effects of cli­mate change

A true agrar­i­an reform strength­ens small-scale farm­ing, pro­motes the pro­duc­tion of food as the pri­ma­ry use of land and regards food as a basic human right that should not be treat­ed as a com­mod­i­ty. Local food pro­duc­tion will stop the unnec­es­sary trans­porta­tion of food and ensure that what reach­es our tables is safe, fresh and nutritious.

Food sov­er­eign­ty is the right of peo­ples to healthy and cul­tur­al­ly appro­pri­ate food pro­duced through eco­log­i­cal­ly sound and sus­tain­able meth­ods, and their right to define their own food and agri­cul­ture sys­tems. It puts the aspi­ra­tions and needs of those who pro­duce, dis­trib­ute and con­sume food at the heart of food sys­tems and poli­cies rather than the demands of mar­kets and cor­po­ra­tions. Food sov­er­eign­ty pri­or­i­tizes local and nation­al economies and mar­kets, empow­ers peas­ant and fam­i­ly farmer-dri­ven agri­cul­ture, arti­san-style fish­ing, pas­toral­ist-led graz­ing, and pro­tects food pro­duc­tion, dis­tri­b­u­tion and con­sump­tion based on envi­ron­men­tal, social and eco­nom­ic sustainability.

There­fore, Via Campesina is call­ing for:

1. The com­plete dis­man­tling of agribusi­ness com­pa­nies: They are steal­ing the land of small pro­duc­ers and cre­at­ing envi­ron­men­tal disasters.

2. The replace­ment of indus­tri­al­ized agri­cul­ture and ani­mal pro­duc­tion by small-scale sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture sup­port­ed by gen­uine agrar­i­an reform programs.

3. The ban­ning of all forms of genet­ic use restric­tion technologies.

4. The pro­mo­tion of sus­tain­able ener­gy poli­cies. This includes con­sum­ing less ener­gy and decen­tral­iz­ing ener­gy instead of pro­mot­ing large-scale agro­fu­el pro­duc­tion, as is cur­rent­ly the case.

5. The imple­men­ta­tion of agri­cul­tur­al and trade poli­cies at local, nation­al and inter­na­tion­al lev­els that sup­port sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture and local food con­sump­tion. This includes the ban on the kinds of sub­si­dies that lead to the dump­ing of cheap food on markets.

A report, draft­ed by over 400 sci­en­tists and prac­ti­tion­ers from across the globe, empha­sized that busi­ness as usu­al is not an option” in regards to the role of agri­cul­ture in feed­ing the peo­ple of the world,. The sci­en­tists empha­sized the need for more agro-eco­log­i­cal prac­tices that are less reliant on tech­nol­o­gy and more focused on a community’s needs. It is impor­tant to add that all attempts to reverse the now well-known prob­lems asso­ci­at­ed with Glob­al Warm­ing will be in vain if busi­ness as usu­al” is allowed. Via Campesina’s pro­gram of extend­ing food sov­er­eign­ty to all cor­ners of the globe is not only a strat­e­gy for feed­ing the world’s pop­u­la­tion, it is also an inte­gral ele­ment in any pro­gram to cool the planet.

This arti­cle was adapt­ed from the Via Campesina pub­li­ca­tion: Small-Scale Sus­tain­able Farm­ers are Cool­ing Down the Earth.”

This blog’s mis­sion is to pro­vide the pub­lic ser­vice of help­ing make the issues that rur­al Amer­i­ca is grap­pling with part of nation­al discourse.
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