Science in Society Archive

Paradigm Shift Urgently Needed In Agriculture

UN Agencies Call for an End to Industrial Agriculture & Food System

A rising chorus from UN agencies on how food security, poverty, gender inequality and climate change can all be addressed by a radical transformation of our agriculture and food system Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

Agriculture the problem and the solution to climate change

Record breaking heat waves sweeping over both hemispheres this summer have put global warming back into the headlines, and with it, the problem of survival under climate change. The most urgent item on the agenda is how to produce food without adding even more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, which can also withstand the increasingly frequent extreme weather events.

It is generally acknowledged that industrial agriculture and our globalized food system is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, up to 50% if proper account is taken of emissions from land use change and deforestation, most of which are due to agriculture, and for food-related transport, processing, storage, and consumption (see Figure 1) [1]. Nevertheless, it is also generally recognized that agriculture holds tremendous promise for mitigating climate change, and much else besides.

Figure 1   Agriculture & food system contribute 50 % of ghg emissions

UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) – the developing nations’ equivalent of OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) – joins a rising chorus of UN agencies in its latest Trade and Environment Review (TER) [2]. The solution for food security under climate change is a radical transformation of the agriculture and food system that would at the same time eliminate poverty, gender inequality, poor health and malnutrition. The 320 page TER - the work of 63 authors from organisations around the world – provides a coherent, closely argued case backed up by evidence from numerous case studies and surveys showing that these interrelated problems could all be solved by a paradigm shift away from the current industrial agriculture and globalized food system to a conglomerate of small, biodiverse, ecological farms around the world and a localized food system that promotes consumption of local/regional produce. The TER proposal is not dissimilar to that made in ISIS’ special report [3] Food Futures Now: *Organic *Sustainable *Fossil Fuel Free  published in 2008, and in the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) [4], which resulted from a three-year consultative process involving 900 participants and 110 countries around the world. The same message was reinforced in several key publications from the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) [for example, 5, 6] and UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) [7] to name but a few.

Why small farmers? Small farms predominate in the world today. Of the 1.6 billion ha of global croplands, 800 m ha are smallholder farms cultivated by 99 % of the 2.6 billion farmers; most of the farms are 2 ha or less. Together, smallholder farmers produce 70 % of the food consumed [7], and 70 % of these farmers are women. Small farms are known to be 2 to 10 times as productive as large industrial farms, and much more profitable, not just in the developing world, but also in the developed world [8-10].

Unfortunately, the perverse government agricultural subsidies in developed countries that favour large fossil-fuel intensive farms, the systematic dumping of subsidized export to developing countries, and structural adjustment programmes imposed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank on developing countries have all worked to destroy the livelihoods of small family farmers [11, 12]. Over the past decades, small family farms have all but disappeared in developed countries. In the developing world, some 1.4 billion people are undernourished and poor, 70%-80 % living in rural areas, who can no longer afford to buy enough food, even when food is available.

The successes of small agro-ecological farms

The successes of small agro-ecological farms are well known (see [3]). Study after study has documented improvements in yield and income as well as environmental benefits from eliminating agricultural input and polluting runoffs, increase in agricultural and natural biodiversity, reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and most of all, improvements in water retention, carbon sequestration and resilience to climate extremes such as drought and floods. There is evidence of improved nutritional value in organically grown food, not just from reduction or elimination of pesticide residues, but from increased content of vitamins and micronutrients [13].

Olivier de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food is in no doubt that agroecology is a solution to the crises of food systems and climate change [14]. He cites a study [15] published in 2006 on 286 recent sustainable agriculture projects in 57 developing countries covering 37 million ha (3 per cent of the cultivated area), which found that crop productivity on the 12.6 million farms increased by an average of 79 per cent, while also improving the supply of critical environmental service.

Noémi Nemes from FAO point out that an analysis of over 50 economic studies demonstrates that in the majority of cases organic systems are more profitable than non-organic systems [16]. In developed countries, this is due to higher market prices and premiums, or lower production costs, or a combination of the two. In developing countries, greater profitability is due to higher yields and high premiums. The increased profits are accompanied by enormous savings due to reduced damages to the external ecosystems from polluting agrochemicals.

The importance of local knowledge and practices and diverse polyculture for resilience to climate change

Miguel Altieri at University of California Berkeley and Parviz Koohafkan from FAO stress the importance of biodiversity in agroecological farming for resilience [17], as revealed by three recent studies. In Central American hillsides after Hurricane Mitch, farmers engaged in polyculture with cover crops, intercropping and agroforestry, suffered less damage than their neighbours who practiced conventional monoculture. The survey, spearheaded by the Campesino a Campesino movement, mobilized 100 farmer-technician teams to carry out paired observations of specific agroecological indicators on 1 804 neighbouring sustainable and conventional farms in 360 communities and 24 departments of Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. It found that plots where farmers adopted sustainable farming practices had 20 to 40 % more topsoil, greater soil moisture and less erosion, and experienced smaller economic losses than their conventional neighbours. Similarly in Sotonusco, Chiapas, coffee systems with high levels of vegetation complexity and plant diversity suffered less damage from Hurricane Stan than simplified coffee systems. The same in Cuba; 40 days after Hurricane Ike hit the country in 2008, a farm survey in the provinces of Holguin and Las Tunas found that diversified farms suffered losses of 50 % compared to 90 or 100 %  in neighbouring monoculture farms.  In addition, agroecologically managed farms showed faster recovery of productivity (80–90 % 40 days after the hurricane) than monoculture farms.

All three studies highlight the importance of enhancing plant diversity and complexity in farming systems in reducing vulnerability to extreme climatic events. As many peasant farmers commonly manage polycultures and/or agroforestry systems, their knowledge and practices could provide a valuable source of information for agriculture in times of climate change. It is important for scientists to work with farmers to preserve and enhance this indigenous knowledge. Restoring biodiversity also is the best strategy to resist disease and pests.

Another remarkable example of productive and resilient polycultures innovated by farmers is described by Roger Leakey at James Cook University, Cairns, Australia [18]. This involves a three-point action plan to improve and rehabilitate marginal lands, many of which are unproductive or no longer suitable for agriculture. 

The first step is to use legumes to fix atmospheric nitrogen. Nitrogen-fixing species such as Sesbania sebanDesmodium intorum and D. uncinatum are planted to provide green manure for cereal crops as well as fodder for livestock. These plants can control root parasites of cereal crops such as Striga hermonthica by triggering their ‘suicide germination’ before the cereals are planted. Desmodium spp also act as repellent for insects pests of cereals like the stem borers Buseola fusca and Chila partellus. Similarly, planting Napier grass (Pennisetum purpuretum) as an intercrop or around small fields attract the insect pests away from the crops.

The next step is to integrate trees within the farming systems. Cash crops such as coffee, cocoa and rubber are increasingly grown by small holders in various combinations; also bananas with fruit trees like mango and avocado and local indigenous trees that produce marketable products. Another innovation in the tropics especially South-East Asia led by farmers who used to practice shifting agriculture is to plant a wide variety of commercially important tree species among food crops species on the valley slopes. These trees become productive successively in later years, creating a continuous supply of marketable produce such as cinnamon, tung nut, damar (edible gum), duku (edible fruit) and rubber for several decades, often ending in a timber crop. Apart from generating income, the trees enhance biodiversity and promote agro-ecosystem functions that monoculture crops cannot provide: protecting sloping land from erosion, improving water infiltration into the soil, sequestering carbon and mitigating climate change (see above). In a further initiative over the past 20 years, agroforesters have taken this strategy to a higher level by starting to domesticate some of the very wide range of forest tree species that have been the source of food and non-food products. Well-known horticulture techniques of vegetative propagation have been used to develop cultivars within local communities rather than in a research station, thus ensuring that farmers participating in the projects who have the indigenous local knowledge are the instant beneficiaries of the domestication. As a result, highly productive cultivars yielding good quality produce required by market are rapidly and easily obtained. As the multiplication process is done vegetatively from mature tissues that can readily flower and fruit, trees become productive in 2-3 years.

A tree domestication project in Cameroon started 23 years ago grew from four villages and a small number of farmers to over 450 villages with 7 500 farmers. Benefits such as income started within 5 years.  The third step, says Leakey [18], is to further expand the commercialization of the new tree crops, to create business opportunities and employment.

Rehabilitation of degraded land has the potential to double the amount of agricultural land globally. As pointed out by David Pimental and Michael Burgess at Cornell University, New York [19], decades of unsustainable industrial agricultural practices have resulted in massive loss of top soil and land degradation. Worldwide, the 1.5 billion ha of land now under cultivation are almost equal in area to the amount that has been abandoned by humans since farming began.

The sub-Saharan miracle of tree-planting continues

Chris Reij, Facilitator of African Re-greening Initiative, Centre for International Cooperation, at Free University, Amsterdam [20] reminds us of the miraculous re-greening of Sahel through the initiative of local farmers that has confounded scientists and policy-makers [21]. At the end of the 1960s and early 1970s, rainfall suddenly declined in the Sahel by about 30 %, causing widespread hunger and hardship, with dire predictions from many commentators and policy-makers. But recent studies revealed some surprisingly positive trends. Farmers in several densely populated regions of Niger have been protecting and managing on farm natural regeneration of trees and bushes, a process that began around 1985, leading to re-greening of about 5 m ha, the largest environmental transformation in the Sahel and possibly in Africa. It involves on-farm protection and management of useful trees that has fed about 2.5 m people: Faidherbia albida, a nitrogen fixing species that improves soil fertility and provides fodder for livestock, Pilostigma reticulatum and  Guiera senegalensis for fodder, Combretum glutinosum for firewood, and Adansonia digatat for edible nutritious leaves. The annual production value of the new trees is in the order of at least €200 million, all of which goes to farmers, not necessarily in the form of cash but in the form of produce.

Apart from increasing biodiversity, providing fodder, food, and firewood, and increasing household income, the new agroforestry systems have had other positive impacts. The trees shelter the fields from wind and farmers in densely populated parts of Niger now plant crops once instead of 3 or 4 times as they did 20 years ago when the crops were covered by sand or destroyed by sand blast. The trees provide shading and reduce temperature and evaporation, and help protect topsoil. They mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon. And on top of that, there is evidence that the trees also create more rainfall [21].

Many examples of farmers-managed re-greening can be found in other Sahel countries. In Mali’s Seno Plains, farmers protect and manage natural regeneration on about 450 000 ha where 90-95% of trees are younger than 20 years. As elsewhere, this region had a good tree cover in the 1950s and 1960s, but drought in the 1970s and 1980s led to destruction of much of the vegetation to make way for cultivation. The result was large-scale wind and water erosion and declining crop yields. In the second half of the 1980s and the 2000s, farmers, governments and donors began to respond to the crisis by supporting the planting of on-farm trees.

Farmers in Sahel have also used simple water harvesting techniques to rehabilitate strongly degraded land in the early 1980s. The northern part of the Burkina Faso central plateau was an open laboratory for testing different water harvesting techniques, such as improved traditional planting pits and contour stone bunds, which slow rainfall runoff and induce infiltration into the soil. As a result, more water becomes available for plant growth and to recharge local groundwater. The scale of land rehabilitation in Niger and Burkina Faso since the end of the 1980s is about 500 000 ha. Land that was barren and degraded has become productive. Crop yields vary from a few hundred kg/ha in years with poor rainfall to 1.5-2 tons/ha in years of normal or good rainfall. Yields are not only determined by rainfall, but also by the quantity and quality of organic fertilizers used. Land rehabilitation on the central plateau of Berkina Faso feed an additional 400 000 people.

Kenya is now the only country in Africa, and possibly in the world in which the new constitution obliges farmers to grow trees on 10 % of their land.

Even casual observers travelling to Tigray will be struck by the scale of natural regeneration in parts of this region, covering at least one million ha. Most of the re-greening has occurred in ‘enclosures’ or degraded lands set aside for rehabilitation. A number of activities are combined: water harvesting, natural regeneration and enrichment planting, usually with exotic species, as well as organic agriculture using compost, pioneered by Sue Edwards of Institute of Sustainable Development in Addis Ababa, and Tewolde Gebre Egziabher, ex-Minister for the Environment of Ethiopia [22]. In the longest running experiment with farmers lasting 7 years or more, they have demonstrated a 50 to 200 % increase in crop yields with organic compost that are also on average 30 % more than with chemical fertilizers. In the valley of Abraha Atsbaha, for example, such activities led to an increase in water levels in the valley, enabling several hundred shallow wells to be dug. In 2008, even when rainfall was very low and cereal crops failed, many families managed to cope because they were able to irrigate fruit trees as well as vegetable gardens around the wells.

Carbon sequestration could be enormous

Andre Leu, President international Federation of Organic Agricultural movements (IFOAM), provides a thorough review on carbon sequestration in organic soils from diverse sources and ecosystems [23].  This ranges from 2.4 to 23.4, and even up to 33 tonnes of CO2/ha/y in a well-managed permanent pasture.

Significantly, scientists at the University of Illinois analysed the results of a 50-year agricultural trial and found that the application of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer had resulted in all the carbon residues from the crop disappearing, as well as an average loss of around 10 tonnes of soil carbon per hectare. This has large implications for conventional monoculture that are highly dependent on synthetic nitrogen fertilizers (see below). Nitrogen fertilizer is responsible for the majority (70 % in some estimates [24]) of greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of crops both through the fossil energy used in its manufacture and N2O emissions from the soil subsequent to its application. Thus, organic agriculture offers the potential not only of substantial savings on direct emissions, but also sequestering enormous amount of carbon in the soil. Currently, certified organic agriculture is practiced on more than 37 m ha worldwide, with sales worth at least €44.522 billion for the minority of countries that have data, €20.156 billion in USA alone [25].

The livestock rearing debate

The issue of livestock rearing in agriculture has generated much heated debate, especially in view of the fact that up to 40 % of arable land is used for feedcrop production [26]. Livestock feed accounts for 38 % of the world’s cereal crop, 53% of oil crops, 25 % of roots, 24 % of pulses and 8 % of sugar crops plus 20 % of fish, and 12 % of milk, butter, and dairy in 200o [27]. The highest users are North America and Western Europe with 72 % and 67 % of cereals respectively. The figures were similar for 2005. One study estimated that livestock-related activities are responsible for 18 % of the world’s GHG emissions or about 80 per cent of the overall emissions from agricultural activities [28]: 34 % of that due to deforestation, 25 % from enteric fermentation and 25.9 % from manure, the remainder equally allocated to on0farm use of fossil fuel, manufacture of chemical fertilizers and transport and processing. The actual contribution could be much higher (see above for emissions due to synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, and Figure 1).  

Anita Idel from Federation of German Scientists and Tobia Reichert of Germanwatch emphasize the capacity of grasslands to act as effective carbon sinks, which could make extensive pasture-fed livestock rearing a highly sustainable option [29]. Sustainable pasture and grassland management promotes the photosynthetic growth of grass and its roots. In addition, microorganisms and worms convert biomass into humus, which contains over 50 % carbon. Grassland covers a total area of 5.25 billion ha, i.e. about 40 per cent of the total land surface of our planet. The giant grasslands of the world store in their soil more than a third of the global carbon stock. In savannah soils, it is estimated that more than 80 % of the biomass can be found in the roots. Trials in the United States have shown that yields from permanent grasslands over a decade surpassed those of monocultures by 238 %.

Cattle and other ruminants have co-evolved with grasslands over thousands of years, turning grass and hay – which cannot be used as human food - effectively into meat and milk, with the help of symbiotic bacteria in their rumen. Instead, industrial agriculture force feed them on cereals to boost their performance artificially, making their lives short and brutish, and prone to disease. Non-high-performance cattle can be fed entirely on grass and live longer healthier lives, reducing the replacement rate. Sustainably used, pastures can contribute to humus accumulation and thus help to reduce atmospheric CO2 through carbon fixation above and below ground and carbon sequestration in the soil. While cattle emit methane, this is more than offset by the increase in carbon fixation and sequestration in well-managed pastures. Ruminants are an integral part of traditional farming in many developing countries and indispensable for global food security.

Leu [23] cites studies showing that a significant amount of methane is actually biodegraded in soils, and this has been underestimated due to a lack of research. Furthermore, increase in temperature will drive up the rate of biological degradation of methane by methylotropic bacteria and other methanotrophic microorganisms. This explains why historical atmospheric methane levels have been relatively stable, and also why naturally produced methane levels may not, and need not increase as the climate gets warmer. Well aerated soils and biological active soils with high levels of methanotrophic microbes will metabolize the methane.

The case for local food production for consumption

Industrial agriculture has depended on replacing human labour with fossil fuel, most of which goes into producing fertilizers. But industrial agriculture is extremely energy intensive. FAO figures  [30] indicate that 6 GJ of fossil energy (1 barrel of oil) is used in producing one ton of maize in industrial farming, whereas maize produced using traditional methods in Mexico, for example, takes only 180 MJ (4.8 L of oil) per ton. This calculation includes energy for synthetic fertilizers, irrigation and machinery, but not the energy used in making the machinery, transporting products to and from the farm, and constructing the farm buildings. Similarly, in modern rice farming, the energy return on energy invested (output vs input) is less than 1, which means that more energy is consumed than produced. In modern maize farming, the ratio is slightly more than 1. In traditional farming of rice and maize the ratios are 60 to 70.

According to the US Congressional Research Services, energy costs represent between 22 to 27 % of the production costs of wheat, maize and cotton and 14 % of those of soybean [31]. Again, these figures do not include embedded energy in machinery and building, which would make them higher. Coupled with the transport and processing required in our globalized food system, it takes more energy to eat than to farm, says Gunnar Rundgren of Grolink AB Consultancy  [32]. That is why oil and grain prices go up and down in tandem as shown by Richard Heinberg of Post Carbon Institute [33] (Figure 2), and it makes so much sense to move away from fossil fuel industrial farming and long distance transport.

Figure 2   Food and oil prices move in tandem

Local production and consumption would also greatly improve food safety, says Jutta Jaksche, Policy Officer of Food, Federation of German Consumer Organizations [34]. Increasing globalization has accelerated the industrialization of agricultural practices. This has resulted in large scale production that, in the absence of effective regulation, will follow a “race to the bottom” in safety, environmental, social, and ethical standards. A case in point was the EHEC O104: H4, a deadly E. coli bacterium strain traced to imported contaminated sprouts that killed at least 45 people and caused a major food crisis in Germany in 2011.

International standards work against consumer interests. For instance, [32, p. 106] “there are conflicts between consumers in the EU and exporting business in the United States over GMOs, chlorinated poultry and hormones in meat and dairy production. The majority of European consumers are wary of products of cloned animals or genetically modified fish, but commercial pressure groups often try to influence public debate and sentiment on this issue.”

 Jean Feyder, Ambassador, and former permanent representation of Luxembourg to the UN and WTO in Geneva, is especially critical of the globalization of agricultural trade [35]. He says adequate regulation of agricultural markets is needed to shield small producers from international competition and dumping of food imports. The financialization of agriculture - trading food commodities in the unregulated global financial market that many believe to have contributed to the 2008 world food crisis - is a new risk (see [36] Financing World Hunger, SiS 46). Land-grabbing [37, 38] see also [39] ‘Land Rush’ as Threats to Food Security Intensify, SiS 46) and financial speculation on food commodities continue to be a major cause of price surge and volatility witnessed over the past few years, not to mention the production of agro-fuels (see [40] Biofuels and World Hunger, SiS 49), which contribute little if at all to reducing CO2 emissions. Some scientists argue that when proper accounting is done, they actually increase CO2 emissions, even without taking into account land use change because nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizers have been greatly underestimated [41] (Scientists Expose Devastating False Carbon Accounting for Biofuels, SiS 49).

The structural adjustment policies imposed by the international Monetary Fund and the World Bank on developing countries have led to massive trade liberalization and the opening up of markets, giving consumers access to cheap, imported food [35]. Meanwhile, peasants have been encouraged to concentrate on producing export crops. However, the 2008 food crisis has radically challenged the relevance of this development model.

In developing countries, especially the LDCs (least developed countries), imports of chicken, rice, tomato concentrate and milk powder have risen rapidly, ruining local production and the livelihoods of tens of millions of peasant families, not to mention the loss of jobs in the craft and industrial sectors, as they too have been unable to withstand international competition. The trade balance in food products for LDCs moved from a $1 billion surplus 30 years ago, to a deficit of $7 billion in 2000 and $25 billion in 2008.

Haiti was self-sufficient in rice production in the 1970s. Today, less than 25 % of its rice needs are met by local production. Former US President Bill Clinton, currently the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Haiti, publicly acknowledged before a US Senate committee that this policy, which he supported as former President, had been a mistake.

Yet, these perverse and iniquitous practices continue through the World Trade Organization (WTO), as Lim Li Ching of Third World Network and Martin Khor Director of South Centre document at length [42]. The OECD estimates that subsidies given to farm producers in all OECD countries totalled US$252 billion in 2009, or 22 % of the total value of gross farm receipts that year; and the same level applies in 2007 and 2008. They call for harmful and perverse subsidies that promote or encourage the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, water and fuel, or encourage land degradation to be removed, and for special treatment and safeguard mechanisms to protect smallholder farmers’ livelihoods in developing countries. Also, regulatory measures are needed to reorganize the prevailing market structure of the agricultural value chain now dominated by a few multinational corporations and marginalizes small farmers and sustainable production systems.

As Marcia Ishii-Eiteman of Pesticide Action Network North America points out [43], the top ten corporations including Monsanto, Dupont, Syngenta, Groupe Limagrain, Land O’Lakes, KWS AG, and Bayer, own more than 2/3 of the global proprietary seed market, while an overlapping set of 10 corporations including Bayer, Syngenta, Monsanto, Dow, BASF, and Dupont own 82% of the global pesticide market. The complex network of acquisitions, mergers, and subsequent cross-licensing make the consolidation of control far more extensive and complete than the statistics indicate [44].  Furthermore, these multinational corporations have undue influence over public policy, research and trade agendas. It is necessary to curtail corporate concentration in the food system, and increase market access and competitiveness of small and medium-scale farmers to improve food and livelihood security.

Nicolai Fuchs of Nexus Foundation and Ulrich Hoffman of UNCTAD secretariat call for trade rules that encourage regionalized/localized food production networks and raised the key question of whether this can be achieved within current WTO rules, or whether it will require a more fundamental change in trade [45]. As a result of growing consumer concern over where their food comes from, many retail businesses already offer more and more regional products, and localized/regional networks already exist; as for example, the “GMO free regions”. Consequently, both public and private procurement would have to accept such systems.

Christine Chemnitz, Heinrich Boll Foundation and Tilman Santarius, Germanwatch agree to a fundamental rethink of current trade policies [46]. The principle of “economic subsidiarity” implies that economic exchanges in the food system should be carried out preferably at the local and national levels, while exchanges at the continental or global level should have only a complementary function. Economic subsidiarity aims at localizing economic activities whenever possible and reasonable, and is committed to shorter rather than longer commodity chains.

First and foremost, this includes policies that go beyond trade, which protect the land rights of communities and their access to basic natural resources, and especially those that strengthen women’s rights and land entitlements. These policies should promote a decentralized rural infrastructure to foster local marketing and ensure that rural and urban areas are sufficiently connected so that the hinterlands become the main suppliers of food for towns and cities. Most importantly, small farmers should be supported to form a “critical economic mass” through for example cooperative forms of production, storing and marketing. Developing-country governments as well as international donors should provide institutional and financial support, including public finances for microcredit and loans to foster such associations.

Towards the green circular economy

In his Chapter [47] Han Herren, President of the Millenium Institute and a lead author of the IAASTD [4], highlights results of a modelling exercise undertaken by his institute for a comprehensive UNEP Report, Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication [7]. It shows that investments in sustainable agriculture can indeed meet the need for food security in the long term, while reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint, thereby making it part of the climate change solution. More importantly, it also shows that the same investments into business as usual ‘brown agriculture’ will decrease returns on investments in the long run, mainly due to increasing costs of inputs especially water and energy, and stagnating/decreasing yields. The costs of negative externalities of brown agriculture will also continue to increase, initially neutralizing and eventually exceeding any economic and developmental gains. Green agriculture will result in more calories per person /day, more jobs and business opportunities, especially in rural areas, and greater market access opportunities, especially for developing countries. In short, green agriculture is capable of nourishing a growing and more demanding world population at higher nutritional levels.

In the context of the truly green economy, the obvious link and synergy between food and energy can be maximised in the local production and consumption of both. Mae-Wan Ho from the Institute of Science in Society [48] shows how small integrated and biodiverse farms with off-grid renewable energies operating in accordance with nature’s circular economy may be the perfect solution to the food and financial crisis while mitigating and adapting to climate change. Many proponents of renewable energies have long recognized that decentralised distributed generation is the key, given the modular nature of solar PV and wind power generation (see [49] Green Energies - 100% Renewable by 2050, ISIS/TWN Report). This has proven so successful in just a few years that it is now forcing a major transformation of the electricity supply grid from a centralized inflexible structure into a dynamic, flexible and organic network with local power generation and energy storage at different levels (see [50] Renewable Ousting Fossil Energy, SiS 60). These farms located close to urban centres and businesses could provide food and energy generated for the inhabitants, while municipal food and biological wastes can be recycled directly onto the farms [51] (Surviving Global Warming, Localized Food & Energy Systems in Natures Circular Economy, SiS 60).

Article first published 17/09/13


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geof smith Comment left 18th September 2013 15:03:31
Watch this 22 min video for a western version from australia and other countries. There are thousands of western farmers who have realized that 'biological' farming is a planet and people friendly way to manage land , water and food production and still make a profit. I am ex farmer and studied this at masters level recently

Malcolm Rands Comment left 18th September 2013 15:03:19
I couldn't agree more. our challenge is to get these ideas in to the hands of the major aid donors both civic and private. How can I help

Rohan DSouza Comment left 19th September 2013 00:12:56
We are entering an era where more and more people are becoming conscious and aware of how the world should be or can be & the glaring difference with present day scenario. Spreading awareness among the lay people till it becomes common understanding and puts pressure on the Governing body is a very time consuming process of change. Direct awareness and transformation of the people calling the shots is a more direct approach. The world over at large is governed by Politicians & Business Tycoons. Politicians are often kept out of or say not given the highest importance in this awareness loop. These are the very people who make the rules ( in connivance with the Tycoons :) ). Lets try our very best to create awareness in this category of people(ie. Politicians & Tycoons )and the world can be changed sooner. Together we can & we will set all things right. Regards, Rohan DSouza Mumbai, India

james Pott Comment left 19th September 2013 15:03:55
Totally in agreement. In addition do not forget the work by forage specialist Peter Ballerstedt PhD who re-introduced the concept of mob stocking explained at the Ancestral Health Conference It's the once and for all end of the ruminant as the polluter. High energy grass, not high protein grass, is the solution to the world's food problem.

Sarah Comment left 19th September 2013 23:11:14
What about reversing desertification by Allan Savory as proven to be effective via mimicking nature - obviously huge money is invested in CAFOs / industrial farming etc and therein lies the problem and thus resistance to change.

Naia Comment left 21st September 2013 03:03:45
Some decades ago "permaculture" was gaining popularity with an almost religious zeal. The ethics and practise of permaculture, while some specifics have honed over time, largely reflect those described in this article. The issue is not a lack of understanding, as local knowledge and research are constantly synergising - the issue is the resistance from the powers that be - those who profit from the current monocultural, exploitative and polluting systems at the expense of those with limited resources or tenure.

Paul Olivier Comment left 29th January 2014 22:10:04
I am in total agreement with all that is set forth in this paper. I have been particularly concerned about abuses within industrialized agriculture with regard to the raising of pigs and chickens: Here radical changes are urgently needed.

Paul A Olivier Comment left 10th March 2014 15:03:09
I really like this article. It beautifully summarizes all that we believe in. We are working in Vietnam on a new way of raising pigs and chickens: