Posts Tagged 'sustainable agriculture'

Wake Up Before It Is Too Late – Jan’s Synopsis

In September 2013 the United Nations Convention on Trade and Environment published one of its periodic reviews and called it: Wake Up Before It Is Too Late—Make Agriculture Truly Sustainable Now for Food Security in a Changing Climate. 

Wake Up Before It Is Too Late UNCTAD 2013.

UNCTAD Review 2013

As I began to read this 341 page global review of the status of trade and the environment , the California State Grange convention was coming up, and some members were preparing legislative policy resolutions related to sustainable agriculture.  As I read about the global view on policy related to food security, it became more clear that this is not just for our communities, but for all communities.

Each of the five chapters has ideas for policy recommendations to mitigate projected mass famine, especially in the developing world. With the increasing climate-related disasters in the US and depleted stores of food, the focus and urgency of this report seems worthy of  continued study and dialog. My vision is a review of  California Grange legislative policy so that it “seeks a viable agricultural program that safeguards the family farm as the most economical way to furnish all families with wholesome, affordable food and fiber”.

Whether we are producing or consuming, we want local, state and federal policies that do not contribute to food insecurity in the developing world. And, our policies should be consistent with what we know about sequestering rather than releasing carbon. That is what Wake Up Before It Is Too Late is about. 

My synopsis is made up mostly of phrases verbatim [except in places where I added a comment or update in brackets]. I did not try to footnote or reference to the source pages in the review. It is all in the book available for download. One of the larger themes of Wake Up Before It Is Too Late is that GHG emissions from agriculture in developing countries are significant and increasing instead of decreasing. 

The introductory chapter calls for a fundamental transformation of agriculture followed by four more chapters looking at livestock production, research/technology/extension, land use, and international trade. It seems very comprehensive.

Each chapter opens with evidence of problems followed major recommendations. These introductions are followed by commentaries written singly or in groups by around 50 agricultural scientists from around the world giving detailed data and insights from their specialties. Among them are friends and leaders we greatly admire, including  Marcia Ishii-Eitmann with Pesticide Action Network, Miguel Altieri at UC Berkeley (an expert on sustainable agriculture in Cuba), molecular geneticist Mae-Wan Ho with Institute of Science in Society, the venerable entomologist and ecologist David Pimentel at Cornell University, and researchers at Institute of Organic Agriculture.

The theme I take away is that energy scarcity and climate disruption require more resilient systems and the window is closing to prevent the worst case scenarios from drought and famine.

Chapter 1: Key Development Challenges of a Fundamental Transformation of Agriculture The introduction and first chapter open with a summary of the policy recommendations in the Review, mainly explaining the guiding principle that sustainable agriculture is biologically and ecologically based with a focus on increasing carbon in the root zones of cultivated plants. The required transformation of agriculture in developing countries will (1) reduce the impact from conventional agriculture, and (2) broaden the scope and further develop the following agro-ecological production objectives:

  • Increase soil carbon content.
  • Close nutrient cycles in an integrated approach to production.
  • Reduce GHG emissions from livestock production (ways to do that are covered in Chapter 2).
  • Manage the forests, peatland and grassland sustainably to reduce land-use induced emissions.
  • Optimize organic and inorganic fertilizer use for greatest efficiency in closed nutrient cycles.
  • Reduce waste throughout food chains.
  • Change dietary patterns towards climate-friendly food consumption.
  • Reform trade policies for food and ag products.

[Jan note: With regard to this last issue about trade, there is an urgent need to protect the livelihoods of small farmers in developing countries against policies that result in dumping by large US industrial producers. This is the opposite of the policies of the past 20 years that are the heart and soul of NAFTA, CAFTA,  and the push to enact TAFTA and the TPP, which are promoted by the California Farm Bureau. Chapter 5 expands on this topic with vital information about how our tax dollars promote injustice to farmers in other lands.]

Some paradigm shift has begun to accommodate the above objectives. However, the following agenda items  require a big paradigm shift and a much greater sense of urgency to make drastic changes:

  • Reduce fuel-intensive, external input-dependent production methods towards agroecological practices, recognizing that agriculture is multi-functional—it’s not just about quantity of food produced.
  • Discourage industrial livestock production and associated massive use of concentrate feed. [ Jan note: 85% of animal feed crops are GMO herbicide tolerant and do not sequester carbon like organic methods do. What is the impact of drenching soils with herbicides and  trans-species effects of GE in the foodweb?]
  • Discourage expansion of biofuel production:  discontinue blending quotas, reduce subsidies, revise trade restrictions.
  • Reduce financial speculation in food markets.
  • Limit irresponsible land investments.
  • Reform global agriculture trade rules, giving greater policy space for assuring national food sovereignty, climate-change adaptation/resilience, rethink the old paradigm with the focus on integrating smallholders into global supply chains.
  • Reduce food price volatility, without betting exclusively on hedging options.

Prevailing views must shift as follows:

  • The goal is not to just produce more with less, but that integrated agricultural systems meet the various functions that it contributes as the cornerstone of local economies.
  • The goal is not to just pollute a little less, but to adopt more sustainable, affordable methods.
  • Hunger is not about a lack of food, but a lack of access to affordable food in rural areas, a lack of means of production, and a lack of access to resources for smallholders.
  • Climate change is no joke; it is going to affect agriculture in catastrophic ways very soon.

Chapter 2.  Livestock Production: A Climate Change and Food Security Hot Spot Besides the recommendations in Chapter 1 related to livestock production, this chapter has commentary about  animal-friendly farming by such approaches as consumer and youth education to encourage a reduction in the consumption of “cheap meat” in favor of animal-friendly and environmentally friendly animal products.

Chapter 3.  The Role of Research and Technology and Extension Services The fundamental basis of every community is agriculture or tillage of the soil. The services of farmers exceed all other members of the community in importance. Farmers must make enough income to meet all of their reasonable expenses.  These are pivotal principles that the UNCTAD 2013 review drives home. The report advocates the following to researchers, farm advisors and regulatory agencies:

  • Articulate farmers’ needs based on problem diagnosis and foresight exercises related to climate change, promote the creation of networks and linkages for all of the stakeholders to work together to achieve mutual understanding and appropriate adaptive innovation on the farm level and at regional, national and sectoral levels.
  • Research and extend a combination of indigenous or traditional knowledge systems with modern knowledge and technology systems through knowledge sharing among scientists and pastoralists to interpret the probabilistic climate information and generate ‘best-bet’ on-farm practices from season to season.
  • Design aid programs and domestic rural development programs to rehabilitate degraded farmland through biological nitrogen fixation with legumes and complex perennial vegetation that yields innovative marketable products while assuring more resilient food production capacity in the future.
  • Cease the export of genetically engineered seed from developed to undeveloped and underdeveloped countries.

Chapter 4. The Role of Changes in Land Use The major recommendations to promote food security through land use policy are as follows:

  • Governments should guarantee land tenure with the support of the international community to improve market access, develop gender equity, raise farm size and productivity for moderate mechanization even in small-scale farming, reverse land degradation, remove subsidies in developed countries and transition economies to remove price distortions.
  • Governments must internalize transaction costs through global taxation on fossil fuels. [Jan note: I am working with Citizens Climate Lobby to persuade Congress to pass a revenue-neutral carbon tax with dividend to make America a global leader in putting a fair price on carbon].
  • Governments must regulate the ballooning scourge of land grabbing that risks the permanent loss of resources to future generations.

Chapter 5 – The Importance of International Trade and Trade Rules for Transforming Global Agriculture Recommendations are grouped under these six headings:  fair trade, market structure, food security, local and just economies, a level playing field for organic, and food sovereignty.

1. Demand Fair Trade Rules that Protect Smallholder Farmers The report advocates to the US federal government that in its Trade Agreements and in its input to the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and regional development banks, as well as to the World Trade Organization and in the negotiation of Free Trade Agreements [including TPP, TAFTA, and other bilateral FTAs entered into by the US], that a  high priority be put on protecting farmers’ livelihood and food security in developing countries, by these policies:

  • Stop making loan conditions that force developing countries to liberalize their trade beyond their coping capacity in ways that damage livelihoods and incomes of rural producers or hold back development.
  • Allow and defend the right of developing countries to make full use of applied import tariffs to shield their producers from competition from industrialized countries.
  • Assure implementation of the two new proposed instruments – Special Products (SP) and Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) —  that enable developing countries to protect their smallholder farmers from import surges.
  • Invest tariff revenues in rural development and infrastructure to benefit farmers and other net trade losers, that help the transition from conventional to sustainable agriculture.
  • Eliminate export subsidies in developing countries.
  • Require that developed countries make effective deep reductions in domestic support for agricultural exports, including in actual overall trade distorting support (OTDS),  and by minimizing loopholes and “box shifting” to take advantage of “Green Box Subsidies” that in actuality distort prices.
  • Allow developing countries to apply domestic subsidies to support farmers’ livelihoods and food security, including low-cost credit, assistance with inputs, storage facilities, road and transport infrastructure, extension services, marketing support, and support for value-added processing of agricultural products.

2. Balance the Global Market Structure for Agricultural Products This section advocates for national and international rules regulating activities of commodity buyers, processors and retailers in the global food supply chain. The aim is to loosen the hold of large agribusinesses over markets and assure access to markets for smallholder farmers, particularly women farmers, in the following ways:

  • Enact and/or enforce competition law with systems that are sensitive to excessive and abusive buyer power/domination positions in supply chains.
  • Ensure that affected suppliers can lodge complaints without fear of reprisal by dominant buyers.
  • Promote and support the establishment of international antitrust measures to break up monopolies and global price-fixing cartels with an international mechanism to investigate and monitor concentration in the agrifood sector.
  • Support investigations into the behavior of international corporations engaged in agricultural trading and food retailing, especially their impacts on farmers, farm workers, consumer and vulnerable populations.
  • Expand the choices of smallholders to sell their products on local or global markets at a decent price by strengthening local and national markets.
  • Support diversified channels of trading and distribution.
  • Support farmers’ cooperatives and other producer organizations.
  • Establish or defend flexible and efficient producer marketing boards under government authority but with strong participation of producers in their governance.
  • Use the public procurement system to support small farmers.
  • Promote and scale up fair trade systems, including through access to productive resources, infrastructure and technical assistance.
  • Promote more understanding and advocacy to achieve equal access to markets by women.
  • Assure that priorities of research and assistance serve the values, needs, knowledge and concerns of farmers and other citizens and not support powerful commercial interests, such as multinational seed companies and food retailing companies.

3. Incorporate Food Security into Global Trade Policies This section suggests trade policies that favor sustainable ecological agriculture practices on all available land in all regions around the world. Land  in diverse production patterns that respect the environment and contribute to local food security with preeminently local food complemented by traded goods. To do this:

  • Make trade agreements include mechanisms to internalize especially transport costs, such as a carbon tax and the inclusion of air traffic in emissions trading schemes, and favor local food over traded goods.
  • Prioritize local foods complemented (not replaced) by traded goods, respecting “buy local”.
  • Focus exports on specialties (where the value added is higher) and on surplus produce.
  • Establish sustainable agriculture process and production standards, including standard monitoring and verification schemes supported by low-interest loans that can be offered by communities, national governments or international donors. [Jan note:  The Leonardo Academy is accepting comments on its draft Sustainable Agriculture Standard LEO4000 through March 6, 2014. It could be useful here.]
  • Establish farmers’ training and field schools to catalyze and vertically and horizontally integrate learning about sustainable farming practices into the community and generate local ownership of the process.
  • Eliminate perverse subsidies and incentives that promote and encourage the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, water and fuel or encourage land degradation and their replacement with regulation of inputs to protect the environment and human health.
  • Redirect agricultural subsidies to encourage the transition to diversified crop production for long-term soil health and to improve environmental impacts.
  • Assure access for smallholder farmers, particularly women farmers, to productive resources towards investment in and adoption of ecological agricultural approaches.
  • Support communications that provide better information to the public to promote a shift in eating habits towards more sustainable and locally produced foods.

4. Promote Organic Trade Policies are needed that increase organic markets, boost trade in organic products and reduce transaction costs for organic by the following measures:

  • Reduce technical barriers to trade in organic agricultural products through harmonization and equivalency of organic standards and conformity assessment systems to assure the standard is being followed.
  • Facilitate trade in organic foods originating from developing countries by increasing farmer awareness of benefits of organic food production and trading opportunities, through research, development and training, by identifying marketing strategies and partnerships, by providing financial support, and by promoting farmers’ associations and NGOs.
  • Facilitate imports of organic foods from developing countries to developed countries through training farmers about organic standards, regulations and market opportunities and by simplifying requirements and procedures for importing products.
  • Change the underlying incentive structures so that negative externalities are duly reflected in the prices of all agricultural products in order to level the playing field with organic and fair trade products.

5. Foster Local, Just Food Economies Make policies that empower smallholders and respect the sovereign rights of communities to democratically determine their own agricultural and food policies while preventing excessive agribusiness power concentration and domination by these measures:

  • Implement a moratorium on mergers and acquisitions to curb trade practices that breed oligopolies and inhibit competition.
  • Reform national farm policy to eliminate dumping, encourage environmental sustainability, and prevent oligopolistic control of market prices and practices.
  • Eliminate subsidies for fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Tax toxic inputs to accelerate the transiton towards biological farming practices that cultivate on-farm nutrient cycles.
  • Eliminate promotion of GE seed and chemical inputs as conditions for crop insurance and production loans.
  • Keep financial investors out of commodity markets where they virtually or physically hoard commodity stocks for mere speculation and profiteering.
  • Eliminate speculation in commodity markets with commodity-specific position limits and increased transparency in over-the-counter trading.
  • Support the establishment of food reserves as a tool to mitigate price and supply volatility and strengthen food security when domestic production fails.
  • Invest in agro-ecological farming practices to strengthen food security and resilience to climate disruption, focused on supporting small-scale farmers and particularly women.

6. Local, Regional and National Food Sovereignty A food sovereignty paradigm that balances with a liberal market will:

  • Recognize and ensure the right of every person to adequate food.
  • Recognize and ensure the right of farmers to agricultural genetic resources as an essential component of promoting the right to food.
  • Educate the public about the right to food sovereignty and implied land reforms, market protection, biodiversity, autonomy from outside pressures, and cooperation.
  • The beginning outreach will help communities take center stage and spread from the local level to effective regional and national food sovereignty.
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