Via Campesina & Sustainable Agriculture


Ecologist M. Jahi Chappell, PhD discusses the impact the globalization of food distribution has on climate change.

While a portion of our team was able to make it into the Bella Center for the COP yesterday, a few of us headed over to the Kilmaforum for a fantastic presentation by La Via Campesina called “Small Scale Sustainable Farmers are Cooling Down the Earth.”  This diverse panel included small-scale farmers and activists from Tanzania, Brazil, Canada, Korea & Japan.

Accompanying Via Campesina was M. Jahi Chappell, PhD from Cornell University to report on a study his research team completed which showed the impact industrial agriculture has on global climate change, versus the low impact of small-scale, local farms on the environment.

The numbers tell the story.  “Industrial agricultural activities” (the farming itself) are responsible for 11-15% of the total global greenhouse gas emissions.  Land clearing and deforestation contributes to an additional 15-18%.  The largest impacts from within our food system though, are the processing, packing and transportation emissions, which account for 15-20% of the global total.  Finally the decomposition of organic wastes produces an additional 3-4% of the global greenhouse gasses.  This leaves the total from our industrialized food production and consumption at 44-57% of our global emissions!  Half.

This impact is in addition to the damage industrial agriculture has done to soil quality, the increase in water pollution from fertilizers and waste runoff, the biodiversity loss, and a host of other environmental problems that have taken a major toll on human health.

The moral of the story is that we can trade in as many SUVs for Hybrids as we want but, until we take a serious look at where our food comes from and how to produce it sustainably, we are going to have a hard hill to climb for a global reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Study Presented:  Vandermeer et al. 2009. Effects of industrial agriculture on global warming and the potential of small-scale agroecological techniques to reverse those effects.  Report from the New World Agriculture and Ecology Group, Ann Arbor, Michigan.


5 thoughts on “Via Campesina & Sustainable Agriculture

  1. This is what I was hoping was happening! This is wicked important, obviously. Being from VERMONT Law School must have given you so much cache, right? I hope this piece of climate change gets picked up more in the near future… and that other cultures can help us remember what we’re quickly losing.


    Here is my favorite chart that shows the overall breakdown for GHG emissions. It is a little outdated (2000), but as for percentage breakdowns by sector, it gives a clear general picture.

    You will note that it only puts Agriculture at 13.5%. This is equal to the Vandermeer study estimation from farming though. When you add in the total cost of packaging and transporting food around the world, the total emissions are much higher.

    And Abel, wish you had been there. You would have loved this group.

Comments are closed.