The Rebound of Age-old Agricultural Ecology

A side event at the Pacific and Koronivia Pavilion sponsored by France at Tuesday’s installment of COP24 focused on the development of agroecology and scaling-up its performance and potential.  The meat of the session focused on research and development around shifting agricultural norms toward using more local inputs, supporting holistic ecosystem approaches such as integrated pest management, and pursuing a landscape approach that builds habitat for animals while also supporting agriculture.  The session ultimately concluded that ecosystem services are sound, healthy investments for future generations that simultaneously address both mitigation and adaptation needs.

Screen Shot 2018-12-11 at 8.06.55 PMAs a part of its wider agroecology project, France distributed its plan for development from 2015-2020 of its agroforestry systems.  The publication pairs trees and agricultural production in the same fields, bringing back age-old farming practices that combined mixed crops and livestock that gave us hedgerows and their associated economic and ecological roles.  Some of these roles include shelter for animals, erosion prevention, water regulation, and carbon sequestration.

France’s plan breaks down into 5 main “Axes” and 23 Actions.  Axis 5 deals with “International Advocacy and Spread of Agroforestry,” because France believes that agroecology is a strong solution for farming in France and around the world to meet significant challenges like food security and biodiversity enhancement using pragmatic methods.  Sharing knowledge and receiving feedback on experiences in other countries will enhance the French vision, and help with future preparations by developing partnerships that will lead to higher performance.

In accordance with Decision 4/CP.23, the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture (KJWA) was initiated this year. After initial meetings, Parties agreed on a “Road Map” for how the KJWA will play out in future joint sessions.  Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 6.31.12 PMSBI and SBSTA 49 accepted comments leading up to COP24 on Topic 2(a), “modalities for implementation of the outcomes of the five in-session workshops on issues related to agriculture and other future topics that may arise from this work.”  At the end of the first week of COP24, the subsidiary bodies adopted a draft text, and submissions are being accepted on topics 2(b) and 2(c) of the KJWA “Road Map” that will help move agriculture forward on the SBI/SBSTA 50 agenda next year.

Topic 2(b), “Methods and approaches for assessing adaptation, adaptation co-benefits and resilience,” and to a greater degree Topic 2(c), “Improved soil carbon, soil health and soil fertility under grassland and cropland as well as integrated systems,” offer France the opportunity to significantly contribute to the KJWA.  Although official evaluation of their agroforestry plan will not be conducted until 2020, ongoing monitoring combined with international dialogue has the potential to help transfer ideas and build land use capacities, both within the Convention and in our fields.


When the Storm Comes…

Climate Change is already having a significant impact on our planet.  Indeed, even our largest resource and carbon sink is suffering- our oceans.

seychellesWhile once thought of as an abundant, even infinite source of food and wealth, our warming planet is changing all of that.  Coral reefs are bleaching.  Schools of tuna are changing their migratory paths.  And anadromous fish, like Pacific salmon species are struggling to complete life cycles.  Exacerbated by commercial over-fishing and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, many fish populations and fisheries are dangerously depleted.  This spells economic and food insecurity for many coastal communities- but especially for small-island developing states (SIDS) and archipelagos.  For these communities, this also means decreased resilience to the impacts of climate change.

But what can a small island nation do?  Implementing policies to restore marine fisheries and secure climate resilience through implementing sustainable practices costs money.  And many SIDS have limited financial resources and very little they can count on as an export to build financial capacity.  For Seychelles, a small archipelago in the Indian Ocean, the solution was found when its leaders turned their backs on the islands… and looked out to sea.

With 3000 times more ocean under its sovereignty that land, the ocean is an indispensable resource for Seychelles.  Still, Seychelles came into the Paris Agreement with a significant amount of national debt.  To alleviate that burden, it exchanged its debt for protecting its ocean- effectively relinquishing sovereignty of one-third of its oceans by placing it in a trust.  This expanded Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and helped to ensure fish stock recoveries.  To further build a sustainable fishery, Seychelles created a “Blue Bond” economy which uses bonds to fund the development of its sustainable fisheries.  The Blue Bond economy also consists of a Blue Grant Fund which is accessible to domestic fisherman and other fish-workers.  These funds are used as an incentive for those in the fishing industry to adopt sustainable practices.  Provided they comply with sustainable practices, funds are readily available to help them achieve and maintain those practices.

Blue economyWhy does this work so well?  Because this is a bottom-up approach where the government is in fact considered a “minority” entity.  The structure of this system does not rely on government control because the resource is placed in a trust.  How did they persuade the fisherman to get involved with establishing protected areas?  They simply asked them where they wanted to fish.  The fisherman initially refused to cooperate with the process- afraid to deviate from business as usual practices.  But when they were told that one morning they may wake up to find their favorite fishing area protected and off limits, the fisherman were persuaded to engage in the process.  Thus, collaborating with the fisherman included them in the process and strengthened the framework for the trust.

For Seychelles, talking about jobs, nutrition, food, and even people is synonymous with talking about marine resources and FISH!  The dependence on its surrounding ocean cannot be overstated.  As such, climate change poses a significant threat.  But by placing a large portion of its EEZ into protected areas and building a sustainable fishing economy, Seychelles has taken a precautionary approach to address the impacts of climate change.  The result?  Increased biomass, increased maximum sustainable yield, increased food security and climate resilience.  And with increased resilience comes the ability to adapt to the coming changes.  As Seychelles’ permanent representative to the U.N. stated; “When the storm comes, we will be ready.”


A Caffeine Constrained World

At the 23rd Conference of Parties (COP 23), Denise Loga, Co-founder and Managing Director of the Sustainable Food Academy, brought to light the issue of food security in changing climate. She recognized that the earth cannot sustain humanity’s current food systems. Unsustainable patterns of human consumption paired with climate change lends kindling to an already robust fire.

Climate change is resulting in sea level rise, increased extreme weather variability, and fluctuating temperatures. These characteristics of climate change affect crop yields and survival, threaten the livelihoods of farmers, disrupt economic production and supply chains, and threaten food security within vulnerable countries. According to State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI), approximately 815 million people are undernourished. This number is likely to rise as climate change decreases food security, which puts pressure on government food security strategies.

For example, coffee is a particularly climate-sensitive plant and is already experiencing decreased yield due to climate change. In a joint study by the the International Center for Tropical Agriculture under the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, coffeedownload production in Brazil is predicted to see a drop by 25% by 2050 and Indonesia production is likely to drop by 37% by 2050. The loss of the valuable coffee trade is likely to impact developing countries disproportionally as coffee as a key export of developing nations. These countries are also tend to have the highest malnourishment and poverty rates. Adding economic pressure to countries in this position would further exacerbate domestic issues. This is one example among many in which the loss of a food resource has drastic impacts upon humans.

Loss of food security is an natural consequence of a rapidly changing climate. Due to the disproportionate impact upon developing countries, measures should be taken to ensure food security within those countries most vulnerable. This requires countries to take action to mitigate the effects of climate change and provide relief and aid to those countries in need. Without action on a significant scale, impacts on food security will be felt globallymap_c3_a3_50map_c1_a1_50


Agriculture’s Great Rising

 

Photo credit: “Food Sovereignty: Sustainable Urban Agriculture in Cuba”, at https://www.globalresearch.ca/food-sovereignty-sustainable-urban-agriculture-in-cuba/5332167.

Photo credit: “Food Sovereignty: Sustainable Urban Agriculture in Cuba”, at
https://www.globalresearch.ca/food-sovereignty-sustainable-urban-agriculture-in-cuba/5332167.

La Via Campesina, an NGO devoted to peasants’ rights and food sovereignty, hosted an event dedicated to agroecology at the opening of the COP 23. La Via Campesina takes an alternative approach to agriculture, denouncing any industrial and capitalist attitude toward food production. Under an industrial and capitalist approach, food is exported to countries continents away, and not used to feed the population of countries where it’s grown. Under the approach of La Via Campesina, peasants–a pre-industrial term that the group revives to distinguish itself from giant agriculture companies–produce food to feed people locally, and can designate where they want their produce to go. In the panel, La Via Campesina argued that the industrial food system–including not just agriculture, but transportation, packaging, and deforestation–is responsible for around 50% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The silver lining of this number means that agriculture is an area with great potential for improvement in terms of cutting emissions. But emissions aren’t the only problem: in the eyes of one member, giant agrochemical companies like Monsanto are “experimenting“ on the best land of more vulnerable states like Puerto Rico. Instead, to pave the way to food security and environmental justice, La Via Campesina–Spanish for “the peasant way”–urges everyone to take the road less travelled toward food sovereignty and agroecology.

 


Climate Change “Refugees” in Hot Water

Direct effeBlog Photo 3cts of climate change such as droughts, floods, rising sea levels, and hazardous weather events have immediate and lasting impacts upon displacement of communities. For example, five reef islands in the remote Solomon Islands have already been deemed uninhabitable due to sea level rise and erosion. Since 2008, approximately 22.5 million people have been displaced by climate or weather-related events. Charles Geisler, a sociologist at Cornell University, predicted a worst case scenario of up to 2 billion climate change migrants by 2100.

Traditionally, a sovereign state is responsible for the protection of its people, which includes relief from natural disasters. In situations where domestic states do not have the ability to provide adequate protection, relief, or relocation, international law offers possible avenues for addressing this issue. Unfortunately, there is no current international legal framework in place to respond to the impending climate change migrant crisis. There are a number of possible protective instruments available, but they all present different barriers to practical application.

First, the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (UNGPID) recognize internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have been forced or obligated to flee “to avoid the effect of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights, or natural or human-made disasters.” However, this only applies to people displaced within their own state, effectively requiring state legislation to enforce IDP rights. Thus, the UNPGID lacks the ability to effectively protect cross-border climate migration. 

Second, the UN RefugBlog Photo 2ee Agency (UNHCR) requires an individual be persecuted against to qualify as a refugee under the Refugee Convention. As a result the “[e]nvironmental factors that cause movements across international borders are not grounds, in and of themselves, for the grant of refugee status.” Climate migrants might be recognized as refugees if the respective state government “persecuted” them by intentionally failing to give protection or aid. This claim would be extremely difficult to prove, however, as international law recognizes that “no individual government is primarily at fault” for the consequences of climate change.

Third, a climate change migrant could qualify as a “stateless” person under the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons (CSSP). This status is also limited as it would only be available to migrants whose home state no longer exists. In addition, the CSSP offers only limited rights to stateless individuals and has only been signed by 66 of 165 states.

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Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre depiction of human movement in 2015.

While the UNHCR is unable to provide legal relief and refugee status for climate migrants, it is supporting the Platform on Disaster Displacement (a continuation of the Nansen Initiative on cross-border displacement). UNHCR has also developed planned relocation guidance that identifies vulnerable areas and gives instructions for disaster response migration mechanisms.

The UNFCCC establishes and recognizes the need for adaptation and mitigation, but fails to address migration strategies under adaptation. On May 19, 2016 the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn confirmed a clear link between environmental and climate changes, migration and vulnerability.  As a result, the UN is taking steps to assess this connection and shape adaptation policy that protects the most vulnerable populations. While climate migrants do not have an identified legal status as climate change refugees, there is international movement towards addressing this issue under the UNFCCC.


Fake it ‘til you make it: faux meat and climate change

no-meat-pictureIf it tastes like a burger, and bleeds like a burger, it must be . . . plant-based protein?

At least that’s the outcome fake-meat innovators like Impossible Burger are striving for: a meatless burger that captures the textures and flavors of meat to whet the appetite of even the staunchest carnivores.

In fact, the fake meat industry’s approach might be working. Whether for health, environmental, or ethical reasons, more people are tossing veggie burgers on the grill. Food giants like Tyson are taking notice: last year, Tyson bought a 5% stake in Beyond Meat. Google’s Eric Schmidt even identified plant-based proteins as the number one “game-changing” trend of the future.

The growth of the fake meat industry is good news for climate change. After all, the world’s appetite for meat drives 14.5% of total greenhouse gas emissions. According to a U.N. report, factory-farmed animals contribute more to climate change than all the world’s cars, trucks, trains, planes, and ships combined. Having each American replace chicken with plant-based foods at just one meal per week is equivalent to taking more than half a million cars off U.S. roads.

Further, feeding huge numbers of confined animals uses more food than it produces. And while some cultures may be willing to eat insects to cut the impact of livestock on our planet, this option does not seem compatible with–or palatable to–the tastes of Western nations.

The incredible impact of factory farming adds up when you take a hard look at demand. For example, Americans eat three times the recommended level of meat. Given meat’s impact on climate, eating “like an American” is beyond sustainable. “Even in doing everything we can to reduce the emissions associated with meat production, rising demand means livestock emissions would take us beyond the global objective of 2ºC,” said Rob Bailey, a research director at the think tank Chatham House. “Therefore, dietary change is a precondition for avoiding catastrophic climate change.”

Even the UN Climate Change Conferences recognize the importance of dietary change. In addition to focusing on low-carbon and free range food, COP 23 plans to serve a higher share of vegetarian and vegan food than at past sessions.

In changing people’s diets, using “nanny statism“ to tax dairy and meat products–while theoretically effective–may rub Western nations the wrong way. Given the personal choice and cultural intricacies involved in making dinner, “it is not the place of governments or civil society to intrude into people’s lives and tell them what to eat.”

But the fake meat industry might just bring home the bacon. With more and more palatable options, and the withering taboo of veggie burgers for “radical vegetarians,” free market innovation is helping carnivore nations put more plant-based foods on the table. If the fake meat industry puts out a good spread, it could spark a marked drop in greenhouse gas emissions and help feed the world along the way.

 


Farming for the Future: Climate Change and Food Security.

The United Nations weather agency recently announced that the past five years have been the hottest on record, with increasing evidence showing that this is man-made climate change. Thus, the urgency for solutions increases here at COP22 where the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is meeting to discuss and improve climate change goals. One way to mitigate climate change is to decrease GHG emissions. One way to do this, is to revise global farming techniques. Today at the “On-farm renewables and sustainable intensification to address climate change and food security” side event, several farming experts discussed opportunities to improve farming and food security. The experts discussed the use of sustainable intensification and renewable energy, co-benefits and trade-offs around land use, deforestation concerns, and exploration of funding options. Most notable was the conversation about sustainable intensification agriculture. Sustainable intensification is the optimization of all provisioning, regulating and supporting agricultural production process. Thus, sustainable intensification projects for agriculture help maintain and enhance production through the promotion of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

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The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation (FAO) has several new programs to improve sustainable intensification. “LIBERATION: Linking Farmland Biodiversity to Ecosystem Services for Effective Ecofunctional Intensification,” which will help identify the relationship between semi-natural habitats and on-farm management and biodiversity. This project also seeks to connect farmland biodiversity to ecosystem services. It will do this by examining different strategies to mitigate ecosystem services. Another project, “Mainstreming Agro-biodiversity in Law PDR’s Agricultural Policies, Plans and Programmes (FSP),” which will provide farmers with the necessary incentives, capabilities and support institutional framework to converse agricultural biodiversity in Lao.

Intensification of crop and livestock production are also essential to mitigate climate change and provide food security. In order to keep up with demand for beef and leather, for example, 21 million ha of deforestation has occurred in the Brazilian Amazon between 2000 and 2015 to support cattle. Simon C. Hall, the manager of Tropical Forests and Agriculture National Wildlife Federation (NWF), spoke about insights from the Brazilian cattle sector. The NWF has been working in South America with local partners for over 20 years to eliminate tropical deforestation from agriculture supply chains. They hope to accelerate the development and implementation of intensification for sustainability because the implications of deforestation are staggering: longer dry season, reduced rainfall, increased temperature. Sustainable Intensification on the other hand (when coupled with zero deforestation commitments), will lead to: land sparing, reduced emissions from LUC, reduced losses of wildlife habitat and biodiversity, increased market access, preferential purchasing agreements, and reduced leakage and rebound effects.

These, and many other projects presented at this side event on addressing climate change through new farming techniques, provide examples on how we may work towards farming for a sustainable future.


Eating for personal and planetary health

A study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) reaffirms that reducing meat consumption can improve your health and lower your carbon footprint. It starts with the premise that the food system accounts for more than 25% of GHG emissions (80% associated with livestock production) and that poor eating habits contribute to more than a billion people worldwide whose obesity put them at risk of premature death.  Hypothesizing that “simply” changing diets might have more impact than other mitigation options, the study looked at four ways of eating (from status quo to vegan), and assessed the impacts of implementing them regionally, in terms of GHG emissions, health effects, and costs.

The results:

  • On health:  Compared with the reference scenario, following global dietary guidelines (HGD) would result in 5.1 million avoided deaths per year and 79 million years of life saved. For the vegetarian diet, 7.3 million avoided deaths and 114 million life years saved, and for the vegan diet, 8.1 million avoided deaths and 129 million life years saved.

CC diet PNAS

  • On GHG emissions:  Compared with the projected GHG emissions from food consumption in 2050 (which are expected to increase 51% over 2005/07 reference level), following HGD would result in a 29% reduction (or 7% increase from 2005/2007 reference). For the vegetarian and vegan diets, GHG emissions reductions were 63–70% below the 2050 level (45–55% lower than the 2005/2007 level).

For more on the costs savings, both in terms of health and environment, as well as more details on the methodology, read here.