Small farmers cool the planet

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Small scale sustainable farmers are cooling down the earth

Friday, 09 November 2007

Current global modes of production, consumption and trade have caused massive environmental destruction including global warming that is putting at risk our planet’s ecosystems and pushing human communities into disasters. Global warming shows the effects of a development model based on capital concentration, high fossil energy consumption, overproduction, consumerism and trade liberalization. Global warming has been taking place for decades, but most governments have refused to deal with its roots and causes. It has been only recently, once transnational coporations have been able to set up huge money-making schemes, that we hear about possible solutions designed and controlled by big companies, and backed up by governemnts. Farmers - men and women - around the world are joining hands with other social movements, organizations, people and communities to ask for and to develop radical social, economic and political transformations to reverse the current trend. Industrialized countries and the industrialization of agriculture are the biggest sources of global warming gases, but it is farmers and rural communities - and especially small farmers and rural communties in developing countries - that are among the first to suffer from climate change. Changing weather patterns bring unkown pest along with unusual droughts, floods and storms, destroying crops, farmlands, farmstock and farmers 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. Life at large is endangered by the decreasing availabiltiy of fresh water resources. Destruction caused by global warming goes beyond the physical. Changing, unpredictable weather means that local knowledge, which has been the basis for good agricultural management and adjusting to climate condition, is becoming less relevant, making farmers more vulnerable and dependent on external inputs and techniques. Farmers have to adjust to these changes by adapting their seeds and usual production systems to an unpredictable situation. Droughts and floods are leading to crop failures, increasing the number of people going hungry in the world. Studies predict a decline in global farm output of 3 to 16% by 2080. In tropical regions, global warming is likely to lead to a serious decline in agriculture (up to 50% in Senegal and 40% in India) and to the acceleration of farmland turning into desert. On the other hand, huge areas in Russia and Canada will turn into crop land for the first time in human history, yet it is still unknown how these regions will be able to grow crops. What is expected is that millions of farmers will be displaced from the land. Such shifting is regarded by industry as a businness opportunity thorugh increasing food exports and imports, but it will only increase hunger and dependency around the world. Corporate food production and consumption are significantly contributing to global warming and to the destruction of rural communities. Intercontinental food transport, intensive monoculture production, land and forest destruction and the use of chemical inputs in agriculture are transforming agriculture into an energy consumer and are contributing to climate change. Under neo-liberal policies imposed by the World Trade Organisation, the regional and bilateral Free Trade Agreements, as well as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, food is produced with oil-based pesticides and fertilizers and transported all around the world for transformation and consumption. Via Campesina, a movement bringing together millions of small farmers and producers around the world, asserts that it is time to radically change the indusrtrial way to produce, transform, trade and consume food and agricultural products. We believe that sustainable small-scale farming and local food consumption will reverse the actual devastation and support millions of farming families. Agriculture can also contribute to cool down the earth by using farm practises that store CO2 and reduce considerably the use of energy on farms.

Industrial agriculture is a major contributor to global warming and climate change

1/ By transporting food all around the world Fresh and packaged food is unnecessarily travelling around the world, while simultanously local farmers are denied appropriate access to local and national markets. In Europe and the USA, for example, it is now common to find fruits, vegetables, meat or wine from Africa, South America or Oceania; and we find Asian rice in the Americas or in Africa. Fossil fuel used for food transport is releasing tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. The Swiss peasants organisation 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 (mechanization, intensification, use of agrochemicals, monoculture) The so called modernized agriculture, especially industrial monoculture, is destroying the natural soil processes which lead to the storing of carbon in soil organic matter, and replaces them by chemical processes based on fertilizers and pesticides. Due notably to the use of chemical fertilizers, intensive agriculture and animal production monocultures produce important quantities of nitrous oxide (NO2), the third most significant greenhouse gas responsible for global warming. In Europe 40% of the energy consumed on the farm is due to the production of nitrogen fertilizers. Moreover, industrial agriculture production consumes much more energy (and releases much more CO2) to run its giant tractors to harrow and plow the land and to process the food.

3/ By destroying biodiversity and its capacity to capture carbon

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