The food system depends on a healthy environment, but poor agricultural practices are responsible for environmental degradation. Beekeepers continue to lose 30 percent of honeybee colonies during an average winter—likely due to pesticides and other agrochemicals. Soil degradation is occurring at staggering rates, with soils being depleted 10 to 40 times faster than they are being replenished. And up to 100,000 plant varieties are currently endangered worldwide.
The increase in food prices in 2008, Russian wildfires brought on by excessive heat and drought in 2010, and, most recently, the worst drought in more than 100 years in California—all are warning signs that farmers and farmers’ groups, global food producers, industry leaders, researchers, and scientists must address the planet’s food security in the face of weather volatility and climate change.
provides the vital tools needed for fixing the food system.
Farmers depend on just a handful of crop varieties: according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), approximately half of farmland—more than 60 million hectares, or 150 million acres—in the U.S. is planted with corn or soy. This lack of diversity limits farmers’ ability to adapt to varying weather patterns and climate change.
“The question is not whether systems this brittle will break down, but when and how, and whether when they do, we’ll be prepared to treat the whole idea of sustainability as something more than a nice word,” wrote food author and activist Michael Pollan.
A more resilient agricultural system is needed, especially in the face of climate change. “With 80 million more mouths to feed each year and with increasing demand for grain-intensive livestock products, the rise in temperature only adds to the stress. If we continue with business as usual on the climate front, it is only a matter of time before what we [saw] in Russia becomes commonplace,” said Lester Brown, U.S. environmental analyst, founder of the Worldwatch Institute, and founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute.
Family farmers and food revolutionaries are working to create this paradigm shift by restoring ecological resilience in their local communities. Many farmers are diversifying their cropping systems and working together on projects to preserve biodiversity in fields and on plates.
According to Dr. Bianca Moebius-Clune, Soil Health Division director for the U.S. National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), farmers are improving soil’s “ability to take in and hold ‘water in the bank.’ They’re even creating wildlife and pollinator habitat—all while decreasing risks from extreme weather and harvesting better profits and often better yields.”
Here’s how family farmers, food heroes, and organizations around the world are working to create resilient local food systems that are immune to the shocks of climate change and ecological disturbance.
Adapt-N is an interactive tool developed by researchers at Cornell University, designed to help corn growers reduce nitrogen applications based on site-specific recommendations. The website is part of a suite of decision-support tools from Cornell to help farmers mitigate and adapt to climate change in the U.S.
DivSeek, an international partnership launched in January 2015, use big data to catalog the physical and genetic information held within international gene banks, and to make it available online. The initiative, involving 69 organizations from 30 countries, enhances the productivity and resilience of global crops by giving breeders and researchers access to information through an online portal.
In the Philippines, Dr. Wilson Cerbito, Assistant Regional Director of the Department of Agriculture, addressed the First Agriculture Summit on May 7, 2015, noting the Philippines is the third most vulnerable country in the world to climate change. The event outlined strategies for improving productivity of rice and root crops through technologies and practices that promote ecological resilience.
Full Belly Farm received the California Leopold Conservation Award for its land stewardship and conservation efforts. Judith Redmond, a manager of the farm, demonstrated resilience in the face of extreme drought by changing her crop choices, implementing drip irrigation, and reducing her reliance on groundwater. The creek that usually irrigates her crops ran completely dry last year, but Redmond was still able to water her land using micro-irrigation.
La Red de Guardianes de Semillas (The Network of Seed Guardians) is preserving rare plant varieties and culturally important seeds in Tumbaco, Ecuador. The community model for seed-saving fosters the exchange of cultural knowledge between small farmers, trains growers on permaculture techniques, and works to preserve biodiversity throughout Ecuador. The coupling of cultural heritage and biological heredity in something so small as a seed gets at the heart of the resilience concept: the more biologically and culturally varied a system, the more buffered it is against disturbance.
The Lexicon of Sustainability is spreading the word about agricultural resilience through information artworks and inventive media campaigns. Douglas Gayeton, multimedia artist and the organization’s founder, emphasizes that “there are farmers who believe in biodiversity instead of monoculture. Farmers who build soil fertility without depending on chemicals. Farmers who go beyond organic.” By defining terms such as true cost accounting, The Lexicon of Sustainability seeks to describe a vision for resilience through engaging stories.
Who do you know about that is creating a resilient local food system? We want to know! Share them with me at Danielle@foodtank.com.
Source: Food tank
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The South African Breweries (SAB) in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund for Nature of South Africa (WWF-SA) has launched Better Barley Better Beer, a programme that encourages and supports sustainable farming practices amongst South Africa’s barley farmers, focusing on water reduction, improved carbon footprints, soil health and clearing of alien vegetation, as well as the protection and restoration of ecosystems.
Better Barley Better Beer is in its pilot phase in the dryland area of the Southern Cape and in the irrigated barley areas in the Northern Cape, and will run for approximately two years.
The programme involves a total of 26 barley producers – 15 in the dryland area and 11 in irrigation, who have either voluntarily opted to participate or hold important conservation assets on their properties. These assets include endangered veld, important water catchment areas and critical species.
Through structured engagement and advisory support, Better Barley Better Beer is aimed at empowering barley farmers to understand and implement sustainable farming practices. The programme is an important element of SAB’s global sustainable development framework called Prosper.
Prosper highlights tangible targets to be achieved by SAB over the next five years in the areas of responsible alcohol consumption, securing water resources, reducing waste and carbon emissions, supporting small enterprises, including emerging farmers, and the support of responsible and sustainable land use for brewing crops.
Farmers with critical conservation assets will be supported in engaging on biodiversity stewardship to protect and restore ecosystems. The stewardship concept is a new way of achieving conservation protection by creating positive, proactive partnerships with private landowners and conservation bodies such as WWF-SA.
“The WWF-SA’s interest in Better Barley Better Beer is to support farmers as key custodians of our South African natural resource base, with advisory extension support to adopt best practice that ensures farming maintains, protects and restores key natural systems, while minimising the environmental impact of production activities for the benefit of producers, as well as downstream users,” says Inge Kotze, WWF Senior Manager: Sustainable Agriculture.
The Better Barley Better Beer guidelines, developed in collaboration with the WWF-SA and SAB agriculturists as well as local barley farmers, drive the implementation of the programme by each producer.
The guidelines provide farmers with criteria, indicators and verifiers to measure how sustainably they are farming. Key indicators contained in the guidelines allow farmers to self-assess their performance using a checklist provided. They are also able to easily identify strengths and weaknesses and develop action plans to correct deficiencies.
“The guidelines are designed to empower the barley farmer to make the right decisions today to ensure the sustainable production of local barley into the future,” says Thinus van Schoor, General Manager SAB Maltings.
A ‘zero sum game’ for the farmer
The pilot is aimed at reducing the cost and risk of doing business and improving crop production, a ‘zero sum game’ for the farmer. Using key metrics, farmers will be able to track improvement and progress overtime to support the development of a business case for sustainable production and they will be able to demonstrate the impact and value of changing practices at farm level and elsewhere in the chain.
SAB intends for the Better Barley Better Beer key metrics to be systematised into accepted industry standards, much like the Barley Passport it introduced in the 2005.
The Barley Passport contains detailed information on chemicals applied on the produce and only that which is registered will be purchased by SAB.
Better Barley Better Beer allows SAB to build on its strategic business objective to help grow the local barley industry and secure its future growth and sustainability. This is in line with South Africa’s strategic plan for sustainable agriculture and the Department of Agriculture‘s policy for sustainable development.
Through Better Barley Better Beer and other sustainable agriculture initiatives, including the construction of a multi-million rand SAB Maltings plant in Johannesburg and its Go Farming programme, which is geared at establishing and supporting emerging farmers, SAB intends to source more than 90% of its barley requirements from local producers.
“Having a fully-fledged and sustainable local barley sector means SAB can rely on contracts with local producers for approximately 93% of its brewing requirements, enabling us to hedge against volatile global commodity markets and, just as importantly, to keep tighter control of quality and ensure a sustainable barley growing sector,” says van Schoor.
Historically, SAB has played a pioneering role in the South African barley industry. It began growing barley locally more than three decades ago, a strategic attempt by the company to become self-sufficient. Since those early days, SAB’s support for the local barley industry has strengthened considerably and the company is today regarded as a critical role player. The strategic industry partnerships it has developed, as well as its close working relationship with producers, is what has helped to yield successes and drive further sustainable growth.
“Our collaborative approach within the agricultural sector has proven to be the most effective method in creating sustainable growth, which is a key objective of any SAB investment. The existing knowledge and skills within the industry is invaluable to success,” says van Schoor.
This focused commitment by SAB to investing in the local barley industry extends to developing and supporting a more inclusive environment with equal opportunities. These efforts stretch as far back as the early 1990s when SAB initiated the Taung Barley Farmers Project in the Northern Cape. The programme has helped to encourage local barley production and create a sustainable source of income for smallholder farmers. Today, it supports more than 120 smallholder farmers, each generating a sustainable income with guaranteed access to market as supported by SAB.
About 160,000 tons of barley are currently grown in the Southern Cape and a further 55,000t (64,000t in 2013 and expanding to 94,000t tons in 2014) are produced in the irrigation areas of the Northern Cape. SAB helped establish South Africa’s barley growing sector in the 1970s, a strategic move to become self-sufficient in producing the key brewing ingredient.
The next phase of the Better Barley Better Beer pilot will be the roll out of specific guidelines to small scale and emerging farmers in the Taung area. These guidelines will be tailored to focus on training the farmers rather than auditing them.