A recent article by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, co founder of the Institute of Science in Society (I-SIS), Paradigm Shift Urgently Needed In Agriculture – UN Agencies Call for an End to Industrial Agriculture & Food System, had this to say about agroecological restoration of land:1
Rehabilitation of degraded land has the potential to double the amount of agricultural land globally. As pointed out by David Pimental and Michael Burgess at Cornell University, New York , decades of unsustainable industrial agricultural practices have resulted in massive loss of top soil and land degradation. Worldwide, the 1.5 billion ha of land now under cultivation are almost equal in area to the amount that has been abandoned by humans since farming began. [emphasis added]Regeneration of abandoned agricultural land- either for direct human use as intentional agroecosystems or, potentially, as rewilded areas- is shaping up to be, in my opinion, the greatest and most important work that humanity can undertake in an effort to accept our species' role and niche on earth.2
Unfortunately, when it comes to mainstream environmental reporting on climate change, land use, agriculture, and the future of our planet, agroecology is all too often left out of the picture. As stated last week, it is my goal to bring not only the overwhelmingly positive promise of agroecology to this community on a weekly basis, but also to speak about the role that livestock (of all kinds) play in these agroecosystems.
1. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, Paradigm Shift Urgently Needed in Agriculture, reposted on Permaculture News. I-SIS has, and continues to be a voice for "social responsibility and sustainable approaches in science." See About I-SIS for more information regarding this organization.
2. See: Introduction to Agroecology: "A Serengeti on Our Doorsteps"- George Monbiot and Rewilding the Earth for a brief background on the possibilities of Rewilding. I intend to revisit the subject again to clear up some of the issues surrounding my initial writing. Also see my diary on "Green Gold" for evidence of large-scale ecosystem regeneration.
Last Time Here
In my last diary, I stated my intention to bring agroecology to the forefront of discussion on Daily Kos by writing about its promise weekly. As the rearing of livestock (of all kinds, not just cattle) is integral for functional agroecosystems, it also becomes necessary to emphasize their importance to making this revolution a reality. In order to write weekly, my diaries on the subject will attempt to bring new information while resounding the "rising chorus from UN agencies on how food security, poverty, gender inequality and climate change can all be addressed by a radical transformation of our agriculture and food system."4
These diaries will not necessarily be as in depth, in terms of the content I am sharing and writing about. I simply do not have the time to devote to lengthy and content heavy posts on a weekly basis. Therefore, I invite the reader to engage with the external sources I continue to provide as well as read earlier diaries which may cover aspects not fully expounded on in each new entry.
What will remain is an unfaltering conviction that if we are truly interested in seeing a new world- one in which humanity accepts responsibility for the destruction we have collectively wrought- that the continued disregard for this message by reporting of all stripes (but especially environmentalist) is in dire need of discontinuance.
3. Yes, yes- I have used this photograph a few times already this year. It is an exceptionally powerful image for it not only documents the amazing ability of agroecological principles to regenerate land. It also puts front and center the nigh heretical notion that Holistic Management of livestock need not cause destruction, but can bring life back to systems where its application is appropriate.
4. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, Paradigm Shift. See link in ref 1.
"Disturbance creates opportunity and challenge: opportunity if the opening in the ecosystem is seized, challenges if the ecosystem is left to succeed "randomly."" -Ben Falk5
In ecology, a change in the system is known as a disturbance. These can take many forms- dramatic and subtle alike. What Ben Falk makes clear is that a good designer takes note of these disturbances (or produces them oneself) and seeks to leverage a planned outcome. Disturbances of one's own creation are those which we have both the opportunity and responsibility to think through the possible outcomes.
Likewise, when I write a diary on Daily Kos, I am creating a change- a planned disturbance- in the social ecosystem on this site. Along with many others, I am acutely aware and at times frightened by the prospect of run-away anthropocentric climate change. Over the years I have taken note of the feelings elicited by despairing climate forecasts, made by amateur and professional reporters alike, on myself and others.
Whenever a report of our impending doom is released into the social ecosystem of the internet, its disquieting influence on individual and collective conscious is readily apparent by fatalist comments and, oftentimes, futile complaints about society's do-nothingism. The accumulation of despair over the years is palpable. While this type of reporting may inspire some to action, it breeds a sense of hopelessness that pervades environmental reporting throughout the internet.
It is my opinion that to by choosing to disturb the thought processes and emotions of our readers through despair and finger-pointing alone is a recipe for disaster. This type of reporting leaves open an emotional and cognitive niche in the reader that is easily filled by pessimism and cynicism. After years of being disturbed by this kind of messaging, it comes with little surprise that readers have a hard time rooting out this gloomy outlook on the future.
Not only is this a recipe for disaster, but as the reader base becomes ever more enraptured by constant negativity, the ability to challenge long-held beliefs about humanity's relationship to the earth is greatly diminished. Creating a disturbance without offering a way out that everyone can participate in (in one way or the other) is counter productive.
This is why I am writing this series. I am trying to hold out a hand to those who are uncomfortable continuing down this path lined with pessimism, cynicism, and defeatism. If we must continue to sound the alarm regarding humanity's headlong dash towards self-destruction, it is in our vested interest to arm our readers with the knowledge that we can turn this ship around.
5. Ben Falk, The Resilient Farm and Homestead: An Innovative Permaculture and Whole Systems Design Approach (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2013), 42.
"Agriculture the problem and the solution to climate change" -Dr. Mae-Wan Ho6
As I have previously shared, the UN is increasingly coming around to agroecology as the basis upon which lasting solutions to climate change, poverty, gender discrimination, food insecurity, biodiversity loss, and other pressing issues will be resolved. In Dr. Mae-Wan Ho's article, she describes a 320 page Trade and Development Report as providing:7
A coherent, closely argued case backed up by evidence from numerous case studies and surveys showing that these interrelated problems could all be solved by a paradigm shift away from the current industrial agriculture and globalized food system to a conglomerate of small, biodiverse, ecological farms around the world and a localized food system that promotes consumption of local/regional produce. [emphasis added]Throughout the rest of the article, Dr. Mae-Wan Ho shares a multitude of studies, practices, techniques, and projects where agroecological methods are working as advertised. Unfortunately, the fully referenced article is beyond a pay-wall. However, it remains a powerful testament to one of the most hopeful developments in humanity's history.
If the knowledge that these systems can double food production in some places (and possibly beyond doubling) and the elimination of many long-developing problems that derive from humanity's destructive relationship with the earth fails to perk up your mood, then I doubt much will.
6. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, Paradigm Shift.
7. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. "Wake up Before it is Too Late: Make Agriculture Truly Sustainable Now for Food Security in a Changing Climate." It should become available at this link sometime in the future, not sure about the reason for the embargo. [Update: is now available at this direct to PDF link.]
"Sustainably used, pastures can contribute to humus accumulation and thus help to reduce atmospheric CO2 through carbon fixation above and below ground and carbon sequestration in the soil. While cattle emit methane, this is more than offset by the increase in carbon fixation and sequestration in well-managed pastures. Ruminants are an integral part of traditional farming in many developing countries and indispensable for global food security."-Dr. Mae-Wan Ho8
It is imperative to remember that agroecology is based upon the study of ecology. The evidence of trophic cascades, the knowledge that the extinction or extirpation of keystone species can unravel an ecosystem, all helps to bolster the case that the integration of animals into our agroecosystems is of paramount importance.
This is not about the production of meat and meat alone. Nor is it about the production of meat and the sequestration of carbon in the soil through proper management. This is about ensuring that the agroecosystems we design and manage have a full compliment of trophic levels. Diversity in plant species is nice. Diversity among as many kingdoms as is manageable, practical, desirable, and responsible is much better. When properly managed, livestock can provide a myriad of different direct products from their bodies, but also help an agroecosystem take yet another step towards a complete nutrient cycle and provide pest control in the process.
For an in depth look at how livestock can be integrated into these systems, here is a talk by Ben Falk of Whole Systems Design (quoted above.) The talk is not specifically focused on livestock, but it is impossible to ignore their role in how this research farm operates.
Whole Systems Design's YouTube channel also has some wonderful video showing how resilient their farm was in face of Hurricane Irene's fury in Vermont. Again, yet more evidence from those practicing these techniques that many of the claims we hear about livestock and farming fail to account for other possibilities. For more information regarding Holistic Management, see the Additional Resources Section.
This is what it all boils down to: researchers the world over are confirming that agroecology will radically alter the way humanity relates to the natural world. As this shift occurs, it becomes possible to eliminate many of the pervasive problems that stem from our current dysfunctional paradigm. It is, therefore, my opinion that the continued lack of attention paid by those writing about climate change to these issues is doing a grave disservice to the fight against anthropogenic climate change.
Please take the time to explore this concept. I have provided many links, but it is impossible to reference it all. I also want to state that I know full well that my diaries rest upon scientific evidence that the "scientific community" has yet to come to full consensus on. That said, I also know that scientists often disagree with one another and that waiting for some kind of consensus before sharing these discoveries and projects would be wasting precious time.
8. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, Paradigm Shift.
Large Scale Damaged Ecosystem Regeneration [Diary]:
Excellent, must see documentary: John Liu's Green Gold- extended version of "Hope in a Changing Climate" that was presented at the recent Rio summit.
Another good article by John D. Liu. Finding Sustainability in Ecosystem Restoration.
Seth Itzkan has put together a very good reference list for Holistic Management, here.
The Permaculture Research Institute is excellent (Updated: formerly PRI Australia). With almost daily updates from the world of permaculture (an ethical design system that utilizes agroecology [diary]), this site is on my "must check list" daily. Good news to be found here.
There are some excellent video presentations from 2011's International Permaculture Convergence held in Jordan, which followed a permaculture design course taught at the world-renowned "Greening the Desert Part II" site in the Dead Sea Valley. Here is a link to the documentary about the site, and here is a photo update from Spring 2013.If you scroll to the bottom of this webpage, you will find links to video presentations given at the convergence.
Here is a list of diaries I wrote that covered some of the very basics.
Plants for a Future. Absolutely massive database for useful plants.
The first diary of this series revolves around three documentaries.
The first is a TED talk by Willie Smits about rainforest restoration to provide habitat for orangutans and a standard of living for the local people using agroecological methods. Not only was the project highly successful, but climate moderation was demonstrated via satellite imagery.
The second, The Rebel Farmer, is about Sepp Holzer, a very famous Austrian who practices his own version of permaculture. He has also written numerous books in addition to being in demand across the globe.
The third presents "Greening the Desert"- which covers both sites in Jordan where Geoff Lawton and the Permaculture Research Institute have been applying permaculture with great success.
In no particular order:
John D. Liu: pioneering large scale damaged ecosystem restoration.
What If We Change: John D. Liu's project to inspire others to share their efforts to combat climate change and other problems.
Whole Systems Design: operating from Vermont, Ben Falk's permaculture design firm. Excellent site overview and talks on agroecology. Also a must see video from Hurricane Irene.
Permaculture News: PRI's YouTube branch
Permasolutions: Offering permaculture inspired solutions to problems
Toby Hemenway: Author of Gaia's Garden and permaculture designer. Great talk on horticultural society.
Al Baydha: Pilot project in Saudi Arabia to regenerate "bare bones" landscape for Bedouins.
Eric Toensmeier: Author of Perennial Vegetables, coauthor of Edible Forest Gardens, and plant guru. Has an upcoming book on perennial agricultural solutions to climate change.
Paul Stamets: World famous visionary mycologist who will change the way you see the world. You'll never forget fungi after his speeches regarding their potential use and place in the ecosystems.
My favorite books:
Edible Forest Gardens, Vol I and II. David Jacke with Eric Toensmeier. Chelsea Green, 2006.
Sepp Holzer's Permaculture. Sepp Holzer, translated by Anna Sapsford-Francis. Chelsea Green, 2010.
Gaia's Garden. Toby Hemenway. Chelsea Green, 2009 (2nd edition).
Let the Water Do the Work. Bill Zeedyk and Van Clother. The Quivira Coalition, 2009.
The One Straw Revolution. Masanobu Fukuoka. Link will point you to a decent review.
Akinori Kimura's Miracle Apples. By Takuji Ishikawa, translated by Yoko Ono. This is an absolutely fantastic story. My favorite part is towards the end, chapter 22, when Kimura is told of his family's first success. Give it a read!
Feral: Searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding. George Monbiot. Allen Lane, 2013.
The Resilient Farm and Homestead: An Innovative Permaculture and Whole Systems Design Approach. Ben Falk. Chelsea Green, 2013.
For a much fuller list of books on the subject, see Toby Hemenway's Permaculture Reading List.
The Land Institute. Their goal is to develop highly productive perennial staple crops which will produce a living system as stable as natural prairies. This is the kind of pioneering research we should be funding. H/T to sfinx for bringing them up.