Small Farmers Can Cool the World
COPENHAGEN - Industrial
agriculture may emit nearly half of climate-heating greenhouse gases,
but that reality has gone unrecognized by negotiators at the climate
treaty talks here, say farmers with La Via Campesina, an international
movement of hundreds of millions of small-scale peasant farmers.
farmers use 80 percent less energy than large monocultures," said
Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, a Haitian farmer with Mouvement de Paysan,
through a translator.
"Peasant farmers from La Via Campesina and others can help
cool the planet," Jean-Baptiste told a press conference at the
Klimaforum09, the alternative climate action talks being held here in
Copenhagen Dec. 7-18.
Unlike the official talks, set in a remote location surrounded
by police and razor wire, Klimaforum09 is being held in the city's
community centre and is free and open to the public.
"System Change for Climate Change" - that's the phrase most often heard at the Klimaforum09 and in parts of Copenhagen.
La Via Campesina's claim that industrial agriculture is by far
the biggest source of carbon emissions is based on a recent study that
looked at all emissions from the global food system.
This includes oil-dependent industrial farming, together with
the expansion of the meat industry, the destruction of world's
savannahs and forests to grow agricultural commodities, the use of
fossil fuel energy to transport and process food, and the extensive use
of chemical fertilizers.
The study was conducted by GRAIN, an international
non-governmental organization that promotes the sustainable management
and use of agricultural biodiversity to support local communities.
"These results are horrifying. So much carbon is lost from the
soil using monoculture practices," said Camila Montecinos, the lead
GRAIN researcher from Santiago, Chile.
The study looked at all the available scientific literature
and worked with soil scientists to arrive at this "rough" but thorough
estimate, Montecinos told TerraViva.
The study does not include methane emissions from animals and
their manure because studies conflict and incorporating manure into the
soil increases fertility and soil carbon, she explained.
Surprisingly, one-third of the emissions come from food
processing and transport, although the former is responsible for most.
The bulk of emissions come from land use changes - conversions of
forest and grasslands - and from direct agricultural production like
fuel use, fertilized and tillage.
Calculations in the report show that policies oriented towards
agriculture in the hands of small farmers and focused on restoring soil
fertility could, over the next 50 years, capture about 450 billion
tonnes of carbon dioxide, which is more than two-thirds of the current
excess in the atmosphere.
"The evidence is irrefutable. If we can change the way we farm
and the way we produce and distribute food, then we have a powerful
solution for combating the climate crisis. There are no technical
hurdles to achieving these results, it is only a matter of political
will," said Henk Hobbelink, coordinator of GRAIN, in a release.
Governmental policies and trade agreements the world over
support industrial agriculture production and the study shows this must
change in order to stabilize the climate, Montecinos said. "No
governments are talking about this," she noted.
Worse still, many of those policies are pushing small farmers
off the land, the ones who are by far the most efficient in terms of
carbon emissions and energy use, she said.
Ending such policies and giving the lands back to small
farmers could result in major emission reductions on the order of 50 to
66 percent, said La Via Campesina in a news release.
"Such a transformation of world agriculture would not only
greatly contribute to solving the climate crisis - it would also
provide healthy food for all - as well as provide livelihoods to
millions of women and men," the group said.
When asked what he would like to tell the negotiators at the
official climate talks, Jean-Baptiste said: "We have to change the
model of production and consumption, especially in the northern half of
"Corporate control and concentration has not provided any
solutions. Instead people suffering more than ever," Alicia Muñoz from
Via Campesina in Chile told TerraViva. "The men standing up there [at
the official negotiations] will never solve the problems of poverty and
"Women need to be involved and part of the solution," she stressed.