It’s troubling to think about how a growing population will be fed in the future, in the face of urbanisation and climate change. But perhaps the solutions we’re seeking are already on plates.
Agroecological farming is the most common way of living and farming to the global population and is the source of most of the world’s food. Also called peasant or subsistence farming, agroecological farming is a sustainable farming method in which small scale farms exist with a diverse range of fruits, vegetables, flourishing woodlands and a few animals. Surrounded by trees, hedges and flowers, they produce for themselves with surplus going to market. We might also know it as organic, permaculture or even indigenous farming.
Despite being 1) the most resistant style of farming to climate change 2) feeding more people, and 3) doing so in a way that is better for the planet: traditional and agroecological farming systems are disappearing. Increasing urbanisation has led governments to prioritise cheap and abundant food for urban centres. In turn, policies to support this provision have pushed down the price that farmers receive for their crops, making farming increasingly unviable, forcing more small farmers to migrate toward urban jobs.
Meanwhile, policies promoting industrial scale farming have led to a dramatic increase in the profits of fertiliser, herbicide and pesticide companies. It is in the interest of these corporations to keep this policy in place, so they employ lobbyists to persuade politicians and the public that we need technical solutions to solve the problems.
The industrial farming system accounts for 44-57% of all greenhouse gas emissions while agroecological farming creates biodiversity and sequesters carbon into the soil. If the whole world was agroecologically farmed we could put a significant amount of atmospheric carbon back into the soil where it belongs. With industrial farming, social impacts of forced migration, as small farms make way to big farms, are ignored. As is the loss of local, traditional knowledge on the subtleties of the landscape. But most importantly, it ignores that there is already enough food to feed everyone on the planet. It’s not the industrial and technological solutions feeding the world, it is the small, agroecological farmers.
Small ecological farms, distributing food in a fair way that puts people before profits can not only feed the world and restore the environment, it also creates community resilience; resilience that can in turn empower us to make direct decisions on issue that affect us. Finding this resilience will take a redesigning of our markets and distribution, to be run co-operatively and transparently for people, rather than unaccountably for the benefit of any corporation. It will mean taking control and finding ways to access our food without supporting profiteers.
So how can we possibly change it?
My guess would be that we’ll do it in the same way every right has ever been won by any group in history: through an enormous number of small acts, conversations and rebellions. Unthanked, inglorious deeds. Every day. We’ll be open to challenges and learning from other people’s ideas, whether we agree with them or not. We’ll organise; linking with other networks and sharing resources. We can’t do everything. But we can all do things that give us purpose; that make us feel alive; that make us feel like another world, with another food system is possible.
What Can You Do?
- In the GLOBAL context, join the Food Sovereignty Movement and amplify the work of organisations such as La Via Campesina, a global union of small scale producers fighting for the right to produce food for people, not profit.
- At the EUROPEAN level, write to your MEP asking for the EU Farming subsidy system (CAP) to be reformed to better support ecological farming and rural livelihoods. Sign and share petitions, they have an impact.
- At the NATIONAL level, write to your MP asking DEFRA to implement our agricultural subsidies in a more equitable way. See The Landworkers’ Alliance for more details of what this might look like. Boycott those with too much power in our food system, like the major supermarkets.
- At a LOCAL level organise with your community (be they family, friends, book clubs, whoever) to source your food sustainably. Join a buyers group so that organic, fairtrade wholefoods become as cheap as the supermarket. Create ways to buy food you believe in. The Open Food Network UK can even help you do this!
- In your everyday life: Cook with fresh and local ingredients. Eat with your friends! Experiment with stocks and using herbs to add flavour with less cheese and meat. Spend what you save on better quality cheese and meat from producers you trust. Spend time enjoying your food, whether at a community growing project, a local farm, a farmer’s market or local co-operative. Celebrate the great food that we produce here and the fantastic farmers that produce it free of chemicals on mixed farms using sustainable practices.
This blog was written for Shambala by their very own permaculture guru, Lynne Davis, and edited and reprinted with permission. The original can be found on the Shambala website.
Find Lynne back in the permaculture field at Shambala this year to pick her glorious, green-fingered brain.