Thursday, March 5, 2015

Organic farming continues to rise across the globe

World Progress Watch

2 million of the world’s 1.5 billion farmers are now producing organically, with nearly 80 percent based in developing countries. India boasts the most certified organic producers, followed by Uganda and Mexico.

By Kendra Nordin, Staff writer February 17, 2015

 Across the decades of boom and bust that characterize agricultural history runs a trend: the rise and recognition of organic farming worldwide.

According to the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM), 2 million of the world’s 1.5 billion farmers are now producing organically, with nearly 80 percent based in developing countries. India boasts the most certified organic producers, followed by Uganda and Mexico.

Currently 164 nations have certified organic farms, powering an industry worth $63.9 billion. (In 2000, there were 86 countries with certified farms producing $15.2 billion.) With this growth come opportunities for farmers to add value to their products and access expanding markets.

While the 94 million acres of certified organic agricultural land constitutes less than 1 percent of total global agricultural land, industry analysts call the growth of organics significant, also noting that the certified numbers fail to account for the vast numbers of small-scale farmers who use organic methods by default.

“[There are] probably 500 million small family farms worldwide; most of those are traditional farmers who farm primarily through organic principles,” says Andre Leu, president of IFOAM.

He adds that 200,000 organic farmers become newly certified each year. “In most places there is still a dramatic loss [in the numbers] of farmers and ... where we see growth is in the organic sector.”

Farmers today, battling climate swings and plummeting farm incomes, are essentially faced with four options: leave farming completely, obtain off-farm income, expand and play the commodity game more efficiently, or find ways to add value per unit of production, says Joel Gruver, a soil science professor at Western Illinois University in Macomb.

“Basically, organic farming anywhere in the world – if you are certified – is the one label that is most clearly defined,” says Professor Gruver, the university’s director of organic research. “Each nation has its own rules in how they define organic, but the general set of rules is very much the same,” he says. Organic methods eschew chemical additives and rely on such practices as crop rotation to harness ecological processes that promote healthy soils and fight disease, weeds, and pests.

For consumers, organic farming addresses a range of issues on which many feel conventional farming falls short: environmental impact, pesticide residues, and nutritional quality. It addresses concerns about energy consumption and climate change, and even restores a social connection to the land that many feel commodity farming has eroded.
In fact, consumer demand is the driving force behind the growth. In 2012 in the United States and Europe, markets with a healthy appetite for organic goods, there was a 10 percent year-on-year rise in sales.

“Organic farming is the fastest growing multi-product sector in the world,” says Mr. Leu. “[I]f you go into any store now, organic products are in every section. Anything from dairy to [prepared foods] to body care products to organic clothing.... And there is no other sector like that.”

Organic farming does draw critics. Some question the consistency of its accreditation and labeling system. There is debate over whether organics deliver higher nutritional value, and concern that the certification process is too costly to allow for financial success. And there is doubt over whether organic methods can yield enough to feed an ever-growing population. Yet consumer preference continues to grow.

“[T]here is more demand than supply,” says Anna Lappé, author of “Diet for a Hot Planet.” Ms. Lappé also points out that less than 1 percent of agricultural research funding now goes toward refining proven chemical-free farming methods.

Still, there have been considerable efforts to support organic farmers. A growing number of nonprofits provide microloans. IFOAM publishes the principles of organic farming on its website for those who want to practice it but can’t yet afford certification. Countries such as Denmark and Sweden have set goals for organic agriculture. The US offers small grants and loans.

Commercial investment may gain momentum, too. Nature’s Path, an organic cereal manufacturer, recently bought 5,640 acres of farmland in Canada and northern Montana in efforts to support organic family farmers there.

Friday, February 20, 2015

How changing the way we farm could reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Certain farming practices can trap a majority of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. On a global scale, this could even lead to a net decrease in atmospheric greenhouse gas levels — or, in other words, help reverse climate change.

By Skylar Lindsay, FoodTank September 3, 2014

A recent study by the Rodale Institute documents how specific organic farming practices can trap a majority of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. On a global scale, this could even lead to a net decrease in atmospheric greenhouse gas levels — or, in other words, help reverse climate change.

The study, “Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change: A Down-to-Earth Solution to Global Warming,” highlights soil’s natural ability to trap carbon from the atmosphere. This process, called carbon sequestration, occurs when photosynthesis removes carbon from the air faster than other biological processes, like respiration, release it.

According to the Rodale, if half of the world’s croplands were shifted to regenerative methods, the world could reduce net annual greenhouse gas emissions from 51 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent to below 41– the threshold necessary by 2020 to limit global warming to 1.5º C.

The figures are based on 75 peer-reviewed studies and on test sites throughout the world where organic and conventional methods are compared side by side. These include Rodale’s long-running Farming Systems Trial (FST) in the United States and more recent Tropical Farming Systems Trial in Costa Rica. Rodale uses this data to calculate a rate of carbon sequestration per area of land cultivated, and then scale-up to see the impact of global adoption of each practice.

For example, if all current cropland were cultivated using methods tested in Iran and Egypt, 21 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO₂e), or 40 percent of global emissions, could be sequestered annually. If applied to the world’s pasture and grassland, Rodale calculates its recommendations could sequester 37 GtCO₂e, or over 70 percent of emissions. Changing the cultivation of cropland, pasture, and grassland together could lead to a net reduction in the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

Rodale’s recommendations focus on soil health, biodiversity, and avoiding farming methods that contribute to a net release of carbon including the overuse and misuse of pesticides, artificial fertilizers, and unnecessary tilling. The regenerative techniques include crop rotation, cover crops, mulching and green manure, composting, and no-till practices.

Cover cropping techniques increase soil carbon via photosynthesis and better carbon retention in topsoil layers. Perennial cover crops, called living mulches, are especially effective due to large, deep root systems. Strategic crop rotations increase soil carbon levels, and coupled with on-farm composting and cover cropping, encourages soil microbes that absorb carbon. These regenerative practices also help carbon-absorbing fungi populations.

Skylar Lindsay majors in Peace & Conflict Studies at Colgate University, where he heads the organic farming initiative and leads for the Outdoor Education program.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Beauty of Pollination - Moving Art ™

The Beauty of Pollination - Moving Art ™
- a very short, but beautiful video presented
as part of a TED Talk conference in 2011.

This video was shown at the TED conference in 2011, with scenes from "Wings of Life", a film about the threat to essential pollinators that produce over a third of the food we eat. The seductive love dance between flowers and pollinators sustains the fabric of life and is the mystical keystone event where the animal and plant worlds intersect that make the world go round.  Enjoy!!!

"Wings of Life" now streaming on Netflix!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Little Things Matter: The Impact of Toxins on the Developing Brain

From the:
Canadian Environmental Health Atlas

Published November 11, 2014
We’ve been studying the impact of toxins on children for the past 30 years and reached the inescapable conclusion: little things matter. We’ve discovered that extremely low levels of toxins can impact brain development. We have also discovered that subtle shifts in the intellectual abilities of individual children have a big impact on the number of children in a population that are challenged or gifted. Steps should be taken to reduce children's exposure to toxins or suspected toxins.

Just another reason to embrace organic food and a chemical free environment.