Policies for just, sustainable rural livelihoods and healthy food are compatible with climate goals

Organic Farming

One of the most remarkable aspects of the challenge of climate change is that often what is in any case needed in the interests of justice and sustainability is also compatible with and helpful for climate change mitigation and adaptation. If this does not actually appear to be so in a lot of the climate change discourse we encounter is because the big business interests have in many ways hijacked the discourse along the lines suitable for them, resulting in several serious distortions.

All this is most clearly evident in the food and agriculture sector. Agro-ecology is most suitable for protecting soil and environment, it also provides the most sustainable livelihoods. Agro-ecology cannot be practiced under the highly mechanized monocultures of big business. The kind of caring and creative cultivation that agro-ecology needs is best provided by small farmers and family farmers, with a very special contribution by women farmers. Agro-ecology is best practiced on a land-owning pattern based on equal distribution of land among small farmer units, who work in cooperation with each other for common good. As is self-evident and is agreed by almost everyone, it is such a system of agro-ecology practiced by small farmers which is most likely to produce healthy and safe food, and which is also likely to provide the best food security to the rural community and its various members.

As has been increasingly shown increasingly by a number of studies, in terms of yield per acre also the agro-ecology system is capable of equaling and sometimes even surpassing the industrial farming system, all the more so if sustainability and longer-term aspects are also considered. The ability of the family farm system to minimize waste is also well-established.

At the same time, this is the system most likely to achieve very good results of climate change mitigation as well as adaptation. This system minimizes the use of fossil fuels in the form of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, diesel and big, heavy machines. With its emphasis on integrating trees with crops and on various soil conservation practices this system enables a lot of absorbing of carbon. With its strength of food security and land rights of all or almost all people, this system is capable of increasing the resilience of communities in meeting more frequent adverse weather events. Its adaptation is also enhanced by the greater cooperation for more common good which is maximized under conditions of equality, in turn based on almost all rural households owning small plots of farmland, which can be adequately cared for and protected by those who own them and care for them. Adaptation is also enhanced by the fact that small farmers practicing agro-ecology do not have to spend a lot of cash on outside inputs or industrial inputs, and are by and large self-reliant in terms of their input needs. Hence the chances of their indebtedness and ruin related to big expenses incurred even in bad weather years are minimized. They are self-reliant also in terms of their seeds and skills; hence they can quickly adapt to weather conditions suddenly turning adverse and do not have to keep waiting for any advice from the top. Their highly decentralized system based on local skills and understanding of local conditions is great for climate change adaptation, just as it is great for climate change mitigation.

Hence the compatibility and mutually supportive nature of all the requirements of a desirable food and farming system (healthy and safe food, adequate yield, satisfactory and sustainable livelihoods, climate change mitigation and adaptation) are well-established under small farmer agro-ecology system. This should be widely appreciated and understood for farm and food policy.

However as big business is unable to extract its big profits and is unable to secure its dominance and control under such a system, it is opposed to such a system. It loses no opportunity to advance all sorts of highly suspect and even dangerous arguments to instead promote its own big business model as desirable or even essential for achieving food security as well as for meeting the challenge of climate change. These distortions spread by big business interests should not confuse and mislead food and farm policy, pushing it towards entirely wrong and harmful directions.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include ‘Planet in Peril’, ‘Protecting Earth for Children’ and ‘India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food’.          

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