ORGANICALLY FARMED LAND IN SWEDEN HAS EXCEEDED A 20% SHARE OF ALL AGRICULTURAL LAND IN THE COUNTRY FOR THE FIRST TIME.
New figures released by the Swedish Board of Agriculture show that organic farmland has increased by 58% in Sweden over the past ten years.
“This is a positive development because there is great consumers demand now for foods that are produced to high animal welfare standards, limited climate impact, without synthetic pesticides and that contribute to increased biodiversity,” says Jonas Carlberg, business area manager at Sweden’s lead organic body KRAV.
Last year, 609,104 hectares of agricultural land in Sweden were used organically, corresponding to 20.2 percent. In 2009, the figure was 385,064 hectares, which represents an increase of 58.2% over the past ten years. The government’s goal is for 30% of agricultural land to be organic by 2030.
“We want to see an even faster conversion to organic farming. Other countries are now positioning themselves strongly for the transition to organic production, including France and Denmark. Sweden has taken a step in the right direction, but a faster transition can boost growth in Swedish agriculture and increase both exports and domestic sales,” says Carlberg.
In 2018, Jämtland was the county in Sweden that had the highest share of organically grown agricultural land at 39.7%. The lowest proportion among Sweden’s counties is in Skåne, where only 8.4% of the cultivated land was used organically.
The new data released by the Swedish Board of Agriculture also show that organic crops fared better in last year’s drought, compared to conventional crops.
Changes need to happen to agricultural practices, human consumption habits and forestry management.
OTTAWA — Canada will not be spared the impact of food shortages and price shocks if global warming is not kept below 2 degrees Celsius, a new report on land use and climate change suggests.
The report, released Thursday by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, delivers stark warnings about the need for drastic changes to agricultural practices, human consumption habits and forestry management to prevent an escalation in the climate-change-related floods and forest fires that could lead to a global famine.
The Paris climate change agreement is straining to keep global warming below 2 C and as close to 1.5 C as possible, and Thursday’s report is the third in 10 months to lay bare the consequences if it fails. It also comes a week after the planet experienced its hottest month ever in July, following the warmest April, May and June on record.
Food shocks and disruptions
At warming above 1.5 C, the report predicts periodic food shocks, significant and widespread melting of permafrost and an increase in the length of wildfire seasons.
Above 2 C, there will be sustained disruptions in food supplies all around the world, widespread increases in wildfire damage and detectable losses of soil and vegetation that can be attributed to climate change.
It is projected that for every degree of global warming, the world’s yield of wheat will fall six per cent, corn by 7.4 per cent, and rice and soybeans both by a little more than three per cent each. Together those four crops account for two-thirds of the calories consumed by people, and with the population growing by 80 million people each year on average, the world needs to produce more food, not less.
Werner Kurz, a senior research scientist at Natural Resources Canada and one of two Canadians among 108 scientists who co-authored the report, said he doesn’t think most people understand the magnitude and pace of climate change, but he also said he believes reports like Thursday’s must be used to deliver potential solutions, not just nightmares.
“As scientists we need to be careful in sort of communicating doomsday scenarios because if we create a fearful world, then inaction will be the consequence,” he said. “People will be paralyzed and fearful.
“What instead this report is trying to do — and I hope is successful in achieving — is to, yes, lay out the consequences of inaction, but also then highlight the many opportunities we have for action and the co-benefits this has for livelihoods, for water.”
Kurz said to slow global warming, people need to burn fewer fossil fuels and improve how land is used, so that it not only contributes fewer greenhouse emissions, but also absorbs more of them.
The report suggests agriculture, forestry and other land use activities contributed almost one-quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activity between 2007 and 2016.
That includes changing human diets to be more plant-based and less meat-based, because plant-based proteins require less farmland.
Forests aren’t carbon sinks
It also means diversifying the kinds of trees being planted in forests rather than focusing entirely on coniferous trees, which burn differently than deciduous trees. Using more wood to build things like houses and buildings and replanting with more diverse species can help regenerate forests, which become bigger risks for fires when they are old, he said.
But Kurz, whose job for Natural Resources Canada is to track the contributions forests make to Canada’s emissions, said there is a vicious cycle in play where climate change has made more forests vulnerable to burning, but that burning is then contributing to more climate change.
Catherine Abreu, executive director of the Climate Action Network Canada, said the idea of diversifying forests is critical to improving their management.
“Canadians and Canadian governments tend to think of our forests as carbon sinks rather than sources of emissions, but we know that has been false now for a couple of years,” she said.
Kurz acknowledged that the changes needed likely won’t come easily for many people, but he said understanding the implications of not doing it should help.
“What we need to realize is that how we choose to live will have an impact on future climate.”
The moringa tree — which also goes by the name drumstick tree or horseradish tree — is native to northern India in the Himalayas but is now grown in many tropical and subtropical regions around the world. The tree is easily cultivated, fast-growing, and drought resistant, making it a sustainable remedy in communities that struggle for food resources, like West Africa and Mexico. In countries like Senegal and Benin, moringa is used to treat malnutrition in children.
It’s also rich in vitamins B1, B2, B3, and E, phosphorus, and dietary fiber.
Health benefits of moringa
Moringa has long been used in traditional medicine, where it’s known to treat over 300 diseases. While many people believe that the leaves of moringa are its most beneficial parts, in India, even the root bark is used in medicine.
In the review, the authors highlighted some of the known benefits of moringa.
Antidiabetic. Scientists found that moringa extracts act as an antidiabetic agent for both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. The antioxidants present in the leaves protect beta cells in the pancreas from oxidative stress, allowing them to produce much-needed insulin to keep blood sugar levels normal. Researchers also found that the plant can benefit those with diabetes by preventing some of its complications, including retinopathy and nephropathy, to name a few.
Anticancer. There’s no question that cancer is a devastating disease, for both the sufferer and his family. According to the World Health Organization, more than 9 million people worldwide die from cancer every year, making it the second leading cause of death after cardiovascular disease. While conventional treatments exist, these can be expensive and have adverse effects. Multiple studies provide evidence that moringa leaves exhibit anticancer potential; scientists say that its ability to protect cells from oxidative damage also helps in preventing the abnormal spread of cancer cells in the body. Additionally, moringa can upregulate caspase 3 and 9, which are associated with programmed cell death in cancer cells.
Anti-inflammatory. While inflammation is part of the body’s natural response to infection, chronic inflammation is not. Inflammation that persists can be a precursor to other chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer. According to researchers, moringa leaves, pods, and seeds are rich in isothiocyanates, which have potent anti-inflammatory properties.
Every part has its benefit
It’s worth noting that no part of the moringa tree is wasted, especially when it comes to health benefits and nutritional value.
The leaves are rich in fiber, fat, protein, and minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron, and potassium. They also have B-vitamins as well as essential amino acids. Studies show that moringa leaves can treat diseases like asthma, diarrhea, headaches, and eye and ear infections, thanks to the presence of flavonoids like quercetin. (Related: Moringa is a nutrient-dense superfood that protects you from oxidative damage.)
The seeds contain oleic acid and other fatty acids like linoleic, and behenic acids. They are also rich in tannins, phenolics, and other phytochemicals. Studies show that moringa seeds can help treat Crohn’s disease, arthritis, gout, cramps, and hyperthyroidism. Moringa seeds are also potent antimicrobial agents.
The root bark has alkaloids and minerals such as magnesium and calcium. It also has anti-inflammatory and anti-ulcer activities. The alkaloid content of the root bark is responsible for both bioactivities and can even help in relaxing cardiac muscles.
The benefits of moringa extend beyond food and medicine. Its seeds are also pressed for their oil, which can be used in perfumes, cosmetics, and lubrication. In agriculture, moringa is highly valued for its ability to increase crop yield and eliminate heavy metals from water.
• Peter Sullivan is the founder of Clear Light Ventures, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about the health effects of electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure • For years, Sullivan struggled with declining health; eliminating magnetic field exposure and cleaning up sources of dirty electricity helped enormously
• Four main types of EMFs are electric fields from house wiring and corded appliances; magnetic fields from power lines, motors and transformers; radio frequencies from cellphones, smart meters, Wi-Fi and other wireless devices; and dirty electricity from transient voltage spikes
• While you can measure all of these, there’s no one single meter that can provide you information about all of these EMFs. For a comprehensive assessment of your exposures, you will need more than one meter
• EMF exposure appears to be a significant contributor to autism, and many children improve when EMF exposures are addressed and minimized
How scientists propose that we feed the future… and solve a host of other problems at the same time.
Do you care about gender equality? Human rights? Food security? Closing the pay gap? Nutrition? Climate change? The global economy? Biodiversity? Cultural heritage? Water availability? Ending world hunger?
Whether or not you answered yes to any of the above, this article is for you.
Agroecology is a little-known field of science that is trying very hard to solve these problems (and more) through farming. Before we get into how it’s doing that, let me first give you a little bit of background information.
“Agro” is derived from latin, and means soil or land. “Ecology”, of course, is the scientific discipline that deals with organisms’ relationships with one another and their physical surroundings. So it involves agriculture, but rather than the emphasis on human systems — “culture” — it emphasises all living organisms that interact with the land, including but not limited to, humans.
Agroecology is deeply rooted in systems theory, the idea that many constituent parts make up a greater whole. If one piece is damaged or broken, then the whole system suffers. If a piece is manipulated or moved, then it will affect other parts in the system. Thus, while it is important to form an understanding of each of the parts, a more holistic understanding is required for true mastery of the system.
Systems can work on multiple scales. When we talk about agroecological systems, we might be referring to something on a micro-scale, such as a plant — it’s microclimate, growth cycle, interaction with soil and soil microorganisms, readiness for harvest etc — or something on a meso-scale, such as the global economy. Each smaller system feeds into the larger systems that it inhabits and vice versa.
Every action, at every scale, has an impact on the systems that it interacts with, both large and small, via feedback loops.
Systems are also in a constant state of flux — they may reach steady states where they appear to be in equilibrium but sooner or later, their state will change, producing new outcomes as they evolve.
Understanding systems requires a mental leap for many of us. Classical science has long been dominated by the reductionist paradigm, the idea that phenomena must be separated and simplified in order to understand action and reaction. These ideas have pervaded into general society to the point where we’re barely aware of its influence. In agriculture, its influence has been most apparent in the rise of the productivity approach, chasing revenue through ever-increasing production while the more subtle components of agricultural systems are neglected. In economics, the idea of an “externality” comes from reductivism. In medicine, our doctors treat symptoms, not the component of the system that caused the initial disturbance. We think of mitigating environmental issues as taking direct, specific actions. The introduction of cane toads to Australia, for example — no one foresaw the devastation to ecosystems far beyond the one they were introduced into that would come as a result of their spread.
It’s not that the reductionist paradigm hasn’t led us towards unique and important discoveries. Our knowledge of the constituent parts of the human mind and body, for example, would be nowhere near what they are today without it. Systems thinking, however, allows us to calculate and predict what consequences may arise in other parts of a system when we take a particular action, enabling us to to a) avoid unintended consequences and b) create multiple desirable impacts through minimum effort.
The modern agroecological movement rose in part as a form of resistance to the reductionist approach that underpinned the Green Revolution of the 1970s, with origins in Mexico. At the time, a complex interplay was being developed within agricultural systems that utilised both indigenous landholders’ knowledge and technological advancements of western science. The resulting agro-ecosystems and the benefit that they brought to ecological systems, as well as an array of positive socio-economic outcomes were documented by local researchers. Since then, the movement has spread slowly across the globe but has not pervaded the mainstream scientific literature until much more recently.
In 2014, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) held a conference in Rome to discuss agroecology and came to the conclusion that it holds enormous potential not only to mitigate many of the world’s environmental and socio-economic issues, but to take us on a more sustainable development path more generally.
Agroecology is also the specific strategy that the FAO has chosen to pursue to feed our future generations.
It makes sense when you think about it — agriculture is one of the pillars of society. The widespread establishment of sedentary human settlements coincided with the rise of cropping and animal husbandry 10 000 years ago. Agriculture is thus rooted deep in our culture. It also uses 40% of Earth’s land, three-quarters of fresh water and provides employment and income to almost half of the world’s labour force and food and fibre for all. Though we may be disconnected from agriculture in many ways, it remains of the utmost importance to us.
There is no way to definitively describe what an agroecological system looks like — each one is unique due to the specific environmental, social, cultural a economic circumstances that govern its potential. Thus a more intuitive, reflexive approach is required, rather than the prescriptive one commonly undertaken in today’s industrial productivist paradigm. The emphasis is on creating self-perpetuating feedback loops that contribute to healthy, resilient, functioning agro-ecosystems through a bottom-up approach i.e. beginning at the farm level.
For the most part, this is enabled through smallholders, though examples of larger landholders partaking in farming practices rooted in agroecological principles are now emerging. Commercial output is a product of agricultural systems, but it is not the only recognised desirable product. Externalities do not exist; they are recognised as problems that arise as a consequence of actions taken at the local or wider level, which the system itself must find a solution to. The relationship between environmental and socio-cultural factors and an agricultural system’s ability to be commercially viable long-term is not underemphasised.
Scientists recognise that the implementation of agro-ecosystems is no simple matter; it requires a complexification and diversification of agricultural systems, facilitated by inter-cultural relationships. Planning, management, communication and coordination at local and global scales — and everywhere in between — must be achieved. An honest dialogue between producers and consumers must be undertaken. There must be a willingness on the behalf of the farmer to engage in innovative farming practices to make the most effective use of resources. And,there must also be a willingness on the behalf of the consumer to support them in that.
There are several examples where tremendous feats have been achieved through smart, original agro-ecosystem design.
In Brazil, the Zero Hunger program eradicated extreme poverty from dangerous levels at 17.5% between 2003 and 2013. It did this through the implementation of specific, tailored regional policy and development instruments. One of them placed a stipulation that all school meals must be comprised of at least 30% produce from family farmers, with organic farmers receiving a 30% price surplus. This might sound drastic but the program’s results were profound. As well as creating a market for smallholder farmers, the direct buying and selling relationship reduced transaction and transportation costs, bringing the price of food down whilst incentivising farmers to produce a wider array of foods to meet the demand of school kitchens, while farming families also enjoyed the nutritional benefits of more diverse diets. It stimulated the formation of new forms of farmer organisations to collate and distribute produce whilst ensuring traceability, quality and fair pricing. And the Brazilian government established the Ministry of Agrarian Development, which instigated the National Agroecology Plan, placing an emphasis on regional development and facilitating training in agroecology.
Globally, women make up 43% of the global agricultural labour force. Yet many of those women remain oppressed, unrecognised and unrewarded for their contribution to the global food economy. Case studies from India, however, show how agroecology is enabling gender equality, where some of the world’s most oppressed women are “gaining access to land, acquiring food autonomy, and turning into leaders…” Perhaps most importantly, though, is the role that agroecology is playing in challenging traditional male/female roles, providing a catalyst for the societal shift that is needed for further female empowerment and lasting change.
The creation of bio-districts in Italy is facilitating relationships between farmers, local inhabitants, tourism operators, associations and government in order to collaboratively plan and manage local resources sustainably through agroecological methods. Cilento, Italy’s first bio-region, was established in 2009. Participating farmers have already seen a shortening of the value chain — 75% of participating farmers’ sales were direct in 2016, leading to greater profitability coupled with lower food prices, strong and loyal relationships between producer and consumer. Moreover, the program has had the added effect of inspiring more farmers to diversify their production and shift to organic farming practices. The experience of belonging to a network has its own inherent social value and provides a support system that is sorely lacking in many rural communities. The program’s broad reach has also provided a link between different bio-regions, which has been essential for tourism growth to the regions. Meanwhile, community members who share similar values are now linked and are able to act in unison to solve problems at multiple levels and scales, whilst also accessing knowledge and resources from the various stakeholders taking part in the program. In 2016, there were 27 bio-districts in Italy, another 18 in the process of being established, while a further 10 had been established in countries across Europe and Africa, showing promise of a more widespread adoption.
These are just a few examples of many where agroecology is enjoying favourable outcomes across a range of issues.
But what does any of it have to do with you? If you eat food (and I’m assuming you do) then you’re already part of at least one agricultural system, perhaps multiple. That means that you are one of the many small, but no less important, components of a greater whole. As such, you wield enormous power to affect change at a wider level on a day-to-day basis.
Perhaps you’re aware of this and you’ve already taken matters into your own hands. If not, let me assure you, it isn’t difficult. The first step is to decide to care enough to.