Thursday, April 23, 2015

Mother Earth Day 2015: Regenerating the Soil and Reversing Global Warming

April 21, 2015
 
Organic Consumers Association
 by Ronnie Cummins
“The elimination of fossil fuels for all but the most limited and essential purposes is necessary but not sufficient to allow our descendants a fair chance for a healthy and prosperous future. Enhancing carbon biosequestration in terrestrial ecosystems is also essential.”  Wayne A. White, Biosequestration and Ecological Diversity p.118 (CRC Press 2013)
The standard gloom and doom discourse surrounding global warming and climate change has infected the body politic with a severe case of depression and disempowerment. So starting today April 22, embracing what the United Nations has designated as the “Year of the Soil,” let’s look at our planetary crisis from an entirely different, and more hopeful perspective.
The good news is that the global grassroots, farmers and consumers united, can reverse our suicidal “business as usual” food, farming, energy, and land use practices. Harnessing the awesome power of Regenerative Organic Agriculture and reforestation, we can literally suck down enough excess (50-100 ppm of CO2) heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and naturally sequester it in our plants, trees and soils.  Regenerative Agriculture and Earth Repair practices can not only mitigate, but also, in combination with drastic reductions (80-90 percent) of fossil fuel emissions in our food and farming, transportation, housing, utilities, and industrial sectors, actually reverse global warming.
Regenerative Agriculture and Forestry
If you’ve never heard about the amazing potential of regenerative agriculture and land use practices to naturally sequester a critical mass of CO2 in the soil and forests, you’re not alone. One of the best-kept secrets in the world today is that the solution to global warming and the climate crisis (as well as poverty and deteriorating public health) lies right under our feet, and at the end of our knives and forks. Changing our food and farming systems, along with changing our “business as usual” political system and energy policies, is the key to our survival and well-being.
Transforming and regenerating our planet’s 28 billion acres of cropland, grassland and forests, as well as urban areas of the planet, is the challenge—not only for Mother Earth Day 2015, but for the rest of our lives, and the lives of our children and grandchildren.
Global Organic Regeneration and Earth Repair is the key to drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions from our current unsustainable food, farming and deforestation practices (which now produce the majority of greenhouse gas emissions).
Regenerative Earth Repair is the absolute prerequisite for ramping up plant and forest photosynthesis and sequestering in the soil several hundred billion tons of excess atmospheric CO2 over the next two decades.
A global campaign of Earth Repair and Regeneration can buy us the precious time we need to move away from fossil fuels to a global economy based upon renewable energy. Global Regeneration will dramatically improve soil fertility, crop yields, soil water retention, crop resilience, and food quality, thereby helping to mitigate and reverse global poverty, malnutrition and deteriorating public health.
Before we look how we can sequester up to 200 percent of current human greenhouse gas emissions through regenerating the planet’s croplands (four billion acres), pastures and rangelands (14 billion acres), and forests (10 billion acres), let’s look at what Michael Pollan, the U.S.’s most influential writer on food and farming, has to say about plant photosynthesis, regenerative grazing, and carbon sequestration:
Consider what happens when the sun shines on a grass plant rooted in the earth. Using that light as a catalyst, the plant takes atmospheric CO2, splits off and releases the oxygen, and synthesizes liquid carbon–sugars, basically. Some of these sugars go to feed and build the aerial portions of the plant we can see, but a large percentage of this liquid carbon—somewhere between 20 and 40 percent—travels underground, leaking out of the roots and into the soil. The roots are feeding these sugars to the soil microbes—the bacteria and fungi that inhabit the rhizosphere—in exchange for which those microbes provide various services to the plant: defense, trace minerals, access to nutrients the roots can’t reach on their own. That liquid carbon has now entered the microbial ecosystem, becoming the bodies of bacteria and fungi that will in turn be eaten by other microbes in the soil food web. Now, what had been atmospheric carbon (a problem) has become soil carbon, a solution—and not just to a single problem, but to a great many problems.
Besides taking large amounts of carbon out of the air—tons of it per acre when grasslands are properly managed… that process at the same time adds to the land’s fertility and its capacity to hold water. Which means more and better food for us...
This process of returning atmospheric carbon to the soil works even better when ruminants are added to the mix. Every time a calf or lamb shears a blade of grass, that plant, seeking to rebalance its “root-shoot ratio,” sheds some of its roots. These are then eaten by the worms, nematodes, and microbes—digested by the soil,in effect, and so added to its bank of carbon. This is how soil is created: from the bottom up.
What is Regenerative Agriculture?
recent article in the Guardian summarizes Regenerative Agriculture:
Regenerative agriculture comprises an array of techniques that rebuild soil and, in the process, sequester carbon. Typically, it uses cover crops and perennials so that bare soil is never exposed, and grazes animals in ways that mimic animals in nature. It also offers ecological benefits far beyond carbon storage: it stops soil erosion, remineralises soil, protects the purity of groundwater and reduces damaging pesticide and fertiliser runoff.
With these basic concepts of photosynthesis and Regenerative Agriculture in mind, what do we need to do?
(1) Regenerate croplands, eliminate GMOs, pesticides, monocultures, chemical fertilizers, and tillage. If we can mobilize the global grassroots to promote and adopt regenerative organic agricultural practices (“organic and beyond”) on the Earth’s four billion acres of cultivated farmland, we can drastically reduce our use of fossil fuel inputs and slash greenhouse gas emissions; produce healthier, climate-resistant crops and nutrient-dense food; and meanwhile sequester large amounts of carbon in our degraded, de-carbonized soils. Our agricultural soils have lost 25-75 percent of the soil carbon they once had before the onslaught of unsustainable agricultural practices.
As the must-read 2014 Rodale Institute White Paper explains:
In practical terms, regenerative organic agriculture is foremost an organic system refraining from the use of synthetic pesticides and inputs, which disrupt soil life, and fossil-fuel dependent nitrogen fertilizer, which is responsible for the majority of anthropogenic N2O emissions. It is a system designed to build soil health.
Regenerative organic agriculture is comprised of organic practices including (at a minimum): cover crops, residue mulching, composting and crop rotation. Conservation tillage, while not yet widely used in organic systems, is a regenerative organic practice integral to soil-carbon sequestration.
As the Rodale research indicates, and is echoed by numerous other field trials across the globe, Regenerative Organic practices on cultivated farmlands across the world can, over the next few decades sequester 40 percent of current human greenhouse gas emissions.
(2) Regenerate grasslands and pasture lands, eliminate factory farms. Even more encouraging, as Rodale and others, including Quivira Coalition and the Savory Institute, point out, by adopting regenerative grazing practices on the earth’s seriously degraded 14 billion acres of pastureland and grassland (there is 3.5 times as much pasture land and rangeland on the Earth as there is cultivated farmland), we can eventually sequester an additional 71 percent of all current greenhouse gas emissions.
In other words by eliminating inhumane, unhealthy and heavily polluting factory farms or CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), which now produce 2/3 of all global meat and animal products, and by putting billions of the Earth’s 70 billion farm animals back on the land, we can regenerate, through planned rotational “mob” grazing, and the production of grass fed beef and dairy, and pasture-based pork and poultry, the 14 billion acres of rangeland and pastureland that are our most strategic “sink” or depository for excess CO2 in the atmosphere.
Last year Dr. Richard Teague of Texas A&M explained the principles of planned rotational (“mob”) grazing to a House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources (June 25, 2014):
The key to sustaining and regenerating ecosystem function in rangelands is actively managing for reduction of bare ground, promoting the most beneficial and productive plants by grazing moderately over the whole landscape, and providing adequate recovery to grazed plants…
Regenerative grazing and pasturing on a global scale will require the dismantling of the entire factory farm system, freeing billions of farm animals from their animal prisons or CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) and putting them back out onto the land to graze and forage where they belong. Once CAFO and GMO crop subsidies are reduced and removed, and once the pent-up market demand for healthier, more humanely produced meat, dairy and eggs can be harnessed, the factory farm/GMO industrial food and farming system will begin to collapse.
With billions of animals released from intensive confinement (including freeing herbivores from unnatural, unhealthy GMO grain diets), marketplace pressure will encourage farmers and ranchers to adopt herd management strategies that replicate natural or wild herd habits. This involves herbivores rotationally grazing only the top grasses of small pastures, for short periods of time, defecating and urinating and forcing the stubble into the topsoil. After the grasses recover, then the herd or flocks are returned for a few days to harvest the most nutritious grasses again. With omnivores (pigs and chickens), free range or pasturing practices will similarly restore animal and soil health as well.
The current factory farm system takes the naturally grazing cattle off pasture to enormous feedlots to fatten them up with corn, soybeans, cotton seed cake, cotton gin trash, sludge-fertilized hay, and waste industrial products. Cows, sheep, and other herbivores are not grain, GMO, or garbage eaters by choice. Their preferred foods are mixed grasses.
Regenerative grazing is not something new, but rather a rediscovery of the beneficial animal welfare and environmental practices that were “normal” (buffalo and elk on the grasslands of the US, wildebeest herds in Africa, communal grazing practices worldwide) before the advent of industrial farming and CAFOs.
One very important benefit of grass-fed beef, sheep, goats and dairy, and pastured poultry and pigs—a benefit which is already starting to drive consumers away from factory farmed foods—is that grass-fed or pastured animal products are qualitatively healthier than CAFO products, higher in Omega 3 and “good” fats, and lower in animal drug residues and harmful fats that clog arteries, destroy gut health and cause cancer.
(3) Regenerate forests and wetlands, end deforestation. By haltingunsustainable land use and deforestation of the planet’s remaining 10 billion acres of forest (deforestation is now responsible for a full 20 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions), by re-planting species-appropriate trees on five billion deforested rural and urban acres, by incorporating sustainable forest management practices on existing forests, and by integrating agro-forestry practices on existing farms and ranches (and restoring wetlands), we can drastically reduce carbon emissions while sequestering billions of tons of excess carbon in our forest lands and in reforested rural and urban environments.
As permaculture author Michal Pilarski explains in his “Carbon Sequestration Proposal for the World,” we can reverse global warming by:
I.    Reforestation/Afforestation of 5 billion acres worldwide = 150 billion tons of carbon sequestration.
II.    Earth repair and improved ecosystem management of existing forests and all other terrestrial ecosystems = 100 billion tons of carbon sequestration.
Earth repair and reforestation of our cities, forests, marshes, savannas, grasslands, steppes, and deserts could eventually add up to a total of 250 billion tons of carbon sequestered. This translates into removing over 100 ppm of excess CO2 from the atmosphere and putting it into the soil and forests. This level of carbon sequestration would bring atmospheric carbon dioxide levels down to where they were in the early 1800s, if carried out in combination with slashing human-caused carbon emissions.
According to biosequestration expert, Wayne White, if we could just stop all tropical deforestation, and maintain the health of our forests, the increased photosynthesis of this massive forest growth would sequester a full 69 percent of all human greenhouse gas emissions. (Biosequestration and Ecological Diversity p. 93)
Too many forests have been degraded, or clear-cut, or over-grazed and even over-fertilized with nitrogen. Too much land has been developed, exploited, and then abandoned. The solutions to our forest crisis are similar to organic farming solutions. We need to practice sustainable forestry management strategies that restore the mycorrhizal and other forest fungi, and replant clear-cut areas with high-density, species-appropriate plantings. We need to manage this reforestation, including thinning and pest control. We need to avoid the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers because they damage fungi and other microorganisms, which are the foundations of a successful reforestation program. With reforestation and restoration of the forest floor microorganisms, our forests will be able to sequester billions of tons of carbon.
Critics of the Earth Repair strategy
A number of critics of our Earth Repair strategy have told me and other regeneration activists that we should not talk about natural sequestration of CO2 in the soil, nor the enormous Regenerative potential of organic food, farming,and forestry, because this “positive talk” will distract people from the main task at hand, drastically reducing fossil fuel emissions and taking down King Coal and Big Oil.
Of course we need to move rapidly away from fossil fuels, extractivism and overconsumption into conservation, sustainable living and renewable energy. We must all become climate hawks and radical conservationists. But we must also become advocates of Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Forest/Land Use.
Unite the Food, Forest, and Climate Movements
The large and growing anti-GMO, organic food, and natural health movement in the U.S., for example, of which I am a part, must begin to think of ourselves as climateand food activists, not just advocates for natural health, small farmers/ranchers, animals and food justice. Given that the GMO, factory farm and industrial food and farming system seen as a whole (production, chemical crop inputs, processing, transportation, waste, emissions, deforestation, biofuel/ethanol production) is thenumber one cause of greenhouse gas emissions, surpassing even the transportation, utilities, housing and industry sectors, climate activists need to start thinking of ourselves as food activists as well.
There will be no organic food, nor food whatsoever, on a burnt planet. Nor will there ever be a 90-percent reduction in greenhouse gas pollution without a transformation of our food and farming and land use practices, both in North America and globally.
We must begin to connect the dots between fossil fuels, global warming and related issues, including world hunger, poverty, unemployment, toxic food and farming, extractivism, land grabbing, biodiversity, ocean destruction, deforestation, resource wars, and deteriorating public health. As we regenerate the soil and forests, and make organic and grass-fed food and fiber the norm, rather than just the alternative, we will simultaneously develop our collective capacity to address all of the globe’s interrelated problems.
Breaking through the silos of single-issue campaigning and limited constituency organizing (“my issue is more important than your issue”), we will be able to expand our global grassroots Movement to include everyone who cares about climate, health, justice, jobs, sustainability, peace and democracy.
Some pessimists argue that the Global South (China, India, Africa, Asia, Latin America), where most of the world’s population lives, is too preoccupied with moving beyond poverty and creating jobs, to put a priority on reversing global warming, reducing emissions, and natural sequestration.
But the extraordinary thing about de-industrializing food and farming, restoring grasslands and reversing deforestation—moving several hundred billion tons of carbon back from the atmosphere into our soils, plants and forests—is that this Organic Regeneration will not only reverse global warming and re-stabilize the climate, but will also stimulate hundreds of millions of rural (and urban) jobs, while qualitatively increasing soil fertility, water retention, farm yields and food quality.
Earth Repair holds the potential not only to restore forests and grasslands, recharge aquifers, restore and normalize rainfall, but also to address and eliminate rural malnutrition, poverty, unemployment and hunger. Regenerative agriculture and land use—which will require both enormous political struggle and unprecedented marketplace pressure—will lead to healthy soils, healthy forests, healthy climate, healthy food, healthy animals, healthy people, healthy societies.
As 350.org and other climate campaigners point out, we’ve got to force the fossil fuel corporados and Wall Street banksters to leave 2/3 or more of the remaining fossil fuel reserves in the ground. We can basically burn 825 billion tons more of fossil fuels out of the 2.785 trillion remaining, but no more, according to scientific consensus, before we reach the point of no return, whereby climate change morphs into climate catastrophe.
To stay within our carbon budget, we’ve got to stop the fracking, the tar sands, the pipelines, the bomb trains, King Coal, and nuclear madness.
But we’ve got to do more than just protest, resist and divest. We must shut down King Coal and Big Oil’s greenhouse gas pollution, yes; but we must also suck down and naturally sequester over the next 20 years, several hundred billion tons of CO2 and other greenhouse gases through the qualitatively enhanced photosynthesis of regenerative farming, ranching and land use.  
We must make peace with the living Earth and restore our biotic community.
According to scientific consensus, soon to be formally ratified by the nations of the world at the Paris Climate Summit in December 2015, fossil fuel emissions—now spewing out 8.5 billion tons of carbon annually (i.e. 32.3 billion tons of CO2 in 2013 and again in 2014) into the atmosphere and the oceans—must peak and go to zero by 2050. Unfortunately, even if every country moves to zero emissions by 2050, we will still find ourselves way past the danger zone at 480 ppm or higher of CO2.  Only a mass global campaign of Regenerative Agriculture and land use, combined with dismantling the Fossil Fuel Empire, will suffice.
So who will actually carry out this global campaign of Earth Repair and Organic Regeneration? Of course we must continue, and, in fact vastly increase, our pressure on governments and corporations to change public policies and marketplace practices. But in order to overturn “business as usual” we’re going to have to inspire and mobilize a vastly larger climate change coalition than the one we have now. Food climate and economic justice advocates must unite our forces so we can educate and mobilize a massive grassroots army of Earth Regenerators: three billion small farmers and rural villagers, ranchers, pastoralists, forest dwellers, urban agriculturalists, and indigenous communities—aided and abetted by several billion conscious consumers and urban activists.
We don’t have the time or space here for a full Earth Repair strategy, but here are five things we can start to do immediately on this Mother Earth Day 2015:
(1)    Educate yourself, your friends, and your family on the basic principles of Earth Repair      and Regenerative Organic Agriculture.Here’s an annotated bibliography to help you get started.
(2)    Join an activist organization dealing with food and farming, forest preservation or climate. If you’re already an activist, get your group to connect the dots between fossil fuel emissions reduction and natural carbon sequestration.
(3)    Boycott all GMO, chemical-intensive and CAFO foods. Purchase organic and 100-percent grass-fed or pastured products. Push the organic community top go beyond the minimum standards of “USDA Organic” to food and farming practices that are climate-friendly, re-localized and regenerative, as well as organic.
(4)    Support the organizations that are educating and agitating for regenerative agriculture and land use. These groups include:
(5)    Change the climate conversation from gloom and doom to one of positive solutions. We’ve got 20 years left to turn things around, but we need to start our Regeneration International campaign now, Mother Earth Day 2015.
Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Associationand its Mexico sister organization, Via Organica.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Food, Farming and Climate Change: It’s Bigger than Everything Else

Source- http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/04/13/food-farming-and-climate-change-its-bigger-everything-else



'Compared to large-scale industrial farms, small-scale agroecological farms not only use fewer fossil fuel-based fertilizer inputs and emit less GHGs, including methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide (CO2), but they also have the potential to actually reverse climate change by sequestering CO2 from the air into the soil year after year.' (Image: Fair World Project)

Record-breaking heat waves, long-term drought, “100-year floods” in consecutive years, and increasingly extreme superstorms are becoming the new normal. The planet is now facing an unprecedented era of accelerating and intensifying global climate change, with negative impacts already being widely felt. While global climate change will impact nearly everyone and everything, the greatest impact is already being felt by farmers and anyone who eats food.

When we think of climate change and global warming, visions of coal-fired power plants and solar panels come to mind. Policy discussions and personal action usually revolve around hybrid cars, energy-efficient homes and debates about the latest technological solutions. However, the global agriculture system is at the heart of both the problem and the solution.

Industrial agriculture is a key driver in the generation of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, heavy machinery, monocultures, land change, deforestation, refrigeration, waste and transportation are all part of a food system that generates significant emissions and contributes greatly to global climate change. Industrial agricultural practices, from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) to synthetic fertilizer-intensive corn and soy monocultures, genetically modified to tolerate huge amounts of herbicide, not only contribute considerable amounts of GHGs, but also underpin an inequitable and unhealthy global food system. Modern conventional agriculture is a fossil fuel-based, energy-intensive industry that is aligned with biotech, trade and energy interests, versus farmer and consumers priorities.

Farms and farmers are in the crosshairs of climate change. Though farmers have seen negative impacts related to climate change for decades, these impacts have been exacerbated in recent years. Even relatively small temperature increases are having significant impacts on farming, including accelerated desertification and salinization of arable land, increased presence of pests, crop losses due to high temperatures and flooding, and, paradoxically, increased clean water scarcity.

While many people may be familiar with the term “peak oil” to describe the diminishing supply of petroleum, few are familiar or prepared for “peak coffee.” Farmers and scientists now openly discuss the notion of “endangered crops,” including everything from cocoa and wine grapes to salmon and peanuts. The emergence of super-charged pests related to climate change, like the “La Roya” coffee fungus in Central America, is threatening not only our morning cup of joe, but the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of small-scale farmers. The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) has detailed how much of Ivory Coast and Ghana, the two largest cocoa-producing countries in the world, will be too hot to grow cocoa by 2030. The average cocoa farmer’s plot in Ghana is five hectares, and farmers there are very reliant on income from cocoa sales.

Compared to large-scale industrial farms, small-scale agroecological farms not only use fewer fossil fuel-based fertilizer inputs and emit less GHGs, including methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide (CO2), but they also have the potential to actually reverse climate change by sequestering CO2 from the air into the soil year after year. 

According to the Rodale Institute, small-scale farmers and pastoralists could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available, safe and inexpensive agroecological management practices that emphasize diversity, traditional knowledge, agroforestry, landscape complexity, and water and soil management techniques, including cover cropping, composting and water harvesting.
Importantly, agroecology can not only sequester upwards of 7,000 pounds of CO2 per acre per year, but it can actually boosts crop yields. In fact, recent studies by GRAIN (www.grain.org) demonstrate that small-scale farmers already feed the majority of the world with less than a quarter of all farmland. Addressing climate change on the farm can not only tackle the challenging task of agriculture-generated GHGs, but it can also produce more food with fewer fossil fuels. In other words, as the ETC Group (www.etcgoup.org) has highlighted, industrial agriculture uses 70% of the world’s agricultural resources to produce just 30% of the global food supply, while small-scale farmers provide 70% of the global food supply while using only 30% of agricultural resources.

Small-scale farmers are especially critical to confronting the food and farming crisis at the root of climate change. Small-scale farms are demonstrably more resilient in the face of severe climatic events, weathering major storms much more effectively than large-scale industrial farms. Small-scale, agroecological farmers in particular have faired comparatively better after major hurricanes and storms. According to Food First executive Eric Holt-Gimenez, following Hurricane Mitch in 1998, a large-scale study on 180 communities of smallholder farms in Nicaragua demonstrated that farming plots cropped using simple agroecological methods, including rock bunds or dikes, green manure, crop rotation, the incorporation of stubble, ditches, terraces, barriers, mulch, legumes and trees, plowing parallel to the slope, live fences and zero-tillage, had on average 40% more topsoil, higher field moisture and fewer economic losses than control plots on conventional farms. Moreover, on average, the agroecological plots lost 18% less arable land to landslides and experienced 69% less erosion, compared to conventional farms.

For a Better World
In addition to their adaptability and resilience in the face of climate change, small-scale farmers play many other critical roles, from feeding their local communities to providing ecological services to the global community. As described by UC Berkeley Professor of Agroecology Miguel Altieri, small-scale farms act as biodiversity reservoirs. Compared to large-scale industrial monoculture operations, which plant just one variety of one crop, small-scale farmers often cultivate dozens, if not hundreds, of varieties and species used for food, fiber, fodder, fuel and medicine. It is not uncommon for small-scale farmers to plant a healthy genetic diversity of crops adapted to local conditions and well-suited for climatic variability and pest resistance. Agricultural biodiversity not only nourishes local farming communities and hedges against market and weather fluctuations, but it also fosters critical habitat for other flora and fauna. Farmer knowledge and social capital are crucial common denominators for vibrant and functional farming communities. Without the traditional knowledge of farmers, there is little hope to address climate change on the farm in a meaningful way.


While small-scale farmers are by and large more productive than large-scale farmers and play key roles in confronting climate change, we are losing them in many places, while large-scale farms are getting bigger and gaining more political and economic influence. Small-scale farmers and pastoralists are increasingly endangered and vulnerable to unfair trade agreements, collapsing financial markets, the export-oriented cash crops that global agriculture fuels, land grabs, the expansion of speculation within the food market, and the privatization of genetic resources, among other threats. Current prevailing policies and practices in trade, land use, energy use and patent law favor large-scale agribusinesses that contribute to climate change, while making it more difficult for small-scale sustainable farmers to stay on the land where they are able to produce food for the world and mitigate climate change. Without safeguards and support, we are putting both the global food supply and combating the climate crisis at risk.

Fair trade and climate change
Fair trade is often characterized as a “trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade.” Fair trade principles include long-term direct trading relationships, payment of fair prices and wages, no child, forced or otherwise exploited labor, workplace non-discrimination, gender equity, and freedom of association, among others. But fair trade is proving to be more than its original mandate, as it relates to climate change. Fair trade premiums — the additional sums of money beyond the fair trade price that are paid to producers for social, environmental and economic development projects — are proving to be effective vehicles for addressing climate change at the local level.

For example, COOCAFE, a coffee cooperative in Costa Rica, used its fair trade premiums to greatly reduce the amount of water used to wash coffee beans, allowing for other farmers to plant shade trees around their crops, which is good for both the quality of their crops and the environment. In Sri Lanka, the Serendipol fair trade organic coconut project uses its fair trade premium to provide free compost to all member farmers. In Uganda, tea farmers are reproducing drought-resistant varieties for distribution to other growers.

Beyond fair trade premiums, strong fair trade farmer organizations are critical vehicles for fortifying local farming communities through farmer exchange, education and advocacy. Fair trade farmer networks are integral for advancing agrocecology and social justice in the Global South.

Moving from despair to action
Author and activist Rebecca Solnit famously said of climate change that “It’s bigger than everything else.” Climate change is at the intersection of many social and environmental justice issues, and it is forcing us to question every aspect of our society and economy, including how we produce and distribute our food. The stakes are certainly high — and the window of opportunity is quickly closing.
Facing down climate change is both a challenge and an opportunity. Recreating a political economy that fosters and safeguards small-scale farmers is critical to addressing not only climate change but hunger and inequality as well. There are no policy “silver bullets” per se, but reforming the trade, subsidy and financial sectors is a good start. While we cannot buy our way out of the climate crisis with market alternatives alone, harnessing consumers’ purchasing power does make a difference. Committed fair trade brands, partnering with small-scale family farmers, are leading the transition to a just and climate-friendly economy — and purchasing from these brands deepens the impact of fair trade on local communities.

Last, but not least, taking small, yet impactful steps at home can have huge positive benefits. Simple actions, like home composting and gardening, can not only reduce one’s carbon footprint and feed one’s family, but can also directly connect one with the global movement of small-scale farmers addressing global climate change.
Ryan Zinn is the political director of the Fair World Project, an independent campaign of the Organic Consumers Association. Follow him on Twitter: @ryanzinn