“Glyphosate is a one in a 100-year discovery that is as important for reliable global food production as penicillin is for battling disease.” (Powles, 2010 – a weed expert, quote extracted from Wikipedia)
This may be true in the short term, but it wont be for long. Biodiversity, soil quality and human health is now at an all times low. Conventional industrial agriculture is one of the largest industries in the world and responsible for a large scale transformation of our landscapes. Expansive mono-cropping field systems are reducing habitats and plants species while chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilisers are spread all over our landscapes making sure that, besides only growing a small variety of crops, no other life will interfere with those few chosen species.
However, biodiversity and soil health are yielding masses of ecosystem services that we cannot live without: producing the air we breathe, filtering our water, pollinating our crops, enriching the food we eat – the list is endless. But even if this was not the case, then conventional agriculture is still built upon highly unsustainable principles which only function in the short term and which has begun to erode its very own foundation: Plants are developing pesticide resistance due to the enormous selection pressure that such chemicals will put on any organism. Because of the soluble and harsh nature of chemical and slurry fertilisers, and the very limited application of diverse organic matter, the soil is not building itself but is becoming nutrient and humus depleted which means it cannot feed plants naturally, cannot retain water or minerals, has no microbial life for ensuring a balanced diversity to support plants such as mycorrhizal connections and will therefore not be able to enrich our food with nutrient in the ways that we need.
This is without even touching the subject whether pesticides such as glyphosate, the worlds single most used pesticide, is toxic and disrupting to humans, animals and aquatic life. According to a report by VIB, a Belgian research institute, GM crops and glyphosate tolerant crops has led to an environmental benefit of 37% by reducing fuel use by enabling no-till farming. While we assume this is true, glyphosate has been officially announced carcinogenic by the state of California. Glyphosate’s impact is highly disputed and as long as money and power talks, it seems very unlikely that credible research will see the day. But, although the covert behaviour of Monsanto makes you want to pull your hair out, there are simple ways to do something: Help create a critical mass of proponents for responsible farming solutions. Here farmers and consumers play an equally important role through the choices they make when they run their business and shop.
The secret is in the soil
As climate change is warming the cooler north and depositing more water on the land there will be more soil erosion. Nutrients in an already very poor soil are washed away more readily and crop yields are more at risk. Thus, climate change is now also putting pressure on our food security. Therefore ensuring that our soil is healthy through responsible farming will not only make us more healthy but also ensure we are more resilient towards climate change pressures.
Agriculture that focus on increasing soil organic matter and make sure biodiversity is maintained for integrated natural pest management with added benefits to humans as well as the rest of the global biome is farming for our future. When we grow food in this way there is no need for artificial fertilisers and pesticides. Not only will the yield increase, but the crop nutrient content will increase and less money will be spent on health bills and food additives.
Soil for agriculture must be full of microorganisms, fungi and organic matter. Soil is what will feed the crops. It will deal with water better and retain nutrients. Even better, soil sequesters carbon, and very quickly compared to e.g. trees. Therefore there is a lot of good sense in farming differently to conventional agriculture. This kind of farming is important to both livestock as well as arable and horticulture production. Here farmers must take care to not settle for the minimum standards of what is organic agriculture which in some areas means a reduction of chemicals or/and soluble nutrients only.
In the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) act 2015 one indicator of well-being is the Level of Biodiversity and another the Content of Soil Organic Matter. This is a radical act which Wales can be proud of. It is looking ahead to what is going to really matter when we talk about food security by integrating resilience into our society – far preferable to disaster management!
There is far too little research money going towards sustainable agriculture. For example only 2% of the US reasearh dollars. This does not give a fair trial to organic and low impact food production which is being criticised for not yielding enough. Fortunately there is reasearch out there that proves that organic agriculture is productive, but you got to know how to farm right and increasing appropriate investment in agroecological research to improve organic management and in breeding cultivars for organic farming systems is instrumental in reaching this goal. And we have to remember that
“Eradicating world hunger requires increasing the access to food, not simply the production. Also, increasing the proportion of agriculture that uses sustainable, organic methods of farming is not a choice, it’s a necessity. We simply can’t continue to produce food far into the future without taking care of our soils, water and biodiversity.” Claire Kremen, professor of environmental science, policy and management and co-director of the Berkeley Food Institute
FARMERS: If you are interested in responsible farming that really feeds people while protecting our environment then there are options. The Welsh Government’s Sustainable Management Scheme: call our coordinator Candace Browne for more information. Besides coordinating our local food, she also works as a farming connect facilitator for this scheme m. 07964747535
Convert to organic farming: contact Community Supported Agriculture Coordinator for Wales, Tony Little firstname.lastname@example.org who works as mentor for farm conversions.
Diversify to sustainable horticulture: Join our Patch Work Farm here in the Towy Valley, and start growing organically. The Food Hub can can help you get started!