Tag Archives: ecology

Environmentally-sound agriculture can support farmers and consumers

Agroecology can help fix the food, water and energy challenges that conventional agriculture has created.

© Deborah Jones 2013

© Deborah Jones 2013

By Andrea Basche and Marcia DeLonge
March, 2017

The past several years have been rough for many U.S. farmers and ranchers. Net farm incomes this year could fall to 50 percent of 2013 levels in a fourth consecutive year of income declines that is leading some producers to seek alternatives. At the same time, rural and urban Americans share growing concerns related to agriculture: worries that water pollution will be increasingly costly and harmful, that water supplies are at risk from extreme swings in rainfall, and that global warming due to fossil fuel burning threatens our food system and will necessitate changes in how we farm.

What if all of these challenges could find a common solution? It might just be that they can. In a commentary published this week in the scientific journal Elementa, we contend that agroecology offers a promising approach to solving food system problems while mitigating, water and energy concerns — and propose a way to overcome the obstacles to fully embracing it.

U.S. agriculture has trended for several decades — as a result of policy, economics and other drivers — toward systems that are more simplified over both space and time. This has had adverse consequences for food, energy and water.

Agroecology takes a different approach, applying ecological concepts to create and maintain diverse, resilient food systems. Promising research demonstrates that bringing diversity back to farms can begin to reverse the problems simplification has created. For example, scientists have found that strategically incorporating perennial plants (including food, energy or non-crop plants) into small areas of commodity crops can significantly reduce water pollution and soil loss. Studies also show that using multiple crops rather than a monoculture is associated with improvements in the amount of carbon (important to help soils hold onto more water and mitigate climate change) and nitrogen (critical for plant growth and soil function) in the soil.

If better farming systems exist, why don’t more producers use them, and why aren’t they more encouraged? Among the reasons:

  • Government policies and economics influence many producer decisions that contribute to landscape simplification. For example, biofuel incentives greatly expanded markets for ethanol, leading farmers to replace grasslands with endless acres of monoculture corn rather than leaving them native or planting more diverse crops.
  • Research has also found that the need to focus on immediate cash flow rather than long-term benefits just to stay afloat can make it difficult to adopt more resilient systems
  • Agroecology research is woefully underfunded. This means that up-to-date examples of innovative practices suited to specific regions are not sufficiently available for many farmers.
  • Change is hard and it can take support for producers to get started. It is critical to find peers and peer networks to learn from — and these are rare.
  • Benefits are narrowly defined. When farmers, policy-makers, and scientists focus primarily on simple measures of progress like crop yields, we lose track of the many other benefits of agroecology — including those related to water and energy.

In spite of these and other obstacles, innovators have begun to demonstrate that diversified land management can be good business, from a cover crop seed company in rural Nebraska, to a food hub supporting local diversified food production in western Iowa, to a consulting group helping farmers optimize land management and costs with a “precision conservation” approach. The dire need for economic opportunity in rural America was a major discussion point in the 2016 election, and these examples suggest how a more diverse and sustainable agriculture can help meet that need.

A shift in perspective that recognizes relationships among food, water, and energy systems and new metrics that value co-benefits to water and energy could go a long way toward further advancing agroecology. In fact, recently published research refutes the idea that we must solely focus on doubling crop production to meet future demand. These researchers believe the actual future yield increases needed are smaller and that we must explicitly define environmental goals to match the production demands that always seem to dominate the narrative around food.

Fortunately, we know that solutions do exist, and with agroecological approaches we can solve these multiple challenges at the same time.

Creative Commons View Ensia homepage

Andrea Basche is a Kendall Science Fellow, Union of Concerned Scientists. Marcia DeLonge is an agroecologist with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Elementa wordmarkThis article was orignally published by Ensia, in published in collaboration with the academic journal Elementa. It is based on “Leveraging agroecology for solutions in food, energy and water,” a peer-reviewed article published March 2, 2017, as part of Elementa’s Food-Energy-Water Systems: Opportunities at the Nexus forum. —  March 3, 2017

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Life goes on in rural Newfoundland

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Bringing the sheep back from the summer community pastures on the island at Tors Cove on Newfoundland’s Southern Shore. A practice that has been going on for more than 200 years. Photo by Greg Locke © 2015

 

GREG LOCKE
September, 2015

Bay de Verde, Conception Bay, Newfoundland– Travelling around Newfoundland this summer I began seeing signs of life, culture and a society I thought were lost forever.

The cod moratorium was thought to be the death of rural Newfoundland. The outports are estimated to have been emptied of more than 50,000 people. Boats, houses, property …entire villages, abandoned. Newfoundland and Labrador’s historic cod fisheries attracted local and international fishing fleets for almost five centuries before the Canadian government shut the industry down indefinitely in July, 1992. By then, once-plentiful fish stocks had dwindled to near extinction, and officials feared they would disappear entirely if the fishery remained open. The moratorium put about 30,000 people in the province out of work, and ended a way of life that had endured for generations in many outport communities.

Except … it didn’t.

On the wharfs and in the twine lofts people are living their lives and following the old ways. In Tors Cove, just a 30 minute drive south of the capital, St. John’s,  Howard Morry was bringing his sheep back from the islands where they spent the summer grazing safe from dogs and coyotes. …the way it’s been done for generations.

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Community party in a fisherman’s twine loft Bay de Verde, Conception Bay, Newfoundland. Photo by Greg Locke © 2015

In Bay de Verde, fish were caught and parties and feasts went late into the evening. Just like the days in 1990 and 1991 when I spent all my spare time travelling the island documenting a fast disappearing culture. The sun sinks into the ocean, the moon lights the cove and the winding pathways through the village as people gather around the music and laughter from the sheds where coolers full of beer rattle with ice and deep fryers and barbecues sizzle with lobsters, crab and cod fish.

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Old historic houses, shops and fishing buildings are being restored in once booming places like Bonavista, Fogo Island and Elliston. Towns like Eastport and Glovertown are awash in new construction and service industries.

Newfoundland has been discovered by well-heeled and adventure tourists. They paddle in expensive kayaks alongside local fishermen in the new trendy hot spots.

Sure there is gentrification in the remote bays and coves, but the old ways remain. The new comers learn how to survive from the old timers and the few young Newfoundland people who were not meant to live in the cities of western Canada.

What happens when a government abandons its people? Do they disappear? What happens when the contract, trusts and social bonds between politicians, bureaucrats, scientists and the community its suppose to serve is broken?

In the years leading up to the destruction of the cod stocks, fishermen were warning the politicians and scientists that the fish stocks were disappearing, catches abnormal and erratic. These were not the fishermen with large offshore trawlers — the high-tech fishing factories — but small-boat fishermen living in the villages who fished close to shore, immersed in fish habitat and habits.

Officialdom turned a deaf ear. The message was that stupid uneducated fishermen don’t know anything. They lack biology degrees. They are ignorant of the machinery of politics.

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Fishermen from Bay de Verde, Newfoundland catching their small allocation of cod fish in Conception bay. Photo by Greg Locke © 2015

More than 25 years later, Newfoundland rural culture survives in small, wise, pockets. They have learned a lot about the politics of Canada’s federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. More than they would care to, probably. The small-boat fishermen were proved right about the cod stocks.

In recent years those few still fishing are telling the politicians and scientists that cod catches are up, that the fish are the largest seen in more than 30 years.

They want to a return of a small, specialized, sustainable cod fishery for inshore fishermen and fishing communities. They are backed with science and expertise in sustainable fishing from groups as diverse as the fishermen’s union, World Wildlife Fund and independent biology and social scientists. All are working together on plans for that commercially viable, sustainable, community based fishery which the government doesn’t want to hear about it because its model is a fishing industry for a small number of large multinational food companies.

And DFO scientists, bureaucrats and politicians are still not listening.

It’s no surprise that all trust and respect has broken down between Newfoundland’s people, and the government, and scientists. And as the government, politicians and industrial fishing companies continue to abandon rural Newfoundland, it’s nice to see that the old ways are still remembered.

Life will carry on, regardless of the destruction wrought by the interlopers.

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 Copyright Greg Locke 2015

 

Photographer and journalist Greg LockeGreg Locke is a founder and the managing partner, visual, of Facts and Opinions. He built the Facts and Opinions website, produces F&O’s photo essays, reports for Dispatches, writes and photographs Think magazine pieces, and contributes to the blogs.

Greg Locke has been a professional photographer, media producer and journalist for more than twenty-five years. Locke has covered politics, economics, energy issues, international development and civil conflicts in more than 30 countries including the fall of communism in eastern Europe in 1980′s, civil wars in the Balkans and the conflicts of central and east Africa in the 1990′s. He has published three books and has been a regular contributor to Canadian Business, Canadian Geographic, Time, Businessweek, Macleans and Forbes magazines.

For more about Locke’s work you can visit his website at www.greglocke.com

Related:

Two decades of disaster: Newfoundland’s fishery, by Greg Locke

It’s a cold foggy day in the fishing village of Petty Harbour, Newfoundland. Just 20 kilometers south from downtown St. John’s, it feels much further. There is not much activity or many people out and around the few remaining wharfs and twine lofts that once were buzzing hives of fishing activity ringing the harbour. Today, there are just a few frozen tourists looking to make photos of a Newfoundland that doesn’t exist anymore.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We do not carry advertising or “branded content,” or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Please support us with a contribution, below, of at least .27 per story, or a site pass for $1 per day or $20 per year — and by spreading the word.

 

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Newfoundland fishery 20 years after cod moratorium

Gerald Cooper of Trinity Bay, Newfoundland bring home the only thing he caught, a lone mackerel, on his last day of fishing before retiring. Photo by Greg Locke © 1999.

Twenty years after the Canadian government shut down the 500 year old Newfoundland cod fishery there are few signs of recovery of the near-extinct legendary fish stocks on the Grand Banks and north west Atlantic ocean. The fishery has changed but it is still possible for an ecologically viable and sustainable fishing activity … if the assorted governments, unions and fish companies would look for a better way and take responsibility for their actions. Check out  Two decades of disaster: Newfoundland’s fishery. for my look back on 20 years since the moratorium.

 

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