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Colette Kessler, USDA NRCS South Dakota

Many people believe that if you just focus on soil health, everything else will follow. This principal is prominently featured in a recent New York Times Magazine article, "Can Dirt Save the Earth?" which examines the practicality of regenerative agriculture.

Moises Velasquez-Manoof begins his lengthy piece with John Wick and his wife, Peggy Rathmann, two decades after they bought a ranch in Marin County, California, and began a quest to learn how to sequester carbon in the soil. The couple met with rangeland ecologist Jeff Creque back in 1998, after they noticed their land was quickly losing its vitality and an invasive weed was taking over. Creque suggested that the couple focus on cultivating what they wanted on their land instead of fighting against what they disliked.

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By Michael B. Commons

In my collaboration with Terra Genesis International, I have been given space and support to investigate what we may call "Regenerative Pathways," looking at real life examples of functional farming systems that we can identify as being on the "Regenerative Agriculture Pathway."

While these farms/farming systems might be called "Regenerative Farms," we see regeneration more as a long term process and continuum that we can evaluate through indicators such as soil health, water retention, biodiversity, community health and more.

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EcoWatch

"...the care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope." — Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays.

It was a soil scientist who reminded me recently of something we self-obsessed humans often forget: We don't need to worry about saving the planet. The planet will save itself.

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By Ercilia Sahores

On Nov. 6, the 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP23) to the UN Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) kicked off in Bonn, Germany, the nation's former capital. Germany is one of the world's worst offenders when it comes to pollution. It's also the largest polluter in all of Europe. But Germany is not alone in the polluting business—and countries are not the only big polluters.

The world's top 20 meat and dairy companies emitted more greenhouse gases in 2016 than all of Germany, according to a report published by GRAIN, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and Heinrich Böll Foundation.

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One of the most politically charged debates today, especially in the U.S. and Europe, is the so-called "immigration crisis." There are approximately 250 million (3 percent of the world's 7.6 billion people) migrants in the world today. About 20 percent or 47 million of those, live in the U.S. Another 35 million live in Europe.

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Conscious consumers won't have to wait much longer for clear guidance on how to buy food and other products that are not only certified organic, but also certified regenerative.

On Wednesday, the Rodale Institute unveiled draft standards for a new Regenerative Organic Certification, developed by Rodale and a coalition of farmers, ranchers, nonprofits, scientists and brands.

When finalized, the certification will go "beyond organic" by establishing higher standards for soil health and land management, animal welfare and farmer and worker fairness.

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"World governments spend $486 billion a year to subsidize an industrial food and farming model that the United Nations estimates, contributes 43-57 percent of total man-made greenhouse gas emissions," said Ronnie Cummins, international director of the Organic Consumers Association.

"It's time to stop subsidizing agricultural practices that contribute to global warming, and start subsidizing food, farming and land-use practices that restore the soil's capacity to draw down and re-sequester excess carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soil."

"Our best hope to avert a climate disaster, restore public health and revitalize rural economies must include a plan that not only achieves zero emissions, but also draws down the billions of tons of excess carbon already in the atmosphere."

Speaking to a panel hosted by the Social Innovation and Global Ethics Forum in conjunction with the COP22 Climate Summit, Cummins told participants that "Climate-Smart Agriculture," is a clever term used to describe a limited approach to adapting to climate change and to addressing global food insecurity through agricultural practices that fail to meet the standard of regeneration.

"Scientists tell us that even if we achieve zero emissions tomorrow, the planet would continue to heat up for another thousand years," Cummins said. "Our best hope to avert a climate disaster, restore public health and revitalize rural economies must include a plan that not only achieves zero emissions, but also draws down the billions of tons of excess carbon already in the atmosphere. That plan exists. It's call regenerative agriculture or agroecology."

The Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Bank coined the term "Climate-Smart Agriculture" at the 2010 Hague Conference on Food Security, Agriculture and Climate Change. The Food and Agriculture Organization floated the concept as a "triple win" for a type of agriculture that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, help crops adapt to changing climate conditions and increase yields.

Last year, more than 350 national and international civil society groups, including the Organic Consumers Association and Regeneration International, a project of the Organic Consumers Association, signed a letter urging decision-makers to reject what the groups called the "growing influence and agenda of so-called 'Climate-Smart Agriculture' and the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture." The groups criticized the lack of criteria for deciding what can or cannot be called "Climate Smart" and pointed to the potential for agribusiness corporations that promote synthetic fertilizers, industrial meat production and large-scale industrial agriculture—big contributors to global warming—to co-opt the term.

In the U.S., fossil-fuel-intensive agribusiness corporations like Monsanto, who are members of the North American chapter of the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture, claim to be practitioners of "Climate-Smart Agriculture."

Starting tomorrow, 30 witnesses and legal experts from five different continents will testify before five international judges at the three-day Monsanto Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. Their testimonies will attempt to hold the agrochemical giant accountable for their alleged "crimes against humanity" and destruction of the environment, or "ecocide."

Monsanto Tribunal organizers have called Monsanto's Roundup "the source of the greatest health and environmental scandal in modern history."Monsanto Tribunal Facebook

This symbolic trial, which will be live streamed from Oct. 15, 8:30 a.m. GMT+2 on the tribunal website, will follow guidelines of the United Nations's international court of justice and will have no legal standing. Rather, its purpose is to gather legal counsel from the judges as well as legal grounds for future litigation.

"The aim of the tribunal is to give a legal opinion on the environmental and health damage caused by the multinational Monsanto," the tribunal organizers state on their website. "This will add to the international debate to include the crime of Ecocide into international criminal law. It will also give people all over the world a well documented legal file to be used in lawsuits against Monsanto and similar chemical companies."

Monsanto, which is inching closer to a $66 billion takeover from German pharmaceuticals giant Bayer, has faced a never-ending slew of health and environmental controversies over its products since, well, the beginning of the twentieth century.

Monsanto's historical line-up of products includes banned and highly toxic chemicals such as 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (a dioxin-containing component of the defoliant Agent Orange); PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl); and Lasso, a herbicide banned in Europe. Glyphosate, the controversial main ingredient in Monsanto's best-selling weedkiller RoundUp, is the most widely used pesticide in the world. Monsanto is also the world's largest genetically modified (GMO) seed maker, giving them a major hand over the world food supply.

The trial, which will proceed on the same weekend as World Food Day, is organized by Organic Consumers Association, International Foundation for Organic Agriculture (IFOAM) Organics International, Navdanya, Regeneration International, Millions Against Monsanto as well as dozens of global food, farming and environmental justice groups.

Tribunal organizer Vandana Shiva is an outspoken critic of Monsanto. "Monsanto has come to be seen as one of the most dangerous corporations on the planet," the physicist, author, activist and founder of Navdanya said in a statement.

"It has earned this reputation through a history of producing products toxic to humans and the environment, as well as well-documented manipulation of scientific evidence, disingenuous PR efforts and applying relentless political pressure worldwide to promote its products. Life, society and democracy are under threat. We refuse to allow this future to unfold."

Andre Leu, president of IFOAM, said, "Monsanto is able to ignore the human and environmental damage caused by its products, and maintain its devastating activities through a strategy of systemic concealment: by lobbying regulatory agencies and governments, by resorting to lying and corruption, by financing fraudulent scientific studies, by pressuring independent scientists, and by manipulating the press and media. Monsanto's history reads like a text-book case of impunity, benefiting transnational corporations and their executives, whose activities contribute to climate and biosphere crises and threaten the safety of the planet."

Monsanto will not be present at the trial, calling it a "staged" event organized by the organic food industry "where the outcome is pre-determined."

"As this is a stunt staged and supported by the International Foundation for Organic Agriculture (IFOAM)—an umbrella organization of organic agriculture organizations, and their associates such as Navdanya and others who are fundamentally opposed to modern agriculture—we will not participate," states an open letter signed by the company's Human Rights Steering Committee.

"To address these ever increasing challenges collaboratively and advance our commitment to human rights, we welcome a genuine constructive conversation with diverse ideas and perspectives about food and agriculture production," the letter also states. "These conversations are much needed to help find sustainable solutions to those challenges."

Tribunal organizers have responded to Monsanto's allegations of a mock court. "Other similar tribunals have found both for and against corporations," Damien Short, director of the Human Rights Consortium at London University, told The Guardian. "This is a test of international law. It has moral force and the tribunal's decision will be evidence-based. Peoples' tribunals are testing the law."

"Under existing [international] law, it is impossible to bring criminal charges against a company like Monsanto or its management, for possible crimes against human health and the integrity of the environment," Lucy Rees, speaking on behalf of End Ecocide on Earth, also told the publication.

Greenpeace has been a vocal supporter of the tribunal. "The industrial scale of agriculture today has broken our food system," the environmental group said. "Giant agri-businesses fail to take into account the health of the environment and the communities who depend on it. Monoculture and dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides are taking its toll on the planet, animals and us."

According to a tribunal newsletter, witnesses and experts who will be present at the trial includes health experts, "victims" and representatives from communities affected by the spraying of pesticides in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, France, India, Sri Lanka and Paraguay; farmers and seed savers from Australia, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Canada, France; beekeepers from Yucatan, Mexico; and scientists from Brazil, Germany, France, the UK and the U.S. Former UN special rapporteur on the right to food Olivier De Schutter will also testify.

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