Small farms are key to food security

Small and medium sized farms are key to providing quality nutrition to the global population, according to a new study measuring the contribution of agriculture, livestock and fisheries to global nutrient production, diversity and food security.

The new research, published in the first issue of The Lancet Planetary Health, was carried out by a trans-disciplinary team of more than 400 scientists from 19 different institutions, including geographers, livestock, agricultural and marine scientists, economists, public health and nutrition specialists, epidemiologists, and environmental scientists.

They found that farms smaller than 50 hectares produce nearly 51-77% of all commodities and nutrients, including cereals, livestock, fruits, pulses, roots and tubers and vegetables.

 

 

The study results highlight the fact that when it comes to nutrition, quality is as important as quantity. Whilst we might be accustomed to thinking about nutrition in terms of calorific intake, micro-nutrients such as vitamins and minerals play a vital role in human growth and health. Currently there is a ‘hidden hunger’ crisis of affecting two billion people worldwide who are lacking in these vital micro-nutrients.

Mario Herrero, who headed up the study also points out that crop diversity can create resilience against climate change and extreme weather. Using the example of the devastating effect Cyclone Debbie had on cane growers as well as tomato, capsicum and eggplant producers, he points out that an event such as a major wheat disease would be a huge problem for farms all across Australia.

 

‚ÄúWe need to be careful about putting all our eggs in one basket…¬†Having diverse farming systems builds resilience.‚ÄĚ

 

This new appreciation of the benefits of small farms will influence how we address the second of the UN sustainable development goals, which aims to¬†“end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”. A¬†range of farm sizes will be¬†necessary to achieve these goals. However, in order to nourish people, rather than just feed them, small farms need to be protected as they are the source of so much nutritional diversity.

 

Re-post ~ Small farms need protection to safeguard nutrients and diversity by Kate Langford in ECOS eNews

Read more ~

Locavore rankings for 2017 reveal added benefits of local food

The US organisation Strolling of the Heifers has released it’s annual ‘Locavore Index’ which ranks the 50 USA states plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia in order of their commitment to¬†local food.¬†

 

The index, which has been calculated for six years running, scores each state according to various criteria, such as the number of farmers markets per capita and how many schools are participating in the Farms to Schools program. It aims to highlight food trends and encourage people to think about and work towards sourcing more food locally.

Strolling of the Heifers point out ten reasons to consume more local food, including boosting the local economy, attracting tourism for events such as farmers markets, less waste, fresher food and the diversification of local agriculture, which has benefits for the soil and gene pool. They also point out that buying locally increases social capital in communities as consumers get to know producers, and each other, through farmers markets and consumer supported agriculture schemes.

2017 saw many US hospitals make a commitment to sourcing more food locally through the Healthy Food in Health Care program run by the organisation Health Care Without Harm. This enabled the inclusion of ‘number of hospitals serving local food’ as a ranking on the Locavore Index.

 

 

This initiative¬†demonstrates so many of the reasons why local food is better for communities: a relationship with a big buyer means more security for food producers and has even sparked the startup of new enterprises; patients’ appetites improve, which speeds up recovery time; overall health of the community improves and the hospital receives less visitors; and families who engage with the program learn to cook and have access to affordable healthy food, making the social benefits of cooking together and enjoying a family meal more likely.

 

Re-post ~ How Locavore is your state? Strolling of the Heifers 2017 Locavore Index ranks states on local food commitment

The Top 100 Solutions To Climate Change. (You’ll Never Guess What’s Number One)

Drawdown ~ a new project and book spearheaded by Paul Hawken, represents the first comprehensive attempt to rank solutions to climate change and measure their relative effectiveness. Researchers studied existing data on solutions which are already in use and proven to reduce global warming, in order to help normal people understand what they can do to combat climate change and how much effect it might have.

Hawken and his team were surprised by some of the results and pleased to be able to highlight such a diverse array of solutions. In addition to the oft-touted wind and solar solutions the team discovered that factors such as educating girls (#6) and reducing food waste (#3) were high up on the list.

And number one? Refrigerant management! When was the last time you heard about that on the news?

 

Together, educating girls and family planning constitute the most impactful intervention towards carbon drawdown.

 

Drawdown top ten

 

Each potential solution was modeled on three scenarios: The Plausible Scenario, where these solutions continue to be adopted at a realistic rate based on current trends; The Drawdown Scenario, where the implementation of solutions is accelerated achieve drawdown by 2050; and The Optimum Scenario, where all currently available solutions achieve their maximum potential and fully replace conventional technologies.

 

“Drawdown is that point in time when the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere begins to decline on a year-to-year basis.” ~ Paul Hawken

 

This project serves a two-fold purpose of keeping humanity hopeful with evidence that drawdown is possible and providing clear, science-based information for ordinary people about where our climate change efforts should be focused.

The even better news is that even the ‘Optimum Scenario’ only takes into account technologies and approaches which have already been developed and proven. There is a whole world of emerging technologies which will likely have huge impacts on the problem of global warming. These ‘coming attractions’ and are likely to make drawdown an even more achievable goal.

 

Read more ~

Drawdown website

A new book ranks the top 100 solutions to climate change: the results are surprising by David Roberts in Vox Magazine

Paul Hawken’s classic book Natural Capitalism (written with Amory Lovens and L. Hunter Lovins) is available for free download here.

Ancient perennial grain experiments seek to revive culture and revolutionise agriculture

A group of Aboriginal people on the south coast of NSW are reviving some of the traditional crops and farming practices which would have characterised the pre-colonial Australian landscape.

The Gurandgi Munjie Food Company (from Yuin country) have had great success cultivating native fruits and vegetables as well as harvesting tubers from yam daisies over the last five years. They have also begun harvesting crops of Kangaroo Grass and Panicum Decompositum, both perrenial grains. They began as volunteers and have recently had success with two crowdfunding campaigns to expand their operations into a commercial enterprise.

“[We seek] to provide permanent employment and training for young Aboriginal people and to supply healthy products to Australia from plants adapted to Australian conditions”

 

Kangaroo Grass, a native Australian perennial grain.

Kangaroo Grass, one of the native Australian perennial grains which Gurandgi Munjie hopes to harvest and turn into a commercial product.

 

These plants were staple crops which fed the large populations of Aboriginal Australians who cultivated them and which are inherently well-suited to local conditions. This is in stark contrast to the food crops brought over from Europe which currently dominate our agriculture and supermarket shelves and require significant irrigation and often artificial fertilisers and pesticides to maintain on Australian soils.

Perrenial grains have very large root structures which help them survive in poor soil with little water. They also eliminate the need for the land to be ploughed so soil doesn’t become compacted and less diesel and labour is needed. They also sequester carbon year on year and prevent soil erosion and salination.

Author Bruce Pascoe, who has Bunurong, Tasmanian and Yuin Indigenous heritage, helped to start the project and would like to see it growing enough Kangaroo Grass and Panicum Decompositum to grind into grain and sell as bread flour. He also points out that Aboriginal Australians were probably the first people to bake bread, as evidenced by grindstones at Cuddie Springs in northern New South Wales that have been dated as being around 30,000 years old.

Pascoe’s book Dark Emu, Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident has sparked a wave of interest in traditional Australian crops and a new understanding of the complexity of pre-colonial Australian society.

As Max Allen pointed out in his profile of the project for Gourmet Traveller Magazine, these are not novelty bush foods but, “everyday foods that were once widely grown and eaten in those parts of the country where most Australians now live.

 

Read more:

~ Dark Emu, Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident? by Bruce Pascoe

~ Gurandgi Munjie Facebook Page

~ Indigenous Agriculture: Australia’s Hidden Past by Belinda Evans in The Plant Hunter

Hemp approval could mean a win-win for productivity and soil health

The Australian and New Zealand food ministers have recently approved hemp seeds as a food source. Farmers in Eastern Victoria are hot on their heels, forming a hemp growing co-operative which aims to generate more income and improve soil quality naturally.

Darren Christie, chief executive of The Australian Hemp Manufacturing Company is pleased with the news that hemp seed has been approved for human consumption and believes that it will have many benefits for the farmers he is recruiting into the co-op.

“It’s another commodity for farmers. The milkers, they can use it as a rotation crop which will be great for them in the future,” Mr Christie said. “No pesticides, better PH levels in their soil, a bit more humus in the ground; that’s why I believe down this way it’ll be perfect for farmers to get on board.”

Hemp already has a history in Gippsland, which has a good soil quality and plenty of rainfall. Around 20 years ago a few hemp crops were successfully grown. However, over time the commercial scope for hemp has widened and now includes clothing, building materials and (in around six months as local food regulations are updated) as a food product.

 

hemp stalks

Hemp fibres are used in building products such as Hempcrete, ‘batt’ insulation and hemp oil wood finishes.

Mr Christie notes that social media has played a big part in changing public attitudes towards hemp.

“People are starting to understand the differences between the hemp and medical marijuana.”

He intends to set up more hemp growing co-ops and expand a factory in Morwell that produces hemp-based building materials. The Gippsland Hemp Co-operative has currently signed seven farmers and is on the lookout for other who are interested in growing hemp.

Repost ~ Eastern Victorian farmers plan new hemp cooperative as hemp seeds become legal to eat by Isabella Pittaway in ABC News

Read more ~ Industrial Hemp: A Win Win For the Economy and The Environment on Forbes.com and the Hemp Industries Association website.

Australia’s female farmers are the ‘invisible women’ driving innovation in sustainable agriculture

48% of real farm income in Australia is produced by women, yet their work often goes unrecognised. However, this may be changing, as a recent article in The Guardian highlights the up-and-coming female farmers who are emerging as thought-leaders and innovators in sustainable agribusiness.

 

Anika Molesworth was named Young Farmer of the Year in 2015

 

When looking for examples of empowered female farmers, you need look no further than Anika Molesworth. She completed her undergraduate degree in agribusiness by correspondence after watching a ten year drought ravage her family’s farm in western NSW. She is now studying for a PhD in agriculture climate science and is experimenting with new technology on the farm.

‚ÄúThe younger generation are so much more aware of what is happening around the world. We do go travelling. We are studying with colleagues from all over the world and we are bringing those ideas to the farming landscape.‚ÄĚ

 

Many women (50% of women on farms) support farming families through their work off-farm. As well as increasing farm income, this is one way that Molesworth hopes to have a greater impact on farming practices, by combining her farm work with being a consultant and educator in sustainable farming.

There are also those seeking to change how female farmers are viewed and understood at a societal level;¬†Invisible Farmer, a new project funded by the Australian Research Council, aims to remedy the gender inequality which has been endemic in farming for centuries, and continues to be so, partly due to the fact that sons traditionally inherit the farm. The project aims to ‘create new histories of rural Australia [and] reveal the hidden stories of women on the land’. Katrina Sasse, a 29-year-old farmer from Morawa in Western Australia brings the encouraging news that around 10% of daughters are going back to work on family farms, and the number is growing.

 

‚ÄúThere are a lot of stories where women feel discontented because they feel ignored or they have been pushed away and they don‚Äôt have any influence in the decision-making on the future of the family farm.‚ÄĚ

 

Sasse’s research looks at ways to get daughters more involved in family farms by examining what their strengths are, what they can bring to the business and how they can be included in the succession plan.

 

Read More ~ Women: the silent partners of agriculture by M. Alston of Charles Sturt University

Re-post ~ ‘Invisible farmers’: the young women injecting new ideas into agriculture by Fiona Smith in The Guardian

Community saves itself from ruin with ‘give it a go’ attitude

Whilst the closure of a major employer in a small town can often be devastating for the community, a small town in northern Victoria has shown that it doesn’t have to be so. A recent ABC News article highlights the ‘can do’ attitude with which residents overcame the shock of 146 job losses and created the thriving farmer’s market and music scene which now define the town.

When the Heinz sauce factory in Girgarre closed down in 2012, residents were afraid it would mean the end of their small town. But instead of giving up, they knuckled down to come up with ways to generate funds for community projects themselves. Although many were dubious when Doug Gray, a member of the Girgarre Development Group (GDG), suggested the town should start its own farmers market, they decided to give it a go.

 

Starting with six stalls, the farmer’s market in Girgarre has gone from strength to strength and now has 150 stalls.

 

This has resulted in huge success for the community allowing them to self-fund maintenance for sport facilities, the local Country Fire Authority, the RSL and a community car for medical appointments.

Another heartening measure of their success is the fact that the local kindergarten, also saved by funds from the farmer’s market, will have a record intake this year.

Added to this, the town now has a thriving music scene thanks to the Girgarre Moosic Muster festival, which initially focused on people who had no musical experience but were keen to learn an instrument. Around 900 people have now gone through the workshop program and their monthly jam sessions attract musicians from all over northern Victoria. This has created a much wider community for the 190 people who actually live in the town.

Jan Winter, chair of the GDG, believes that this kind of solution is applicable to any small town.

 

“What they’ve got to do is search for the ideas that can help empower their own communities because nothing’s impossible, we’ve found that one out.”

 

Re-post ~ Tiny town of Girgarre in Victoria’s north shows ingenuity in the face of job losses by Peter Lusted for ABC News

Aussie solar company (em)powers rural farmers

An Aussie startup company, Village Infrastructure Angels (VIA), has launched a social enterprise project which leases solar set-ups to villagers in developing countries.

By providing rural communities with access to solar-powered lighting and phone charging capabilities, as well as shared agro-processing facilities, company founder and solar entrepreneur Stewart Craine hopes to cut dependence on fossil fuels, improve agricultural productivity and empower communities.

 

 

So far the project has proven to alleviate the time burden involved with food production, particularly for women, and open up possibilities for other paid employment. This has been achieved by leasing solar powered mills to communities to help them grind and de-hull grains. A mill shared between a group of families can turn what used to be a highly labour-intensive task into a five-minute doddle, improving agricultural productivity and freeing up time for other activities.

Introducing solar technology in these rural communities also decreases their reliance on fossil fuels as it provides an alternative to kerosene lamps and diesel-powered generators.

 

 

Craine, who also helped found the solar lighting group Barefoot Power,  has already attracted interest from investors for this new project.

 

“…pilot projects have so far proved that local teams could quickly generate sufficient revenue from a modest number of solar power projects in rural villages to cover their daily operating costs, and additional revenue which accumulates in the bank to repay investors.”

 

The company has achieved its pilot goal of reaching 1000 households and plans to reach 10,000 households by 2018 and a whopping 200,000 by 2020. This is in an effort to help more of the 1 billion people around the world who lack access to electricity.

Re-post ~ New Aussie solar start-up empowering rural farming villages by Sophie Vorrath in One Step Off the Grid

Healthy soil, not large scale agriculture, is key to feeding the world

In a recent article in The Conversation, a professor from the University of Washington busts some myths about industrialised agriculture and presents his findings on worldwide regenerative farming practices, which suggest that ‘the key to sustaining highly productive agriculture lies in rebuilding healthy, fertile soil’.

 

Soil building practices, like no-till and composting, can build soil organic matter and improve soil fertility. Photo: David Montgomery,

A recent United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation report shows that, contrary to popular belief, over three-quarters of the world’s food production happens on small family farms. This is opposed to the large-scale industrialised ones which feed most of the developed world. Linked to this, Montgomery points out that large farms are not, in fact, likely to be more efficient than small ones:

 

“According to a 1992 agricultural census report, small, diversified farms produce more than twice as much food per acre than large farms do.”

 

Add in a 2015 meta-analysis which showed less than a 10% gap in food production between conventional industrialised farms and organic farms where cover crops were planted and crops were rotated to increase soil fertility. Combine it all with the fact that about a quarter of all food produced worldwide is never eaten, and it begins to seem like¬†industrialised farming really isn’t necessary to meet food production needs after all.

Rapid and effective soil regeneration is possible and it is the key to ‘a stable and resilient agriculture’. The adoption of regenerative farming practices such as no-till methods, cover cropping and complex rotations, along with the deep understanding of the particular qualities of the land and socioeconomic environment made possible by small-scale farming, leads to the ability to use fewer inputs to produce higher yields.

In order to speed along the uptake of farming practices which focus on soil health, David Montgomery calls for system-scale research, demonstration farms and, perhaps most importantly, changes in agricultural policy and subsidies, to encourage farmers to adopt regenerative practices.

Read about Starfish’s work in this area:

Biochar For Sustainable Soils is a project which seeks to share knowledge and build capacity around using biochar-based organic amendments to improve soil quality.
The Living Classroom in Bingara is a visionary project working to turn the Town Common into a visually beautiful, working regenerative farm  as a centrepiece for education, research, tourist activities and functions.

Re-post ~ Healthy soil is the real key to feeding the world by David R Montgomery in The Conversation

Sustainable food production for 9.6bn people in 2050 is possible (if we eat less meat)

A study in Nature has shown that it could be possible to meet the  nutritional needs of the predicted 9.6 billion people who will live on Earth in 2050, even without further deforestation.

 

A Western meat-rich diet provided the least number of viable future scenarios

 

The study modelled 500 different food production scenarios using regional forecasts supplied by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. It aimed to determine which scenarios would potentially provide sufficient food for the predicted global population.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Karl-Heinz Erb said:

 

“All the scenarios we have considered come with completely different ecological costs. Some of them have a high environmental pressure, and some of them have a lower environmental pressure, and we found that this is strongly determined by the diet.”

 

In the unlikely event of a completely vegan future, 100% of the scenarios modeled would provide sufficient food without expanding existing croplands and allowing for low-intensity farming methods such as organic farming. Vegetarianism also allowed for success in the majority of scenarios whereas the current Western meat-rich diet required high-intensity farming methods and a great deal of farmland expansion.

 

Feasability of various diets for sustainable global food production

 

Sustainable agriculture expert Professor Richard Eckard of the University of Melbourne reviewed the study cautiously and pointed to several potential practical limitations of some of the scenarios. He pointed to the fact that natural grasslands such as the African Savannah are unsuitable for cropping and that livestock provide much of the energy for farming in the developing world. According to Professor Eckard, these are important considerations that were not accounted for in the study.
 
The authors of the study point out that it is only intended as a starting point for further debate.