Thursday, February 14, 2008

From farm to lab

In the past two decades, a resurgence of organic agricultural methods have taken hold post American industrialism. Alongside has come important literature and research on the matter with organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization, Columbia Center for International Earth Science Information Network, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Rosenzweig and Hillel (1995) have described a variety of impacts of climate change on food production and supply in Potential Impacts of Climate Change on Agriculture and Food Supply. These include:

One. A shift in climate and agricultural zones towards the poles.
Two. Changes in production patterns due to higher temperatures.
Three. A boost in agricultural productivity due to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Four. Changing precipitation patterns.
Five. Increased vulnerability of the landless and the poor.

An early 1990's global assessment from 18 different countries in over 100 sites suggested that "a doubling of the atmosphere carbon dioxide concentration will lead to only a small decrease in the global crop production...however, developing countries in lower latitudes will bear the brunt of these problems" (Rosenzweig and Parry, 1994). In addition, it has been found in the work, "Climate Change and Extreme Weather Events; Implications for Food Production, Plant Diseases, and Pests", that "global food supply may be affected by an increase in extreme weather events and climate variability associated with global warming (Rosenzweig et al., 2001).

Food security, defined as "access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life" provides people the right to an adequate diet (World Bank, 1986). This requires the active and concerted action of all countries to accomplish such a right in a sustainable manner. Doing so will depend on access to commodities and will power of the government support and the action of its people.

However, there is a parody at hand at which globally, we may not be able to sustain our food systems. 500 million people, according to the World Food Trade Model (an instrument that links countries through trade, world market prices, and financial power), were at risk of hunger in 1980. Estimates have risen to about 640 million in 2060. At this continuous rate, the amount of hungry people will increase by 1% for every 2-2.5% increase in market prices. Solutions such as shifts in planting dates, changes in irrigation systems, changes in crop variety, investment in regional and national agriculture, and policy changes are all probable.

In "How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture", sustainable agriculture is based on "relatively small, profitable farms that use fewer off-farm inputs, integrate animal and plant production where appropriate, maintain a higher biotic diversity, emphasize technologies that are appropriate to the scale of production, and make the transition to renewable forms of energy". They are less dependent on chemical inputs and economic efficiencies seen in industrial agriculture. In addition, it would involve closer connections between producer and consumer, in which food is directly marketed to locavores. (Horrigan et al., 2002).

Sustainable agriculture has been defined in various ways:

Sustainable agriculture integrates three main goals - environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity...Sustainability rests on the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program. What is Sustainable Agriculture? Cited 10 February 2008).

Sustainable agriculture is a model of social and economic organization based on an equitable and participatory vision of development which recognizes the environment and natural resources as the foundation of economic activity. Agriculture is sustainable when it is ecologically sound, economically viable, socially just, culturally appropriate, and based on a holistic scientific approach (Madden JP, Chaplowe SG, eds. For All Generations: Making World Agriculture More Sustainable. Glendale, CA: World Sustainable Agriculture Association, 1997).

Sustainable agriculture does not refer to a prescribed set of practices. Instead it challenges producers to think about the long-term implications and dynamics of agricultural systems. It also invites consumers to get more involved in agriculture by learning more about and becoming active participants in their food systems. A key goal is to understand agriculture from an ecological perspective - in terms of nutrient and energy dynamics, and interactions among plants, animals, insects, and other organisms in agroecosystems - then balance it with profit, community and consumer needs (Sustainable Agriculture Network. Exploring Sustainability in Agriculture: Ways to Enhance Profits, Protect the Environment, and Improve Quality of Life. Cited 10 February 2008).

Sustainable agriculture, as defined in Bryan McDonald's lecture in my Global Sustainability Class, "seeks to decouple agriculture intensification from environmental degradation through the greater exploitation of biological and ecological approaches to nutrient recycling, pest management, and soil erosion control" (12 February 2008).

The practice of sustainable agriculture has altered the ways relationships are built between producer and consumer. In a 2000 study by Kevin Morgan and Jonathan Murdoch, it is learned that farmers who switch from conventional to more organic methods of farming much forget many of the conventional ways of industrial agriculture in order to learn more ecologically-sound ways of production. In addition, organic farmers rescind to become "knowing agents" of the environment and their land.

In the study, "Eating 'Green': Motivations Behind Organic Food Consumption in Australia", while organic consumers expressed high motivations for eating more organically due to such issues as the environment, animal welfare, and biotechnology, their views were not drastically different from those of non-organic consumers. The greatest difference seen between the two groups is the amount of formal education; the greater the formal education, the greater consumption of organic foods. Overall, organic consumers rated health, natural content, and price as high priorities in food consideration, in that order of preference (Lockie et al., 2002).

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