Why we need a farming revolution
In the first of these articles I said that I would explain why we need a farming revolution. With food prices soaring and Tesco starting to put carbon labels on potatoes and orange juice, now is a good time for me to cover this subject.
We have grown used to plentiful supplies of cheap food from all over the world. This has been provided by modern agriculture that uses fertilisers and pesticides to increase food yields. Cheap fuel has made it economic to ship or fly more food across the world to our shops. As we get richer we eat more meat, and so forests are cleared to create land for grazing or for growing animal feeds like soya. All this has huge environmental and social cost as the following facts show:
- In terms of global greenhouse gas emissions, agriculture is believed to be responsible for 25% of CO2, 65% of methane and 90% of nitrous oxide emitted.
- 60% of deforestation is caused by expansion of agriculture, mainly grazing and crops for cattle feed.
- Because modern farming is energy intensive the food we buy has a high level of embodied carbon. It’s been estimated that this is in the order of 1-2 tons per person per year.
- A cow has to eat around 10 kg grain to produce 1 kg of beef. Animal grazing therefore requires huge areas of land. In Britain, between 60% and 70% of agricultural land is used either for grazing or growing fodder.
- It requires 77 litres of water to grow 1 kg maize, but 3700 litres to provide 1 kg beef.
- 40% of world land is seriously degraded. Intensifying production on degraded soil is not sustainable.
- In 1995 UK was 87% self-sufficient in food that can be grown in UK. In 2007, we were 70% self-sufficient, forecast to reduce to 60% in 2010.
- Soil can act as a carbon sink to absorb some of our CO2 emissions but modern agriculture actually reduces the amount of carbon stored in soil.
I could go on. To fight climate change and to improve food security a whole new strategy is needed to make food more:
- Local – to reduce the food miles and make us more self-sufficient
- Seasonal - to reduce the fossil fuel input to produce and transport
- Organic – to improve the soil and absorb carbon
- Vegetarian – to make better use of land and water
Such farming would be more labour intensive than modern farming, transforming rural communities and revitalising British agriculture. Our food would be better quality and a lot healthier too.
If you want to discuss any of the subjects raised, I am very happy to talk to groups of people. My email address is email@example.com. I will also try and reply to emails from individuals, either directly or in a future article.
Mole Valley Climate Change Awareness