continuation article Staf Hendriks
Some of the sources used:
1. Non-chemical techniques as alternatives to herbicide use Herbicides are intended to kill weeds. First of all, use of herbicides as a ripening and desiccation agent for the crop itself must be discontinued; it is inevitable that elevated levels of pesticide residues end up in final food products if the crops are sprayed while seed or fruit is developing on the stem. Evidence suggests that weeds only affect the yields under certain conditions, and that a totally weed-free field is not needed2 , and indeed that many wild plants offer microhabitats for other beneficial species that protect the crops from pests3 . To prevent too much competition from weeds, there are a number of techniques that are already being used in various production systems which have been shown to be at least equally cost effective as glyphosate application 4 , and do not have the negative consequences for biodiversity posed by long term pesticide use. The alternatives to pesticides like glyphosate have been likened to “many little hammers”5 , instead of one big chemical hammer. Alternative control of weeds includes combinations of mechanical, physical and biological techniques – notably used in organic farming – such as: – Appropriate crop rotations6 including — Clean fallow against perennial and rhizomal weeds, — Cover crops doubling as mulch or green manure, — Following weed-prone crops with those where weeds can easily be controlled before they set seed — rotating between crops that are planted in different seasons – Stale bed techniques to germinate weed seeds before sowing crops combined with mechanical weeding7 – Mulching8 to supress weed germination – Avoiding bare soil in plantings, for example using intercropping or nurse crops undersown to emerge before the main crop – Shallow ploughing to maintain subterranean communities and soil structures, while avoiding bringing up weed seeds from the seed soil bank – Use of rotary hoe between rows and within rows in bigger crops later in season – Thermal treatment in using steam or grill/hotplate
2. Letting beneficial species do their work: I
PM and cascade approach, chemicals as last resort Organic farmers have proved that producing without pesticides without large yield gaps is possible. A first step to reach organic production can be Integrated Pest Management: IPM is a concept already established in and promoted through EU legislation (both Reg.1107/2009 and Dir.2009/128/EC). However, it is not enough to merely promote it – implementation of IPM practices is patchy, and to achieve its maximum benefits it should be made compulsory. Many ways of managing pests via IPM rely on biodiversity, e.g. through beneficial species of predators of pests in the soil and in the wider agro-ecosystem. But those species may either be directly affected by glyphosate application, or their food source or habitat is9 . However, most pesticide risk assessment is often very short term, meaning that few longer term studies exist looking at sub-lethal effects due to repeated exposure. A fundamental problem with the methodological approach taken for approval by EFSA means that significant findings are diluted by the many scientific studies that do not look for long enough or in the right places. Such collateral damage on biodiversity means that prophylactic use of glyphosate and other pesticides (when the weeds present would not affect yield or when no pest is even seen), and especially its use as a ripening or desiccation agent, is seriously flawed because these natural defence mechanisms based on biodiversity are prevented from being effective, prevented from even having a chance to work and to cut the need for pesticide use. Systematic regular or prophylactic use also leads to an increase of resistance, so that when a substance is really needed, it might no longer work as well, as effectiveness will decrease over time. What’s more, killing all weeds/wild flowers means less food all year round for bees and other wild pollinators, which means less effective pollination in the time window when insect pollinated crops come into bloom, which may lead to decreasing yields10 . Following the same logic of increasing food available for natural predators of pests, wildflowers are being sown with cereals in order to decrease pest outbreaks11 . Therefore a cascade approach should be followed, first using physical, mechanical and biological alternatives to pesticides, with pesticides only as a last resort if precautionary measures such as increasing structural and biological diversity, spreading risk and avoiding monocultures do not work. This will also help solve the problem of resistance and reduce the need to constantly innovate chemicals in a costly evolutionary arms race.
3. Advice and extension services, and exchange of farming knowledge
An effective exchange of knowledge and advice is essential to help inform farmers on how to implement those alternatives techniques and achieve a transition in agriculture. Many weed control techniques used before the widespread and systematic use of glyphosate and other pesticides would need to be re-learnt, and new innovations not reliant on chemicals would have to be shared. But to allow for this knowledge exchange and multiplication, we must ensure there is no chemical bias in advice given, and that knowledge about alternatives and IPM is effectively transmitted. Thankfully these structures already exist12, and all member states have the option to use the second pillar of the CAP to fund them. In addition, a new form of interaction between researchers, farmers and other practitioners is now available: the EIP or European Innovation Partnership allows a participatory, community-based approach to exchange knowledge and innovation13
4. Funding the transition via the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)
Rather than farmers bearing the financial risk of the costs of the transition in learning and applying chemical-alternative techniques, we believe that public funds should do this, as the goal of sustainable, biodiverse agriculture is very much in the public interest. There is already a structure and programmes14 to cover the costs via the Rural Development pillar of the CAP. Measures and financial incentives to make the transition could also be further strengthened via Direct Payments in the First Pillar of the CAP. There is no need to wait until the next CAP reform; supporting the transition can already start now via Rural Development measures, including specially adapted agro-ecological measures that pay farmers to introduce new techniques and production systems, while also increasing public funding of advice services. What’s more, just a few weeks ago, Commissioner Hogan announced15 a recently-introduced procedure to re-direct funds, which is a fast track way to adapt Rural Development programmes within just 8 weeks.
5. Coherence with EU biodiversity and climate change policy
Glyphosate and other pesticides impact soil microbial communities by killing beneficial bacteria and fungi16; indeed before its use as a herbicide, Monsanto first patented it as an anti-microbial agent17 . By decreasing reliance on pesticides, and consequently by boosting biodiversity and natural processes in the soil and above ground in and around fields, it would not only help us meet our EU targets to halt the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services18 in the EU and help stop global biodiversity loss by 2020, but also allow agriculture to play its part in combatting climate change19: Bringing soils back to life with healthier, deeper topsoil and more humus will not only help to increase the capacity of this carbon reservoir, but will also allow our farm systems to be better adapted to the floods and droughts increasingly common with climate change: With far longer taproots reaching far deeper down to the bedrock20 , and with humus and symbiotic fungal mycorrhizae supplying more nutrients and water, the crops will be less susceptible to drought; With more nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the soil, and by kick-starting nutrient cycling through reinvigorated soil life, the crops will also be less reliant on highly polluting21 synthetic fertilisers and the expensive, energy-intensive and greenhouse gas-emitting Haber-Bosch process22 used to make them. With more humus to hold on to water and better drainage thanks to increased soil biota, the fields and surrounding rural areas will be less likely to flood too. What’s more, increased abundance and diversity in agro-ecosystems will mean more beneficial predators of pest species to regulate pest populations, preventing them from booming in the first place and damaging crops.
6. Increased ecosystem functioning means greater input autonomy for farmers
A reduced reliance on chemical inputs and preventing pest and weeds from becoming a problem means greater autonomy for farmers. Prices for inputs have been rising over last decades23 and contributing to rising production costs24 . At the same time, the prices at which farmers sell their food are becoming less and less remunerative, and in some sectors production costs outweigh income. Plant crops can grow more robustly, are resilient to insects and pathogens and can more easily out-compete weedy ephemeral species if: Firstly, there is more direct fixation of atmospheric nitrogen into the soil by bacteria surrounding the crop roots25; Secondly, fungal mycorrhizae can supply more nutrients and water to crops; Thirdly, improved nutrient cycling by life within the soil and mobilisation of the complete range of 42 nutrients26 provides crops with the micro-nutrients and minerals needed for healthy growth. In addition, healthy soils with balanced communities of beneficial species will defend crops from pathogens and pests27, meaning farmers suffer fewer and smaller crop yield losses, spend less on agrochemical inputs, and build up resilience.
7. A paradigm shift supported by science:
Agroecology The real alternative involves not only a change of product, but a paradigm shift, choosing abundance, diversity and long-term fertility over uniformity and sterility – an approach already successfully applied through organic farming practices. Such a shift has just been recommended in the latest report of the International Panel of Experts on International Food Systems (IPES), under the coordination of former UN rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter28 . The agriculture of the future must work with nature, not against it. Yet non-chemical solutions may be low-tech at the point of application by the farmer, and may be equally or more effective and certainly more cost- and resource-efficient in the wider and long term, but some new nature-based solutions may also be science-intensive and therefore also need upstream investment: for example, methods using parasitic wasps or pheromones to prevent pest damage to crops, or finding the nitrogen fixing bacteria to cut fertiliser dependency and pollution, need lots of research behind them. When farmers adopt methods based on agroecology, there are multiple benefits for the environment, farmers and for crops, not least resilience to climate change29, the biggest challenge farming faces. Not only research30 but also communities of practice sharing ideas and knowledge between farmers shows this. What’s more, these environment-friendly methods are economically sustainable31 and are sufficiently productive32 to provide enough food for all.
the United States government continues to push for the use of more
chemically-intensive and corporate-dominated farming methods such as GMOs and
monoculture-based crops, the United Nations is once against sounding the alarm
about the urgent need to return to (and develop) a more sustainable, natural
and organic system.
That was the key point of a new publication from the UN Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) titled“Trade and Environment Review 2013: Wake Up Before It’s Too Late,” which included contributions from more than 60 experts around the world.
The cover of the report looks like that of a blockbuster documentary or Hollywood movie, and the dramatic nature of the title cannot be understated: The time is now to switch back to our natural farming roots.
The New UN Farming Report “Wake Up Before It’s Too Late.”
The New UN Farming Report “Wake Up Before It’s Too Late.” Click here to read it.
The findings on the report seem to echo those of a December 2010 UN Report in many ways, one that essentially said organic and small-scale farming is the answer for “feeding the world,” not GMOs and monocultures.
According to the new UN report, major changes are needed in our food, agriculture and trade systems, with a shift toward local small-scale farmers and food systems recommended.
Diversity of farms, reducing the use of fertilizer and other changes are desperately needed according to the report, which was highlighted in this article from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.
It also said that global trade rules should be reformed in order to work toward these ends, which is unfortunately the opposite of what mega-trade deals like the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the U.S.-EU Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are seeking to accomplish.
The Institute noted that these pending deals are “primarily designed to strengthen the hold of multinational corporate and financial firms on the global economy…” rather than the reflect the urgent need for a shift in agriculture described in the new report.
Even global security may be at stake according to the report, as food prices (and food price speculating) continue to rise.
“This implies a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high-external-input-dependent industrial production toward mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers,” the report concludes.
You can read more about the report from the Institute by visiting their website here.
But the difference also has to do with the fact that ecologically treated soil is more capable of storing water. During droughts or floods the production is higher in ecological soil. The conclusion that the ecological agriculture is more effective under extreme climate conditions is interesting when considering future challenges in the light of climate change. This conclusion is supported by other studies.
It is unnuanced to say that the productivity of agro-ecology is too low to feed everyone in 2050. If we look at the nuances in the debate, we can see where there are opportunities for a higher yield. It is also naïve to assume that the higher yields of industrial agriculture will last. Scientists are warning for too much optimism in this area already. Because of the intensive use the soil quality is eroding and the production decreasing, especially under extreme weather circumstances.
A more recent meta study (17 studies and 170 cases) from 2012, which measured the environmental impact of ecological and traditional agriculture in Europe, came to similar conclusions: In general ecological agriculture scores better on absolute impact (measured by surface units), but not always when the environmental impact is measured per unit.
They’re advising traditional agriculture to increase soil quality, to recycle nutrients, and to increase and protect biodiversity. The ecological agriculture needs to increase yields and strengthen nutritional oversight.
From the above-mentioned studies it seems that ecological systems score better on absolute environmental impact and on living environment domains. Ecological and agro-ecological systems score better on strong sustainability and are therefore more considerate about the resilience of the environment, through which the future food production will be ensured.
A blind focus on increasing yield will be paired with a cascade of unwanted consequences: excessive fertilization which leads to acidification and eutrophication, sensitive crops and erosion of the soil and a need for crop protection. The erosion of the soil quality can even make high yields impossible in the future.
Shortly, the question whether we need to separate nature and agriculture, is counterproductive and causes more harm than solutions. Besides, this debate ignores the fact that ecosystems deliver a lot more services besides food and nature.
This does require a different way of thinking, namely “system thinking”, in which different ecosystem services are measured equally and simultaneously, and which works towards a strategy that has the optimal combination.
The agro-ecology gets a more balanced score for more broad sustainability themes. That the finding of Reganold and Wachter (2016), among many others meta studies.
And because agro-ecology is relatively input free, it is easily accessible, even for farmers with little financial capital.
The science of plant nutrition was already highly advanced even before the first world war and it was shown that plants could feed themselves with monomers, oligomers and polymers. In other words: the plant can also absorb organic carbon and nitrogen compounds, not just mineral ones.
“That it’s because of artificial fertilizer that we can feed to global populace is hollow posturing”, so says Visser. “
De wetenschap van plantenvoeding stond voor de Eerste Wereldoorlog al heel ver en had proefondervindelijk aangetoond dat planten zich kunnen voeden met monomeren, oligomeren en polymeren. Met andere woorden: de plant kan ook organische koolstof- en stikstofverbindingen opnemen en niet alleen minerale. “There has been a conscious choice to not use the (intensifying of) biological nitrogenoffixiation to increase agricultural production, which this was possible. Although, this requires the local care of a skilled farmer. And exactly that skilled farmer is pushed off the board by the Green Revolution. Of all those organisms that provide their services, from bacteria to rainworm and from ant to bee, there isn’t one which takes our orders. Lets stop ignoring that part of our environment.”
Combining the data of 125 countries together, the Good Enough to Eat Index indicates that The Netherlands is the best place to eat, while Chad is the worst. At the top table, the Netherlands is joined by most Western European countries and Australia – comprising the top dozen (10 per cent). Both the UK and the US are absent from this exclusive diners’ club. The Netherlands, scoring six points, closely followed by France and Switzerland with eight, are joined by Austria, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden (10 points), as well as Australia, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg and Portugal (11 points). The top 12 scored top marks for their lack of malnutrition and undernourishment and for access to safe water. The Netherlands makes top place thanks to relatively lower food prices and diabetes levels, and better nutritional diversity than its European rivals. However, the Netherlands scores poorly on the obesity measure – almost one in five of its population (19 per cent) have a body mass index of more than 30. The Netherlands is not alone. Many of the top 12 also exhibit high levels of obesity. Australia has the highest level of obesity of the top 12, scoring 37 in the index with 27 per cent of the population obese. Nine per cent of Australians also have diabetes.
When it comes to unhealthy eating, Saudi Arabia is the worst scoring country in our index with 57 points. It ranks the worst for diabetes, with 18 per cent of the population being diabetic, while a third of Saudis are obese. The worst on the index in terms of obesity alone is Kuwait with 42 per cent of the population, a score of 58 points on the index. Saudi Arabia’s second position with 46 points is shared with the United States and Egypt, where one in three of the population are obese. A look through the rankings on obesity reflects surprisingly high levels of obesity in some developing and middle-income countries, with Mexico (44 points), Fiji and Venezuela among the worst 10. In fact, This has been attributed to changing diets and a shift from eating cereals and grains to more fats, oils, animal products and sugarsxi. More than 30 million overweight children are living in developing countries and 10 million in developed countriesxii.