Highly Recommended Articles and Websites
Deb, D. (2009) Independent Science News.
In this insightful and fascinating article, Dr. Deb describes the role of his organization’s collection of 610 folk rice varieties in mitigating the devastation wrought by Hurricane Aila in West Bengal in 2009. Some of the valuable and unusual traits exhibited by these rice varieties are depicted. The article also explains how folk varieties and ecological agriculture work together to create sustainable and resilient farming systems. Dr. Deb’s story illustrates the value of in situ conservation of genetic resources — both for long term food security and to enable rapid response to crises caused by environmental or agronomic catastrophes. A PDF file of the article is also available. Dr. Deb works with the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies (CIS).
Professor Norman Uphoff, TAA Sept 2007 Newsletter pp.13-19.
What general principles should guide scientists, farmers and policy makers through the challenges expected during the next century? Norman Uphoff clearly outlines the defining characteristics of ‘modern’ agriculture and discusses the 21st Century forces and trends (e.g. land, water and energy availability) that will play a large role in shaping ‘post-modern’ agriculture. He uses SRI (the System of Rice Intensification) as one example of the type of agro-ecological approach to agricultural production that he predicts will of necessity underpin ‘post-modern’ food and fiber production systems.
Jules Pretty et al., Agricultural Systems 65:113-136
Externalities are social, environmental or economic costs of an activity that are not included in the product price of that activity. Quantification of externalities helps identify negative impacts as a guide to policy. Though this study excluded the costs of long-term and chronic illnesses due to pesticide exposure, the authors estimated current methods of UK agriculture cost society £208 per hectare per year. The authors consider this a lower boundary figure.
Professor Stephen Jones, adapted from a talk and interview in Organic Farming Research Foundation’s Information Bulletin No.14.
Biotechnology, more than anything else, is about ownership. So where does that leave publicly funded plant breeders who do not wish to diminish farmers rights?
CAFOs Uncovered, a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, challenges the myth that CAFOs are economically viable without subsidies. It was released simultaneously with a Pew Commission Report: Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America. Concentrated animal feeding operations of swine, cows and chickens are spreading across the globe and their sizes are increasing. These two reports examine critical questions about CAFOs: are they safe for the environment and public health and are they necessary to produce affordable food?
Aarestrup, Frank. “Sustainable farming: Get pigs off antibiotics.” Nature 486.7404 (2012): 465-466.
Animal farmers in Denmark have drastically reduced the use of antibiotics with no adverse effects on productivity. This took good science and monitoring and strong collaboration between farmers, researchers and the authorities. There were two other key factors: first an informed scientist was willing to speak out despite industry intimidation and second “the government issued legislation in 1995 preventing vets from profiting from selling antibiotics to farmers. The conflict of interest is clear.”
Academic plant breeding is in a rut, with an overwhelming focus on strategies that benefit seed companies at the expense of farmers, strategies that jeopardize the preservation of the world’s agricultural genetic heritage and the future of plant breeding itself. Long-time plant Breeder Dr. John Navazio‘s 2002 conversation with Steve Peters (Seeds of Change) illuminates the historical, political, and practical dimensions of hybrid seed production versus open pollinated (OP) varieties. In doing so, Navazio reveals how the economic concerns of the seed industry (how best to control their “intellectual property”), rather than scientific rigor, have determined the trajectory of academic plant breeding for decades. He discusses the radical philosophical implications and the on-the-ground practicalities of breeding specifically for organic conditions, working directly with farmers, and of selecting for complex traits, rather than focusing on individual genes. A more recent article: Debunking the Hybrid Myth, discusses the pros and cons of hybrids and OPs, and why seed companies favor hybrids. It is valuable to read both articles. Navazio is Senior Scientist at the non-profit Organic Seed Alliance (OSA).
How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture (2002)
Horrrigan et al. Environmental Health Perspectives 110(5): 445-456
Unusual in addressing in a single review both (1) industrial agriculture’s unprecedented and world-wide degradation of soil, water, and biodiversity and (2) its enormous human health costs (arising in part from agricultural pollutants, pathogens, and a meat-based diet), this paper outlines how a switch to sustainable agriculture would eliminate and begin to reverse these ill-effects. It also points out that hunger, food insecurity, and the predominance of industrial agriculture are due to political choices, not nature or necessity.
Bamberger and Oswald published in New Solutions 22(1) 51-77.
“Without rigorous scientific studies, the gas drilling boom sweeping the world will remain an uncontrolled health experiment on an enormous scale.” Bamberger and Oswald investigate health impacts on livestock, companion animals, and humans living near conventional and horizontal high-volume hydraulically fractured wells. They uncover numerous sources of toxic exposure and many harmful effects. Exposed animals may enter the food chain. See also: Unconventional Oil and Gas Extraction and Animal Health by Bamberger and Oswald (2014).
Localising the Nitrogen Imprint of the Paris Food Supply: the Potential of Organic Farming and Changes in Human Diet (2011)
Billen et al. Biogeosciences Discuss. 8:10979-11002
This is a must-read paper for anyone serious about devising local food and agriculture systems that mitigate environmental problems while improving human health. It should also be read by anyone who thinks it is impractical or “immoral” to feed westerners with local/regional organic agriculture or that organic agriculture can’t create surpluses for export or will necessitate bringing more “wild land” into food production. Using the Seine watershed, the region that traditionally supplied Paris with food and that currently is a major grain growing and exporting region, Billen et al. demonstrate that by (1) reuniting animal production with arable crop production and (2) feeding animals only on local pasture and feed while (3) limiting animal production to feed only Paris and the Seine watershed and (4) switching to organic agriculture — the Seine watershed can feed Paris and itself and continue to export the majority of its grain crop, while reducing nitrate pollution by around 1/3. To reduce nitrate pollution to levels that fully protect water quality, Billens et al. demonstrate that, in addition, (5) Parisians would need to decrease their meat consumption to the levels of a Mediterranean diet. If these five conditions were met then inhabitants of Paris and the Seine watershed could eat a healthy, local, organic diet and the quality of water in the Seine watershed would dramatically increase, all without increasing the amount of farmland under production, and still producing excess grain for export.
The Nitrogen Cascade from Agricultural Soils to the Sea: Modelling Nitrogen Transfers at Regional Watershed and Global Scales (2013)
Billen G, Garnier J, and Lassaletta L (2013) Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 368.1621
Based on their modeling scenarios, Billen et al. conclude that the ability to feed global human populations a healthy diet while protecting or improving the environment necessitates two major changes. These are (1) localizing crop production and livestock production to the same area and (2) adapting agricultural production to meet local food demand. They determine that a complete shift to organic agricultural practices (using organic livestock and crop rotation practices and excluding artificial fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides) is not only possible but desirable, in terms of meeting global food needs while reducing environmental damage.
Evaggelos Vallianatos, published on earthopensource.
Vallianatos, a former EPA analyst, discusses the crucial link between small farms and democracy. He describes historical research detailing how large farms transform diverse, self-sufficient, and thriving rural communities into cultural and ecological wastelands. The solution? “large farmers owning more than, say, 160… acres of land ought to be directed to sell the excess of their land to landless farmers….the government ought to use all the subsidies to giant agriculture (which amount to more than 20 billion dollars per year) to fund this modest land reform.”
This website is an information resource for developing sustainable food systems. It emphasizes training, research, and the application of agroecological science to solve real world problems. It describes training courses and intensive workshops including the International Short Course in agroecology and supports activities linking agroecology and sustainability.
Website of pivotal agroecological researcher Miguel Altieri. Its contents include a definition of agroecology and descriptions of Altieri’s current projects. It links to other organizations and to numerous excellent articles on agroecology.
Working to create an “enlightened agriculture” — farming that is truly intended to feed people — The Campaign for Real Farming hosts a website that features agriculture news links, the College for Enlightened Agriculture, and myth-busting articles by Colin Tudge. College topics range from Animal Health and Welfare to Farming and the Humanities. Dialogue and involvement is encouraged.
“The present system of producing food animals in the United States is not sustainable and presents an unprecedented level of risk to public health and damage to the environment, as well as unnecessary harm to the animals we raise as food.” The CAFO Reader website provides invaluable information on CAFOs – their true costs and what we can do about them.
“Earth Open Source applies networked, open source, collaborative approaches to achieve break-through advances in the sustainability of the food system.” It links to, as well as produces, accessible and groundbreaking reports, news, and commentary on food, farming, and genetic engineering.
“Monitoring power, tracking technology, strengthening diversity”, the etc group provides high quality and timely research, reports, articles, and books on a wide range of issues that include FAO, CGIAR, nanotechnology, biotechnology, biopiracy, genetic resources, and human and farmer’s rights.
Blog of Rob Wallace, an evolutionary biologist and public health phylogeographer who blogs about disease in a world of our own making. “Following agriculture, infections, evolution, ecological resilience, dialectical biology, and the practice of science.”
Grain is an international non-profit organization that works to support small-scale farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems. They provide research and analysis on topics ranging from land grabs to agriculture-related climate change.
From supermarkets to seed suppliers, international agriculture is dominated by big businesses. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy promotes resilient family farms, rural communities, and ecosystems around the world through research and education, science and technology, and advocacy.
The Land Institute has worked for over 20 years to develop an agricultural system with the ecological stability of the prairie and a grain yield comparable to that from annual crops.
The MFAI has four programs: Crop & Soil Research, Farm & Food Education, Integrated Farming Systems, and Public Policy. They breed plants for organic systems and focus on whole system solutions to food and farming problems.
As Monsanto and other corporations continue to privatize the seed supply, preventing farmers from saving even non-GMO seed, and as pubic investment in plant breeding declines, the work of the organic seed alliance becomes ever more important. Through their research, collaboration with farmers, and public resources, the Organic Seed Alliance works “to restore and develop seed varieties for current needs while safeguarding invaluable genetic resources for future generations.”
Advancing alternatives to pesticides worldwide. Part of the Pesticides Action Network worldwide (see below).
An international alliance of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that campaigns exclusively on pesticide use and exposure. Among the useful features of their work are their widely respected pesticide fact sheets. For each active ingredient these detail, as far as is known, their usage, contaminants, environmental fate, breakdown products, toxicity, and regulatory status. PAN-UK, the British branch, also holds the annual Rachel Carson Memorial Lecture.
Antibiotics in industrial farming and their implications for human health are the subject of a dedicated Pew website.
Daryll E. Ray, professor at the University of Tennessee is the author of an extremely insightful weekly column that looks under the hood of the agriculture industry and its implementing agencies such as the USDA and the EPA that determine agricultural, environmental and macroeconomic policies and regulations.
The mission of the Seed Savers Exchange is to save North America’s diverse, but endangered, garden heritage for future generations by building a network of people committed to collecting, conserving, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants, while educating people about the value of genetic and cultural diversity.
SRI is based upon a set of principles and practices for increasing the productivity of irrigated rice by changing the management of plants, soil, water and nutrients, rather than using plant breeding. SRI is used internationally and can be applied to crops other than rice. The website provides information about SRI practice, research, and events.
The Union of Concerned Scientists works to ensure that all people have clean air and energy, as well as safe and sufficient food. A citizen and scientist membership organization. They have excellent resources and reports on numerous topics including antibiotics and CAFOs, genetic engineering, costs of industrial agriculture, and the US Farm Bill.
FAO page describing their research into women’s roles, especially in agriculture, and their neglect by policymakers. Also available is a Women and Food security factsheet.