A new report released by the Heinrich Böll Stiftung Foundation and the Center for Food Safety explores the vital links between climate change, food security, and social justice. It begins by discussing the effects of climate change on farmland, and how those effects can potentially be mitigated. The report cites a recent World Bank report’s findings that current agricultural practices are responsible for more than 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. If industrial agriculture persists, the Earth’s temperature is predicted to rise significantly. This will have detrimental impacts on crop production in Central America, sub-Saharan Africa, and South and Southeast Asia. Developing countries will be disproportionately impacted by this change: They are expected to suffer about 80 percent of global warming’s effects, even though they contribute only about 30 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
Organic agriculture, on the other hand, has the potential to reduce global warming. A 30-year study by the Rodale Institute shows that sustainable agriculture, if practiced throughout the world, could sequester about 40 percent of current carbon dioxide emissions.
The Center for Food Safety report also discussed whether organic farming can feed the world. According to a long-term global research project, sustainable agriculture “…can produce yields equal to or higher than industrial agricultural yields.” Based on 293 test cases, the study found that in organic farming produced yields 80 percent higher than industrial methods in developing countries. This demonstrates that organic agriculture could potentially reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere while helping to feed people in developing countries.
The report points out that ecological destruction affects not only our own survival, but human rights as well. For instance, environmental stresses and shocks–especially those caused by climate change–have forced millions of people to leave their homes and land. While human rights issues are closely linked to nature and access to natural resources, proposed solutions to these issues often come from an industrial standpoint and are therefore detached from nature. One example is the purchase of large plots of land in some of the world’s poorest countries by some of the richest ones under the guise of reducing global warming and enhanced food security. This land is then mainly used to provide food and fuel for the population of the wealthy nation, leaving local populations without land or a way to produce food for themselves. The report states that these courses of action should be examined to ensure that local populations will not be displaced.
The report also makes the important point that, as industrial agriculture expands, more and more women are forced to become migrant laborers. Often these women receive less than men for the same farm work, in addition to receiving low levels of protection in terms of employment security, wage requirements, health and safety, social security, and environmental standards. The consequences of global warming, such as a rise in sea levels and increases in floods and droughts, also impact women disproportionately. According to the report’s findings, civil society must incorporate gender issues into climate and agricultural debates.
The report then discusses the relationship between climate change and economic growth. Economic and trade policies, finance, food security, and climate change are all connected, but these issues are often addressed through isolated governmental departments and policy initiatives. Growth is frequently presented as a universal economic panacea, but there is also a tension between the promotion of economic growth and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and preserve the environment. The same conflict is evident in the conservation of natural resources, as we live in a world of limited natural resources but most societies behave as if these resources are endless. Economic goals may also conflict with a nation’s food security: The lifting of trade barriers through the World Trade Organization (WTO) and other trade agreements has forced developing countries to abandon national farm and food policies that were designed to protect their own farmers and food security. For example, before the WTO, many developing countries grew 90 percent of the food they consumed. Now, 55 percent of developing countries are net importers of food. These factors represent clear policy challenges for those of us concerned about sustainable agriculture.
In order to address the issues of global warming, food security, and human rights, the Center for Food Safety report calls us to be creative in designing new strategies to solve these problems. Governments and civil society must highlight the critical role that food systems play and promote new solutions based on ecological and social justice principles. By taking these steps, the report emphasizes the need for greater food security for people in all countries, which would have the very important effect of also reducing climate change.