Eva Perroni is an Australian-based researcher and writer reporting on the frontline of food and farming issues.

Friday Feed

This week: A state-by-state snapshot of Australian soils, new research shows the seafood Australians eat (and what we should be eating), Indian farmers take to the street to protest plunging produce prices and the 2018 Global Nutrition Report reveals the current state of global nutrition.

Australia

Australian Soil Snapshot for World Soil Day 2018
Soil Science Australia – Media Release
Soil Science Australia has released a snapshot of some of the major soil-related issues in each State as part of World Soil Day on 5 December 2018.

Canada’s Wayland Group Strikes Medicinal Marijuana Deal in the NT
ABC Rural
A Canadian-based cannabis company is looking to grow medicinal marijuana in the Northern Territory, announcing a multi-million-dollar agreement to buy more than 50 per cent of a newly-formed Darwin-based company called Tropicann.

Here’s the Seafood Australians Eat (And What We Should Be Eating)
CSIRO
For the first time, CSIRO research has investigated the seafood Australians eat in terms of what’s best for us and the planet.

In 100 Years’ Time, Maybe Our Food Won’t Be Grown in Soil
The Conversation
Will we have the technological know-how, and will we be able to afford the infrastructural investment to produce all our food away from natural soil within a century?

Abroad

Thailand Leads Charge to Protect Soil
Bangkok Post
Thailand launched the Centre of Excellence for Soil Research in Asia (Cesra), the world’s first regional hub to promote sustainable soil management, to mark Wednesday’s World Soil Day.

Indian Farmers Take to the Streets in Protest Against Modi Government and Low Food Prices
ABC News
Tens of thousands of Indian farmers and rural workers marched to the Indian Parliament in the capital, New Delhi, in a protest against soaring operating costs and plunging produce prices that have brought misery to many.

Climate Change Is Making Soils Saltier, Forcing Many Farmers to Find New Livelihoods
The Conversation
Rising soil salinity is already influencing agricultural production and internal migration in some locations, and could affect many other coastal areas where farming takes place, from Asia to the U.S. Pacific and Gulf coasts.

Sea of Plenty? Native Alaskans Celebrate Indigenous Whaling Victory
Thomson Reuters Foundation
Even as the Inupiaq people cheer greater control over their whaling practices, they face a new threat: pressure to allow offshore oil drilling.

Report: 2018 Global Nutrition Report
The 2018 Global Nutrition Report shares insights into the current state of global nutrition, highlighting the unacceptably high burden of malnutrition in the world. It identifies areas where progress has been made in recent years but argues that it is too slow and too inconsistent.

Photo courtesy of Future Feeders

Upon this handful of soil, our survival depends

In 2002, the International Union of Soil Sciences officially marked December 5 as World Soil Day, a day to recognise the centrality of soil in human and planetary well-being. While many soil scientists, academics and a handful of farmers gather at the 3rd Global Soil Security Conference at the University of Sydney this week, the stories of soil and how they are key to sustaining life on Earth, also need to generated and shared at the ground level.

World Soil Day 2018 is an opportunity for us to communicate the story of soil. Hidden within its many layers are the past, present and future stories of our living Earth.

In recognition of World Soil Day, I am sharing my own soil story – Upon this handful of soil, our survival depends – shortlisted for the New Philosopher Writers’ Award XV, ‘The Future.’

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Deep in the heart of an ancient Sanskrit text lies a profound, yet simple truth about the fate of civilisation: “Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Husband it and it will grow our food, our fuel and our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it.” Despite being written almost 4,000 years ago, this passage highlights an intimate relationship that is just as relevant today as it was back then. The life – and fate – of soil and humans is, and has always been, intimately linked.

This simple truth hasn’t changed, but we have. Through modern industrial pursuits to extract natural resources and amass profit, our human connection to and respect for soil has been disrupted. Rendered, both figuratively and literally, as beneath us, soil has lost its rightful recognition as one of Earth’s most valuable resources.

The first of Aristotle’s fundamental elements of earth, air, fire and water, soil is the foundation from which our existence was built. The idea that these four elements were integral to all living matter was the cornerstone of philosophy, science, and medicine for two thousand years. Throughout history, civilisations rose to and fell from power based on how they treated dirt. Soil loss has contributed to the demise of societies and economies from the first agricultural civilisations, to the ancient Greeks and Romans, to the 1930s dust bowl pandemic that plagued the American mid-West. The history of soil-human interactions suggests that the fate of entire populations depends directly on this relationship. War, famine and disease might kill large numbers of people, but in most cases, populations recover. Soil is the substance that topples civilisations.

Countless cycles of birth, death, fertility and decay have transformed soil into the matrix of life on earth. Made from the same elements as the stars, plants, animals, and humans, just a handful of terrestrial soil contains more organisms than there are people on the planet. These microscopic microorganisms work endlessly to provide a range of ecosystem services that are vital for the functioning and resilience of Earth’s environment. Soils function as Earth’s largest water filter and storage tank, filtering and cleaning tens of thousands of cubic kilometres of water that pass through them each year. As Earth’s carbon storage centre, soils store more carbon than is contained in all aboveground vegetation, whilst regulating emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Acting as Earth’s stomach, soils consume, digest, cycle and store nutrients that serve as the molecular building blocks for all forms of life. But human pressures on soil resources are reaching critical limits, and the future of soil is currently under threat.

Extractive processes like coal mining literally remove mountaintops. Cities expand and are paved over fertile valleys. Modern industrial agricultural practices are skinning the planet of precious topsoil. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, between twenty-five to forty billion tons of soil are lost annually around the world – several tonnes for each person on the planet. And soil conditions are getting far worse in most cases than they are improving. In many cases, this is due to the intensification of modern, monoculture farming practices, which have contributed to a loss of a third of all topsoil over the past century.

Modern commercial agriculture often seeks to increase yield, and thus profits, by cultivating a single type of plant, known as a ‘monoculture’. This seemingly efficient model of farming may offer short-term benefits – primarily in terms of the economy of scale generated by cultivating a single crop. Farmers need only provide for the needs of a single species, allowing them to automate and mechanise the production process, which reduces labour costs and increases short-term profit.  However, monoculture agriculture has significant long-term impacts, and associated costs, particularly when it comes to soil fertility. When one, or perhaps two, crops are planted repeatedly on the same land, certain nutrients are sapped from the soil due to the crop’s specific nutrient demand. Instead of rotating different crops, or mirroring ecosystem services to naturally restore the nutrients and vitamins that are found in the soil, monoculture farming causes nutrients to diminish from the ground. Rather than cultivating abundance, this industrial method of farming creates a reliance on artificial inputs like pesticides and fertilisers and energy-intensive engineering both on and off the farm. According to the journal Interdisciplinary Toxicology, overuse of chemical fertilisers and pesticides have effects on the soil organisms that are similar to human overuse of antibiotics. Indiscriminate use of chemicals might work for a few years, but after a while, populations of beneficial microorganisms begin to decline.

The negative consequences of industrial agriculture—from air, soil and water contamination to biodiversity loss—have been extensively documented. In terms of soil, industrial agricultural practices have accelerated soil erosion well beyond the pace of soil production. Yet the dominant contemporary discourse for sustainable agricultural development, upheld and supported by transnational agribusiness corporations, international regulatory bodies and governments worldwide, approbates modern scientific and technological approaches to improve industrial agriculture. But no matter how fervently these institutions push their silver-bullet technological solutions, from GMO crops to improved fertiliser formulations, technology simply cannot solve the problem of consuming a resource faster than it is generated. Moreover, technological solutions obscure the fundamental human element that is required in cultivating vibrant, rich soil. They instead prioritise a means over an ends, which may in fact contribute to the end of soil as we know it (the United Nations estimates that we have 60 years of useable topsoil left should current rates of soil degradation continue). The more soil is treated as a cheap industrial commodity to be squandered, instead of an intergenerational resource to be preserved, the more our collective future is placed at risk.

So, for the sake of soil, and humanity, we need to diversify agricultural systems, and the way we think about our interaction with the land. Increasingly growing around the world is a desire and a move to re-establish agro-ecological systems, and there is a growing wave of research that demonstrates that “business as usual” of expanding industrialised agriculture is not a viable option for meeting the challenges we face in the future. Earlier this year, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, and Special Rapporteur on Toxics, Baskut Tuncak, released a monumental report calling for a shift from industrial agricultural practices (particularly the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers) to agroecological farming methods.

Agroecology combines elements of traditional farmers’ knowledge and indigenous agricultural practices with elements of modern ecological, social and agronomic science. Many indigenous and small farmers across the globe have a deep, experiential understanding of their local soil, which reflects a wealth of experience and knowledge accumulated over thousands of years. These farmers have tested, adapted and discovered agricultural practices that restore soil life and associated ecosystem services. Rather than imposing a technological, top-down ‘solution’ generated by off-farm, corporate forces, agroecology creates a dialogue of wisdoms and a mutually respected exchange of knowledge, from which principles for designing and managing sustainable farming methods are derived. As a set of agricultural practices, agroecology works to enhance biodiversity functions that are adapted to local environments, building long-term ecosystem health and resilience. These methods have been effectively used to significantly improve soil quality and reverse soil degradation.

There is nothing in such a sustainable agroecological scenario that violates the Earth’s resource constraints, nor jeopardises the next generation’s ability to grow food. Whilst awareness is increasing, agriculture is not yet on such a sustainable trajectory, and current global agricultural regulations and market signals do not lead us to such a path. A radical new politics that recognises the importance of a sustainable soil strategy and stimulates global cooperation to achieve it is desperately needed. As modern environmentalists, scientists and politicians debate the future of the world’s resources, the future of our species, it turns out, lies in acknowledging the wisdoms of the past. As the ancient Vedas recognised thousands of years ago, we must come to appreciate the role that a healthy respect for soil might play in shaping humanity’s future. Indeed, everything comes from it, and everything one day will return to it.

Eva Perroni. Feed your mind with the latest food and farming news, research and feelgood features from Australia and across the globe.

Friday Feed

This week: Food First Executive Director, Eric Holt-Giménez, reflects on his two-week tour of Australia, a farm-coal clash in Mudgee, more than $10 billion pledged to save our oceans, and all-you-can-eat food packaging.

Australia

Bylong Valley Coal Mine in Mudgee Divides Farmers and Locals During Planning Meeting
ABC Rural
Environmentalists and farmers at an independent planning commission were locked in disagreement over a proposed South Korean-owned coal mine in Bylong Valley, north-east of Mudgee.

Greater Diversification in Farming Needed, Says Professor
The Weekly Times
Agriculture is “the biggest lever humankind can pull” to help successfully address the effects of a changing climate and feed a growing world population, according to University of Melbourne Professor Tim Reeves.

Welcome to Country: Talking Story With the Australian Food Movement
Food First
Food First Executive Director, Eric Holt-Giménez, reflects on his two-week tour of Australia. “What I experienced in Canberra, Daylesford, and in Lismore was what La Via Campesina has called, “un diálogo de saberes.” Literally “a dialogue of different wisdoms,” it refers to our efforts to communicate across different ways of knowing.”

Series: The New Normal? How Climate Change Is Making Droughts Worse
The Guardian
In this four-part series, The Guardian examines the current weather conditions and then puts them in context with other severe droughts in Australia’s history.

Abroad

$2.7 Billion Deal Opens Madagascar’s Waters to Hundreds of Chinese Fishing Vessels
Earth Island Journal
Critics say agreement is bad for local fishers, that negotiators failed to conduct public consultation or environmental impact statement.

Why Forests Are the Best ‘Technology’ to Stop Climate Change
Aljazeera
Opinion: Expanding forests is a much more effective solution to climate change than bioenergy.

All-You-Can-Eat Food Packaging Could Soon Be on the Menu
The Conversation, Canada
In the food industry, conversations about green supply chains focus on compostable and even edible solutions. Plenty of technologies exist.

Soil and Seaweed: Farming Our Way to a Climate Solution
Scientific American
We can sequester carbon and improve our nutrition through regenerative farming of land and sea.

Fifth Our Ocean Conference Generates US$10.7 Billion in Pledges
SDG Knowledge Hub
The fifth Our Ocean Conference generated 305 commitments to maintain the sustainability of our oceans. The US$10.7 billion in pledges represent commitments from a wide range of actors, with governments, non-governmental organizations and the corporate sector announcing the majority of the commitments.

Photo courtesy of Future Feeders

Friday Feed: the latest food and farming news, research and feelgood features from Australia and across the globe on EvaPerroni.com

Friday Feed

This week: The rise of Australia’s food movement, how drought impacts the insect kingdom, not enough fruits and veggies are grown to healthily feed the planet and Regenerative Sourcing Verification hits U.S. shelves.

Australia

Working to reclaim and rebuild our food systems from the ground up
The Conversation
Separated more by time and capacity than ideological approach, groups and communities working for a better food system are mobilising across Australia. Our food system is ripe for repairing, reclaiming and revisioning.

Drought makes Aussie bees weak at the knees
ABC Rural
While the word drought conjures images of cattle skulls and withered crops, few consider the effect a drought can have upon the insect kingdom.

Victoria’s biggest solar farm under construction amid debate over lost agricultural land
ABC News
As work begins on Victoria’s biggest solar farm project, in the Mallee district in the north-west of the state, there is growing concern over the future of prime agricultural land in the heart of the country’s food bowl.

Protecting Australia’s diverse soils and landscapes
Sustainable Food Trust
Australia’s soils are one of its most valuable natural assets, critical to sustainable food production, biodiversity conservation, water quality and human health – but they are also among the most degraded, nutrient poor and unproductive in the world.

Opinion: New EU rules will force Australian farmers to choose between treatment or trade
EuroNews
New EU rules insist that veterinary medicines cannot be used any differently outside of the bloc if farmers want to export their produce to European countries – even if it is legally compliant with their native regulations.

Abroad

Soy destruction in Argentina leads straight to our dinner plates
The Guardian
Argentina’s Gran Chaco forest is being razed for soya, ending up in Europe as animal feed, and on our plates. It’s the backbone of Argentina’s fragile economy, but has come at a price for the indigenous people who live there.

Not Enough Fruits, Vegetables Grown to Feed the Planet, Study Reveals
University of Guelph
If everyone on the planet wanted to eat a healthy diet, there wouldn’t be enough fruit and vegetables to go around, according to a new University of Guelph study.

Half the population of Yemen at risk of famine: UN emergency relief chief
UN News
Around 14 million people in Yemen, or half the total population of the country, are facing “pre-famine conditions,” said the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, in a briefing to the Security Council.

Regenerative Sourcing Verification hits the shelves with ‘Epic’ product
Environmental Leader
A product from Epic Provisions is the first in the world to carry the Land to Market Ecological Outcome Verification (EOV) seal for sustainable sourcing. Developed by The Savory Institute, Land to Market is a program to verify regenerative sourcing for the food and fibre industries.

Series: America cannot eat without immigrant food workers. These are their stories.
New Food Economy
The New Food Economy is launching “The Hands that Feed Us,” a series telling the stories of immigrant food workers in their own words – because the true story of America’s food cannot be told without the stories of immigrants.

 

Photo courtesy of Future Feeders

Friday Feed by Eva Perroni. Bringing you the latest food and farming news, research and feelgood features from Australia and across the globe.

Friday Feed

This week: Aussie farmers call for an overhaul of drought policy, Switzerland leads the way in first constitutional food sovereignty vote, Kenyan government champions women-owned agricultural businesses and new Greenpeace USA report examines sustainability and human rights in the seafood industry.

Australia

Drought Policy Reform Should Focus On Preparing For Drier Climate, Farmers Say
ABC Rural
The agriculture sector is calling for an overhaul of drought policy that factors in a changing climate and ways to help farmers plan for and manage future dry periods.

ACCC Provides Collective Bargaining Exemption For Agriculture
Farm Online National
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission wants feedback on a proposal that could reduce costs and speed up the approvals process for agricultural groups that want to increase their bargaining power with business entities up the supply chain.

Feral Camels Invade WA Coastal Crops in a Strange Appearance Signalling a Dry Nullarbor
ABC Rural
Grain growers in the south-east coastal district of Western Australia were shocked by the sight of feral camels wandering through their crops.

A New Dimension to Marine Restoration: 3D Printing Coral Reefs
Mongabay
Australian group Reef Design Labs submerged a 3D-printed artificial coral reef earlier this month in the Maldives, with the hope that this advanced engineering method will help coral regeneration efforts.

Abroad

Environmentally Friendly Farming Practices Used By Nearly One-third of World’s Farms
Science Daily
Nearly one-third of the world’s farms have adopted more environmentally friendly practices while continuing to be productive, according to a global assessment by 17 scientists in five countries.

‘Like Nicotine’: Bees Develop Preference For Pesticides, Study Shows
The Guardian
Bumblebees acquire a taste for pesticide-laced food that can be compared to nicotine addiction in smokers, say scientists.

It Is Time To Declare the Food Sovereignty of the Citizens of Switzerland
Via Campesina
As the result of an impressive campaign led by the agricultural union Uniterre and members of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty, on September 23rd, 2018, Swiss citizens will be able to vote for the inclusion of food sovereignty in the Swiss constitution.

Unleashing the Power of Women Farmers in Africa, and Beyond
TRT World
The government of Kenya recently launched an affirmative action policy to preferentially award 30 per cent of government ministry tenders to women-owned businesses in each sector, including agriculture.

Report: Carting Away the Oceans
Greenpeace USA
Greenpeace USA examines sustainable seafood and human rights abuses in the seafood industry in the tenth edition of a report titled, ‘Carting Away the Oceans.’ The report features a scorecard for major retailers’ sustainability practices in categories of policy, initiatives, labelling and transparency and inventory.