AGRICULTURE AND CLIMATE CHANGE
Industrial agriculture contributes significantly to climate change.
By Social Watch
A recently published review paper compares the differences in greenhouse gas contributions between the industrial and agro-ecological production systems and finds that the first one contributes significantly to global warming, representing a large majority of total agriculture-related emissions, reported Lim Li Ching, of the Third World Network (TWN), on the Biosafety Information Centre web page.
While agriculture is acknowledged as a significant source of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is important to understand that not all forms of agriculture have made equivalent contributions to climate change, remarked Lim.
Industrial or conventional agricultural practices make use of high-yielding plant and animal varieties, large-scale monocrops, high stocking densities, decreased or absent fallow periods, high levels of agro-chemicals and high degrees of mechanization, according to the report titled “Effects of industrial agriculture on climate change and the mitigation potential of small-scale agro-ecological farms”, authored by Brenda B. Lin, M. Jahi Chappell, John Vandermeer, Gerald Smith, Eileen Quintero, Rachel Bezner-Kerr, Daniel M. Griffith, Stuart Ketcham, Steven C. Latta, Philip McMichael, Krista L. McGuire, Ron Nigh, Dianne Rocheleau, John Soluri and Ivette Perfecto.
Agro-industrial practices are made possible through the corresponding use of fossil fuels to power the production of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, agricultural machinery and increased levels of irrigation, summarized Lim.
Alternatively, ecologically based methods for agricultural production, predominantly used on small-scale farms, are far less energy-consumptive and release fewer greenhouse gases than industrial agricultural production.
Small-scale agro-ecological farms, by maintaining diversity at the farm and landscape levels, by conserving soils and by reducing the inputs of pesticides, fertilizers and fossil fuels, contribute to the maintenance of ecosystem processes, including the mitigation of emissions.
The authors conclude that agro-ecological systems provide management options to reduce the contributions of greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector and provide for management techniques that promote increased carbon sequestration and mitigate emissions from the system.
Furthermore, many of the agricultural practices that mitigate emissions, such as soil conservation measures, reduce reliance on inorganic fertilizers and pesticides; and diversification of the farms also increase the resilience of agricultural systems, which will be needed for adaptation to climate change.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), agriculture is responsible for 10%-12% of total global anthropogenic emissions and almost a quarter of the continuing increase of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Not all forms of agriculture, however, have equivalent impacts on global warming. Industrial agriculture contributes significantly to global warming, representing a large majority of total agriculture-related GHG emissions. Alternatively, ecologically based methods for agricultural production, predominantly used on small-scale farms, are far less energy-consumptive and release fewer GHGs than industrial agricultural production.
Besides generating fewer direct emissions, agro-ecological management techniques have the potential to sequester more GHGs than industrial agriculture. The authors reviewed the literature on the contributions of agriculture to climate change and show the extent of GHG contributions from the industrial agricultural system and the potential of agro-ecological smallholder agriculture to help reduce GHG emissions.
These reductions are achieved in three broad areas when compared with the industrial agricultural system:
· A decrease in materials used and fluxes involved in the release of GHGs based on agricultural crop management choices;
· A decrease in fluxes involved in livestock production and pasture management; and
· A reduction in the transportation of agricultural inputs, outputs and products through an increased emphasis on local food systems.
Although there are a number of barriers and challenges towards adopting small-scale agro-ecological methods on the large scale, appropriate incentives can lead to incremental steps towards agro-ecological management that may be able to reduce and mitigate GHG emissions from the agricultural sector. – Third World Network Features.
The above article is reproduced from the Social Watch newsletter, Issue 95, 27 July 2012. It is based on materials from the Biosafety Information Centre – http://bit.ly/QdRUSh.
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