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Heinberg: The Food and Farming Transition

Richard Heinberg, MuseLetter 199 via Global Public Media
The only way to way avert a food crisis resulting from oil and natural gas price hikes and supply disruptions while also reversing agriculture’s contribution to climate change is to proactively and methodically remove fossil fuels from the food system.

The removal of fossil fuels from the food system is inevitable: maintenance of the current system is simply not an option over the long term. Only the amount of time available for the transition process, and the strategies for pursuing it, can be matters for controversy.

Given the degree to which the modern food system has become dependent on fossil fuels, many proposals for de-linking food and fuels are likely to appear radical. However, efforts toward this end must be judged not by the degree to which they preserve the status quo, but by their likely ability to solve the fundamental challenge that will face us: the need to feed a global population of 7 billion with a diminishing supply of fuels available to fertilize, plow, and irrigate fields and to harvest and transport crops.

If this transition is undertaken proactively and intelligently, there could be many side benefits—more careers in farming, more protection for the environment, less soil erosion, a revitalization of rural culture, and more healthful food for everyone.

Some of this transformation will inevitably be driven by market forces, led simply by the rising price of fossil fuels. However, without planning the transition may be wrenching and destructive, since market forces acting alone could bankrupt farmers while leaving consumers with few or no options.
(3 November 2008)
Also posted at

A bounty sprouts in the city with MyFarm enterprise

Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY
SAN FRANCISCO — Some might look across this city’s rolling hills with its waves of roofs and see some of America’s priciest real estate.

Trevor Paque saw virgin farmland.

He calls his enterprise, MyFarm, a “decentralized urban farm.” His aim is to turn San Francisco’s under-used, overgrown backyards into verdant plots of green that will provide organically grown food for the city’s residents.

Since May, Paque, 29, has planted half an acre of vegetables if you add up all 55 gardens that his farmers have sown. He hopes that the 150 or so families his enterprise will be feeding by spring will represent the dawn of a new age of local foods in even the biggest cities.

“This is revolutionary, really one of the coolest things I’ve heard in a long time,” says Dan Sullivan of the Rodale Institute, which has been teaching about organic agriculture since 1947.
(2 November 2008)

Green prisons farm, recycle to save energy, money

Phuong Le, Associate Press via Seattle P-I
LITTLEROCK, Wash. — Of all the things convicted murderer Robert Knowles has been called during his 13 years behind bars, recycler hasn’t been one of them.

But there he was one morning, pitchfork in hand, composting food scraps from the main chow line and coffee grounds from prison headquarters – doing his part to “green” the prison.
(1 November 2008)

Food Insecurity’s Dirty Secret

Rattan Lal, Science
Attempts to increase crop yields in sub-Saharan Africa have failed repeatedly since the 1960s because soil quality has been ignored. The Green Revolution of the 1970s bypassed sub-Saharan Africa, and is stalling in the rice-wheat system of South Asia and elsewhere because of soil degradation, organic matter and nutrient depletion, and excessive withdrawal of ground water. Average yields of grain crops in sub-Saharan Africa have stagnated below 1 ton per hectare since the 1960s, with dire consequences on human well-being and ecosystem services. The problem of food insecurity, affecting 854 million people, is worsened by increases in the price of rice, wheat, and other food staples (1–6) and by global warming (7).

Proven soil management technologies, to be promoted in conjunction with improved varieties, include (i) no-till farming with mulch, cover crops, and complex rotations; (ii) water conservation, harvesting, and recycling with efficient irrigation including drip and furrow methods; and (iii) integrated nutrient management with compost, biochar, N fixation, and supplements of nano-enhanced and slow-release fertilizers. The yield potential of improved varieties can only be realized if grown following optimal soils and agronomic management. Rather than giving handouts as emergency aids, resource-poor farmers must be compensated for ecosystem services (e.g., trading C credits) to promote technology adoption and soil restoration.

Food insecurity is exacerbated by emphasis on biofuels (1, 8, 9). We must establish energy plantations (10, 11) (grasses, trees, algae, and cyanobacteria) using soils and waters that do not compete with food production. This energy can be used to provide modern cooking fuels to rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, in a way that will minimize health hazards, promote use of crop residues and dung as soil amendments, and mitigate the Asian soot cloud.

The strong relationship between soil degradation and survival of the past civilizations (12) cannot be ignored. If soils are not restored, crops will fail even if rains do not; hunger will perpetuate even with emphasis on biotechnology and genetically modified crops; civil strife and political instability will plague the developing world even with sermons on human rights and democratic ideals; and humanity will suffer even with great scientific strides. Political stability and global peace are threatened because of soil degradation, food insecurity, and desperation. The time to act is now.


Carbon Management and Sequestration Center,
School of Environment and Natural Resources,
The Ohio State University,
Columbus, OH 43210, USA.
(31 November 2008)
Original letter is beyind a paywall.

Victoria: Call for action as state food security at risk

Carmel Egan, The Age (Australia)
VICTORIA is at risk of being unable to feed itself if the current drought continues and governments fail to safeguard the state’s food chain, a leading group of land managers and conservationists has warned.

Victoria’s vulnerability was exposed earlier this year when food imports briefly exceeded exports, according to former federal bureaucrat and land management expert Dr Andrew Campbell. “If the current drought continues, Victoria could struggle to be a net food exporter within a couple of years,” he said.

“There is no one magic bullet but government has to start looking at the whole food-chain security.”

The crisis has brought traditional political adversaries to the table for the first time, with the Australian Conservation Foundation, farmers, policy specialists, corporate managers, restaurateurs, retailers and scientists uniting to explore what can be done to save Victoria’s food production and delivery network.

A report sponsored by the group — Paddock To Plate: Time to Rethink Food and Farming, by Dr Campbell — pinpoints land degradation, lack of water, rising fuel costs, climate change, international competition, undervaluing of farm produce and a lack of communication and planning by governments as significant contributors to present and future dangers.
(2 November 2008)