- Date published:
9:59 am, February 13th, 2020 - 67 comments
Categories: climate change, farming, food - Tags: Alan Savory, food security, Geoff Lawton, permaculture, regenag, regenerative agriculture, robert guyton forest gardener
This popped up in my twitter feed last night. It’s some research published in October 2019 looking at the risks of multiple crop failures as the planet moves between 1.5C and 2C global warming increase.
I'm worried about simultaneous breadbasket failures and an end to global food security when we hit 1.5C in a few years time because I don't think it's wise to ignore science how about you?https://t.co/sUrtvcKzTZ— Ben See (@ClimateBen) February 11, 2020
First the bad news then the good news. From the research abstract,
The increasingly inter-connected global food system is becoming more vulnerable to production shocks owing to increasing global mean temperatures and more frequent climate extremes. Little is known, however, about the actual risks of multiple breadbasket failure due to extreme weather events. Motivated by the Paris Climate Agreement, this paper quantifies spatial risks to global agriculture in 1.5 and 2 °C warmer worlds. This paper focuses on climate risks posed to three major crops – wheat, soybean and maize – in five major global food producing areas.
Risks of simultaneous crop failure, however, do increase disproportionately between 1.5 and 2 °C, so surpassing the 1.5 °C threshold will represent a threat to global food security. For maize, risks of multiple breadbasket failures increase the most, from 6% to 40% at 1.5 to 54% at 2 °C warming.
This is science not news. We already know that crops are at risk. Here’s the IPCC’s chapter on food security (PDF) if you want to read more.
Shifting mass numbers of people onto an annual cropping plant-based diet doesn’t seem so smart after all.
The good news is that permaculture and other regenerative food growing systems have been developing techniques and practices for this scenario over the last 40 years. Below are some examples. Coupled with relocalising food supply, they give a much more stable system of food production and distribution, at the same time as lowering GHG emissions with the potential of being carbon sinks. Bear in mind this doesn’t mean an end to annual cropping, it means we aren’t so reliant on food systems that are already set to fail.
Countries like New Zealand are well placed to lead the world on this, in terms of dropping our own emissions and increasing food security, but also providing models and expertise to other countries. We can and should still grow some excess food for export but with the aim of increasing food security for vulnerable countries rather than merely supporting the global economy. Imagine trade agreements centred around that.
The following examples aren’t silver bullets, but show case a range of foods production systems that feature resiliency and how to adapte food growing in different climatic conditions.
In this five minute slide show of the permaculture classic Greening the Desert, the Lawtons show the process whereby they established trees in Jordan that were bearing food within the first year in one of the harshest climates on the planet. The area has one of the lowest rainfalls per head of population in the world and the land in the area had been overgrazed and salinated.
This TED talk (20 mins) shows how to graze animals so you don’t end up in a drought (both locally and from climate change). Alan Savory has been doing this on-the-ground research for over 50 years, and developed systems of mob grazing that reverse desertification, sequester carbon, and restore local microclimates on such a large scale that they would probably effect macro climate if adopted en masse.
At the end the TED host calls the presentation truly astonishing, but these farm technologies, based on mimicking natural cycles, are well known in sustainably land management circles and are also being used successfully in NZ.
Our own Robert Guyton and his wife Robyn’s food forest in Riverton, now over two decades old.
Things that stand out for me from this video are:
What’s really needed right now is for central and local government to lead by putting funding and direction into regenerative agriculture. I’d like to see subsidies in place to encourage food growers from backyard to large scale farming stations, as well as advice and R and D support built in across the relevant government departments.
Needless to say, we still have to urgently reduce GHG emissions, locally and globally.
Mod note: no climate denial under my posts thanks, including ‘it’s too late’ or ‘there’s nothing we can do’.
What’s really needed right now is for central and local government to lead by putting funding and direction into regenerative agriculture.
True. Out situation requires a leader to lead the lobbying process. I suggest checking with the parliamentary Greens to see if one of them is ready, willing and able to do this job. 🤔
Perhaps Robert ought to jump the Labour ship and join the Greens, to do that job? We know it'll never happen if people expect Labour to do it. 😇
To succeed, it will need to be a community-led social enterprise. Local workshops to show folks how. Someone from the relevant part of the civil service to steer development of that enterprise in liaison with local/regional govt…
Greenpeace put out a bit on regenag, so definitely potential from the NGOs too. I'd also like to see the Greens do something on this, although I suspect it would be more likely once they have more MPs. One of their list candidates is a farmer, but he's also a bit pro-faux meat I think.
Robert is a Labour member? I think the work he is doing in Southland is invaluable (community and ES).
Lots of willing people to step up and teach, needs the infrastructure and funding. Also need some solid NZ based research that the mainstream will want.
This seems like a backward step if the process take much more effort to get the same level of output that we have now if we also take in to account the environmental benefits.
can you please restate that in relation to Denis' comment? As it stands it doesn't make sense.
It was in relation to this comment:
"What’s really needed right now is for central and local government to lead by putting funding and direction into regenerative agriculture."
See here for a more detailed reason why regenerative agriculture might not be suited.
"jump the Labour ship"
Funny. I stood for The Greens in Clutha-Southland some years ago, pitting my ways against Bill English in a region as blue as a blowfly's undercarriage. I didn't topple the double-dipper from Dipton, but he and I had some fun on the hustings. Labour and I are…distantly related
Regarding the post, I take issue with the framing, "annual cropping .v. regenerative agriculture"; for me the issue is annual crops .v. perennial crops. The forest garden suits plants such as hosta, cardoon, French sorrel etc. that are planted once then harvested forever. Annuals, cropped en masse and attractive to monoculturalists and industry, have always been asking for it; it being collapse through various means: disease, politics and now, extreme weather events and or locusts.
Perennial crops seem preferable. I've experimented with the notion of re-wilding one's garden somewhat – to the extent allowing self-seeding to become part of my praxis.
Kale (the broad, flat-leaf kind) is extremely robust & prolific at reproducing here – you can take as many leaves as you need all-year round since it seems not to be noticeably seasonal.
Spring onions seem also to be season-independent, but not prolific. I leave the seed heads and scatter then too but still only seem to get a dozen or so plants growing each year out of the hundreds of seeds. Enough, though.
Borage, on the other hand, is too prolific! From a single plant three years ago I now have them all over the property. I use it to pull bees from elsewhere. Buttercups are prolific self-seeders too, and make better soup than the best pumpkins!
Buttercups? Hope you meant butternuts
I've wild onions growing beneath most of my plum trees and they appear and multiply all by themselves, every year. Naturally, they are regarded by most as a weed. I agree that perennials are the way forward (a way forward, WTB, if you're reading If you're keen, Steven Barstow's book, "Around the world in 80 plants" and his website/facebook page, is for you!
A clever permie showed us how he got the whole seed head of alliums (spring onion, onion, leek, etc) and just planted that about an inch down in good soil. Then he got lots of seedlings and thinned them out to grow further. Clever and easy. I have tried your method (scatter seeds) as well, and the results weren't great.
Thanks for the heads up on the book/page robert. And yes – buttercups? (Every permie in town:) WHAT!
Butternuts, indeed! That was a senior moment. There's a species of pumpkin called buttercup & my mind swapped the name unconsciously apparently. 😕 Good tip re planting the seed-head!
"I take issue with the framing, "annual cropping .v. regenerative agriculture"; for me the issue is annual crops .v. perennial crops."
Aren't most regenerative systems based around perennials? Fair point though, I probably should have spelled that out. I think I probably need to do some posts on what regen is and how it is done. Unless you would like to write some 🙂 (or have some elsewhere that I can cross post).
Why does localised food production make sense? Surely you want the most efficient and environmentally sound food production on a global scale and ensure people can source different food from anywhere. If NZ can produce Dairy produce in a more environmentally friendly way than anywhere on the planet why wouldn't it make sense for us to focus on that and export our surplus to other nations?
We can't produce export dairy in an environmentally friendly way Gosman, that's been well and truly demonstrated. Regenerative ag means that the land is regenerated (let me know if it's not clear what that means). Almost impossible to do that on a large scale in many places in NZ, dry climates, but also places like Southland that is basically a wetland.
Reasons why local food makes sense:
Of course we can produce dairy in a more environmentally friendly way. Certainly the way NZ produces Dairy is much more environmentally sound than other countries on the planet. If we are better than other nations then it would make sense that we make dairy produce and other nations do something else. This is unless you think no dairy can ever be produced environmentally sound in which case it doesn't matter if it is local or not.
stop splitting semantic hairs Gosman. If you don't understand the argument being made in the post, I'm happy to explain more, but if you just want to create diversions I'm happy to ban you off the post for the day.
'more' environmentally friendly as you are using it is just killing a bit more slowly.
No, it means that all activity has an environmental impact. People need to work out a formula to decide what is acceptable and what isn't it.
I don’t think enough has been done on that to state whether something is or isn’t sustainable.
you've said this before, that you think sustainability isn't well enough defined yet because it is dependent on maths and no-one has done the work yet. Sustainability experts, of which we have a very large number, disagree.
What is acceptable to people is largely irrelevant to defining sustainability, although it does factor into politics.
Btw, I can't tell if you are genuine here and simply don't understand the concepts and the post, or if you are just running diversionary comments. My patience is running out, so my suggestion is that next time you want to comment under one of my posts, you make some effort to lay out your arguments at the start, and explain your thinking. You’ve improved on this as the thread has gone along, but to me it looks like it took the threat of a ban for that to happen.
I'm not sure you really understand about what it means by "?If the global food supply fails". Think about that for a second and then think about what would happen if the localised food supply for NZ fails.
I have thought about Gosman, and I write posts after I have thought about it. If you want to explain your own thinking, you are welcome, but if not then please don't post patronising comments at me the authors. There is an expectation here to stay reasonably on topic. I'm ok with you making an argument about what concerns you about the global or local food supply failing, but at this stage I don't actually know what your concern is (eg you think it won't happen?)
"if the global food supply fails (read the links in the post) then you and I still get to eat"
And what happens when the local food supply fails?
I prefer to rely on the global thanks as that isn't putting all the eggs in one basket
The point here is that the global food supply chain as the thing we are reliant on IS putting all the eggs in one basket. Did you read the research abstract? What is your proposal for when those three crops fail in significant quantity that people starve? Are you saying that you should have access to those grains and others shouldn't, or are you ok with being the one dying? Why would you choose that over having a more resilient system?
All that will happen is the price of food for those three food crops will sky rocket as there is a shortage and people will have to source other food instead. They will be able to source other food relatively easily because there will be a globalised transport network which will move the produce from the areas it is in to the areas that demand it. However if a localised food production system fails on a large scale then people end up starving because there is few long distance transportation and associated logistics to manage to get food to the affected areas.
what is the food that people will be able to source that isn't wheat, soybean and maize? Please be specific about the replacement plant species and where they are grown so we can see if they will also be affected by climate and weather.
All plants are going to be impacted by a change in climate. It doesn't matter if it is local climate change or global. I don't see what your point is.
You said "They will be able to source other food relatively easily…"
Are you now saying that you accept that there will be food shortages and this won't be possible?
It's not the plants being affected (although that's an additional issue), it's the way they are grown. Regenag specialises in growing food that is resilient and more secure. This is the literal point of the post. Conventional ag is vulnerable, regenag is more resilient, because of the techniques it uses. There are a number of people in this thread that can easily explain this to you if you ask. Or you can follow the links in the post and do your own reading.
"Regenag specialises in growing food that is resilient and more secure"
That is a very debatable point and regenerative agriculture does not necessarily mean localised agriculture.
yes Gosman, it is debatable. It's a post on a political blog where we debate, this is what we do here. If you want to debate it, please do. I would love someone to put up some intelligent argument against the post instead of this superficial 'oh it won't work because I don't believe in it' stuff.
Regenag doesn't necessarily mean local, it's true, which is why I spoke about it in addition to the regenag point. I think we can relocalise and do regenag, and have limited export that is grown regeneratively.
Your faith that the current economy is sustainable is likely to be unsustainable. Viability depends on fossil fuel usage, eh? Until someone builds an electric container ship, global trade is vulnerable. Likewise an electric aeroplane…
No. A globalised economy existed well before fossil fuel industry was established. The British Empire was largely established prior to the invention of steam powered sea born transport.
Yeah, very good point, and speeds and passage times aren't all that different between a China Clipper and container ship, most of the improvement is from canals shortening the passage.
Maybe the challenge / solution is to go back to a similar economy and motive power, but with modern technology. By a similar economy I mean trade reduces to more essential item and higher value goods, as it was in late 1800's. That'd mean less personal / disposable stuff but maybe a better quality of products and life.
This is what I am hoping we get to, where we can work within the limits of the world but also make the most of our current knowledge and tech within that. I also belief we can have a good quality of life this way. In addition to the benefit of not destroying the environment 😉
Major civilisations have tended to rely heavily on transporting large amounts of food to places which needed it rather than growing it locally. The Romans relied heavily on Egyptian grain to feed Rome's teaming masses. The Aztecs imported massive amounts of food in to Tenochtitlan from the territory of people surrounding the capital that they had conquerred.
All true, but unsustainable. We could do adhocery & get away with it for a century or two, but why not shift to a sustainable society?
Why is it unsustainable? If I produce food efficiently and have a surplus of it in one location why would it not make sense to move it in bulk quantities to places where people are willing to pay for it?
I meant the historical models you cited proved to be unsustainable. I agree with the principle you delineated – with the caveat that true-cost accounting is applied so that the efficiency is real. Rather than the delusional efficiency promoted by accountants in traditional capitalism.
Then we are quibbling over accounting terms but do you agree that "Localised good – Global bad" in relation to ALL food (not just the stuff we can't grow here) is overly simplistic?
Perhaps so, but I wouldn't assume that the issue was originally framed as a simplistic binary. Better to develop employment opportunities for our regions via booming regen-ag, I reckon, even if we continue to import some food on a sustainable basis…
Gosman asks: "Why does localised food production make sense?"
Make sense to whom, Gosman? It makes sense to locals and aren't we all … locals? There are some foods that are best sourced or only available overseas; Brazil nuts, the name might hint to you, come from elsewhere and we need the selenium they contain (we could take supplements instead) but our own needs could largely be met locally, imo. People who eat from their own gardens and visit supermarkets for toilet paper only, are pretty happy about that arrangement.
It doesn't make sense to locals. If I can work in an office 40 hours and earn say $2000 per week and spend $200 on imported food why would I be better off spending those 40 hours growing the same amount of food?
Nobodies asking you to grow the food yourself. Only a portion of us will be feeding the rest. I'm all for the bulk of your food spend money circulating back in the local economy. It makes the economy more resilient. I don't think you'll be missing out. as Robert illustrates with Brasil nuts, some things we can't grow, so we import. With dairy, some countries can't produce it, so we can export too.
But should we put all our eggs in the same udder? That's not business, that's gambling, and the dice are loaded against us.
Only a proportion of people feed the rest of us already. I just prefer to source my food from the most efficient producers. It doesn't matter if they come from overseas or not. For some reason it does for you.
Yep it does matter. Oil based systems are destroying the weather systems. Large scale monocultures require poisons and are destroying biodiversity. It will matter to you too when ecosystem collapse occurs on your doorstep. Oh that's right, it was only your neighbors doorstep so no worries aye. There's nothing efficient about behemoth oil based industries, they ride a carbon bubble and mine wealth to the detriment of our future.
You might lack the nous to ascertain the world's food supply is under threat, that's why we have scientists.
And bloggers who put the science reports at the top of their posts 😉
We don't need oil based transport to move food on a mass scale over large distances.
Well if you cherrypick that part of the system (transport) and then imagine the worlds shipping is currently wind powered…
Oil based fertilisers and pesticides. Oil driven machinery. Utter reliance on the thing breaking the planet to feed the planet. Not clever, not even close.
But but efficiency, but but billionaires yacht funds!
We'll use superyachts to transport the food. No worries aye.
All those things can be replaced with non oil based alternatives.
As they were prior to the mid to late 19th Century when there was a globalised food distribution system.
And look where that led to.
It wasn’t the source of power for the ships, it was the mindset that sought to profit, no matter the cost (to everyone/thing else!)
"As they were prior to the mid to late 19th Century when there was a globalised food distribution system."
You're ok with goods taking 3 months to get from Europe to here? I'm impressed Gosman. I'm ok with this too, we still get to eat chocolate and drink coffee, but obviously it's not going to work for lots of the food we currently eat, and there's still the issue of the maize, wheat and soy crop failures.
The 3 months passage was because they had to go around Cape Horn, now shipping goes through Panama. There's been several orders of magnitude increase in vessel capacity, but speed hasn't increased that much.
IRT crop failure, with global trade a population can handle a local crop failure by importing food, without it they starve.
How long does it take now?
It was the % re those three crops that got my eye. I didn't read the paper, and I'll keep my eye out for critique of the science, but those are not small numbers.
The "most efficient producers" you cite, Gosman – who, where and how?
Have "the most efficient producers" exploited their "buying power" to grab land to apply their monocultural, environment and community destroying processes to, "efficiently" produce food with which to "feed the world"?
I love fresh annuals, but not so keen on high maintenance. Last year early spring I built some garden beds and planted trees in them, but also annuals surrounding them. The weed suppressing layer of cardboard with thick mulch on top design meant I did not have to weed or water, merely plant and harvest. My kind of garden.
Last years drought followed by this years drought has seen very little decomposition of the mulch layer. This has seen less nutrients than were expected, and a need to supplement with extra compost, comfrey, whatever's on hand. The lack of rain means annuals in thick mulch die, or I must water them every few days. Those without mulch on their gardens are watering annuals almost daily. As the trees grow and provide shade conditions will improve with cooler temperatures and better water retention and decomposition rates in this system.
My established trees are still producing well. Other than planting day, I've only watered them twice – this year. Some young trees planted last year are alive but have barely grown. The new kowhai, titoki, coprosma need no care but are planted close to previous earthworks made to hydrate the soil. Nuts, bananas, peaches, plums, guavas, feijoas, olives, woody herbs, blackberries and more… easy peasy – once established.
The lawn, which I treat in a manner to make Allan Savory proud (diverse, let it grow, chooks to knock it back, let it grow, never remove residues) is the only green lawn on the street (that isn't watered).
One neighbor beats his lawn to death. His well established camellias are dead and dying where they stand isolated on the lawn. Only the ones receiving partial shade are healthy.
Trees are going to be a big deal no matter what you want to grow. The aquifers won't replenish at the rate we draw from them. Water and trees will be key to surviving in agriculture. If not for trees I'd be feeling rather food insecure right now. With all my knowledge and diversity and earthworks – shit's getting real.
When the tap's turned off, metaphorically speaking, and too-little rain falls, it's all on! You wrote some time ago, that forests attract rain and I concur. Two things worry me; drought (definitely not a concern in Southland…presently) and tumultuously, churning, wild-weather (grey and cold). Both states slow/stop/negate plant growth. This is a serious state of affairs. Trees; forests, woodlands, plantations or wilding-break-outs, serve to ensure our survival, imo. Sure, farm regeneratively, but if you're not attracting rain, you're not gonna make it, imo
I would hope that farming regeneratively includes reforestation. Salatin (for all his faults) apparently has a huge amount of their land still in forest rather than converted to pasture.
What interests me here is how in NZ we can get up to speed fast on different local climates and what is needed regarding forestation i.e. what is the best way to proceed. I'm good with just planting as many trees as people possibly can and I am heartened that so many people are into this now, but we seem to be still chopping down trees at an alarming rate, and lots of people are focused on natives without thinking through the deeper climate mitigation issues.
High winds are also an issue in some places, forestry needing good system design to both be resilient and to cope with trees that come down.
If wind breaks were to go (on windward side) from shrub layer to medium to tall tree the wind stress on any particular subset of the wind break would be minimal. We might also make these fire resistant species, so that the edge of the forest is harder to light. If one placed small earthworks while creating the firebreak/windbreak, it would greatly enhance water holding and thus fire thwarting potential. Such a design kills several birds with one stone being self reliant, fire resistant and wind resistant. Forestry itself should move to mixed models rather than monoculture, but reductionists have trouble counting past one.
"reductionists have trouble counting past one"
Might be of interest to you weka.
Now there's a farmer who does actually get it! Thinking for himself, trialling techniques and learning from what works well. This guy is the perfect role model in his bioregion.
For farmers elsewhere, learning from him could be marginal: they probably need a pioneer nearby to visit & shoot the breeze awhile, then go away and reflect on it…
That's great. The water infiltration alone will turn many Farmers heads, and in some cases hearts.
Lots of clever cockies doing good things.
Nice one B. Very interesting article. I didn't know about winter bale grazing. Good to see this happening in Southland, both because of the winter grazing issues, but just generally having a demonstration farm for others to learn from.
Here's something for the survivalists out there. Gosman, relax – nobody is suggesting you do this.
"‘I found in many instances pines can be used as a nursery for native forestry, but in some parts of the country, such as the Canterbury plains, there needs to be quite a bit of intervention.
‘‘It works well in warm, moist climates like Rotorua and Marlborough, and in North Canterbury, on southwest-facing gullies on hill country.’’"