COP22: Rethinking the Food System to Fight Climate Change

07 Nov 2016

This year looks set to be hottest ever on record. Again. The previous record holder is 2015, and before that 2014. Three record-breaking years one after another is unprecedented, and the effects on our planet are already wreaking havoc. One of the root causes of climate change is the food system itself, with agriculture and food production, transport and marketing consuming more fossil energy than any other industrial sector.

The greenhouse effect and pollution are exacerbated by the industrial agrifood system, with intensive livestock breeding releasing huge quantities of pollutants into the atmosphere. Slow Food fights for a different type of agriculture, one that depends less on fossil fuels, reverses desertification, manages water resources efficiently and prevents soil erosion.

At Terra Madre Salone del Gusto 2016 featured several discussions on the topic, covering themes such as natural agriculture, pastoralism, food waste and Slow Food’s own projects, such as the gardens in Africa and the Earth Markets.
To illustrate the subject, Pak Teguh Triono (pictured), an Indonesian delegate who represents the Kehati organization spoke of Flores (East Timor) – an island with poor, light-colored rocky soil and little rainfall. What rain there is falls only within a four-month period, while the remaining eight months of drought-like conditions make agricultural production extremely difficult. Despite this, government programs designed to stimulate agriculture and boost production focus on crops that require considerable amounts of water, like soy, rice and corn, without taking into account the island’s pedoclimatic conditions. This kind of thinking is both inefficient and unsustainable, leading to a further depletion of available resources. Kehati has thus analyzed the results of a World Bank study and decided to focus on another crop, sorghum, which can be grown in poor soil and requires little water.
To support this argument, the Indonesian delegate played a video of lush, green fields around the village of Likotuden. He showed that some crops can actually revitalize the soil, if their characteristics are in harmony with the local environmental conditions. At the same time, there are social benefits: initially, the sorghum program involved only four farmers, but today many more have joined in, cultivating a total of 120 hectares. Families have adjusted their eating habits, abandoning rice in favor of the local crop.
Some possible solutions are offered by organizations and associations like the Good Planet Foundation, founded by photographer, Yann Arthus-Bertrand. Their proposals were presented by the group’s executive director, Thierry Touchais, who illustrated how the program entitled “The solution is on the table” focuses on nutrition, a critical issue that was overlooked in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. If we intervened at the level of meat consumption, for example, or on food waste, part of the solution would already be achieved. Other steps have instead been taken at the institutional level, as recounted by Angelo Salsi of the European Commission. For example, the Life program, now in its 25th year, finances about 200 projects targeting the climate and the environment each year. It is important to note that in recent years, many of these projects have addressed issues related to food and agriculture, like reducing the impact of agro-alimentary production.

Adolfo Brizzi, director of the Policy and Technical Advisory Board of IFAD, and Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN appointee on the rights of indigenous peoples, spoke on behalf of small-scale farmers—two and a half billion people worldwide—and indigenous populations. Their contributions are often underestimated and their rights ignored, despite the fact that both are able to furnish efficient and long-lasting solutions. This is because, more than anyone else, they live and work directly with the land that sustains them, as shown by the example of the sorghum farmers in East Timor, and have a much lower impact on the environment. Following their example and respecting their rights would be an important step in the right direction if we want to mitigate our impact on the global climate.
The COP22 conference begins today in Marrakech, Morocco, ostensibly considering the question of agriculture on climate change, but without truly acknowledging the enormous responsibility and impact that industrial agriculture has on climate change. Slow Food is thus maintaining a critical position and will ask the representatives of the countries and international institutions meeting in Marrakesh to take into serious consideration the decisive role the food system plays through its close connections with the climate, and to avoid relegating it to the sidelines.

Read Slow Food’s appeal to the COP22 climate conference in Marrakesh here.

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