Dec 18, 2016

Harvesting Ferals

By Elena Garcia
Marginal country cattle grazier, Western Downs, Qld.
Australia is the most urbanised country on Earth, with 89% living in urban areas, and the continuing alienation of urban from rural means that most urban people have little knowledge and less experience of rural land management issues. Too many urban Australians believe that simply locking up key areas of our environment into National Parks is enough to protect them, and do not see that the underfunding of National Parks and State Forests means that their pristine nature and uniqueness is being destroyed by weeds and feral animals like deer, goats, pigs, rabbits, horses, camels, foxes, feral dogs, cats and buffalo.

Feral animal and weed control is left to landowners, with potential large fines for those who refuse or cannot cull, but the underfunding of crown land management means that feral animals breed on crown lands then raid farmlands and retreat back to Crown lands, and weeds spread from road verges and public land and wash down the catchments to spread. Not only is it a huge cost for farmers in multi-million dollar damage to crops and infrastructure, the cost of management in time and money is also huge. And the only use for the dead animals is either to let them rot and release carbon, or turn them into pet food, if they can be shot and transported to appropriate regional processing by licensed hunters. Most regional abattoirs have been closed or only handle cows, domestic pigs and sheep.

If setting up a feral animal harvest industry was subsidised federally, not only would controlling these destructive animals be affordable, it would produce a viable supplementary income for farmers instead of being a financial burden and a terrible waste of resources which could instead be a viable export industry.

Dec 7, 2016

AGROECOLOGICAL REVOLUTION The Farmer-to-Farmer Movement of the ANAP in Cuba

This  book  documents  the  experiences  encountered  during  the implementation   of   agroecology   and   sustainable   agriculture
in  rural  economies  and  cooperatives  in  Cuba.  It  is  offered  for reflection and learning.
I believe that our achievements speak for themselves. However, we are  aware  that  we  have  only  just  begun  the  journey towards  making Cuban agriculture more sustainable, ensuring the food security of the people,  and  reaffirming  our  sovereignty  over  the  most  essential  of human needs: food.
When  we  began  to  work  with  noble  intentions,  we  knew  only  that our  needs  were  many,  and  that  the  obstacles  were  countless.    During the  difficult  years  of  the  1990’s,  we  were  looking  for  alternative solutions, through the turmoil, economic, political, and environmental threats, which became even more brutal under the tightening of the US embargo, which is now approaching 50 bitter years of existence. These circumstances imposed  on  Cuban  peasants,  as  on  all  of  the  Cuban people, a difficult trial: to tolerate the embargo in order to preserve the \achievements of the Cuban Revolution.


Sep 11, 2016

Our best shot at cooling the planet might be right under our feet

By Jason Hickel.
The Guardian

It’s getting hot out there. Every one of the past 14 months has broken the global temperature record. Ice cover in the Arctic sea just hit a new low, at 525,000 square miles less than normal. And apparently we’re not doing much to stop it: according to Professor Kevin Anderson, one of Britain’s leading climate scientists, we’ve already blown our chances of keeping global warming below the “safe” threshold of 1.5 degrees.

If we want to stay below the upper ceiling of 2 degrees, though, we still have a shot. But it’s going to take a monumental effort. Anderson and his colleagues estimate that in order to keep within this threshold, we need to start reducing emissions by a sobering 8%–10% per year, from now until we reach “net zero” in 2050. If that doesn’t sound difficult enough, here’s the clincher: efficiency improvements and clean energy technologies will only win us reductions of about 4% per year at most.

How to make up the difference is one of the biggest questions of the 21st century. 

Sep 5, 2016

Agricultural expropriation: Making money from farmers

By Alan Broughton 
September 2016 
Warrnambool potato harvest 1881


There is money to be made in farming, but not by the farmers. This paper examines the reasons why farmers around the world are poor and there are a billion hungry people. The terms of trade for farmers continually declines and farmers are forced off the land. Governments and international bodies advocate further deregulation and trade liberalisation and greater use of technology, yet these policies have undoubtedly failed in their stated aims of increasing food security and rural prosperity. The beneficiaries have only been the agribusiness corporations which have been instrumental in the design of the new order of agricultural production. 

The paper looks at the effect of trade liberalisation and other neo-liberal policies on farm income and food security. Corporate control of agriculture has greatly increased as commodity trading, land ownership, seed and other input provision, processing and marketing has become more concentrated in fewer hands. Farming land loses productivity and resilience as it becomes more degraded through the use of agro-chemicals. Food producing land is diverted to more profitable activity such as biofuels and livestock feed. Smallholders are thrown off the land by corporate land acquisitions, yet evidence shows that family farms are many times more productive and better cared for than large holdings. Agricultural research is concentrated in technological solutions to problems that technology has largely produced, yet agroecology has sound answers to food production issues. Trade negotiators from the US and Europe insist on other countries eliminating protection for their farmers but refuse to eliminate theirs. Corporations have the ear of governments, small farmers do not; indeed their demise is regarded as inevitable and desirable.

Free trade and deregulation are not the primary cause of rural decline. The loss of people from farms in Australia commenced early in the twentieth century, due largely to declining soil fertility and an over-optimistic appreciation of productivity in the drought-prone environments (Davison 2005). Back in 1967 Australian small farmers were suffering from falling farm gate prices and rising input costs, well before deregulation, but neoliberalism has accentuated the process (Lawrence 2005, Davison 2005). The official solution in the 1960s was for the bottom third to drop out (ABC 1969) and small farmers have been dropping out ever since with no end in sight. The problem of low income continues as the terms of trade further deteriorate. A similar process is happening around the world. 

But farmers around the world are resisting. Over 200 million are affiliated with the largest network of organisations opposed to corporate control, La Vía Campesina. Several governments have instituted right to food legislation. Land has been successfully redistributed by direct action in South America. Many attempts to alienate land from local communities have been successfully fought. Seed saving networks have sprung up around the world to protect the work of centuries of variety selection from predatory multinational seed companies and the laws that they have induced governments to implement. Farmers are organising into cooperatives to bypass extortionist traders and relocated processing works. The ideas and experiences of the various branches of biological agriculture – permaculture, agroecology, organic, regenerative, conservation – are gaining greater support. There are multitudes of alternative agriculture promoting organisations in all parts of the world. Consumers are demanding local production. However individual and local solutions are not sufficient; a world wide political campaign is also necessary to address the fundamental causes. 

Aug 14, 2016

Are cows eating the Amazon?

By Gunnar Rundgren
Garden Earth - Beyond sustainability

Land clearing in tropical countries for production of export crops gets a lot of attention, and rightly so. However, the understanding of the mechanisms involved and how to allocate the effects of deforestation in terms of environmental damage or carbon emissions, is still very low. While it is true that exports are important for this, most deforestation are driven by domestic factors.  A study by Henders et al (2015) show that in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea one third of deforestation was embodied in exports in 2011, up from a fifth in 2000. This means that two thirds of the deforestation is driven by domestic factors.

In the study beef was identified as the main driver of forest loss in the seven countries, accounting for nearly 60 percent of embodied deforestation and just over half of embodied emissions. Soybean production was the second largest source of embodied deforestation area whereas oil palm was the second largest source of embodied emissions.

But one can argue against how to allocate emissions and land use changes. For instance, pasture areas in Brazil have been stable in the last decade, while grazing has moved towards the forested areas because it is more profitable to plow and farm crops in the pasturelands than to graze them. It might be more correct to allocate impacts of land use changes based on the relative expansion of agriculture area for different crops or production in a country. In the case of Brazil, it would mean that soy production would still be a major cause of deforestation, but sugar cane cultivation would carry 20 % of the burden of deforestation and associated carbon emissions while beef from pasture would carry almost none of this, This would be the case despite that there is very little sugar grown in the recently deforested zones and a there are a lot of animals grazing there.

Millions face drought and famine in Southern Africa

Africa drought UN Food and Agriculture Organization
News Release, July 29, 2016
Worst drought in 35 years causes crop failures, widespread malnutrition in 10 countries. More than 640,000 drought-related livestock deaths have been reported due to lack of pasture, lack of water and disease outbreaks. 

With only a few weeks before land preparation begins for the next main cropping season, some 23 million people in Southern Africa urgently need support to produce enough food to feed themselves and thus avoid being dependent on humanitarian assistance until mid 2018, FAO said today.

A FAO-prepared response plan aims to ensure that seeds, fertilizers, tools, and other inputs and services, including livestock support, are provided to small-holder farmers, agro-pastoralists and pastoralists to cope with the devastating impact of an El Niño-induced drought in the region.

At least $109 million in funding is required to provide this urgently needed support.

Farmers must be able to plant by October and failure to do so will result in another reduced harvest in March 2017, severely affecting food and nutrition security and livelihoods in the region, FAO warned.

Aug 12, 2016

Stopping land clearing and replanting trees could help keep Australia cool in a warmer future

By Clive McAlpine,  Jozef Syktus and  Leonie Seabrook .

In Queensland in 2013–14, 278,000 hectares of native vegetation were cleared (1.2 times the size of the Australian Capital Territory). A further 296,000ha were cleared in 2014–15. These are the highest rates of deforestation in the developed world.

Land clearing on this scale is bad for a whole host of reasons. But our research shows that it is also likely to make parts of Australia warmer and drier, adding to the effects of climate change.

Land clearing releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, but the effect of land clearing on climate goes well beyond carbon emissions. It causes warming locally, regionally and even globally, and it changes rainfall by altering the circulation of heat and moisture.

Aug 11, 2016

Venezuela: Slave labour or just growing more food?

Venezuelans taking part in a voluntary program to boost a slowly developing agricultural sector, described by the US media as "slavery".The United States media's latest offensive against Venezuela's socialist President Nicolas Maduro targets a new sustainability program that transplants urban workers to farmland. Some quarters of the mainstream media have equated it with slave labour.Passed on July 22, the decree sets up a voluntary program for public and private workers to cultivate organic food for 60 days on their normal salary before returning to their jobs.
Venezuela is suffering from a food shortage, largely caused by businesses hoarding food while stashing away government money reserved for imports. The Venezuelan economy largely relies on oil, the price of which has dropped dramatically, but Maduro has passed several measures to develop agricultural production.Head of the Bolivarian Socialist Workers' Centre Carlos Lopez, said the new program was planned alongside community organisers.
“The workers that want to move to reactive [agricultural] businesses can move and will have their rights guaranteed,” Lopez told Union Radio.Soundbites circulating in the US media are exclusively from Amnesty International, whose closest office is based in Mexico City. Amnesty's Americas division released a statement calling the program “unlawful” and saying it "effectively amounts to forced labour”. It added that Venezuela should seek humanitarian aid for a “workable long term plan” rather than develop its own agricultural sector.


GALLERY: City Farming in Venezuela's Rooftop Gardens
Can Sustainable Agriculture Solve Food Problems in Venezuela?

Aug 10, 2016

On the Frontline: Climate Change & Rural Communities

The new report from the Climate Council reveals that climate change is likely to worsen the systemic disadvantages suffered by rural and regional communities, and further widen the gap between rural and urban areas. 
The 'On the Frontline: Climate Change & Rural Communities' report finds the increase in extreme weather events is disproportionately affecting those in rural areas, with serious social, health and economic impacts. 

  1. Rural and regional communities are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change.
  2. The systemic disadvantages experienced by rural and regional communities over those in urban areas are likely to worsen if climate change continues unabated.
  3. Rural and regional communities are already adapting to the impacts of climate change but there are limits and costs.
  4. While rural and regional communities are on the frontline of climate change impacts, tackling climate change also provides these communities with many opportunities

Monsanto Losing Millions as Farmers in India Plant Indigenous Seed

 By Christina Sarichand  of

(UR) India — Monsanto is losing millions on failed GM cotton. The company illegally pushed a form of Bt cotton into India and Africa more than a decade ago, but farmers are now pushing back by planting their own indigenous seed.
Monsanto is accused of writing laws and then breaking them to enter the market in India, but after more than 300,000 farmer deaths between 1995 and 2013, many of them attributed to Monsanto, the company is finally paying for their misdeeds. The corporation’s greed is linked to farmer suicides throughout Maharashtra, considered the ‘Cotton Belt’ in India.
The Indian government is now actively promoting the use of indigenous seed, and has called Monsanto out for profiteering illegally on Bt cotton seed.

Aug 9, 2016

Diana Rodgers: Meat is Magnificent: Water, Carbon, Methane & Nutrition

There was a recent article in The Washington Post entitled “Meat is Horrible”, once again vilifying meat, that was full of inaccurate statements about the harm cattle impose on the land, how bad it is for our health, and how it should be taxed. Stories like this are all too common and we’ve absolutely got to change our thinking on what’s causing greenhouse gas emissions and our global health crisis.

Hint: it’s not grass-fed steak

In the few days since the story originally came out, I’ve been brewing up some different angle to write. I’ve written here, and here about the benefits of red meat, and how Tofurky isn’t the answer to healing the environment or our health. I keep saying the same thing over and over. Recently, I posted this as a response to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s new claims that a plant-based diet is optimal. I also wrote about Philadelphia’s sugar tax here, and I don’t think a meat tax is any better of an idea, especially when the government is subsidizing the feed. I’m feeling quite frustrated.

This morning, I went back to see the post and noticed that the story has been “significantly revised to address several inaccurate and incomplete statements about meat production’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.” Most of the original points, references and charts are missing. However there are still some important pieces of information that I feel the author missed. The main one being that meat itself isn’t evil, it’s the method by which we farm it (feed lots and CAFOs-Confined Animal Feeding Operations) and how we prepare it (breaded and deep fried), and what we eat alongside it (fries, and a large soda).

Stop hating the player and instead, hate the game. Humans have been eating meat for all of our existence. Why vilify it now? I think what most people are really upset with are modern agricultural techniques and hyper-palatable, ultra-processed foods. Those are the real issue here, not a grass-fed steak. I’ll address some of the points directly:


Jul 16, 2016

Fix farming by junking the corporate model

By Elena Garcia

Australian farming is in crisis.

Family farmers are being taken over by corporate agribusinesses, their land is being polluted by mining companies and they are powerless to stop and the supermarket duopoly of Coles and Woolworths which keeps prices low for consumers by paying producers prices so low they barely cover costs.

At the same time there is increasing speculation in buying water rights. Farming cannot survive without clean water. The most reliable source of water is artesian, which the mining industry can draw from unregulated and pollute at will.

Meanwhile banks are foreclosing on drought-struck farmers so they can sell the still viable farms to corporations, both domestic and foreign.

Farmers cannot win this battle against the corporations without allies. Australia is one of the most urbanised countries on Earth. Almost 90% of Australians live in urban areas. We have some of the cleanest, most regulated food production in the world. If you want to protect that quality, it is time to support and protect our farmers.

Rural Workers: AUDIO

Elena Garcia is a socialist and organic beef farmer from Queensland. In this talk she addresses the brutal regime that farmers have to survive in order to farm and make a living.
She delivered the talk at the Socialism for the 21st Century Conference  held in Sydney during may 2016.
(Duration:21.40 )

Water under attack : Reports

Image: The Dee River at Dululu, 55km downstream from the Mount Morgan mine.
The blue colour comes from metals in the water. 
(Ian Townsend)
  • 50,000 abandoned mines poisoning our water. :The Dee River in Queensland is being killed by toxic water from an old gold mine. Mount Morgan is one of thousands of abandoned and unregulated mine sites, many of which are leaking contaminated ‘legacy water’ into river catchments. Ian Townsend investigates. 
  • There’s also this one on the disasters happening in the NT now:When a giant toxic waste dump spontaneously ignited at one of the world's largest zinc mines, serious questions were asked about how it could have happened. Jane Bardon investigates how regulators allowed a mine to operate with no known solutions to its massive waste problem.
  • And a similar situation in Tasmania:A third of Tasmania’s town water systems don’t meet national drinking water standards and residents in several towns have to queue at a communal tap. Why has the ‘clean, green’ state got such a problem with contaminated water?

Jul 15, 2016

Organic Farmers Are Not Anti-Science, but Genetic Engineers Often Are

By Elizabeth Henderson, Independent Science News | News Analysis
Scientific evidence shows that the widespread adoption of genetically engineered crops in the US has led to an increase in pesticides used in agriculture -- and an increase in the residues of pesticides left in foods, among other disturbing trends.

At one of the public brainstorming sessions for the New York Organic Action Plan, an organic farmer made an impassioned plea for support for "independent science" and told us that with 8.5 billion mouths to feed by 2050, we will need genetic engineering to prevent starvation.

I would like to examine these words carefully to decipher what they mean, how those words are used by this farmer and by others, and suggest how the movement for locally grown organic food in this country should respond.

What is the meaning of 'independent science'? As co-chair of the Policy Committee for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY), I have been an active participant in the coalition that is campaigning to pass GMO labeling legislation in NY State. In this capacity, I have spoken at public meetings, to the press and on radio interviews. A question that I have heard from proponents of biotechnology is "why do you organic farmers oppose science, like the climate deniers?"

Hunger in Venezuela? A look beyond the spin

By Christina Schiavoni and William Camacaro

You  may have seen the headlines about Venezuela – headlines that allude to food scarcity, rioting, people eating stray animals to survive, and a country on the brink of starvation. These stories are not only alarming, but perplexing, too. Is this the same country that was recognized by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as recently as 2015 for having nearly eradicated hunger?[1] Is this the same country that has been the focus of international delegations and extensive alternative media coverage for its ‘food sovereignty experiment’ involving agrarian reform, food distributions programs, and direct citizen participation in the food system?[2] What’s going on?

There is a nuanced story behind the current headlines on Venezuela. It’s a challenging moment for average working class Venezuelans as they navigate long lines at the grocery store, a lack of key food staples, and inflated prices in order to feed their families.

But there’s not an overall food shortage — food is in abundance, with distribution serving a bottleneck.


Why changing our diet won't save the Earth

By Martin Empson

Diet of Austerity: Class, Food & Climate Change
By Elaine Graham-Leigh
Zero Books, 2015

Like the author of this interesting book on food and climate change, I have been struck by the way that the question of diet, and in particular meat eating, has become central to debates on tackling climate change.

In her introduction, Elaine Graham-Leigh notes the many ways that advocates for non-meat diets are inserting this message into the climate movement. Slogans that argue that only vegetarian diets can save the planet, or that genuine environmentalists are vegan, are common place.

But the argument has also reached higher levels, with NGOs, governments and politicians frequently advocating this approach.

Graham-Leigh's book is a challenge to this approach. She rightly argues that the danger is that veganism fails to address the real causes of climate change, will not actually have the desired effects and, most importantly, shifts the focus of blame for climate change onto predominately working class people.

Unusually for a book on the environment, class is a central part of Graham-Leigh's book. She notes that “as with discussions of austerity, it seems that those who have the least are the ones who have the greatest responsibility to be restrained in consuming it”.


Apr 26, 2016

Nature is neglected in this election campaign – at its and our own peril

By Don Driscoll & Euan Ritchie

Our natural heritage, the plants, animals and other organisms that help define Australia’s identity, are in dire straits.
The electioneering has begun. In a campaign set to be dominated by economic issues, the Coalition and Labor are locking horns over who can best manage our finances, protect jobs and make housing more affordable. The Greens predictably decry the major parties, including their cavalier climate change policies.
These are important issues, but are they the highest priority on the political agenda? An arguably even greater issue exists that nobody is seriously championing, but which impacts all of us, socially, environmentally and economically.
Our natural heritage — the plants, animals and other organisms that help define Australia's identity are in dire straits. Yet this biodiversity crisis is barely mentioned in political discourse, nor is it foremost in the public consciousness.
The world economy is losing $73 billion a year through lost ecosystem services. It is predicted to lose $20 trillion a year by 2050 without action now. With potentially 7% of global economic product at stake by mid-century, nature conservation must surely be on the agenda in this election.
Actions needed to conserve our natural heritage, and reap substantial rewards, will challenge some of our most cherished ideas about social and economic policy. This demands reforms to reverse creeping losses to our democratic process.
Looking at the major parties' platforms, it is clear that nature is not on the agenda. Labor lists 23 positive policies, none of which deals directly with conserving Australia's plants and animals. The Coalition has done slightly better, claiming to believe in preserving Australia's natural beauty and environment for future generations. However, itsfederal platform, released last year, shows no evidence of this belief.
Public concern has also shifted away from nature issues and towards other concerns such as terrorism, as well as traditional areas of focus such as health care and the economy. This shift can be seen in some surprising places, such as the major grassroots lobby group GetUp!. Of its ten current campaigns only one, the fight to save the Great Barrier Reef, is directly about conserving wildlife diversity.

Apr 24, 2016

The effects on soil biology of agricultural chemicals

By Alan Broughton
February 2013.

In the last few years the soil science community has showed a new interest in soil biology. This is possibly because of the growing influence of the organic and biological farming sectors, coupled with the government’s Carbon Farming Initiative and the increased costs of fertilisers. However it is of concern that many of the scientists advising farmers on methods to enhance the benefits provided by soil biological components treat agricultural chemicals as essential for farming and therefore untouchable. 

There is a large body of research that shows agricultural chemicals do have varied and significant effects on soil biology and must be included in any discussion about capturing the services of soil biology for the benefit of agriculture, farm sustainability and soil carbon sequestration. The large number of successful organic and biological farmers demolishes the myth that agricultural chemicals are essential. 

The term “agricultural chemicals” refers to inorganic fertilisers and pesticides in the broad sense that includes herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, miticides, nematicides and anthelmintics (worming drenches).

Plant varieties: Why are we losing them?

By Alan Broughton

Over the past century there has been a huge loss of genetic diversity in crop plants, running at about 2.5% per year, amounting to more than 75% of garden food varieties which have disappeared. For some crops the loss has been much higher (97% of peas for example). 

Of vegetable varieties in old USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) lists 97% are now extinct. Of the 7078 apple varieties in the US in 1904, 86% are extinct; of pears 88%. In India once there were 20,000 varieties of rice grown; now 75% of plantings are from 10 varieties. In Taiwan 2000 rice varieties were grown in 1910; by 1920 there were 390. In China in 1949 10,000 varieties of wheat were grown; by the 1970’s only 1000. If you compare Australian fruit or vegetable catalogues from early 1900’s with today’s you would see a huge reduction in varieties offered. Many of the early ones are no longer known to be in existence. At the same time wild ancestors of food plants around the world are disappearing as the land is being used for agriculture or grazing. 

There are several causes of this loss of diversity: government policies, concentration of ownership of seed companies, hybridisation, fewer farmers and home gardeners, and the drive for ever increasing profits.

Land grabbing – A new colonialism

By Alan Broughton
November 2012

Since the global financial crisis of 2008 and its associated food crisis that sent another 200 million people into malnutrition there has been a massive grab for land by large corporations around the world. Worst hit has been Africa, where food security is already non-existent for many people. Governments, including our own, welcome this “investment” in agriculture, some bizarrely claiming that food security will be increased.

Estimates vary as to the extent, because there are no accurate records and some deals are confidential, but Oxfam estimates that 227 million hectares in the developing world, the size of North-Western Europe, has been either sold, leased or licensed to foreign corporations between 2000 and 2011, or is under negotiation. In 2009 alone 50 million hectares was transferred from farmers to corporations. Some of this land has been purchased while the majority has taken on long term leases of 25 to 99 years, usually renewable. This includes 63% of all the arable land in Cambodia, 30% of Liberia and 20% of Sierra Leone. Other countries that have lost more than 10% of their agricultural land to foreign investors are Ethiopia, Indonesia, Laos and the Philippines. More than half is in Africa. 

There are several reasons for this land grab, none of which will increase food security in the areas targeted. The most important impetus is for biofuel production, particularly oil palm, soy and corn, as a direct result of mandatory biofuel targets set by European and North American countries for their domestic energy supplies. The UK is the biggest investor in biofuel production in sub-Saharan Africa, followed by the US, India, Norway and Germany. Land formerly being used by small farmers for their own food needs is converted into plantations and crop monocultures to feed the cars of the industrialised world. Some land is also being used for forestry plantations used to offset carbon emissions in the rich countries.

Carbon Sequestration on Land – the Government’s Greenhouse Gas Policy

By Alan Broughton
May 7th 2014. 

The Labour Government set up the Carbon Farming Initiative in 2011, soon to be renamed and adjusted as the Emissions Reduction Fund. This will be the Abbott Government’s key strategy for greenhouse gas abatement. The aim is to use the ability of soils and vegetation to absorb the emissions from industry while at the same time reducing the emissions from agriculture. Landholders get paid to sequester carbon or reduce emissions under the scheme. 

While the potential exists for a large proportion of greenhouse gases to be taken out of the atmosphere by sequestration in soil and vegetation, it is unlikely to occur for several reasons: the cost and difficulty of verification of soil carbon increase, the extra work in record keeping, the long time before farmers get paid (at least five years in the case of soil carbon sequestration), the uncertainty about the price per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalents they will receive, the absence of any training program for farmers about how to sequester carbon, and the increasing emissions from the coal, gas and oil industries that are not at the same time being addressed. 

Apr 22, 2016

Ruminant livestock and greenhouse gases

By Alan Broughton 

Within the climate change action movement there is a stream that places priority on reduction in livestock numbers as the key strategy to reduce greenhouse gases. I believe this is mistaken. The choice to not eat meat or other animal products should be regarded as a personal choice, not an ecological choice. There is no ecological justification for advocating a drastic reduction in livestock numbers as part of climate change mitigation. Efforts would be better spent in focusing on the real issues: energy generation, transport and the sustainability of farming systems. 

Livestock production can become an effective carbon sink with great potential to modify the greenhouse gas effect. The obstacle is not livestock but how the animals are managed. This essay addresses the ability of well managed grasslands to sequester the methane produced by grazing ruminant animals and some of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere produced by industry. 

Mar 30, 2016

Blather Vox Pop : the biological farmer

Alan Broughton is a biological agriculture researcher and organic farming teacher based in Eastern Victoria. He has had extensive experience in farm management and setup both here  in Australia and  overseas.
Dave Riley  discusses with him some  of the assumptions being made about livestock as climate change drivers  and how a new approach to grazing animals can impact on the sustainable ecology of agriculture. 

Jan 30, 2016

Behind the corporate takeover of Australian agricultural land and farms

As the demand for Australian farm products skyrockets in Asia, corporate Australia is buying up drought-crippled but viable rural properties at bargain prices.
Conservative federal MP Bob Katter proposed legislation late last year that would force banks to allow farmers two years to sell foreclosed properties instead of forcing 6-week fire sales. Katter cited sources in the agricultural industry on forced bank sales, saying that with only two months to sell, a farmer would be lucky to get 40% of market value for their property, but with two years to sell a farmer could expect to obtain 80% of market value.
The legislation would also stop banks imposing confidentiality agreements that allow them to bully their victims with a range of dirty tricks, now being investigated by a Senate banking inquiry.
Action is being mounted in the Federal Court alleging that ANZ forced farmers into “engineered defaults” and entrapped them into signing changed loan contracts when it bought out the loan book of the Landmark group in 2009.
This corporate bullying has a terrible social cost. Lifeline figures show that when a severe drought hits a rural community and financial and emotional stress levels climb, suicide rates increase sixfold.
A new Rural Bank
A record 86% of Queensland is now drought-declared, following three failed wet seasons. Many farmers are without the funds to re-stock their properties when the drought breaks. It is in this context that the banks are forcing foreclosures of properties that have not defaulted on mortgage payments and selling them at only 40% of market value.
There is a dire need for a government with vision to re-establish a Rural Bank to offer long-term loans at 2% interest and cheap farm insurance to viable, sustainable rural businesses, so that farmers and their communities can continue to produce clean affordable food, manage the Australian landscape to minimise bushfires and keep our water catchments clean.

Jan 23, 2016

Sustainable Australian agriculture under corporate attack from mining, banks and agribusinesses

A new wave of land grabbing is turning farmland into industrial monocultures.
In the past few years, private investors backed by corporate interests such as global banks, financial firms, hedge funds and food giants have bought a huge amount of farmland across the global South.
Oxfam's 2012 Our Land, Our Lives report on land grabbing said foreign investors had bought enough land in the past decade to feed 1 billion people. Oxfam singled out the World Bank, which has boosted its finance of intensive, large-scale agriculture in the global South from $2.5 billion a year in 2008 to $9.5 billion in November 2012.
The World Bank refused Oxfam's call to put a freeze on its loans to land grabbers, saying its investments were not adding to the food crisis, but providing “major new investment in agriculture to improve the productivity of large and small farmers while protecting the environment”.
However these investments are being used by corporations to buy up prime food-producing land, just as free trade treaties come into play that will allow them to sue governments that affect their profits by attempting to regulate their use of that land.
As at least two-thirds of the land grabbers intend to “export everything they produce”, Oxfam said these business plans “will come into direct conflict with the need for more land to feed a growing global population”. Most firms that take the World Bank's money use the land to produce biofuels to feed cars, or commodities to sell on overseas markets.
Researchers Shepard Daniel and Anuradha Mittall said in a 2009 study: “Not only does land grabbing mean that farmers will lose their land, but these lands will be transformed from smallholdings or communal lands into large industrial estates connected to far-off markets.”
The new wave of land grabbing is also turning the farmland into industrial monocultures, which rely heavily on chemical inputs and produce huge greenhouse gas emissions.

Jan 16, 2016

Ruminants and methane: Not the fault of the animals

Cattle and sheep are blamed for contributing to greenhouse gases, belching out methane, and farmers in the future are likely to be taxed because of it.
The recent Green Left Weekly climate change liftout [issue #1078] calls for a drastic reduction in sheep and cattle numbers. There is a TV advertisement, urging people to “go vego to save the planet”. This is a gross misunderstanding of the ruminant carbon cycle.
Ruminants have always emitted methane; it is not something new. Huge herds of wild buffalo, cattle, goats, sheep, deer, cameloids and wildebeest have grazed the grasslands of the world for millions of years. The American prairies once supported greater numbers of bison than they now do cattle, despite the intensive corn and soy production that feeds them.
Methane emissions from wild ruminants was never a problem because nature does not permit waste — the methane was used as food for methanotrophic bacteria in the soil and neutralised. It was never a problem until agricultural practices started destroying these methanotrophic bacteria, which are very sensitive to chemical fertilisers and herbicides. These bacteria reactivate in biologically managed soil.
However, methane is not the whole picture. When the contribution of livestock to soil carbon sequestration is taken into account it is easy to see that ruminants do not increase greenhouse gases if they are managed well.
Grassland soils are the greatest sequesters of carbon — greater than forests. In the top one metre of soils in temperate grasslands there is an average of 236 tonnes of carbon, compared to 96 in temperate forest soils and 80 in cropland.