Sep 5, 2017

Agricultural experts urge a halt to Shenhua coalmine

An open letter from eight former agronomists and soil scientists, including five who worked for the Department of Primary Industries, has urged NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to halt Shenhua’s Watermark coalmine and protect the Liverpool Plains from mining.
The letter said the agreement the government reached last month with Shenhua to renew its coal exploration licence, paving the way for the mine to proceed, puts at risk “the future of one of the major contributors to food and fibre security”.
Last month the government paid Shenhua $262 million for just over half the exploration licence area of the proposed mine at Watermark in northern NSW. Energy Minister Don Harwin said the buyback would ensure there was no mining on the fertile black soils of the plains.
But the agronomists said limiting the proposed open cut mine to ridges would still likely affect surface and groundwater flows in the plains and downstream regions.

Gazans turn to rooftops for food supplies

Rooftop farming is a new concept in Gaza. It was first introduced on a significant scale through a project sponsored by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation in 2010.
That project involved more than 200 households provided with fish tanks and equipment for aquaponic units. Aquaponics is the practice of soilless vegetable growing in combination with fish tanks whose nutrient-rich wastewater is used as fertiliser.
The practice has since spread, as Palestinians in Gaza adapted the methods to suit their own needs and the materials available to them. The result provides a means to address a problem that has grown to dangerous proportions.


Sep 1, 2017

The Green Revolution: Effects in Asia and implications for Africa

by Alan Broughton 

The term Green Revolution refers to the introduction of high-yielding varieties of staple food crops, particularly wheat and rice, into Third World countries, starting in the 1960s. Initially Mexico, India and the Philippines were targeted. The stated aim was to increase food production to end hunger and prevent uprisings. 

The Green Revolution did increase agricultural production, and no more successful revolutionary uprisings occurred, but it failed to reduce hunger and poverty, improve nutrition, or protect the environment. While some of these failures are now acknowledged by the proponents, the answer is that “there was no alternative”, and that for untouched areas of the world, particularly Africa, there is still no alternative. However, that alternative does exist: it is called agroecology. Science takes credit for successes but takes no responsibility for failures (Shiva 2001). 

The Green Revolution was promoted by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, the World Bank and the US government. The most immediate aim was to prevent revolution in the Third World. The Western world had lost China and Cuba and was in the process of losing Vietnam; there were insurgencies in Malaya and the Philippines and uncertainty about President Soekarno in Indonesia. It was decided to fight revolution with food (Cleaver 1972). “The only way to prevent a Red Revolution is to promote a Green Revolution” – Peer Maurin of Catholic Worker, and “Where hunger goes, Communism follows” – Rieff (Patel 2013). President Macapagal in the Philippines said: “We consider this institute [the International Rice Research Institute which developed the new rice varieties] as a potent weapon in the struggle against poverty and communism in Asia” (Patel 2013). 

An unstated secondary aim was to increase the penetration of agribusiness into the Third World. Profits could be made by selling the new varieties of seed and the fertilisers, pesticides and equipment (tractors, pumps) that were indispensable to their success. American fertiliser companies were looking for new markets after the Second World War when nitrate was less needed for bomb making; Norman Borlaug, the plant breeder who developed the first new high-yielding crop varieties, emphasised the importance of fertilisers to Indian politicians, and both the World Bank and US Aid for International Development (USAID) strongly pushed for increased fertiliser use (Shiva 2001). Part of the strategy of US AID funding was to increase chemical fertiliser use; this is now the strategy used in Africa, where in many countries the majority of department of agriculture spending is allocated to fertiliser subsidies (African Centre for Biodiversity 2016).

Aug 11, 2017

A people's food policy for England

Stepping away from market imperatives frees our minds and thinking about food and farm production. Agriculture and food systems, the resources needed for producing food and the landscapes where this takes place are a kind of commons or a public good. The more food is viewed as a public good, the less appropri­ate it is that the productive factors needed to produce foods, seeds, land, water etc., are private property and provided by the market. ...Rethinking food as a right, farming as a management system of the planet and the food system as a commons is what I would call a real shift in paradigm (a most overused word!). It doesn’t rule out markets as one of several mechanisms for food distribu­tion, but does it reject market hegemony over our food supplies, and rejects the view that market forces are the best way of allocating food producing resources.

If the allegations are true that billions of litres of water worth millions of dollars were illegally extracted, this would represent one of the largest thefts in Australian history. It would have social and economic consequences for communities along the entire length of the Murray-Darling river system, and for the river itself, after years of trying to restore its health.

Water is big business, big politics and a big player in our environment. Taxpayers have spent $13 billion on water reform in the Murray-Darling Basin in the past decade, hundreds of millions of which have gone directly to state governments. Governments have an obligation to ensure that this money is well spent.

The revelations cast doubt on the states’ willingness to do this, and even on their commitment to the entire Murray-Darling Basin Plan. This commitment needs to be reaffirmed urgently. 


Aug 10, 2017

Chemical spray damage results in record $7m negligence court payout

A farmer has been awarded $7 million in damages for losses caused by a neighbour's negligent spraying.
For grape grower, Tony Caccaviello, it has been a four-year legal fight for compensation, after a mix of toxic chemicals destroyed his vineyard in northern Victoria.
In Spring 2013, Mr Caccaviello noticed his vineyard, near Swan Hill, looked different. The leaves were 'translucent' and covered in yellow spots.
He initially he thought the vineyard had been hit by a bad frost.
The Supreme Court of Victoria later heard a cloud of agricultural chemicals, all deadly to grapevines, had blown across the vineyard from his neighbour, Rodney Hayden's property.
In Mr Caccaviello's case, the chemicals involved; 2,4-D, glyphosate and metsulfuron-methyl, are toxic to grapevines and never used in vineyards.


Aug 8, 2017

Re-coupling the carbon and water cycles by Natural Sequence Farming

This is a scholarly article, to be used only for research purposes.
Cited from International Journal of Water.
Norris, D., and Andrews, P. Re-coupling the carbon and water cycles by Natural Sequence Farming. Int.J.Water, Vol. 5, No. 4. 2010, pp 386-395.
DOWNLOAD LINK:Re-coupling the carbon and water cycles by Natural Sequence Farming

Aug 6, 2017

New 'Soil Alliance' facebook group

To encourage ongoing discussion, we've established a discussion group on facebook HERE. 
You are welcome to join.

More launches for Sustainable Agriculture book

The Resistance Books title on Sustainable Agriculture versus Corporate Greed continues to attract attention. Author Alan Broughton helped launch the book in Moruya on July 29.

The launch went well with 25 people attending, all very interested.

Two more launches are coming up around Adelaide on Thursday (Adelaide) and Saturday (Willuna) this week. Please help promote these where you can.

The Ranges Organic Growers Association have also approached Alan asking him to talk on the book at their next meeting on August 25 in Ferntree Gully.
Here are the details of the Adelaide launches. Thursday August 10th, 5.45 pm, The Joinery, 111 Franklin St Adelaide; Saturday August 12th, 2.00pm, Willunga Environment Centre, 18 High Street Willunga.

Jul 31, 2017

The Killing Fields: photo essay.

In Sri Lanka's North Central province, a land of crumbling Buddhist temples and gently swaying palms, farmers have cultivated rice for millennia. Until the 1960s, they relied on oxen, not tractors, to plow their fields. But the introduction of mechanized and chemical methods has rendered such time honored techniques extinct. An island nation that once boasted nearly 3,000 ancient rice varieties now produces a handful of modern strains in fields routinely drenched with herbicides and synthetic fertilizers.

As a result, Sri Lankan rice yields have increased by 60 percent since 1979. Unfortunately, a burgeoning public health disaster has arisen alongside this “progress.” Today, a mysterious kidney disease afflicts an estimated 400,000 people in the province, representing about a third of its population.

First-world renal disorders typically accompany obesity, diabetes, or high blood pressure, all rare risk factors in rural Southeast Asia. Baffled epidemiologists refer to the illness ravaging Sri Lanka as “chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology,” or CKDu, which results in a slow, torturous death. Sufferers are unable to pass urine, so their limbs swell with toxic fluid, causing constant pain.

Jul 29, 2017

Saving Britain’s food supply: a manifesto to keep food on the table

By Jay Rayner
During the early 1990s Britain’s self-sufficiency in food reached its highest in modern times. We were producing just over 70% of all the food we were eating. Since then the story has been one only of decline. We now produce 60%, but because of exports only about 50% of the food we eat is actually produced here. There are a number of reasons for this, but key among them is the dominance of the supermarkets.
In the late 80s and early 90s a series of changes to the planning laws allowed for the building of large out-of-town hypermarkets on greenfield sites, which in turn encouraged the boom in the supermarket sector. That created the food retail landscape we have today in which fewer than a dozen companies control more than 90% of the food retail market.
The supermarkets used that dominance to drive prices ever lower, and with drastic results. This is no knee-jerk negative response to the concept of supermarkets. They have their positives. They have kept pace with social change, shortening the length of time it takes people to get the shopping done, thus enabling the two-job households now required to keep pace with the cost of living. They have been a prime driver of food culture in the UK, providing a ready source of the ingredients consumers have been introduced to via the media. They have enabled huge economies of scale.

Jul 24, 2017

Dreaded weather event twice as common within 35 years: CSIRO

RELATED: Warming whacks wheat yield ; Tougher times for marginal cropping country
DRY, damaging extreme El Niño weather events will be twice as common in a warming world.
Australia is set to suffer at least twice as many extreme El Niño weather events by 2050, even if international efforts to limiting the rise in global mean temperature to 1.5° Celsius are successful.
That’s the unhappy news from new CSIRO research, published today in Nature Climate Change, which projected the the number of extreme El Niño events would grow from four every 100 years to 10 events every 100 years.
The 2015 Paris climate agreement set a warming reduction target for 195 United Nations signatory countries (except the US, which withdrew this year). It aimed to curb carbon emissions to a level where the rise in mean global temperature are restricted to 1.5°C.
But even if efforts to stabilise warming are successful, and the temperature is stabilised at 1.5°C above the current average, extreme El Niños will continue to grow in frequency, reaching 14 every 100 years by 2150.

Jul 23, 2017

Indonesian cattle cruelty exhibited at class action trial

DAY three of the Indonesian live cattle ban class action trial was dominated by the defence presenting extensive and intimate details of animal cruelty practices that underpinned the government’s sudden decision to cut off trade.
Lights in the court room were dimmed as Defence Senior Counsel Neil Williams showed selected extracts from the controversial ABC Four Corners episode of May 30, 2011 “A Bloody Business” which was also introduced into trial evidence.
Graphic images of cattle mistreatment ignited the public uproar that applied intense pressure on the former Labor government and a few days after the ABC broadcast the then Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig eventually suspended the entire market for up to six months.
The Federal Court case is being held in Sydney and seeking to prove misfeasance by the commonwealth - claiming about $600 million in damages - in Mr Ludwig’s signing of the second control order that shut trade, to try and address animal welfare standards in Indonesian abattoirs.
On day three, the plaintiff’s Senior Counsel Noel Hutley spent the day presenting his argument and allowed several Four Corners extracts to be shown to the court room.

Read more....

Jul 21, 2017

Hot, Dry and Deadly

A new climate change report has made some dire forecasts for the survival of threatened species and the future of farming in central and southern New South Wales.
The Hot, Dry and Deadly report by the state's peak environmental organisation, the Nature Conservation Council, is based on peer-reviewed scientific data on the impact of global warming.
It predicts that by 2090 the Southern Tablelands will face temperature increases of nearly four degrees, combined with an almost 50 per cent reduction in annual rainfall. -- ABC Report

We have so much to lose

Climate change will have profoundly negative impacts on nature in NSW if we do not urgently reduce greenhouse gas emissions. NSW has a stunning variety of species and ecosystems, with outstanding rainforests, eucalypt forests and woodlands, grasslands, wetlands, coastal heaths, alpine habitats and arid shrub lands. These ecosystems are home to more than 900 animal species, almost 4,700 plants species, and countless insect and fungi species. Since European settlement, native ecosystems and species in NSW have declined significantly. Almost 40% of native vegetation has been cleared, and what’s left is highly degraded. Only 9% is in good condition.
More than 100 species have become extinct since 1788, and over 1000, including 60% of all mammal species, are now threatened with extinction. Key threats are land clearing, habitat fragmentation, invasive species, and changed fire regimes. Human-induced climate change has now been added as a potent part of the mix.

Jul 19, 2017

Interview: Author Judith Schwartz Examines Water Management

When writer Judith Schwartz learned that soil carbon is a buffer for climate change, her focus as a journalist took a major turn. She was covering the Slow Money National Gathering in 2010 when Gardener’s Supply founder Will Raap stated that over time more CO2 has gone into the atmosphere from the soil than has been released from burning fossil fuels. She says her first reaction was “Why don’t I know this?” Then she thought, “If this is true, can carbon be brought back to the soil?” In the quest that followed, she made the acquaintance of luminaries like Allan Savory, Christine Jones and Gabe Brown and traveled to several continents to see the new soil carbon paradigm in action. Schwartz has the gift of making difficult concepts accessible and appealing to lay readers, and that’s exactly what she does in Cows Save the Planet And Other Improbable Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth, which Elizabeth Kolbert called “a surprising, informative, and ultimately hopeful book.”
For her most recent project, Water in Plain Sight: Hope for a Thirsty World, Schwartz delves into the little-known role the water cycle plays in planetary health, which she illustrates with vivid, empowering stories from around the world. While we might not be able to change the rate of precipitation, as land managers we can directly affect the speed that water flows off our land and the amount of water that the soil is able to absorb. Trees and other vegetation are more than passive bystanders at the mercy of temperature extremes — they can also be powerful influences in regulating the climate.  
The week after this interview was recorded, Schwartz travelled to Washington, D.C., to take part in a congressional briefing on soil health and climate change organized by Regeneration International. As a public speaker, educator, researcher and networker, she has become deeply engaged in the broad movement to build soil carbon and restore ecosystems.

Read more....

Jun 30, 2017

Growing food in the post-truth era

The global food system has been operating in post-truth mode for decades. Having constructed food scarcity as a justification for a second Green Revolution, Big Agriculture now employs its unethical marketing tactics to selling farmers “climate-smart” agriculture in the form of soils, seeds and chemicals.

The cover of Monsanto’s 2016 annual report, A Limitless Perspective, presents a vista of galaxies worthy of a George Lucas production. The brightest star is an A$88 billion merger with German chemical company Bayer, to be finalised this year.

Critics have described this as a “marriage made in hell”. They fear the new mega-corporation will impose even more pesticides and genetically modified seeds on the world’s farmers.

Monsanto’s oft-stated aim is to “consolidate the entire food chain”. That means a corporatised food regime that concentrates knowledge and power in the hands of a few.

This cedes control of food security to profit-making companies. The democratic governance of food and agriculture policy is under threat.

Jun 1, 2017

Book Review : Dead Zone: Where the Wild Things Were

DEAD ZONE:Where the Wild Things Were
by Philip Lymbery
Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017
Reviewed by Martin Empson

Philip Lymbery’s Dead Zone is a highly readable, if frightening, examination of the impact of industrial agriculture on the environment, and particularly biodiversity. Lymbery’s style is part travel-book, part autobiography and part ecological critique. There’s a lot in it, and this review cannot hope to highlight all of the fascinating content—my copy is covered in pencil markings just from a single read.But I want to try and explore what Lymbery rightly highlights as a major ecological crisis, and add a few additional thoughts.

The first thing to note is the breadth of Lymbery’s coverage. From the impact of palm plantations on elephants in Asia, to the decline of Barn Owls, Nightingales and other birds in the UK, to the dead zones in the Mexican Gulf and the way that the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy has decimated Eastern European farming, this is a bleak picture.

Read more...>

Healthy soil is the real key to feeding the world

By David R. Montgomery 

Professor of Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington 

One of the biggest modern myths about agriculture is that organic farming is inherently sustainable. It can be, but it isn’t necessarily. After all, soil erosion from chemical-free tilled fields undermined the Roman Empire and other ancient societies around the world. Other agricultural myths hinder recognizing the potential to restore degraded soils to feed the world using fewer agrochemicals.

When I embarked on a six-month trip to visit farms around the world to research my forthcoming book, “Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life,” the innovative farmers I met showed me that regenerative farming practices can restore the world’s agricultural soils. In both the developed and developing worlds, these farmers rapidly rebuilt the fertility of their degraded soil, which then allowed them to maintain high yields using far less fertilizer and fewer pesticides.

Their experiences, and the results that I saw on their farms in North and South Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Ghana and Costa Rica, offer compelling evidence that the key to sustaining highly productive agriculture lies in rebuilding healthy, fertile soil. This journey also led me to question three pillars of conventional wisdom about today’s industrialized agrochemical agriculture: that it feeds the world, is a more efficient way to produce food and will be necessary to feed the future. 

Read more...>

Solutions to Australia’s rural crisis

By Elena Garcia

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Australia is the most urbanised country on earth. Almost 90% of Australians live in urban areas, while rural Australia, as of 2010–11, had only 134,000 farm businesses employing 307,000 people to manage 52% of Australia — 417.3 million hectares of land, including the 46.3% of Australia that is marginal land.

In rural areas plagues of feral animals destroy land management infrastructure, drive native plants and animals into extinction and strip vegetation from the soil and creek banks, allowing the topsoil to be flushed down the rivers by the increasingly intensive rain events or blown away in dust storms because rain is less frequent.

Meanwhile, a concentrated attack has been launched on land owners by corporations. Aboriginal communities have been moved from their traditional lands into townships on various pretexts, including by cutting the water supply to remote communities, so the mining industry can have free access to their lands.

The abolition of marketing boards and the fair minimum pricing regulations they set has allowed the supermarket corporate duopoly to drive farmers into poverty. The managers of our prime farmland — dairy, fruit and vegetable growers — are pushed out of the industry as farm gate prices remain below costs and food processing industries are moved offshore or run for investor profit rather than farm returns.

Both foreign and domestic corporate interests work with banks to buy up the best agricultural land by whatever dirty trick they can manage, so they can directly export our best produce for premium prices, leaving cheap and toxic imports, produced with polluted water and slave labour, for domestic consumption.

Once they own the land, there is nothing to stop these Big Agriculture corporations from establishing the toxic industrial agriculture that has destroyed American farmland and small farmers.

Read more...>

Murray Goulburn: Dairy crisis hits new low

By Elena Garcia

Friday, May 12, 2017

Australia’s largest milk processor Murray Goulburn has announced it will close manufacturing plants in three small rural towns: Kiewa and Rochester in northern Victoria and Edith Creek in Tasmania.

Murray Goulburn expects 360 people will lose their jobs. The closures are in areas where there are no other industries.

This will have a huge impact on these three local communities. The 700 residents of Kiewa-Tangambalanga will lose 135 jobs from Murray Goulburn's factory closure.

“It’s devastating to the town,” former Murray Goulburn employee Jack Britten said about the Kiewa closure. Kiewa was built around the butter factory. Most will have to move to find jobs, which will mean shops and local services like schools may close.

Murray Goulburn attributed the closures to a 20.6% slump in milk supplies and a 14.8% drop in revenue.

New book looks at how corporate power is destroying agriculture — and how it can be changed

By Lalitha Chelliah  
Sustainable Agriculture vs Corporate Greed: Small farmers, food security &
big business
By Alan Broughton & Elena Garcia
Resistance Books
104pp, pb
This new book is vital to understand the desperate state of farming in Australia and the world. The foolish thinking behind the way world leaders propose to manage sustainable food production is clearly exposed.
In Sustainable Agriculture vs Corporate Greed, published by Resistance Books, farmers and socialist activists Alan Broughton and Elena Garcia explore the world of survival.
Broughton has enormous experience and knowledge about sustainable farming. He has worked in or studied experiences in Venezuela, Thailand, Tanzania, Uganda, Cuba, South Korea and Italy. He also designed and taught the first organic farming diploma course in Australia.

Feb 16, 2017

The continuing crisis in the dairy industry

The dairy industry is in crisis and dairy sustainability is under attack.

In Victoria — where most dairy farms are — Australia’s largest processor, farmer-owned co-operative Murray Goulburn, allowed outside investors to become members, to get the funds to build more infrastructure to take advantage of export opportunities. Murray Goulburn prioritised paying returns to those investors out of their 2016 $44 million annual profit, rather than to the farmers who supply the product.

An overestimation of the global market price meant that when milk prices dropped, Murray Goulburn slashed its farm gate milk price without warning last April to $4.31 a kilo of milk solids or 33c a litre and told farmers they had to repay the higher price they had been receiving. Fonterra, the other major processor, matched the farm gate price drop.

As former chief executive Gary Helou left Murray Goulburn in May with a $10 million payout, farmers were left owing an average $120,000 “overpayment” debt, based on payments set at his promised and “achievable” $6 a kilogram milk price. A 38% rise in the board directors’ fees added insult to injury.

Feb 15, 2017

Sustainable Agriculture versus Corporate Greed

Due out soon:

From the Introduction:
There is money to be made in farming, but not by the farmers. This pamphlet 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.

...But farmers around the world are resisting...

Feb 1, 2017

Monsanto strategies for agricultural domination

By Alan Broughton 
Monsanto is one of the world’s biggest pesticide and seed corporations and the leading developer and seller of genetically modified crop varieties. The stock market value in 2014 was US$66 billion. It has gained this position by a combination of deceit, threat, litigation, destruction of evidence, falsified data, bribery, takeover and cultivation of regulatory organisations.

The rise and its torrid controversy covers a long period starting with PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls, chemicals used as insulators for electrical transformers) in the 1940s and moving on to dioxin (a contaminant of Agent Orange used to defoliate Vietnam), glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide), recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH, a hormone injected in dairy cows to increase their milk production), and genetic modification. Its key aim in dealing with health and environmental issues of concern is to protect sales and profits and the company image. The latter though has been a monumental failure, making Monsanto the most hated corporation in the world. 

In order to better sell its GM technology Monsanto began acquiring seed companies in 1996 and within 10 years became the largest seed supplier in the world. If the planned merger with Bayer takes place they will have a third of the world’s seed market and a quarter of the pesticide market.