Episode 188. Grasslands and Attacks on Agroecology

This is the World Organic News for the week ending the 30th of September 2019.

Jon Moore reporting!

Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!

Grasslands are a somewhat ignored sector of the environment. This is not surprising, especially in the English speaking world. Not until European colonisation did English speakers come into contact with large areas of grassland so the previous understanding of grazing country underpins our understanding of these niches. 

Not many individuals and certainly no “culture” in the English speaking world had lived on a steppe. The smaller spaces, intensive grazing, enclosures and political structures around those environments underpinned the colonial experience. The indigenous colonised peoples had developed cultural systems to deal with large areas of grassland. These environments generally, and I know speaking generally is fraught with danger but come with me, tend to be lower in rainfall, less reliable rainfall at that and suggest to a western European eye, wheat fields.

For the peoples of the Steppe, the great nomadic herders and scourges of settled peoples, the seemingly riverless expanses of grassland are remarkably fertile.

The problem inherent in the previous ideas, wheat fields and nomadic herders is the class of civilisations. This clash isn’t like our current culture wars, it goes back to the founding of settled living, agriculture and horticulture. While not of a religious bent, I do see this carefree mobile culture versus the hierarchical, top down, settled peoples in the Cain and Abel story and in the Epic of Gilgamesh when Enkidu, the wild man who ran with the beasts of the fields is seduced into the “civilised” world by a temple prostitute as revealing the fears of the settled peoples. 

Mongols at the gates of Vienna, overrunning parts of the Caliphate and ruling the Chinese empire for a period all point our misgivings about grasslands and then need to plant wheat or rye or whatever and to fence these areas has blinded us to their very great potential for so many things: Carbon sinks; meat production; and biodiversity hotspots to name but a few.

Colonists adapted but the accumulated landscape knowledge of the indigenous populations was much reduced and completely lost in some cases. Usually deliberately so by the colonising culture.

So to our first article this week: Teaming up for global grasslands. from the Highlands News-Sun

Quote:

Grasslands make up more than 40 percent of the world’s ice-free land. Grasslands are important because they have sustained humanity and thousands of other species for centuries. But today, those grasslands are shifting beneath our feet. Global change — which includes climate change, pollution and other widespread environmental alterations — is transforming the plant species growing in grasslands….

End Quote

And this is a point worth remembering. Grasslands are not monocultures. This is part of the reason so many of them were poor wheat fields, eventually. Good crops in the first few years then a steady decline as the environmental benefits of biodiversity and the soil carbon disappeared from the systems. We tamper with these things at our peril. Admittedly, during the colonial period this sort of thing was not even thought of, let alone understood. We don’t fully understand it now but we know enough to be a little more careful, perhaps.

Further from the piece:

Quote:

….changes in the plants that comprise grasslands could put those benefits at risk. “Is it good rangeland for cattle, or is it good at storing carbon?” said lead author Dr. Kim Komatsu, a grassland ecologist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. “It really matters what the identities of the individual grassland species are….You might have a really invaded weedy grassland that would not be as beneficial for the ecological services that humans depend on.”

End Quote

It’s not surprising that we, as a species, have altered the makeup of grassland species, we’ve changed every ecosystem on this planet. The point is we can return them to different points of equilibrium that are more suited to environmental services, including food production and carbon capture.

What we do on our pieces of land can make a real difference. It does require thought before actions and an ability to modify those thoughts as the evidence becomes available. 

Our second piece is from India: The attack on agroecology from The Sangai Express.

A salutary warning for those trying anything new. Provided it doesn’t threaten the status quo, it will be ignored. Once the new idea starts to have an effect, changing paradigms for instance, the Empire will strike back, to borrow a phrase.

From the article,

Quote:

Powerful lobbies with vested interests see agroecology as a threat to their influence on farming systems

Agroecology is recognised worldwide as a system that enhances fertile landscapes, increases yields, restores soil health and biodiversity, promotes climate resilience and improves farmers’ well-being. Its practices are supported by many agricultural scientists, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, farmers’ groups and several NGOs. It is therefore surprising that the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, based on a brainstorming session that included industry representatives, sent a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi opposing Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF). ZBNF, developed and publicised by agro-scientist Subhash Palekar, has been adopted by Andhra Pradesh.

End Quote.

We will be covering the Zero Budget Natural Farming technique over at RegenEarth in the near future. There’s a link for that podcast in the show notes.

The key words to pay attention to here are Zero Budget. Agricultural companies, agronomists, Universities will not make money if all farmers changed over to Zero Budget farming. That it works is of no interest to say, Bayer. If you save your seeds, make your own natural fertilisers, companion plant and so on, shareholders are not going to receive much “value”. Farmers will and maybe that’s not a bad thing. I’d argue it is the point. 

Indeed this is put so much better in the article:

Quote:

Threat to powerful elites: Farming in India, as in most other countries, is largely under the control of powerful lobbies with vested interests and connections to deep pockets. These include fossil fuel, fertilizer and seed companies as well as scientists with funding connections to agribusiness. These lobbies perceive large-scale transitions to agroecology as a substantial threat to their influence on farming systems.

End Quote.

Get ready for the backlash, stick to the science that works, improve your soil and change the world!

That’s about it for this week.

Thank you for listening and I’ll be back next week.

~~~~

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Topical Talks

RegenEarth Podcast

Teaming up for global grasslands

https://www.yoursun.com/sebring/around_town/teaming-up-for-global-grasslands/article_c6fc3b94-e45b-11e9-846c-77113b385506.html

The attack on agroecology

https://www.thesangaiexpress.com/Encyc/2019/9/25/Powerful-lobbies-with-vested-interests-see-agroecology-as-a-threat-to-their-influence-on-farming-systemsAgroecology-is-recognised-worldwide-as-a-system-that-enhances-fertile-landscapes-increases-yi.html

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