So far in the election campaign the Green Party has been silent about the role of organic agriculture in it’s vision for the future.
Just as with the Green Party’s quiet and mumbled response to National’s policy for commercial release of GE, their silence has raised questions about the integrity of the Party’s policies.
To be fair, it should not just be the Greens talking about local and global action to rebuild soil health and drive carbon sequestration.
Yes it’s their gig and what we expect the Greens to be advocating for. Their absence from the debate has raised suspicion of shennanagins and doublespeak.
But the importance of regenerative agriculture in mitigating climate change is bigger than just the Greens and should be on the agenda of every Party.
There is an opportunity cost in all our political leaders failing to recognise the multifaceted benefits of regenerative organic agriculture.
Longer-term, the price to pay is not just in the continued reliance of farmers on high-cost fertiliser, chemical inputs and patented GE seeds.
Trust the Green Party
The good news is that the Green Party policies on both organics and on regulating Genetic Engineering are really good. Green Party policy on the website includes:
- Support the limited and ethical use of non-genetically engineered (GE) biotechnology, and GE biotechnology in containment and ensure that it is regulated to:
Prohibit release of viable GE organisms into water, air, land or soil ecosystems
Support strict liability and a polluter-pays approach for biotechnology producers
Uphold the Precautionary Principle
Permit case-by-case evaluation of GE in containment
Be process-triggered (so will test and trace GE foods)
- Incorporate soil carbon, the health of biological soil systems and soil water within climate change response frameworks, acknowledging their vital role, in conjunction with plant life, in sequestering carbon in the soil and cooling the area
- Assist farmers to transition to regenerative farming, including through on-farm regenerative organic advisory services, financial tools to assist with the upfront cost of transition, funding for regenerative primary industry bodies, and support for certification
The Greens also rightly recognise the connection across different policy areas – Environmental Protection, Sustainable Communities, Food, Climate Change, Trade, Animal Welfare, Biosecurity and Conservation.
What the Experts say
Not surprisingly, the experts don’t agree.
The contrast of opinion is described very well in the article “The Real Climate Impact of Organic Farming” by Lisa Held.
On one hand a research scholar at Princeton University says that organics is not going to be a meaningful part of the climate solution. Another scientist who oversees soil health research at the Rodale Institute, says there’s no doubt that organic systems could reduce greenhouse emissions and improve carbon sequestration.
Rodale is also moving towards “regenerative organic” practices that focus not just on the absence of pesticides, but on the many practices that build soil and the climate-friendly reasons to do so.
Organic agriculture offers society much more than ‘less chemical sprays’.
Though many New Zealand farmers are still locked in to the old system, things are changing.
Organics represents a more nuanced and complex relationship between humans and our food than the past 50 years of industrial intensification allows.
As an alternative to today’s market-failure and orthodoxy to ‘make farmers pay’ we need to be providing subsidies and funding to make the transition.
It would be useful for politicians and industry players to find out if kiwi farmers have a similar level of openness to organics as Irish farmers have.
Benefits of agro-ecology
The diversity of crops in mixed regenerative agriculture provides increased resilience to climate change, drought and pests.
Animal welfare is a cornerstone that is less widely recognised. Free range is just the start of it.
More localised regenerative organic food systems give greater resilience for all countries to climate disruption. It can make them less totally reliant on a vulnerable global supply chain for synthetic inputs and the importation of food.
Nutrient density in organic food offers a solution to harmful impacts on soil health and the loss of nutritional value that are major negative outcomes of the first Green Revolution.
This is what the Green Party and other politicians should be talking about, and budgeting support for farmers to change.
The Industrial green revolution is the wrong direction
While the Green Revolution had many benefits, it was not without fault—one of its most significant faults was its impact on the health of our soil.
The Ecologist reports that the the Green revolution is locking African farmers into a system that is not designed for their benefit, but for Northern multinational corporations.
The research examines the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), a nonprofit launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates and Rockefeller foundations in 2006. In 14 years, AGRA has collected nearly a billion dollars in donations and disbursed $524 million, primarily in thirteen African countries, promoting the use of commercial seeds, chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
The paper documents the results – slow productivity growth, no significant increases in food security or small-farmer incomes, and worsening hunger in most of AGRA’s target countries.
Timothy Wise, the lead author said: “It’s a failing model, failing results; it’s time to change course.”
Vandana Shiva, an advocate for agroecology says “globally, the subsidies are $400bn a year to make an unviable agriculture system work.”
So a few billion dollars to support the transition to organics in New Zealand is more than reasonable when compared with global industrial farming subsidies of $400bn.
At the heart of regenerative organic agriculture is Soil Health
It’s not a coincidence that “Soil and Health” is the name of the organisation established in 1941 with the guiding principle oranga nuku, oranga kai, oranga tāngata / healthy soil, healthy food, healthy people.
A new report by Friends of the Earth raises concerns that Biotech companies are developing genetically engineered microbes for use in agriculture, including the largest agrichemical corporations — Bayer-Monsanto, Syngenta, and BASF. The first of these products are already being used across millions of acres of U.S. farmland.
The threat from new Gene Edited Soil Microbes
The release of live genetically engineered microbes in agriculture represents an unprecedented open-air genetic experiment. The scale of release is far larger. The odds of containment are far smaller than for GE crops.
“Microbes can share genetic material with each other far more readily than crops and can travel great distances on the wind, so the genetic modifications released inside GE microbes may move across species and geographic boundaries in unpredictable ways,”said Dana Perls, food and technology program manager at Friends of the Earth.
Releasing genetically engineered microbes in agriculture could enable new associations to form with weed or pest species with unforeseen and potentially irreparable consequences.
‘Biologicals’ – Work with, not against Nature
Genetic Engineering is good for companies seeking Intellectual Property and patents but it not needed to harness the power of microbes.
Hundreds of naturally-derived microbes – ‘Biologicals’ — are available for use in agriculture already, as biostimulants to improve plant growth, biofertilizers to improve crop nutrition, and biopesticides to manage pests and diseases. Billions of unexplored microbes exist that can be a source of discovery and benefit for generations to come without the use of genetic engineering.
New Zealand researchers at Lincoln University know this already, and show how science can help the transition to sustainable organic agriculture.
One of their projects will harness the power of humble natural strains of soil fungi to increase the efficiency of nitrogen use by plants and reduce nitrogen losses. Research to date indicates this has a strong potential to mitigate both greenhouse gas emissions and reduce nitrogen loss to waterways.
The Market has failed
Politicians in New Zealand and around the world, must support Farmers to make the transition.
The long debate over fart taxes and charging for farm emissions is a distraction from the bigger picture.
Global industrial agriculture is a failed system that is not meeting consumer demand for urgent change in the face of climate change and loss of natural biodiversity.
Of course agri-chemical companies want more of the same. But their price is too high too pay. Regenerative organic agriculture has to be part of the solution.
Even if the Green Party has been cowed into silence on regenerative organic agriculture and for whatever reason they don’t want to talk about it- their election tagline is still correct: the time is now.
Jon Carapiet: Born in Ghana and educated at Cambridge and Auckland Universities, Jon is a consumer researcher and advocate, photographer and writer. Jon started talking about valuing and protecting Brand New Zealand in the early 2000’s and is spokesman for GE-Free NZ (in food and environment). Twitter jon@brandnewzealand