Updated: Jun 15
XR Sheffield activist Ci Davis talks about the effects of modern agriculture on the environment and how to improve these practices.
"Before COVID-19 food and farming was in crisis. Soils have become so depleted of organic matter that to maintain yields, high levels of artificial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides are required. These fossil fuel derived poisons threaten our health and destroy the natural biodiversity. Industrial farming systems, reliant on the powerful tractor and plough, make the soils less permeable, causing increased flooding and soil loss; Sheffield must reduce flood risk. Suicide amongst farmers is greater than one per week, as half are no longer able to make a living, and 17% facing major liquidity problems, sunk by the high input costs and year-on-year decreasing farm gate prices.
There is no need for this. Agricultural practices exist which produce as much food, of much higher quality, without the costly toxic inputs, while at the same time regenerating the soils, reducing carbon emissions, capturing and storing the emissions generated from other areas of the economy, providing employment, and connecting far more people to nature, with consequent reductions in stress and greater health and wellbeing. It is called Agroecology and could be adopted immediately as part of the response to rebuilding the economy.
There are some basic principles: avoiding ploughing which wrecks the soils, bare soils leach carbon and nutrients and so must be protected by cover crops and planting a wide variety of crops. Mechanization is greatly reduced opening the possibility for more agricultural work, currently only 1.5% of the UK population are engaged in food and agriculture, so agroecology offers scope for really meaningful work in the post-COVID-19 rebuild.
Worldwide agroecology is mainly carried out on small farms of less than 2 hectares. If repeated here, land could be distributed more fairly and access to nature increased. It can be carried out in urban areas such as Sheffield, on allotments, gardens, balconies, brownfield sites, and areas of spare land. We could be engaged in producing our food, just as during WWII when 50% of fruit and veg were grown by ordinary people on their ‘Victory Gardens’. Growing can build community cohesion, enhance wellbeing and teach skills that have been lost, as well as capturing and storing up to 85 tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year.
With record unemployment, a health-crisis that is intimately connected with environmental degradation, the symptoms of which are greatly exacerbated by air pollution as well as obesity caused in part by eating unhealthy processed foods, and the threat of catastrophic climate change if net carbon zero is not achieved in the next decade; then it would appear that the win-win of an agroecological approach to food production is something that Sheffield should be promoting. This is radical but it’s not frightening, how many would need to be convinced to eat locally grown organic healthy food if it were available and affordable? Neither should it be viewed as ‘utopian’ to avert climate catastrophe while improving the lives of everyday people and rebuilding our shattered economy at the same time."
By Ci Davis - XR Sheffield Activist
See our previous Beyond Coronavirus article here.