Soil Not Oil: Why We Need to Kick Petroleum Out of Our Farms
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Biodiversity offers resilience to recover from climate disasters. After the Orissa supercyclone of 1998, and the tsunami of 2004, Navdanya distributed seeds of saline-resistant rice varieties as "Seeds of Hope" to rejuvenate agriculture in lands that were salinated as a result of flooding from the sea. We are now creating seed banks of drought-resistant, flood-resistant, and saline-resistant seed varieties to respond to such extreme climate events. Climate chaos creates uncertainty. Diversity offers a cushion against both climate extremes and climate uncertainty. We need to move from the myopic obsession with monocultures and centralization to diversity and decentralization.
Diversity and decentralization are the dual principles needed to build economies beyond oil and to deal with the climate vulnerability that is the legacy of the age of oil. In addition to reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience, biodiverse organic farming also produces more food and higher incomes. As David Pimentel has pointed out: "Organic farming approaches for maize and beans in the US not only use an average of 30% less fossil energy but also conserve more water in the soil, induce less erosion, maintain soil quality, and conserve more biological resources than conventional farming does."
After Hurricane Mitch struck Central America in 1998, farmers who practiced biodiverse organic farming found they had suffered less damage than those who practiced chemical agriculture. The ecologically farmed plots had on average more topsoil, greater soil moisture, and less erosion, and the farmers experienced less severe economic losses.
Fossil fuel-based industrial agriculture moves carbon from the soil to the atmosphere. Ecological agriculture takes carbon from the atmosphere and puts it back in the soil. If 10,000 medium-sized US farms converted to organic farming, the emissions reduction would be equivalent to removing over 1 million cars from the road. If all US croplands became organic it would increase soil-carbon storage by 367 million tons and would cut nitrogen oxide emissions dramatically. Organic agriculture contributes directly and indirectly to reducing CO2 emissions and mitigating the negative consequences of climate change.
Navdanya's work over the past 20 years has shown that we can grow more food and provide higher incomes to farmers without destroying the environment and killing peasants. We can lower the costs of production while increasing output. We have done this successfully on thousands of farms and have created a fair, just, and sustainable economy. The epidemic of farmer suicides in India is concentrated in regions where chemical intensification has increased costs of production. Farmers in these regions have become dependent on non-renewable seeds, and monoculture cash-crops are facing a decline in prices due to globalization. This is affecting farmers' incomes, leading to debt and suicides. High costs of production are the most significant reason for rural indebtedness.
Biodiverse organic farming creates a debt-free, suicide-free, productive alternative to industrialized corporate agriculture and brings about a number of benefits. It leads to increased farm productivity and farm incomes, while lowering costs of production. Pesticide-free and chemical-free production and processing bring safe and healthy food to consumers. We must protect the environment, farmers' livelihoods, public health, and people's right to food.
We do not need to go the Monsanto way. We can go the Navdanya way. We do not need to end up in food dictatorship and food slavery. We can create our food freedom. Biodiverse, organic, and local food systems help mitigate climate change by lowering greenhouse gas emissions and increasing absorption of CO2 by plants and by the soil.
Organic farming is based on the recycling of organic matter; industrial agriculture is based on chemical fertilizers that emit nitrous oxides. Industrial agriculture dispossesses small farmers and converts small farms to large holdings that need mechanization, which further contributes to CO2 emissions. Small, biodiverse, organic farms, especially in third world countries, can be totally fossil fuel-free. The energy for farming operations comes from animals.