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Transforming industrial agriculture to help curtail climate change

On the day in September when he addressed Congress, about a hundred bipartisan, U.S. faith-based, consumer, farming and environmental groups published “An Open Letter to His Holiness Pope Francis.”
It urged our politicians, the citizens of this country and of the world to heed the papal encyclical’s advice that we “hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”
The groups advocate for recognition of a major role farming can play in reducing greenhouse gases, by “drawing carbon back down from the atmosphere … and returning it to the soil where it came from, whence it will provide the earth with abundance.”
They note much damage to soil and water, nature’s green-plants cornucopia and its wildlife occurring under modern-day, industrial agriculture.
Growing mono-culture, genetically engineered crops over large areas with heavy chemical pesticide and fertilizer inputs, its intent may be to further raise agricultural productivity and food security but “it has failed to alleviate world hunger,” the groups say.
They point to the encyclical’s acknowledgment that, the world over, on small parcels of land small-operation farmers still feed much of the world while stewarding the health of their plots of land and soil for future generations.
Over-reliance on synthetic chemicals has made commercial agriculture unsustainable and essentially inefficient for food security, long-term.
As Yale University’s Dr. Pimentel has written, it consumes 10 calories of fuel energy to produce one calorie of food energy. Further, while crop pests destroyed the equivalent of about 30 percent of grain harvests before the agro-chemicals revolution began, they now claim the equivalent of 37 percent.
The groups’ appeal to the Pope called to mind a lecture at East Tennessee State University some years ago, by Vandana Shiva.
A physicist by training, environmental activist and director of a Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy, she is a recipient of the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize.
Through the work of her “Navdanya” demonstration farm and research center, thousands of Indian farmers were trained in organic agriculture methods, dozens of community seed banks established and more than 3,000 seed and plant varieties – locally adapted rice, wheat, lentils and other traditional Indian crops – preserved.
In traditional farming practices involving inter-planting of grains, beans and other crops or vegetables, soil organisms, earthworms and other partners in plant health thrive and food production is high.
Analytic research studies cited by Dr. Shiva, comparing traditional poly-culture with commercial monoculture fields find total food productivity to be higher by far in the former.
The U.S. in recent years has seen strong growth in farmers markets and the local-food movement. They reflect many farmers’ and consumers’ desire for a rejuvenated agriculture system, one that does not make nature “cry” when, through massive extrinsic chemical inputs her soils are deadened and her insect and other creature coworkers are killed.
With its own emphasis on the huge contribution which bio-diverse agriculture can make toward solving the climate crisis, the Citizens’ Climate Lobby national group is a co-signer of the Open-Letter appeal to Pope Francis.