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Video Interview: How Can We Sequester Carbon while Growing More Food?

Connie Kwan | Tuesday January 24th, 2012 | 5 Comments

Feeding the world’s seven billion people is no small task. Many farming and food distribution systems are carbon intensive. To make matters worse, climate change can exacerbate pressure on food systems by drying out previously water rich, fertile grounds. But there is a way to both sequester carbon and grow more food in one fell swoop: composting.

During the Sustainable Food Summit in San Francisco, Tobias Bandel, Managing Partner of Soil & More International, spoke about the benefits of composting. Soil is one of the biggest carbon pools on the planet with a few gigatons of carbon potential. Industrial farming methods often employ deep tillage and chemical fertilizers, which releases carbon into the air. Composting adds carbon to the soil, which improves soil structure and its water holding capacity, thereby increasing food production.  

In one project in Kenya, Bandel was called in to address the 30-40% yield drop in tea production measured in the last 10 years. The farmers were coached to apply composting methods, and the yields increased by 25% in the first year alone. A similar result was experienced in India.

Over 70% of world food production comes from small scale farms such as the ones in Kenya and India. Many are still farming using low-input sustainable methods. But this way-of-life is continually threatened by pressures to improve productivity, often resulting in the use of chemicals to create short term boosts in productivity.  Protecting these low-input sustainable farms is very important for both long-term food productivity and carbon control. Fortunately, large retail players such as Walmart are starting to migrate their farm suppliers to low-input farming methods through the work of companies like Soil & More.  And organizations such as International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement (IFOAM) are developing soil monitoring schemes to enable this movement. With lots of hard work and a bit of luck, the world’s people can enjoy both food abundance and a lower carbon atmosphere.

Food production sustainability, poverty alleviation and more will be discussed by world leaders at the UN Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development.  It is happening in Brazil June 20-22, 2012.  Participate in the discussion.

 

Connie Kwan is the Founder and CEO of RealMealz.com in Silicon Valley, CA.  She holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School, and covers stories about triple bottom line businesses and projects. Follow her on Twitter @RealMealz and @conniemkwan. This post is also used as a submission for TckTckTck Rio+20 Blogger Prize.


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  • Anonymous

    I met tobias on the Dole sustainable food trip last year. Smart guy! I’m glad you got to interview him.

  • Rodney North

    At Equal Exchange we’ve been working with small-scale organic farmers for over 20 years and we think most people in the global North are failing to appreciate how much these farmers are already doing to combat climate change and how much more they could do if properly supported.

    For example, here is a recent post from our blog about the great work by a Peruvian coffee partner of ours, The CEPICAFE co-op, to fight global warming.  This example involves a re-forestation effort, which is something they are doing above-and-beyond their great work as organic coffee farmers.

    http://smallfarmersbigchange.coop/2011/12/06/small-farmers-greening-the-planet-piura-mountains-reforestation-project-wins-the-proclimate-challenge/

    • http://twitter.com/conniemkwan Connie Kwan

      Rodney,
      Thanks for sharing the link. How can people in the global North further support farmer’s efforts?

  • Rodney North

    Hi Connie,
    There are many ways – some obvious & immediate, some unexpected & more long term.

    For ex:
    * Purchase the harvests ( coffee, tea, bananas, etc) of these small farmers, especially from brands like Equal Exchange that work in solidarity with those farmers. Other brands to look for include: Dr. Bronners, Guyaki, Eden Foods, Organic Valley, TCHO (chocolate), & in Canada: Camino, Planet Bean & Just Us!.

    * Help people to understand that buying organic is about much more than one’s own health, but about the health of the planet, too. For some this is a given, but market research shows that most retailers and shoppers do _not_ know this, let alone how organic farming does so much to combat climate change.

    * Support authentic Fair Trade – that is to say the original conception of Fair Trade that is focused on the small-scale farmers who most need it. (Currently there is a schism in the Fair Trade system that threatens to siphon Fair Trade sales from the small farmer co-ops and redirect that commerce to large plantations. We have a campaign about this – see: http://www.equalexchange.coop/fair-trade-campaign )

  • http://twitter.com/carbonfarming Carbon Farming

    If you want to learn more about specific agricultural techniques for sequestering CO2, Check out the Carbon Farming Course: Workshops in Regenerative Agriculture at http://www.CarbonFarmingCourse.com!