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Vandana Shiva: The Living Soil, Crop Diversity, and Fossil-Fuel Free Agriculture

Vandana Shiva argues in favor of crop diversity and healthy, pesticide-free soil in this essay from Alternet.org (excerpted from Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis).

The industrialized, globalized food system is based on oil. It is under threat because of the inevitability of “peak oil.” It is also under threat because it is more vulnerable than traditional agriculture to climate change, to which it has contributed. Industrial agriculture is based on monocultures. Monocultures are highly vulnerable to changes in climate, and to diseases and pests.

In 1970 and 1971, America’s vast corn belt was attacked by a mysterious disease, later identified as ”race T” of the fungus Helminthosporium maydis, causing the southern corn leaf blight, as the epidemic was called. It left ravaged cornfields with withered plants, broken stalks, and malformed or completely rotten cobs. The strength and speed of the blight was a result of the uniformity of the hybrid corn, most of which had been derived from a single Texas male sterile line. The genetic makeup of the new hybrid corn, which was responsible for its rapid and large-scale breeding by seed companies, was also responsible for its vulnerability to disease. At least 80 percent of the hybrid corn in America in 1970 contained the Texas male sterile cytoplasm. As a University of Iowa pathologist wrote, “Such an extensive, homogenous acreage is like a tinder-dry prairie waiting for a spark to ignite it.”

Industrial agriculture is dependent on chemical fertilizers. Chemically fertilized soils are low in organic matter. Organic matter helps conserve the soil and soil moisture, providing insurance against drought. Soils lacking organic matter are more vulnerable to drought and to climate change. Industrial agriculture is also more dependent on intensive irrigation. Since climate change is leading to the melting of glaciers that feed rivers, and in many regions of the world to the decline in precipitation and increased intensity of drought, the vulnerability of industrial agriculture will only increase. Finally, since the globalized food system is based on long-distance supply chains, it is vulnerable to breakdown in the context of extreme events of flooding, cyclones, and hurricanes. While aggravating climate change, fossil fuel-dependent industrialized, globalized agriculture is least able to adapt to the change.

We need an alternative. Biodiverse, organic farms and localized food systems offer us security in times of climate insecurity, while producing more food, producing better food, and creating more livelihoods. The industrialized, globalized food system is based on oil; biodiverse, organic, and local food systems are based on living soil. The industrialized system is based on creating waste and pollution; a living agriculture is based on no waste. The industrialized system is based on monocultures; sustainable systems are based on diversity.

Read the whole article here.


No-Till Farming

In the below Q&A, author and permaculture designer Shawn Jadrnicek answers questions about no-till farming and the use of cover crops from two readers (one from North Carolina, and the other from Nova Scotia). In his groundbreaking book, The Bio-Integrated Farm, Jadrnicek provides in-depth information on water flow management along with projects that use the free forces of nature—gravity, […] Read More

Reimagining Restoration as a Radical Act

Finding ways to manage “invasive” species as we’ve come to know them has sparked a vigorous debate within conservation and restoration communities, as well as farmers, gardeners, and permaculturalists.In her thought-provoking book Beyond the War on Invasive Species, author Tao Orion urges us to rethink and reimagine restoration as a way to break out of […] Read More

What Can Wisteria Do For Your Forest Garden?

Jerome Osentowski, founder of the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute (CRMPI) in Basalt, Colorado, is one of North America’s most accomplished permaculture designers and author of the new groundbreaking book, The Forest Garden Greenhouse. Part case-study of CRMPI’s innovative greenhouses and part how-to primer, Osentowski’s book shows that bringing the forest garden indoors is possible, even on […] Read More

Tips on Perennial Crops with Eric Toensmeier

Eric Toensmeier is the award-winning author of Perennial Vegetables, Paradise Lot, and most recently The Carbon Farming Solution—a groundbreaking new book that treats agriculture as an important part of the climate change solution, rather than a global contributor to the problem. As part of our “Ask the Expert” series going on throughout the month of May to celebrate […] Read More

How to Design Swales for Optimum Water Flow

May has arrived! The birds are chirping, flowers are budding, and it’s time to officially celebrate Permaculture Month.Throughout the next few weeks, we are putting our pioneering permaculture authors to work for you in our “Ask the Experts” series. If you are looking to become a better permaculturalist, there’s still time to participate. Submit your questions here.Today’s topic is […] Read More
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