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‘Green agriculture’ would yield multiple benefits

According to the recently launched UNEP Green Economy Report, investing just two percent of the global economy into a few key sectors will kick-start a transition towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy (Item 1).

In the area of agriculture, the report echoes the call of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), for a shift from industrial, high-input and resource-intensive agriculture to sophisticated, biodiversity-based agro-ecological practices.

The key messages of the Agriculture chapter (Item 2) reiterate that investments and policy reforms aimed at “greening” agriculture will offer opportunities to diversify economies, reduce poverty through increased yields and creation of new green jobs especially in rural areas, ensure food security on a sustainable basis, and significantly reduce the environmental and economic costs of agriculture.

Evidence also suggests that the application of green farming practices has increased yields, especially on small farms, between 54 and 179 per cent. Besides the productivity gains, green agriculture has the potential to contribute significant environmental benefits including restoring and maintaining soil fertility; reducing soil erosion and inorganic agro-chemical pollution; increasing water use efficiency; decreasing deforestation, biodiversity loss and other land use impacts; and significantly reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

The Agriculture chapter also calls for reform of national and international policies, particularly focusing on environmentally harmful subsidies that support the current unsustainable system of conventional agriculture. These artificially lower the costs of some agricultural inputs and lead to their inefficient and excessive use, with ensuing environmental and health impacts.

The full report is available at: http://www.unep.org/greeneconomy/v2/GreenEconomyReport/tabid/29846/Default.aspx

With best wishes,

Lim Li Ching

Third World Network

131 Jalan Macalister

10400 Penang

Malaysia

Email: twnet@po.jaring.my
Websites: www.twnside.org.sg, www.biosafety-info.net

Item 1

Environment: Two percent price-tag for a green economy

Uxbridge, Canada, 23 Feb (IPS/Stephen Leahy) -- Growth-obsessed markets and governments are pillaging the planet and it must stop, a new UN report warns.

The present "brown" economic system driven by fossil fuel energy and the serial depletion and degradation of natural resources and ecosystems has no future and must be replaced by a green economy, says the Green Economy report launched in Nairobi, Kenya this week by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Investing just two percent of the global economy into a few key sectors will kick-start a transition towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy, the report says. With that relatively small investment, many of the world's biggest challenges - climate change, poverty, hunger, jobs, sanitation, energy, food - could be successfully met within two generations.

"The Green Economy provides a vital part of the answer of how to keep humanity's ecological footprint within planetary boundaries," said Achim Steiner, UNEP executive director. "It aims to link the environmental imperatives for changing course to economic and social outcomes," Steiner said.

The report documents that a green, low-carbon, resource-efficient economy will be at least as prosperous as the old brown economy. Better still, a green economy will not have the inherent risks, shocks, scarcities and crises of the resource-depleting, high carbon "brown" economy, it says.

"A green economy is not about stifling growth and prosperity, it is about reconnecting with what is real wealth; re-investing in rather than just mining natural capital; and favouring the many over the few," says Pavan Sukhdev, an economist on secondment from Deutsche Bank and head of UNEP's Green Economy Initiative.

The first step on the road to a green economy is to phase out the over $600 billion in global fossil fuel subsidies and "re-direct the more than 20-billion-dollar subsidies [that] perversely reward those involved in unsustainable fisheries", said Sukhdev.

"Mis-allocation of capital is at the centre of the world's current dilemmas and there are fast actions that can be taken starting literally today," he said in a statement.

The fact that the world spends between one and two percent of global GDP subsidising unsustainable resource use puts a lie to the oft-cited claim that environmental investments come at a cost to economic growth. Industrial agriculture is another example of a heavily subsidised sector that contributes up to one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions and has other massive environmental side effects.

Moreover, industrial agriculture has failed to properly feed up to a billion people a year for decades, says the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM).

That clear failure and the environmental destruction it has caused is a clarion call for a shift to agro-ecological practices as recommended by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). Those practices have been endorsed by UNEP, the FAO, World Bank and over 50 countries, according to an IFOAM statement made on behalf of farmer organisations.

Putting agro-eco practices into place will require governments to shift their subsidies and policies to support small food producers and their efforts to nurture the majority of the world's ecosystems and biodiversity.

The "Towards a Green Economy" report acknowledges some jobs in the brown economy will be lost. However, new jobs will be created, green jobs that are both better for people and the environment. The report defines the green economy as "one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities".

"I am pleased to read that UNEP shares with workers around the world the deep belief that a green economy should work for the people and the planet, and not just for GDP growth and a few wealthy companies," said Sharan Burrow of the International Trade Union Confederation, a labour organisation representing 176 million workers in 151 countries and territories.

"The policies being pursued by governments at the moment risk taking us backwards. Neo-liberal recipes, based on the dictates of the financial markets, have to be jettisoned," Burrow said in a statement.

To create a truly green economy requires governments to take back their responsibilities to regulate banking and finance, and promote policies which stimulate greening of workplaces and creation of new green jobs, she said.

Green is the best way for Europe to re-energise its faltering economy, according to a major new report released in Brussels this week by the German Environment Ministry. A massive burst of investment in green technologies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2020 will not only be good for the global climate, it will bring wide economic benefits to the 27 countries of the European Union.

"European governments must not ignore evidence that moving to a 30 percent target is in Europe's own economic interests, when the lives of millions of poor people, already hit by climate change, are on the line," said Tim Gore, Oxfam's climate change policy spokesman.

Enormous inertia and resistance will have to be overcome to make the shift from brown to green. Governments will have to become "green activists" to make it happen, experts acknowledge.

It is up to each country to act, says UNEP spokesperson Nick Nuttall. Taxation and smart market mechanisms that shift consumer spending and promote green innovation will be needed. Policies that favour renewable energy and government spending that stimulates green economic sectors and limits spending that deplete natural capital will be among the changes needed.

Relying on markets and investors to power the shift to a green economy is unlikely to work, says Christine von Weizsacker, representing civil society at the UNEP meetings in Nairobi where the report was released.

Governments will have to be active in directing the shift by enforcing rules and practices like the precautionary principle protecting human rights, said Weizsacker, a biologist with ECOROPA, a German NGO. "Stopping perverse subsidies certainly should be one of the core issues of the green economy," she said. +

*  This article was written and distributed by IPS news agency. It was published in SUNS #7096 dated 25 February 2011.  We thank IPS and SUNS for our re-distributing this article.

Item 2

Agriculture: Investing in Natural Capital

Key messages

1. Feeding an expanding and more demanding world population in the first half of this century, while attending to the needs of 925 million people who are presently undernourished and addressing climate change, will need managed transitions away from “business-as-usual” in both conventional1 and traditional2 farming. Both farming systems currently deplete natural capital, and produce significant quantities of global greenhouse gases (GHGs) and other pollutants, though in different ways and to varying degrees, which disproportionately affect the poor. The continued demand for land-use changes is often responsible for deforestation and loss of biodiversity. The economic cost of agricultural externalities amounts to billions of US dollars per year and is still increasing. A package of investments and policy reforms aimed at “greening” agriculture will offer opportunities to diversify economies, reduce poverty through increased yields and creation of new green jobs especially in rural areas, ensure food security on sustainable basis, and significantly reduce the environmental and economic costs of agriculture.

2. Green agriculture is capable of nourishing a growing and more demanding world population at higher nutritional levels out to 2050. An increase from today’s 2,800 Kcal availability per person per day to around 3,200 Kcal by 2050 is possible with the use of green agricultural practices and technologies. It is possible to gain significant nutritional improvements from increased quantity and diversity of food (especially non-cereal) products. During the transition to green agriculture, food production in high-input industrial farming may experience a modest decline while triggering positive responses in the more traditional systems, which account for nearly 70 per cent of global agricultural production. Public, private and civil initiatives for food security and social equity will be needed for an efficient transition at farm level and to assure the sufficient quality nutrition for all during this period.

3. Green agriculture will reduce poverty. Environmental degradation and poverty can be simultaneously addressed by applying green agricultural methods. There are approximately 2.6 billion people who depend on agriculture for livelihood, a vast majority of them living on small farms and rural areas on less than US$1 per day. Increasing farm yields and return on labour, while improving ecosystem services – on which the poor depend most directly for food and livelihoods – will be the key to achieve these goals. For every 10 per cent increase in farm yields, there has been a 7 per cent reduction in poverty in Africa; and more than 5 per cent in Asia. Evidence suggests that the application of green farming practices has increased yields, especially on small farms, between 54 and 179 per cent.

4. Reducing waste and inefficiency is an important part of the “green agriculture” paradigm. Crop losses to pests and hazards, and losses in storage, distribution, marketing and at household level together account for nearly 50 per cent of the human edible calories that are produced. Currently, total production is around 4,600 Kcal/person/day but what is available for human consumption is around 2,000 Kcal/person/day. FAO suggests that a 50 percent reduction of losses and wastage in the production and consumption chain is a necessary and achievable goal. Addressing some of these inefficiencies – especially crop and storage losses – offers opportunities requiring small investments in simple farm and storage technology on small farms where it makes the most material difference to poor farmers. The FAO reports that although reducing post-harvest losses could be relatively quickly achieved, less than five percent of worldwide agricultural research and extension funding currently targets this problem.

5. Greening agriculture requires investment, research and capacity building in the following key areas: soil fertility management, more efficient and sustainable water use, crop and livestock diversification, biological plant and animal health management, an appropriate level of mechanization and building upstream and downstream supply chains for businesses and trade. Capacity building efforts include expanding green agricultural extension services and facilitating improved market access for smallholder farmers and cooperatives.

6. Additional investments are needed to green agriculture, which will deliver exceptional economic and social returns. The aggregate global cost of investments and policy interventions required for the transition towards green agriculture is estimated to be US$198 billion per year from 2011 to 2050 in the modeling exercise developed for this report. The value-added in agricultural production increases by more than 11 per cent compared with the projected “business-as-usual” (BAU) scenario. Studies suggest that “Return on investments (ROI) in agricultural knowledge, science and technology across commodities, countries and regions on average are high (40-50 per cent) and have not declined over time. They are higher than the rate at which most governments can borrow money”. In terms of social gains, the Asian Development Bank Institute concluded that investment needed to move a household out of poverty through engaging farmers in organic agriculture could be only US$32 to US$38 per capita.

7. Green agriculture has the potential to be a net creator of jobs that provides higher return on labour inputs than conventional agriculture. Additionally, facilities for ensuring food safety and higher quality of food processing in rural areas are projected to create new high quality jobs in the food production chain. Modeled scenarios suggest that investments aimed at greening agriculture could create 47 million additional jobs compared with the BAU scenario in the next 40 years.

8. A transition to green agriculture has significant environmental benefits. Green agriculture has the potential to rebuild natural capital by restoring and maintaining soil fertility; reducing soil erosion and inorganic agro-chemical pollution; increasing water use efficiency; decreasing deforestation, biodiversity loss and other land use impacts; and significantly reducing agricultural GHG emissions. Importantly, greening agriculture could transform agriculture from being a major emitter of greenhouse gasses to one that is net neutral and possibly even be a GHG sink, while reducing deforestation and freshwater use by 55 per cent and 35 per cent, respectively.

9. Green agriculture will also require national and international policy reforms and innovations. Such policy changes should focus particularly on reforming “environmentally harmful” subsidies that artificially lower the costs of some agricultural inputs and lead to their inefficient and excessive use; and promoting policy measures that reward farmers for using environmental friendly agricultural inputs and farming practices and for creating positive externalities such as improved ecosystem services. Changes in trade policies that increase access of “green” agricultural exports originating in developing countries to markets in high income countries are also required; along with reforms of trade distorting production and export subsidies. These will facilitate greater participation by smallholder farmers, cooperatives and local food processing enterprises in food production value chains.

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1. High input, resource intensive, and industrial farming practices exemplify different shades of conventional agriculture.

2. Traditional agriculture refers to farming practices which mainly rely on indigenous and traditional knowledge that is based on farming practices used for several generations. Limited or no use of off-farm inputs is key feature of most traditional farming practices.

 


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