Category Archives: Global Hunger

New Report: Feeding the World Without GMOs

Charles W. Elliott

Feeding the World Without GMOsA new report, Feeding The World Without GMOs , by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) refutes the corporate biotech/industrial narrative that genetically modified organism (GMO) foods offer real solutions to global hunger and food insecurity.

Despite significant progress over the past 30 years, the world still faces an ongoing crisis of hunger and food insecurity. 805 million people continue to go hungry, according to estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.[1] The world also faces a “hidden hunger” problem —micronutrient deficiency—which affects some two billion people, causing long-term, irreversible health effects and significantly impairing economic productivity. We face stark challenges posed by population growth: by 2050 the demand for food will be twice what it was in 2005.[2]

Feeding the World Without GMOs takes a hard look at ways to address this problem and concludes that GMO food is a non-solution. In nine pages of tight synthesis, it analyzes: (1) why GE crops don’t contribute to food security; (2) what would work to boost the global food supply; and (3) the unfulfilled promise of genetic engineering.

 Why GE crops don’t contribute to food security

GE crops don’t meaningfully contribute to global food security for a variety of reasons. First, about 80 percent of the land area dedicated to growing genetically engineered crops is for GMO corn and soybeans[3] and both are overwhelmingly used for animal feed and biofuels. As the report says, “[m]ost of the investment in GE crops ends up feeding cows and cars, not people.”

In 2010, about 5 percent of all the calories grown globally were used to make biofuels, [4] and in the U.S., about 40 percent of corn production is used to produce ethanol, mostly to blend with gasoline for motor vehicle fuels.

Investment in improving yields in already high-yielding areas with GMO crops does little to improve food security; it mostly helps the bottom line of seed and chemical companies, industrial scale agribusiness, and corn ethanol producers.

Because hunger is primarily the product of poverty, and because the economic productivity of smallholder farmers is mostly limited by lack of basic resources such as fertilizer, water, and infrastructure to move crops to markets, investment in GMO crops will do little to address these fundamental issues.[5] Moreover, according to EWG’s report, GMO crops have not been demonstrated to outperform traditional cross-breeding techniques in improving crop drought tolerance and efficiency of resource use, two touted benefits of GMO technology.

And if improving crop yields is the actual goal, investment in GMO crops is highly inefficient. As the report points out, “Industry supported research found that it can take more than $100 million to research and develop a single genetically engineered variety, [6] money that would be better spent to address the factors that frequently limit crop yields. By comparison, it typically costs only about $1 million to develop a new variety by traditional breeding techniques.” [7] [8]

Real Solutions – Low Environmental Impact, Big Payoffs

EWG’s report identifies several real solutions to the problem of hunger: smarter use of fertilizers; reducing food waste; shifting crop production from biofuels and animal feed to food calories for people; reducing meat consumption; and focusing resources and investment in improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. It’s worth noting that smallholder farmers produce the bulk of food in developing countries: seventy percent of Africa’s food supply[9] and an estimated eighty percent of the food consumed in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa together.[10] Supporting them directly supports the global food supply.

Smarter Use of Fertilizers

Industrial scale agriculture requires significant inputs of chemical fertilizers and causes significant greenhouse gas emissions. [11] This is especially true for corn, eighty-five percent of which is genetically engineered. The EWG researchers suggest that in place of massive fertilizer use in industrial-scale farms in rich countries, its use should be focused in places with nutrient-poor soils where it would have the greatest impact, potentially increasing global production of major cereals by thirty percent.[12]

In contrast to industrial-scale agriculture, BGR has consistently supported sustainable smallholder agricultural techniques,[13] which have been shown to increase average crop yields up to seventy-nine percent.[14]

Reducing Food Waste

The EWG report notes that in the United States, we waste about 40 percent of national food production – sixty million metric tons a year, worth an estimated $162 billion.[15] That is the equivalent of about 1,500 calories of discarded food per person each day[16] – enough to feed 170 million people a 2,700-calorie per-day diet.

We noted in a previous BGR blog post[17] that ending the wasting of food would bring to the world “triple net benefits”: reducing food insecurity, financial costs, and environmental damage.

As we said in that post, the benefits of reducing food waste in combatting hunger are huge:

Food insecurity impacts:

Reducing food losses by just 15 percent would be enough food to feed more than 25 million Americans every year at a time when one in six Americans lack a secure supply of food to their tables.

Environmental Impacts:

Getting food from the farm to our fork eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of all freshwater consumed in the United States. Yet, 40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten… [T]he uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills as the single largest component of U.S. municipal solid waste where it accounts for almost 25 percent of U.S. methane emissions.

Financial impacts:

American families throw out approximately 25 percent of the food and beverages they buy. The cost estimate for the average family of four is $1,365 to $2,275 annually.

Changing Diets

Meat consumption causes an enormous loss of field-grown calories that could be used to feed people. It also imposes huge demands on natural resources, consumes massive amounts of water, and causes significant greenhouse gas emissions. Shifting to a diet less reliant on meat would increase overall food availability and reduce the burden on natural resources. “[I]n theory, shifting all crops grown for animal feed to human food could increase food availability by 54 percent.”[18] Cutting global meat consumption in half could increase food supplies by 27 percent.

Genetic Engineering: “Unfulfilled Promise”

GMO companies have historically focused on crops with the highest commercial potential, not necessarily the ones that would most alleviate world hunger. The most widely grown GMO crops are corn, soybeans, canola, sugar beets and cotton, not exactly the solution to a world of hungry people, especially given that so much of our corn production is used for biofuels and over 80 percent of the soybeans are used to feed livestock destined for meat production. [19]

GMO proponents routinely claim that genetic engineering will result in significantly increased crop yields, especially in conditions of drought.

This promise remains unfulfilled, as GMO technologies have failed to significantly increase yields in major food and animal feed crops despite two decades of effort and hundreds of millions of dollars of investment. The EWG report points out in twenty years of U.S. experiments with GMO corn and soy, they have not increased yields. (Heinemann et al. (2014). “Sustainability and innovation in staple crop production in the US Midwest.” International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability).[20]

As the EWG report concludes, reliance on GMO crops to reduce hunger will fall short of meeting global needs. It diverts resources from more promising opportunities. Alternative strategies of smarter resource use, supporting sustainable smallholder farming, reducing food waste, and reducing meat consumption will both increase food supplies and reduce environmental impacts from food production.


[1] “Global Hunger Index”, http://www.ifpri.org/publication/2014-global-hunger-index.

[2] Tilman, D. et al. (2011). Global food demand and the sustainable intensification of agriculture. PNAS http://www.pnas.org/content/108/50/20260

[3] Barrows et al. (2014). Agricultural Biotechnology: The Promise and Prospects of Genetically Modified Crops. Journal of Economic Perspectives

[4] Searchinger, T. and R. Heimlich. (2015). “Avoiding Bioenergy Competition for Food Crops and Land.” Washington, DC: World Resources Institute. http://www.wri.org/publication/avoiding-bioenergy-competition-food-crops-and-land. By 2050 biofuels mandates could consume the equivalent of 29 percent of all calories currently produced on the world’s croplands.

[5] Seventy percent of the world’s poor are farmers. Smallholders, food security and the environment. Rome, Italy: International Fund for Agricultural Development (2013), http://www.ifad.org/climate/resources/smallholders_report.pdf. In regions such as Africa, farmers can only afford a tenth of the fertilizer recommended for their crops. Gilbert, N. (2014). “Cross-bred crops get fit faster.” Nature 513, 292 http://www.nature.com/news/cross-bredcrops-get-fit-faster-1.15940

[6] McDougall, Phillips. (2011). The cost and time involved in the discovery, development and authorization of a new plant biotechnology derived trait, https://croplife.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Getting-a-Biotech-Crop-to-Market-Phillips-McDougall-Study.pdf

[7] Gurian-Sherman, Doug “Plant Breeding vs. GMOs: Conventional Methods Lead the Way in Responding to Climate Change” Civil Eats, October 10, 2014, http://civileats.com/2014/10/10/plant-breeding-vs-gmos-conventional-methods-lead-the-way-in-responding-to-climate-change/

[8] Goodman, M. (2002). New sources of germplasm: lines, transgenes, and breeders. North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC http://www.cropsci.ncsu.edu/maize/publications/NewSources.pdf

[9]. Agriculture at a crossroads: Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) report (Vol. V, 2009). International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development. Washington, DC: Island Press.

[10] Viewpoint: Smallholders can feed the world. Rome: International Fund for Agricultural Development, 2011, http://www.ifad.org/pub/viewpoint/smallholder.pdf

[11] Recent analyses show that livestock and their by-products account for 51% of annual global GHG emissions. See, http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6294

[12] Mueller, N. D. et al. (2012). “Closing yield gaps through nutrient and water management”, Nature http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v490/n7419/full/nature11420.html

[13] See, http://buddhistglobalrelief.me/tag/sustainable-agriculture/

[14] Smallholders And Family Farmers, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2012), http://www.fao.org/3/a-ar588e.pdf

[15] Nixon, Ron “Food Waste Is Becoming Serious Economic and Environmental Issue, Report Says” New York Times, Feb 25, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/26/us/food-waste-is-becoming-serious-economic-and-environmental-issue-report-says.html

[16] Reich, A. H. & Foley, J.A. “Food Loss and Waste in the US: The Science Behind the Supply Chain.” April, 2014, https://www.foodpolicy.umn.edu/policy-summaries-and-analyses/food-loss-and-waste-us-science-behind-supply-chain

[17] https://buddhistglobalrelief.wordpress.com/2012/09/05/ending-the-wasting-of-food-energy-our-environment-triple-net-benefits-2/

[18] Cassidy et al. (2013). “Redefining agricultural yields: from tonnes to people nourished per hectare”, Environmental Research Letters, http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/8/3/034015

[19]   “About 85 percent of the world’s soybeans are processed, or ‘crushed,’ annually into soybean meal and oil. Approximately 98 percent of the soybean meal that is crushed is further processed into animal feed with the balance used to make soy flour and proteins. ” http://www.soyatech.com/soy_facts.htm

[20] In a detailed report, Failure To Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops, the Union of Concerned Scientists also analyzed GMO crop yields and concluded that GMO technology has failed to deliver on the promise:

“The lack of substantial yield increases has not been due to lack of effort. The several thousand field trials over the last 20 years for genes aimed at increasing operational or intrinsic yield indicate a significant undertaking. Yet none of these field trials have resulted in increased yield in commercialized major food/feed crops, with the exception of small increases from Bt corn.”

http://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/failure-to-yield.pdf

 

 

BGR’s 4th Concert to Feed the Hungry

BGR Staff

IMG_4970

On Thursday, April 30, 2015 at 7:00 p.m., legendary saxophonist David Liebman, bassist Larry Grenadier, singer/songwriter Rebecca Martin, jazz and blues vocalist Sandra Reaves-Phillips, drummer Winard Harper, organist Akiko, and pianist Mijiwa Miyagima celebrate International Jazz Day as headlining artists at Buddhist Global Relief’s 4th annual Concert To Feed The Hungry. The Concert To Feed the Hungry perpetuates the global diversity of jazz in Harlem.

This annual concert, produced by jazz saxophonist Dan Blake, brings together an all-star lineup of leading jazz artists with a global mission to assist impoverished communities around the world. Buddhist Global Relief sponsors projects around the world that help poor communities overcome hunger and malnutrition and provides education for women and girls in at-risk communities.

The day-long event will commence with 2 music workshops organizaed by Jazzmobile and The New Heritage Theatre Group.

Visit www.concerttofeedthehungry.org for more information about the concert and the artists.

Trees Are Feeding People in Haiti and Jamaica

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

TTFF_SFA farmer getting trees-1

SFA farmer getting trees

In October 2014, BGR made a grant to the Trees That Feed Foundation (TTFF) for 610 breadfruit trees to be distributed in Haiti and Jamaica in early 2015. With the grant, TTFF secured 610 breadfruit trees, which were grown to the appropriate size in Haiti and Jamaica for distribution in February and March of this year. Approximately 305 of the trees have been sent to the Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA) in Gonaives, Haiti. SFA has over 2,000 community members and works with small-scale farmers and their families in Haiti to help restore tree cover and increase food production.

In March, SFA Co-founder and Director Timote Georges started picking up the trees at TTFF’s partner nursery in Port-au-Prince for delivery to the Alliance headquarters in Gonaives. Mr. Georges has distributed an initial small batch of breadfruit trees and will continue to pick up the trees until all 305 reach Gonaives. Once trees arrive in Gonaives, they are distributed among 11 nurseries within the Alliance, and then further distributed to Alliance members and their families. The members are all very experienced in agroforestry and TTFF is confident that the trees will continue to grow and thrive.

TTFF_StudentsAndTeacherPlanting-1

Students and teachers in Jamaica planting trees

Approximately 305 of the breadfruit trees were delivered to schools across Jamaica as a part of TTFF’s Trees That Feed in Schools (TTFIS) initiative. Through this initiative, Rotary, TTFF and the Ministry of Education work to provide food-bearing trees to schools in Jamaica as a sustainable source of food for students. Planting breadfruit trees in schools not only helps alleviate childhood hunger, improving diets and academic achievement, but also improves the environment. Approximately 30 breadfruit trees were distributed to seven schools in Kingston and approximately 275 trees to 20 schools in Portland.

The mission of the Trees That Feed Foundation is planting trees to feed people, create jobs, and benefit the environment in developing countries. The foundation provides sustainable food sources to communities through fruit-bearing trees with edible fruit and high yields. TTFF supplies trees, equipment and training. This model improves nutrition and also provides long-term independence from food imports and agrochemicals.

The first tree selected by TTFF for distribution is the breadfruit tree. The nutritional benefits of breadfruit were recently featured in the article “One Food Security Remedy in the Face of Global Crises,” published April 4th on the progressive website Truthout. The article quotes Global Breadfruit’s Josh Schneider as saying: “One tree can change the life of a family for generations; ten trees can change the fortune of a village. It can do everything a potato can but in a more sustainable way.”

Caribbean breadfruit pie

Breadfruit bears a fruit somewhat smaller than a soccer ball. One fruit can easily provide the carbohydrate portion of a meal for a family of five. A mature tree can produce up to a half ton of fruit per year. In controlled orchard settings the trees are heavily pruned for easy reaping. A hectare, planted at a density of 125 trees, out-produces all tropical starch crops, yielding upward of 30,000 kilos of fruit annually. Since some varieties of breadfruit have high provitamin A carotenoides, a diet heavy in breadfruitcan greatly reduce afflictions like infant blindness.

(Based on a six-month report to BGR from the Trees That Feed Foundation)

Small Is Not Only Beautiful … It May Be the Key to Our Survival!

by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

As climate change advances ever more ominously and leads us closer to climate chaos, the key to reducing carbon emissions may lie not in ambitious market-based solutions but in a transformation of the dominant model of food production.

Members of peasant farmers group La Via Campesina demonstrating outside the UN climate talks in Copenhagen. (Photo: Friends of the Earth International)

Last month the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists announced that it had moved the hand of its Doomsday Clock ahead from five minutes to three minutes before midnight, a decision due to the unchecked advance of climate change and the modernization of nuclear weapons systems. At almost the same time, the National Climatic Data Center of NOAA confirmed that 2014 was the hottest year on record. They also pointed out that the previous ten hottest years ever recorded have all occurred since 1998.

These revelations that our survival as a species–or at least as a civilization–is in jeopardy add to the urgency of the UN’s climate conference, COP 21, to be held in Paris next December. While hopes ride high that a rigorous and legally binding agreement on reducing carbon emissions will finally emerge in Paris, it would be a mistake to assume we can just sit back and trust negotiators to devise an effective accord on their own. We should never underestimate the power of the fossil fuel corporations and their allies. Time and again, at COP conferences from Copenhagen to Lima, they have used their influence to dash hopes and shatter promises, and it’s unlikely they will keep aloof from the talks in Paris. Strong pressure, indeed relentless pressure, will be necessary to prevail against them. 

Even without the meddling of the fossil fuel agents, high-level climate summits seldom deviate from the premises of free-market economics. They always assume that growth is essential to a sound economy, despite the fact that the relentless pursuit of production and consumption is pushing the earth to its geophysical limits. A durable solution to the climate crisis requires not only technological ingenuity but new ways of thinking. It must flow from an organic understanding of the place of human beings in the biosphere, one consistent with hard fact, not with greed and ambition.  Our assumption that we’re a  privileged species entitled to exploit the earth’s natural treasures for our own advancement lies at the root of the crisis. We need instead a vision committed to both ecological sustainability and economic and social justice. We have to realize that we are an integral part of the earth’s web of life, and as such must accept our humble place within the whole. At the same time, we must enable  human communities to flourish in harmony with each other and the natural world. In short, we must shift our priorities away from the pursuit of endless economic growth toward an affirmation of the integral human good, which involves both a thriving natural world and social justice for the human population.

One key to meeting both objectives at the same time lies in transforming our models of agriculture. Roughly half of all global greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture and food production, which currently depend on fossil fuels for energy, chemical inputs, transportation, and preservation. Few proposals to mitigate climate change brought forward at international meetings take account of the close correlation between climate change and agriculture, yet the connection has been strongly emphasized by Oxfam, the World Resources Institute, the Earth Policy Institute, and peasant organizations around the world.

The international peasant movement, Via Campesina, which has more than 250 million members worldwide, contends that the market-based policies offered to reduce carbon emissions—policies such as REDD and Climate-Smart Agriculture–not only fail to sufficiently cut emissions but also undermine the interests of small-scale farmers and indigenous populations. REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) allows corporations and rich industrialized nations to purchase tracts of forest in the global South to offset the carbon they release at home. Spokespersons for Via Campesina hold this program permits these major emitters to continue releasing high levels of carbon in their own countries while gaining nominal credit for reductions they promote elsewhere. Since carbon emissions cannot be sealed off within their lands of origin, this policy, they argue, is closer to sleight-of-hand magic than to a real solution.

Climate-Smart Agriculture, another strategy advanced to stem global warming, basically takes the tenets of REDD and applies them to farmland. Climate-Smart Agriculture seeks to impose new biotechnology on farmers around the world—genetically modified seeds, chemical pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers—creating yet another wave of dependency on markets. Investors from the global North receive carbon credits for their contribution to Climate-Smart Agriculture projects in the global South, thus increasing speculation within the food system by expanding its profit value. Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, a Haitian Via Campesina leader, says: “There’s absolutely nothing smart about it. The climate crisis is rooted in capitalism, which is also in crisis as an economic system. Entrepreneurs are trying to emerge from this crisis, and as a way of doing so are creating green capitalism, of which Climate-Smart Agriculture is typical.”

Via Campesina and its allies hold that solving the climate crisis requires replacing the industrial model of agriculture with an alternative that respects the planet’s natural limits and takes advantage of its restorative capacities. The model they propose revolves around the twin principles of food sovereignty and agroecology. Food sovereignty holds that rural working people and their urban counterparts, not corporations and market interests, should be at the center of the global food system.  Agroecology, the practice for realizing food sovereignty, makes use of ecological methods that have proved their worth over many generations. Though fears have been expressed about its ability to produce sufficient food, Olivier de Schutter, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, allays these fears in his March 2011 report to the Human Rights Council: “Agroecology can double food production in entire regions within ten years, while mitigating climate change and alleviating rural poverty.”

Whereas the prevailing food system subordinates the environment to the market economy, the model of food sovereignty corrects this “inversion” by viewing the economy as a subsidiary of the planet’s larger ecosystem. The model respects the earth’s natural limits and also seeks to promote true human flourishing. Rather than looking on the food system as a source of profit, the ideal of food sovereignty is to empower the small-scale farmers who actually produce the food. It sees “small” not only as beautiful but as an essential key to our survival.

The commitment to food sovereignty unites two needs that often pull us in opposite directions: environmental sustainability and social justice, the need to block the advance of climate change and to eradicate extreme poverty, especially in rural communities.  Thus, to meet these twin goals, a shift in energy production from fossil fuels to renewable energy must be matched by a corresponding shift in agriculture, from one that extols the big and wealthy to one that respects the potentials of  small-scale farmers. As Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, the Haitian Via Campesina leader, says: “Peasant agriculture can feed the world and cool the planet.”

Aspiring for Peace in the New Year

by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

The expanded text of a talk given at the New Year’s Interfaith Prayer Service, Chuang Yen Monastery, January 1, 2015.

At the beginning of a new year it is customary for us to express our hopes for peace in the year ahead and to wish each other peace. But to actually achieve peace is by no means an easy task. Real peace is not simply the absence of violent conflict but a state of harmony: harmony between people; harmony between humanity and nature; and harmony within ourselves. Without harmony, the seeds of conflict and violence will always be ready to sprout.

When I reflect on the challenge of achieving peace in today’s world, I have found it useful to treat the subject under three main headings: (1) The Obstacles to Achieving Peace—the barriers that maintain tension and foment conflict; (2) The Prerequisites of Peace—the goals we should pursue to achieve peace; and (3) The Means to Realizing these Goals. Each can in turn be analyzed into three secondary aspects.

The Obstacles to Achieving Peace

(1) Profit-seeking: Driven by the urge to expand profits, global corporations and other mammoth enterprises flood the market with harmful or frivolous commodities. They spend billions on advertising, despoil the natural environment with toxic waste, and scuttle laws that protect workers and consumers. They take wild risks which, when successful, benefit management and shareholders, and when failures, push the costs on to the public. The neoliberal economy has led to wider inequality of incomes and wealth.Recent figures reveal that the richest 70 people now own more wealth than the poorest half of the world, while in the US a mere 40 individuals own as much wealth as the bottom half. High levels of income inequality are associated with economic instability and crisis, whereas more equal societies tend to be more stable and to enjoy longer periods of sustained growth. More unequal societies show higher rates of violent crime and lower levels of social trust; more equal societies have lower crime rates and greater social trust. Greater economic equality thus contributes to peace.

(2) Plunder: Since the dawn of the industrial era we have been plundering nature’s treasures with reckless abandon. Today, this extractionist frame of mind drives us ever closer to the edge of calamity as rapacious economic activity disrupts the natural climate cycles on which human life depends. The big fossil fuel corporations plunder the earth for oil, coal, and gas, clearing ancient forests, blasting mountains to bits, and drilling down into the ocean depths. They transport the substances they extract over vast distances from source to refinery to market. Factories fill the skies with carbon dioxide, particulate matter, and harmful toxins. Extraction operations discharge toxic waste into rivers and lakes, poisoning the water resources on which whole communities depend.

Cumulative carbon emissions are cooking the planet and warming the seas. We’ve already had a taste of the future in the strange weather events that occur with greater frequency: droughts, floods, heat waves, and crop failures. As large regions of the earth turn barren, we will face mass migrations that can raise tensions and ignite violent confrontations. States may fail, unleashing chaos and giving the chance for tyrants to seize power and launch campaigns of conquest.

(3) Power projection: Driven by narrow economic interests, the powerful nations seek to enhance their might by projecting strategies of full-spectrum dominance across the globe. They finance ever more sophisticated weapons systems, spend billions on armaments, and spy on their citizens. They manipulate international protocols to their advantage, heightening tensions among old rivals. Weapons corporations thrive on the tensions, which they regard as new opportunities for profit. Global hostilities boil, and in certain hot spots periodically explode in outbursts of lethal violence.

The Prerequisites to Achieving Peace

(1) Protection: To achieve real peace, we need a global commitment to protecting people everywhere from harm and misery. This commitment must be rooted in a universal perspective that enables us to see all people as brothers and sisters, worthy of care and respect regardless of their ethnic, national, and religious identity. As Americans we can’t go on thinking that American lives are more important than the lives of people elsewhere—in Iraq and Afghanistan, in South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. We can’t think that only the lives of middle-class people count, but not the lives of black youths in Chicago, herdsmen in Ethiopia, rice farmers in the Philippines, or factory workers in Bangladesh. Rather, we must regard all people as endowed with intrinsic value, which we must affirm by establishing greater economic, social, and political justice.

(2) Preservation. The greatest challenge of our time is to avoid climate chaos. The earth is our irreplaceable home, and if we destroy it, we will have no other place to go. At the rate we’re spitting out greenhouse gases, within a few decades we may raise the earth’s temperature to the point where the planet becomes inhospitable to human life. All the money in the world will be worthless on a planet where the grain belts have withered and oceans have turned deadly acidic.

We need to start making a rapid and full-scale transition to a new economy powered by clean and renewable sources of energy. The sun, wind, and heat of the earth are capable of providing us with all the energy we need. The main obstacle to date has been the lack of political will, whereby a band of powerful corporations, lobbyists, and compliant politicians reject the hard truths of science and even the clear decrees of rational self-interest.

We must stand up against moneyed interests and press our governments and civil groups to expedite the transition to a clean-energy future. Our window of opportunity is closing, and we must act fast before it slams shut. We need a sense of urgency, as if our clothes were on fire, an urge to act to preserve this precious planet—a miracle in a sea of cosmic dust, a blue-green pearl teeming with living forms.

(3) Prosperity. While extreme wealth for a few means misery for many others, prosperity is a good in which we all should be able to share. There is certainly enough wealth in the world to ensure that everyone can obtain sufficient food, clothing, housing, and medical care. The problem is not lack of wealth but its uneven distribution.

To lay the foundations for real peace, both national policies and international institutions must give precedence to uplifting people from the worst extremes of poverty. In today’s world, 900 million people live in perpetual food insecurity, while at least two billion suffer from malnutrition. Six million people a year, over half of them children, die from chronic hunger and related illnesses. The UN estimates that it would take just $30 billion a year to solve world hunger, a small fraction of the $737 billion that the US spent on defense in 2012. Tackling global hunger is not only a moral and ethical obligation but a policy that would have positive economic impacts and promote global solidarity. It could be a giant step in the direction of world peace.

Here in the US, some 50 million people—one out of seven—live in poverty. A half-century ago, the US had a social system that, while far from perfect, excelled in its public services. Over the past 30 years, many of these services have been downgraded or slashed. As the wealthiest country in the world, we can easily provide for the basic needs of all our citizens. But this will require new values. Instead of exalting individualism and ambition, we should prize cooperation and compassion. Instead of inciting competition, we should nurture harmonious communities and social solidarity.

The Means to Realizing these Goals

(1) Prayer, meditation, and contemplation. People of faith should root transformative action in the spiritual disciplines of prayer, meditation, and contemplation. While traditionally such practices served as stepping stones to the realization of a transcendent goal, today we need a wider spiritual vision that can encompass the divine and the mundane, the transcendent and the immanent, in an integral whole. By bringing us into intimate contact with the transcendent ground of justice and love, practices like meditation and contemplative prayer empower us to bring greater justice and love into the world. By purging the toxins of greed, hatred, and selfishness from our hearts, these practices open us to the universality of suffering, awakening our compassion and inspiring us to become a source of good for others.

(2) Peace. Peace is not only the goal of our efforts but also a means for reaching that goal. Peace belongs to the means because in order to establish peace, we must be peaceful ourselves. If our minds are agitated by anger and resentment, our efforts to promote peace are more likely to create more conflict and perhaps ignite more violence. An angry mind is not a reliable instrument for promoting peace. But when our minds are peaceful, our bodily actions will be peaceful, and we will convey an ambiance of love, care, and mercy, which will help to establish peaceful relations.

(3) Participation. While the pursuit of meditation and other spiritual practices as a private quest for inner awakening and liberation may have fit the worldview of past historical eras, in today’s world our emphasis must shift toward a more participatory kind of spirituality, one that unites the quest for inner peace with the commitment to world peace, human unity, and planetary preservation. Our devotion to contemplative practice can inspire in us a stronger aspiration to promote social and economic justice, to preserve the planet’s vital ecosystems, and to heal long-standing enmities. At the same time, our active commitment to the well-being of others can nurture our own spiritual growth, deepening our compassion and strengthening our moral integrity.

There are many venues through which we can embody participatory spirituality in action. We can support organizations that advocate for poverty alleviation, address climate change, and promote the ethical treatment of animals, immigration rights, and better pay for fast-food workers. We can write to our congressional representatives, expressing our views on the issues that most deeply concern us. Our votes, too, express our values and conscience. Although the electoral process in this country has been badly skewed in favor of Big Money, our votes still count and can make a difference.

To express conscience in action, we can sign petitions, join marches, and participate in demonstrations. In New York this past September, 400,000 people walked peacefully through the streets on the People’s Climate March, demanding that world leaders tackle the climate crisis. In cities across the country, low-wage workers have been demanding better wages and other conditions that will enable them to live with dignity. In many cities as well, people of all ethnic backgrounds have joined hands to protest police brutality against communities of color.

While the endeavor to achieve peace may often be frustrating, we should remember that nothing truly worthy can be achieved without effort. Peace and justice may be slow to arrive, but we will never obtain them without a struggle.

Let us make 2015 a year in which we firmly commit ourselves to the pursuit of real peace. Then, a year from now, we can look back at 2015 and consider our time to have been truly well spent.

Ecological Agriculture as the Key to Saving the Planet

by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

The two biggest challenges the world faces today are climate change and global hunger. These challenges are bound to escalate over the next decade, and if we’re to avoid unimaginable calamity they must be met headon. Though the two may appear distinct, in reality they’re joined at the hip. Thus if we’re to triumph over one we must also tackle the other.

One of the keys to a double solution lies in transforming the global food system. According to recent studies, the corporate-dominated food system is responsible for 44%– 57% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—a quantity larger than that of all the world’s vehicle traffic. A hotter climate in turn portends ill for our food supply. The heat waves, droughts, and monster floods unleashed by a warmer planet reduce crop yields, blocking efforts to feed a world population due to add 2 billion hungry mouths by 2050.

Girl in Cameroons Photo: COLEACP PIP

While the tie between agriculture and climate confronts us with a dilemma, agriculture experts have suggested that both problems can be ameliorated at one stroke by changing the dominant system of food production. What they propose is a pivot away from the focus on large-scale monocrop cultivation toward small-scale farming using agro-ecological techniques.

A short article recently published in the online journal GRAIN, authored jointly by GRAIN and the peasant movement La Via Campesina, argues the case for the advantages of traditional small-scale farming. The article dissects the industrial food system into six segments, describing the negative impact each has on our climate. It then proposes five steps for simultaneously cooling the planet and feeding its people. These proposals closely mesh with the types of projects promoted by Buddhist Global Relief.

The onslaught against the climate begins with deforestation, which razes the huge forest tracts that serve as major “carbon sinks,” sucking up vast amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it in tree trunks, foliage, and the soil. The burning of felled trees and undergrowth aggravates the situation by discharging large quantities of CO2 back into the air. It’s estimated that deforestation accounts for 15–18% of GHG emissions.

Farming itself is directly responsible for 11-15% of emissions, most resulting from chemical imputs such as fertilizers and pesticides and from the use of oil to run farm machinery. The toxic chemicals, moreover, seep into the plants and soil and from the food into our bodies, to the detriment of our health.

The transportation of food, carried by ships and trucks back and forth across oceans and continents, accounts for 25% of global GHG emissions linked to transport and 5-6% of all carbon emissions.

Processing, the next step in the chain, transforms raw foods into commodities for sale in supermarkets and food shops. This requires an enormous input of energy, as does the packaging and canning of foods. Together, processing and packaging account for 8-10% of total GHG emissions.

To preserve the food for sale, it must be refrigerated, another energy-intensive process, which together with the retailing of foods adds 2–4% of carbon emissions.

Finally, the industrial food system discards as waste up to half the food it produces. Much spoilage occurs in storage or during the long journey from farm to plate, while in the developed world mountains of food are thrown out by supermarkets, restaurants, and homes. Food waste adds another 3.5–4.5% to GHG emissions.

Small farmer carrying bag of grain Photo: COLEACP PIP/Aurélien Chauvaud

The article proposes five steps “to cool the planet and feed its people,” all revolving around small-scale ecologically sustainable agriculture.

  1. Taking care of the soil. Where industrial agriculture destroys masses of the organic matter on arable lands, the traditional practices of small farmers have the opposite effect, capturing carbon from the atmosphere and sequestering it in the soil. Hence, if the right measures are adopted, this “would offset between 24-30% of all current global greenhouse gas emissions.”
  2. No use of chemicals. Small farmers know how to preserve the fertility of the soil without the chemical fertilizers that have fostered an unholy alliance between agricultural firms and chemical corporations. Such traditional techniques as diversified cropping, integration of crop and animal production, and planting of trees and wild vegetation on cropland help to improve soil fertility and and prevent soil erosion.
  3. Cut the transport, focus on fresh food. The article maintains that reorienting food production to local markets and fresh foods can dramatically cut carbon emissions. It neglects to mention, however, that livestock cultivation is responsible for some 18% of global carbon emissions (see “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” Executive Summary, p. xxi). Thus a transition from meat-based diets to plant-based diets would bring sharp drops in carbon emissions while making available for human consumption the vast amounts of grains and beans now used to feed animals. Since the animals are raised to provide meat for affluent people in the developed world, such a shift would also bring greater equity into the global food system.
  4. Give the land back to the farmers. Over the past half-century, 140 million hectares have been taken over by big estates to grow crops such as soybeans, oil palm, rapeseed, and sugar cane, all notorious emitters of greenhouse gases. Small farmers produce food more efficiently and in ways better suited to a finite planet. Thus, the article says, “a worldwide redistribution of lands to small farmers, combined with policies to help them rebuild soil fertility and policies to support local markets, can reduce GHG emissions by half within a few decades.”
  5. Forget false solutions, focus on what works. The false solutions include GMO crops, large geo-eningeering projects, and policies like carbon markets that allow the worst emitters to avoid cuts. Though these approaches are favored by big agro, biotech, and chemical firms, which all profit from them, the article contends that they do not work. The real solution, it holds, is “a shift from a globalized, industrial food system governed by corporations to local food systems in the hands of small farmers.” This suggestion is supported by independent studies. For instance, a study of 286 sustainable agriculture projects in 57 countries found an average yield increase of 79% (Oxfam, Growing a Better Future, p. 53).

As global civilization pushes back against the mounting threat of climate chaos, governments and innovators will be promoting clean technologies, green commodities, more fuel-efficient cars, and retrofitting of buildings. While these are essential parts of any solution, policymakers shouldn’t overlook the role of agriculture. Shifting support from the industrial model of food production to agro-ecological farming will not only reduce carbon emissions but regenerate soils, protect rivers and lakes from pollution by toxic chemicals and animal waste, and reaffirm the dignity of small-scale farmers. Such a shift will further help lift traditional farmers from poverty, thus enhancing their economic security and promoting social justice. It will also redefine our relationship to the natural world from one characterized by domination and exploitation toward one marked by deep care, reverence, and collaboration.

It is for such reasons that BGR sponsors projects that favor small-scale farmers and ecologically sustainable agriculture. We see these as critical both to our efforts to combat global hunger and to counter climate change, which poses such a grave danger to the world’s food supply. By promoting sustainable methods to tackle poverty and hunger, in our own small way we are helping to preserve a planet that will remain hospital to human flourishing.

Marching Toward A New Climate Future

Charles W. Elliott

BGR at Peoples Climate March

 

This past Sunday, Buddhist Global Relief joined 400,000 others at the People’s Climate March in New York to demand swift action to halt the threat of global climate change. The streets were filled with marchers as far as the eye could see with young and old, rich and poor, of all races and religions, joined by their common humanity.

Buddhist Global Relief was part of an Interfaith contingent of thousands that packed 58th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues so tightly there was barely room to breathe. Joining us were more than twenty other Buddhist groups in the common cause of compassion and concern for the world.

BGR Peoples Climate March

We marched in the face of the recent onslaught of bad environmental news – the threat of the West Antarctic ice sheet irreversibly melting, 2014 on track to be one of the hottest in recorded history. Yet this was a march of hope. There would be little point in being in the streets were it not for our common belief that we can yet change the course of events.

New BGR Climate March7696

Our presence in New York was a walk in solidarity with those who will be first and most badly harmed by the consequences of climate change: the poor and indigenous populations who did not benefit from the wealth generated in the economies most responsible for the burning of fossil fuels, and who played little or no role in the causes of climate change. We walked in witness to the extinction of species from the changes wrought by rising temperatures and seas.[1] We walked to recognize the impacts of sea level rise that will swamp coasts and destroy both natural habitat and human infrastructure. And acknowledging the threats posed by climate change to food security for the world’s most vulnerable, BGR’s march banner reminded the world: “The World’s Food Supply Depends on a Stable Climate.”

The scientific community predicts that food production will be harmed by rising temperatures, increased air pollution, ocean acidification, and other climate-change induced factors.

The recent Fifth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states: “Under scenarios of high levels of warming, leading to local mean temperature increases of 3-4 oC or higher, models based on current agricultural systems suggest large negative impacts on agricultural productivity and substantial risks to global food production and security.” (Chapter 7. Food Security and Food Production Systems, p. 3).  The IPCC reported one study showing a global food price increase of 19% due to the impacts of temperature and precipitation trends on food supply.

Here, in the United States, according to the most recent (2014) report, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States,  “Climate disruptions to agricultural production have increased in the past 40 years and are projected to increase over the next 25 years. By mid-century and beyond, these impacts will be increasingly negative on most crops and livestock.” Agriculture-damaging impacts of climate change in the United States include:

  • Many agricultural regions will experience declines in crop and livestock production from increased stress due to weeds, diseases, insect pests, and other climate change induced stresses;
  • Current loss and degradation of critical agricultural soil and water assets due to increasing extremes in precipitation will continue to challenge both rainfed and irrigated agriculture unless innovative conservation methods are implemented.
  • The rising incidence of weather extremes will have increasingly negative impacts on crop and livestock productivity because critical thresholds are already being exceeded.
  • Drought frequency and severity are projected to increase in the future over much of the United States, particularly under higher emissions scenarios. These droughts will be occurring at a time when crop water requirements also are increasing due to rising temperatures. With increasing demand and competition for freshwater supplies, the water needed for these crops might be increasingly limited. Long droughts can cause crop failures.
  • Fruits that require long winter chilling periods will experience declines. Many varieties of fruits require between 400 and 1,800 cumulative hours below 45°F each winter to produce abundant yields the following summer and fall. By late this century, under higher emissions scenarios, winter temperatures in many important fruit-producing regions such as the Northeast will be too consistently warm to meet these requirements.

As we said in a previous post on climate change, “Our agriculture is fundamentally based on the stable global climate humanity has enjoyed for thousands of years.  That is now disappearing and the evidence is right in front of us.”

New BGR Climate March7700

 

400,000 people in the street sends an excellent message, but marching alone won’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One of the most powerful protest signs at the march said, “The greatest threat to the planet is the idea that someone else will save it.” That’s why the tag line for the march was “To change everything, we need everyone.”  It has been wisely said that “Those who have the privilege to know have the duty to act.” The writer Ken Wilber echoes this wisdom: “Therefore, if you have seen, you simply must speak out. Speak out with compassion, or speak out with angry wisdom, or speak out with skillful means, but speak out you must.”

We urge all of you to take action, help others understand what is at stake, and speak truth to power wherever it may be.

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[1] The scientific consensus in the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report‘s Summary for Policymakers  is that: “Anthropogenic warming could lead to some impacts that are abrupt or irreversible, depending upon the rate and magnitude of the climate change” and “There is medium confidence that approximately 20-30% of species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk of extinction if increases in global average warming exceed 1.5-2.5°C (relative to 1980-1999). As global average temperature increase exceeds about 3.5°C, model projections suggest significant extinctions (40-70% of species assessed) around the globe.”