Ecological farming – farming for the future
Agroforestry plot with walnut and vegetables in the south of France. Ecological farming bans the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and plastics, and can ensure environmentally sustainable food production that also helps farmers make a living.
For most of us, farming conjures up images of green fields, cute little farmhouses and fluffy sheep. The reality couldn’t be more different.
Vast tracts of our countryside have been taken over by intensively farmed monocultures that depend on the heavy use of machinery and chemicals in pesticides and fertilisers. Wheat, barley and maize are the three plants most widely cultivated in Europe.
Industrial agriculture is depleting natural resources and leading to water pollution, soil degradation and diseases, and is fuelling climate change.
Meanwhile, the number of farmers in the EU continues to fall, leaving farming and food production in the hands of fewer and fewer companies.
The American nightmare
Countries outside the EU, such as the US and Argentina, have pushed the industrial agriculture model to the extreme and are growing genetically modified (GM) crops. Most GM crops are engineered to resist pesticides, sold by the same companies. Experience in these countries shows that this has further exacerbated environmental, health and social problems. It has led to:
- even greater use of chemical pesticides to fight weeds and pests;
- catastrophic loss of wild plant and animal life;
- serious human illnesses linked to the use of pesticides;
- spiralling costs for small-scale farmers who are increasingly dependent on patented seeds, pesticides and synthetic fertilisers, driving all but the largest companies out of business.
Beyond these serious impacts, we still don’t know if GM crops are safe to eat. There are hardly any independent long-term studies on their health impacts. The main reason for this is that research is largely dependent on funding from biotech multinationals.
For now, the EU has largely resisted the temptation to go down this path. Only one GM crop, a maize sold by US company Monsanto, is currently grown in the EU. Only 0.1 per cent of the EU’s farmland is used to grow GM crops, compared to 5.7 per cent for organic farming (NB: the calculations of the percentages are based on figures published by the ISAAA and Eurostat. Click on the links for more information). This makes the EU similar to most of the world’s regions – excluding the Americas – where farmers overwhelmingly grow conventional crops.
The future of farming
Greenpeace is campaigning to end the devastating impacts of industrial agriculture and GM crops. We are working to reduce the use of harmful chemical pesticides and to promote a broad shift towards ecological farming practices.
Industrial agriculture and GM crops are not a necessary evil to help feed the world. In fact, their effects on natural resources and the environment are the greatest threat to our ability to feed ourselves in the future.
Ecological farming can instead ensure environmentally sustainable food production that also helps farmers make a living. It coexists with wildlife, protects soils, water and the climate. And it guards against corporate control of food production by powerful multinationals.
Only healthy food from healthy farming can feed us today and for generations to come.