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Agriculture and Climate Change: Background

The Overview

A farmer gathers the remains of a dying corn plantation in Chiang Saen district along the bank of the Mekong River.

Some agricultural methods contribute to climate change, whereas other agricultural approaches help mitigate climate change and protect the environment.

Polluting-agriculture contributes to climate change. Polluting-agriculture practices include using synthetic-chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides, and planting monocultures— large areas of a single plant.

Ecological farming, in contrast, helps mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. Ecological farming employs natural fertilizers; organic pest control; and biodiverse farming—mixing different plants and crop varieties in a given field .

The Challenges

Polluting-agriculture is a key source of carbon emissions. Specifically, this unhealthy form of agriculture creates roughly 14% of all human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions. And in fact, polluting-agriculture is responsible for up to 32% of these greenhouse-gas emissions when we include deforestation caused by agricultural expansion.

Climate change also impacts agriculture. Rainfall, temperatures and farmers’ access to water are three main factors that can disrupt agriculture and ecosystems. It is almost certain that crop yields will decrease in warmer climates, where food is most scarce. Other consequences of climate change include increased outbreaks of insect infestation, as well as infestations spreading to new geographic areas (for example, the emergence of the European corn borer and the American bollworm in Europe).

Sources of Pollution

What, exactly, are the sources of the human-caused greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture? Apart from deforestation and other land-use changes, it is mainly synthetic fertilizers and livestock that emit nitrous oxide and methane, potent greenhouse gases.

Approximately half of agricultural emissions come from livestock and meat production. The average amount of fossil-fuel energy needed to produce calories in meat is roughly ten times higher than the energy needed to produce calories in plants.

The Trends

From 1990 to 2005, the world’s agricultural emissions increased by 17%. Scientists now project that, by 2080, emissions will again increase—this time by 35 to 60%. This would represent at least a doubling of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenpeace illustrates the climate effects of industrial farming by writing "N2O" in flames on a field.

How Ecological Farming Practices Can Help

Ecological farming adapts agriculture to climate change by bringing diversity back to farms and fields—and by protecting natural biodiversity. Ecological farming practices can mitigate up to 70% of all of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. Specifically:

  • Eliminating the overuse of fertilizers is one helpful practice. Improving cropland soil management is another.
  • Reducing synthetic fertilizer use and improving soil management help make the shift from polluting-agriculture to healthy, carbon-rich soil—the basis for a non-chemical, biodiverse and healthy agriculture.
  • Another way to reduce emissions is by improving water management in rice cultivation. The benefit is that drier organic matter does not produce as much methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
  • Yet another of the many ways to decrease agricultural emissions is to stop the practice of burning crop residues—what remain of plants after the harvest. Instead, this material can be conserved—and returned to the soil.

Greenpeace believes that the future of agriculture is ecological farming. This ensures healthy farming and healthy food for today and tomorrow. Ecological farming practices protect soil, water and climate. They promote biodiversity. And they protect the environment from contamination by chemicals and genetic engineering.

The latest updates

 

"Smart" breeding, where science and farmers' knowledge meet

Blog entry by Dr. Janet Cotter | 28 October, 2014

Plant breeding is the key to providing us with varied and better quality foods. Although conventional plant breeding has existed for hundreds of years, it was often time-consuming and labour-intensive. But, breeding methods have come a...

Smart Breeding

Publication | 28 October, 2014 at 0:00

GE crops are very limited in sophistication, being almost completely dominated by herbicide tolerance and insect resistance traits. Could the numerous tools of biotechnology deliver better outcomes? This report tries to answer that question.

Change your food, change the world: 5 ways to bite away at your food footprint

Blog entry by Rashini Suriyaarachchi | 16 October, 2014 2 comments

Between production, packaging, transport and cooking, the things we eat can have a massive impact on the earth. Luckily, they're also some of the easiest habits to change. Here are the first steps to going on an environmentally-friendly...

Food is life. And food is as precious and varied as life itself.

Blog entry by Pat Cuonzo | 16 October, 2014 1 comment

Today's hashtag #WFD2014 marks the day that the world dedicates to food and nutrition. We are celebrating World Food Day with Ida Frosk's Food Art . Of course, it's easy to celebrate food and its variety if your plate is...

A magic moment: Tetley starts a journey towards ecological tea

Blog entry by Melissa Shinn | 1 October, 2014 1 comment

Ever have a moment when you feel like something extraordinary just happened, a small step that might start something really big? Last Monday I had one of those moments. I read an announcement by the makers of Tetley tea in India...

Is FAO opening a window for ecological farming?

Blog entry by Monique Mikhail | 23 September, 2014 4 comments

It was an exciting moment for me and a small team of Greenpeace food campaigners to take part in the Food and Agriculture Organisation's (FAO) Agroecology Symposium in Rome last week. It was the first FAO event on agroecology in...

An apple a day keeps the pesticides away

Blog entry by Federica Ferrario | 12 September, 2014 1 comment

The fields around Malles in the heart of the Venosta Valley in northern Italy are right now surrounded by thousands of yellow and red apples, ready to be harvested. These apples – the real "gold" of this area – will soon be produced...

Clean Chai Now! Let's demand our tea to be chemicals free

Blog entry by Melissa Shinn | 11 August, 2014 7 comments

Tea anyone? I'm a self confessed 'queen of tea' – preferably green and, if I can get it, especially green chai! All the healthy properties of green tea spiced with the flavours and traditions of India, one of the world's greatest tea...

Tasty food has always been part of culture, leaping through time and civilizations

Blog entry by Aquiles Chávez | 31 July, 2014

It is a historical fact that the type of diet defines cultural patterns of the different communities in every society. It is also a fact that changes in the human diet have led to biological changes in the human being as he adapted to...

Making the case for ecological farming in Africa

Blog entry by Glen Tyler | 12 June, 2014 1 comment

When I ask people what the backbone of most African economies is, the response is often a unanimous, "agriculture". It goes without dispute that agriculture is the most important and largest contributor to the gross domestic product...

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