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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

 

'Golden' rice's lack of lustre

Publication | November 9, 2010 at 2:00

'Golden' rice has been in development for almost 20 years and has still not made any impact on the prevalence of VAD (vitamin A deficiency). Not only has it failed to have any impact on VAD while using money and resources that could have been...

Thai Rice Industry at Risk

Publication | October 12, 2010 at 9:46

Thailand is the largest exporter of rice in the world, and the Thai rice industry is therefore heavily dependent on the perceptions of its export customers. An unintended release of GE rice would disrupt Thailand’s rice grain merchandising...

Unauthorised GE potato unleashed in Sweden

Blog entry by Myrto Pispini | September 14, 2010 3 comments

News from Sweden-. In the North, in Haparanda, Greenpeace activists marked and sealed off the potato fields that were recently discovered to be contaminated with the illegal, unauthorised genetically engineered potato, named Amadea.

GE enforces corporate control of agriculture

Publication | July 19, 2010 at 9:00

The introduction of genetic engineering (GE) in plant breeding has been accompanied by the expansion of patent monopolies.

Ecological farming: Drought-resistant agriculture

Publication | July 1, 2010 at 14:55

Human-induced climate change is resulting in less and more erratic rainfall, especially in regions where food security is very low. The poor in rural and dry areas will suffer the most and will require cheap and accessible strategies to adapt to...

Beware the EU Commission bearing gifts

Blog entry by gtyler | July 1, 2010 3 comments

By Myrto Pispini, Greenpeace Agriculture Campaigner. Lately there has been media hype in Brussels regarding a new proposal by the European Commission aiming to solve a deadlock in the authorization of genetically engineered (GE)...

Bayer finally gets the message – we don’t want GE!

Blog entry by gtyler | June 24, 2010 4 comments

It has taken a long time - 8 years to be precise. In 2002 Bayer first applied for approval for Brazilian farmers to be allowed to grow their genetically engineered (GE) rice . The only problem with their plan is that Brazilian rice...

Don’t mention the spill!

Blog entry by gtyler | June 22, 2010 6 comments

What do oil and genetically engineered (GE) rice have in common? The ability to get multinationals in a whole lot of trouble, apparently. BP is battling the oil spill in the Gulf and desperately trying to employ some sort of brand...

Picking GE cotton: a pricy move for Indian cotton farmers

Blog entry by ehill | June 15, 2010 5 comments

A blog entry by Glen Tyler. GE cotton cultivation in India has been hailed as a success for the GE industry, and it has indeed been a success - for the seed industry. Companies like Monsanto (1) have made millions...

Picking Cotton

Publication | June 15, 2010 at 9:30

This case study shows the economic stability and benefit for Indian farmers of farming cotton organically and without genetic engineering and toxic chemicals.

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