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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

 

Genetically Engineered (GE) Soya Yields Less

Publication | 26 January, 2010 at 0:00

Monsanto's genetically engineered (GE) "Round-up Ready" soya yields 5 to 10 percent less than natural varieties, costing farmers billions of dollars every year.

Genetically Engineered (GE) Cotton Fails to Perform in Colombia

Publication | 26 January, 2010 at 0:00

Monsanto's genetically engineered (GE) cotton varieties sold to Colombian farmer failed in 2008-9, proving susceptible to pests and to herbicide, farmers had been earlier told would improve yields.

Herbicide Resistance Forces Farmers to Weed by Hand

Publication | 26 January, 2010 at 0:00

Overuse of the herbicide glyphosate for Monsanto's genetically engineered (GE)crops has lead to increasing resistance to the chemical among weeds in the US.

Problems with Genetically Engineered (GE) Crops in the Field

Publication | 26 January, 2010 at 0:00

Crops genetically engineered to produce herbicide have repeatedly lead to the development of herbicide resistance among weeds, and also have many unpredictable impacts on ecosystems.

Smart Breeding

Publication | 13 November, 2009 at 0:00

Marker-assisted selection (MAS) is a modern plant breeding technique that can offer benefits to farmers developing climate or diseases resistant varieties, without the need for genetic engineering.

Agriculture at a Crossroads: Food for Survival

Publication | 11 November, 2009 at 0:00

Climate change, hunger and poverty, loss of biodiversity, forest destruction, water crises, food safety – what all these threats have in common is that a principal cause for each of them is in the way we produce, trade, consume and discard food...

Organic Cotton Farmers in India

Image | 18 October, 2009 at 18:18

Organic cotton farmer Gullapalilli Rajeswari and her husband pick cotton in their field in Kishtapur, Andhra Pradesh. They have been growing organic cotton for 4 years while building ecological pest protection with natural methods. They have...

Farmer Spraying Crops

Image | 18 October, 2009 at 18:14

Farmers spray GE crops with chemical pesticides as advised by Bt cotton seed companies and dealers.

Linseed

Image | 11 September, 2009 at 19:37

Organic Rice Art Ratchaburi

Image | 1 September, 2009 at 18:15

Greenpeace unveiled a massive living sculpture in an organic rice field to celebrate Southeast Asia’s rich natural heritage in rice production, while at the same time reminding governments to protect the region’s most important food crop from the...

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