Monday, August 30, 2010

Permaculture

Out of all sustainable farming practices, permaculture is probably the most holistic and ambitious approach. Permaculture is a coined term phrased from “permanence’ and ‘agriculture’.

This approach is based on a design science which involves human input as stewards and constructors of benign and healthy ecosystems made up of trees, water, perennial plants and the production of food and raw materials for human beings. As its name implies, permaculture does not focus on short term gains, but rather long term self sustaining methods of growth, including resource management and soil and water restorative systems which are also ideal microclimates for biodiversity enrichment.

This approach has been a slow catch for conventional farmers, partly because it requires more training and knowledge and partly because it relies on an unusual diversification of land use and crops with limited markets.

However, permaculture is governed by three imperative ethics( listed below) for safeguarding a better future civilization;

Earth care, People care and Fair share (share and return of surplus).

Permaculture is aimed at providing solutions for communities to empower their relationships with themselves, their neighbors and their environment. It has the potential of providing thinking skills whereby problems become solutions and collective efforts work for a more just and equitable future.

For more information on the subject, please visit www.bahrijaoasis@blogspot.com Or write to permaculture.malta@gmail.com for the upcoming courses and events.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Organic Farming

The next phase of agricultural transition is already taking place around the world. The organic farming revolution is the most important element of this transformation, possibly the most sustainably promising factor and least discussed element of future farming.

It is not a small element either, recently, conversion of farmland from conventional to organic production has been happening at the rate of several million acres a year.

Organic agriculture uses less fossil fuels than conventional agriculture, because it needs no chemical fertilizers or pesticides, while producing equivalent yields. Thus organic produce is grown through processes which are more natural, ecologically viable, and with the protection of bio-diversity in mind.

Ecological benefits aside, it also has a simple economic advantage since it does not require paying for expensive chemical fertilizers.

As raw materials for the chemical industries become scarce with the peak-oil scenario, the equation will be harder to ignore. At the same time, the infrastructure and knowledge base necessary for organic farming on a commercial scale is already being used and expanding worldwide.

In Malta organic farming is in its infantile stages, however, a growing demand for this kind of produce is steady and most of this can be attributed to a number of organizations working in this field. A number of local farmers and growers have already demonstrated some successful methods, however further investment in education and more research are necessary to increase this growing market.

Consumers have a role to play. Understanding that organic produce is better for one’s self and the environment, it is important to share this education and further its demand in order to establish an ethical demand controlling supply scenario.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Sustainable Farming

Farming has played an important role in the evolution of mankind all over the planet for thousands of years. Although there has been an element of evolution in farming methods, crop choices, seed varieties, irrigation systems and land management, agriculture has only changed dramatically over the last four decades. This change can be mostly attributed to the events which were shaped by the ‘Green revolution’. In brief, ‘The Green Revolution’ was an accelerated growth of mainly initially developing countries grain production together with the introduction of a different agricultural input such as input of petro-chemical fertilizers, synthetic herbicides and pesticide applications, controlled irrigation and a severe change in landscape management. Once such a system was adapted it became reliant on all herewith mentioned factors and if one had to eliminate any single factor, such adopted crop success will surely fail.

Studies are increasingly showing that conventional agriculture needs severe changes. In order to sustain itself, other forms of fertilizers rather than synthetic ones need to be sourced and applied, while soil and water conservation methods need to be thought and incentivized in order to maximize their biological and social long term benefits.

Since conventional agriculture practice is facing multiple challenges such as inadequate clean water supplies, changes in weather patterns, pest management, and an increase in the carbon footprint, further research and investment is needed in the forms of pilot projects pioneering alternative agricultural methods.

Such methods like agro-forestry, bio-intensive organic farming and permaculture have already marked major improvements worldwide. These farming methods share a common goal:

To produce fresh healthy products, without compromising the natural ecology and bio-diversity which are prime factors to sustainability.

It is important here to mention that sustainability means the ability to sustain, and thus an element of long term planning and resource buildup tied with ethical consumption is needed. This element will be entirely dependent on cyclical patterns of cycling nutrients and energy just like for example a natural forest sustains itself.

“Governments and international agencies urgently need to boost ecological farming techniques to increase food production and save the climate,” said UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, in BRUSSELS (22 June 2010) – while presenting the findings at an international meeting on agroecology held in Brussels on the 21st and 22nd June.

Therefore, in order for farming to be sustainable, it will need to assess its current impacts, and reverse these by alternative systems mentioned above. However; such a feat will involve a spectrum of stake holders including consumers who need to be aware of the products they demand, consume and recycle. Sustainable farming practices are an evolutionary process which will bring in massive ethical behavior changes to our civilization in the face of climate change.
(By Peppi)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Agro-Food Product Quality

Agriculture today is facing multi faceted challenges. The energy crisis known as peak-oil is hard hitting all areas of modern civilization and agriculture is at no mercy. Furthermore the changes in land-use bring even harder challenges with controversies such as; urban sprawl, bio-fuels and GMO’s.

When we talk about the quality of a product we are not just talking about how good that product looks, how it has been packed or how well it’s doing in the market. Agricultural products are much more than that. They encompass living materials which are directly linked to our well being, however, on the broader picture our well being is also dependant on the well being of our planet.

Agricultural product quality in our modern world needs to be evaluated against a genuine measure based on the points below:

  • Concern for the soil it has been grown in and its living micro-nutrients

  • Least impact on the immediate environment and biodiversity

  • Fair share of water uses which are not damaging or degrading to the eco-system

  • Integrated in the local informed market demand rather than competed for a global market. ( Local Farmers markets are generally more sustainable than imported foods)

  • Minimal energy inputs, maximum efficiency and low food miles

  • Care of the environment and animal welfare

  • Freshness and nutrient value

  • Fair traded and preferably grown organically

These points allow us to have a broader picture as to what product quality needs to address in our changing climate scenario. Like other products, agriculture needs to address climate challenges while dealing with food issues.

Food is an essential element for the survival of all living beings and the issues that have to do with food security need to be assessed when one talks about agro-food product quality.

Food security is the ability for a culture to support its citizen’s with a sustainable amount of nutritious food, and as the topic suggests, it needs to be of a good quality. Deeper in the subject, one learns to evaluate what are the nutrients from food that one needs to keep healthy and how do we get these from seed to product. Thus diet is an essential part of the subject. A nutritionist will tell you that you need a balanced diet of protein, carbohydrates, etc for a healthy diet. Studies have also shown that not only a balanced diet is good for you, but it also is the only way forward for our planet to be able to supply us sustainably. There are big debates on plant based diets being more sustainable than meat diets. This brings our subject to another level.

Do we grow food locally and sustainably from seed to product to consumer? Or do we grow seed to product, to transport to other parts of the world, to feed industrial bred animals, which are later transported to slaughter houses and further transported to be packed and frozen until they finally reach the consumer? Not only involving a much bigger quantity of energy, but also inefficient conversions of seed, water and photosynthesis to protein and nutrients which can be provided much better, easier, with less demand of land, increase in bio-diversity, less industrial farmed animals and a healthier, safer product thus ensuring a better agro-food product quality all-round.

This is mainly done by growing a nutrient, protein and vitamin rich selection of grains and crops which are used directly as human feed rather than animal fodder and thus reducing the food chain process and its impacts on the ecology.

























In a nut shell, agro-food product quality needs to encompass a magnitude of challenges. Consumer behavior has a role to play, and thus an aware consumer understands more what he or she is looking for in a product in order to make an ethical choice. Demand and supply will only stand as long as a healthy planet can support them. Keeping this in mind, we need to demand what is ethical and appropriate for the long term sustainable cycles of our civilization and not what is a quick profit driven economy fix. Thus we all have a role to play, let us be informed.
(By Peppi)
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