Permaculture Answers to Climate Change : Soil and Diversity
PART 2 : DIVERSITY:
DON’T PUT ALL YOUR EGGS IN ONE BASKET
In part one i stated that we need a mindshift away from our consumption world to really tackle the root of our problems. In that light I’m not too enthusiastic about the outcome of the COP 21 talks, yes there is an agreement between over 190 countries to aim to keep the warming below 2 degrees, all we hear is about millions and billions of dollars, cut fossil fuels,extra taxes ,carbon credits and trades , better than nothing for sure , at least it changes the game of the big corporations a bit but they sure will keep on playing….Truth is there are so much uncertainties and assumptions made making predictions, we simply have no real clue what is coming, the impacts of oceans that other(even bigger) carbon sink can’t be underestimated but has been largely ignored. The methane escaping from the melting icecaps will have it effects as well….As long as we don’t stand still and accept that our exploiting habits are not without consequences the efforts will not save us on the long term. Biggest mistake when talking about food production would be introducing industrial farming methods in places like Africa and other developing countries as what is happening these days to feed people from other continents ….We would only ruin more of our precious soils. Let a fraction of the huge fossil fuel subsidies ( over 500 billion US dollar a year globally!) be invested in regenerative farming methods and research in that field as we lost a lot of precious knowledge along the way.
In the mean time the challenge will be to feed the world’s population in times of uncertainty, extreme droughts are followed by floods, big storms occur more often, crops that did well in certain areas or altitudes are doing less good due to temperature rising…..hard to predict . Water management will be crucial , good designs that capture water higher up where usually nothing much can be grown anyway and store it for irrigation in dry periods. Another permaculture principle will also come into play : don’t put all your eggs into one basket. Diversification will be crucial, the imprinted idea of obtaining the maximum yield will have to be replaced with playing on the safe side and make sure there is less profits but food on the table . Affected areas might have to adapt the idea of growing and sowing different crops and varieties being able to cope with different climate conditions and see what works well, some do well in dry years ,some do well in wet years.
Ironically in our quest for maximum yield we lost so so much of that diversity along the way, driven by maximum yields and profit we lost the old heirloom and heritage seeds well adapted to certain climates and conditions ….a big mistake. Farmers globally started buying the seeds from corporations and no longer saved seeds and became dependant on these corporations.In hundred years we lost about 80 percent of our diversity….Around 1800 there were about 7000 varieties of apples ,now less than 700 remain, a good hundred years ago there were hundreds of rice varieties some did well in times of severe rainfalls ,others grew without almost any water, now we left with only a handful of varieties, same for wheat …China lost over 90 pct of the rice varieties they had 100 years ago, the list is long….’ Same when we look at livestock, humans have been domesticating animals for about 10.000 years and there were about 8000 varieties known, 1800 are gone now in the last say 150 years, each one of them was kept and bred for a specific reason as it adapted well to local conditions….big difference is that the reason why they were bred was not profit but survival, that is a huge difference…. During my talk at the youth conference I simply asked students to describe me a chicken,milk cow and a pig….the consensus was big! Chickens are brown, milk cows are black and white and the piggy is pink….We know those as they are commonly known as the breeds that gives most eggs,milk and meat….we all wanted those ones as more profit.. Bringing these breeds to countries like Africa isn’t without problems,the heat, diseases and the food they need is a big burden for the farmers there, same applies to introduced high yield crops (sometimes as parts of humanitary aid programs)…. With conditions getting more extreme more and more people want the old breeds back adapted to the local conditions ,survival above profit… Here are some of these interesting breeds in high demand now: the Taihu Chinese pig, much smaller and mostly black but doesn’t need a lot of food and eats anything and on top very productive ,litters of 16 are very common. On the Orkney islands lives the Ronaldsay sheep who thrives on seaweed, or the small chicken breed called Fayoumi, dating back from the time of the pharaohs, withstands heat, lays well and almost never gets sick. Having lost so many of our diversity exposes our food security to higher risks, diversity means resilience and that’s exactly what we might need in times of changing climates. Take a look at wheat, wild wheat let it’s grains drop when it is ripe, long time ago farmers discovered a mutation that didn’t do that and that’s what they selected and what we grow on our fields .It allowed farmers to have big fields with grains on the stems and harvest them all at once. Wheat has a dangerous enemy : stem rust, a fungal disease that ruins whole harvests. Scientists somewhere halfway the 20 th century created a hybrid that resisted the majority of diseases and saved millions from starvation, that variety fills most of our fields these days. In 1999 an adapted version of stem rust appeared in Uganda , scientist called it Ug99,it spreads quickly and keeps mutating and over 90 percent of our remaining wheat varieties have no defence against the fungus. The disease spreads fast and is about to reach Russia and the East, we will need alternatives for such scenarios affecting our main staple food a. Good news is that in the permaculture world seed saving, heirloom and heritage seeds are high on the agenda and with good reason. More and more people start to see the importance of diversity , well the same importance applies to our ecological diversity. I read a great article lately about minorities from the highlands of Peru,Bhutan ,China and Birma having a meeting to exchange their profound knowledge of growing potatoes in their homelands at altitudes, they experienced first hand that the rising temperature affected the harvests, they have thousands of varieties of potatoes and exchanged the best ones and discussed the best breeds for the altitudes of their farmlands. Such initiatives are great and brings us back to the roots where everyone shared and survived together , it wasn’t about the money it was about survival, something we can and will have to learn a lot from!
Survival of the fittest will become survival of the most adaptable !
Now we really need that big mindshift, we owe that to our planet, Permaculture and it’s principles of earth care, people care and fair share holds a big part of the answer. If an asteroid hits us or another ice age comes nothing much we can do about it but this is in our control…so let’s fix it.