Climate Voices

September 21, 2023
By: Susan Phillips, Executive Director

Food, Agriculture & the Climate Crisis

Food, Agriculture & the Climate Crisis - Photo

I spent last week bicycling across Wisconsin and through the Driftless Region (a special geological area untouched by glaciers in NW Iowa, SE Minnesota, and SW Wisconsin). The hills kicked my butt, AND at the same time gave me ample opportunity to appreciate the landscapes. Each struggle up a hill was rewarded with another dip into a lovely little valley, with a small farm or two, ditches full of wildflowers, wild fence rows, pastures full of grazing milk cows, goats and sheep, small fields whose rows matched the contours of the ridges.

I think I was so transfixed by the beauty because it is so very different from what I see in central Minnesota where large industrial farms sow commodities crops fence row to fence row, where animals are kept in nightmarish containment facilities, where the gravel roads are laid out in straight line grids, mile by mile. Where chemicals have choked out the wildflowers and drain poison into our rivers and aquifers.

The climate crisis is impacting how we grow food and how we will feed the planet.  Since the Second World War and the Green Revolution, science in the service of capitalism has increased the productivity of food crops, and they have sacrificed crop diversity at the same time. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 75% of the world’s crop varieties disappeared between 1900 and 2000. This focus on highly productive but increasingly uniform crops and animals has increased the vulnerability of our food production to the impacts of the climate crisis: extremes of temperature, more virulent outbreaks of disease, droughts, and erratic rainfall.

Diversity gives us options and provides resilience, we need to build our food system around this very fact, bio region by bio region.

To support the development of local food systems and crop diversity we need to pay attention to global trade agreements. Today, four corporations — Bayer, Corteva, ChemChina and Limagrain — control more than 50% of the world’s seeds. These staggering monopolies dominate the global food supply. Trade agreements often criminalize farmers for using diverse crops that stand a better chance of adapting to climate change and for saving and exchanging seeds. This is a threat to food security.

Our ability to adapt and survive depends on seed and food sovereignty, as much, if not more, than the transition to clean energy. Where do you get your food? How far does it travel to reach that place of sale? How many laborers’ hands were involved and how were they treated? Do you know any seed savers? Is your food farmed in regenerative ways that consider the soil health and the ecosystem? It’s time to pay attention, my friends, to the food on our plate in a very different way.

Susan Phillips

Susan Phillips
Executive Director