Wednesday, 19 May 2010

MEP Watch - Agriculture and Climate Change

Agriculture is the one of the main sectors which is directly related to the environment and the management and exploitation of natural resources. Hence it is both affected and directly affects the environment. Climate change, being one of the main environmental challenges being faced by the world today, affects this sector substantially. This is due, for example, the adverse effects of climate change on water resources, extreme weather, proliferation of pests etc. All these will and are already having a direct impact on the sector. Agriculture contributes to this too by the release of greenhouse gasses- nitrous oxide and methane- emitted by various biological processes linked to agricultural production.

The European Parliament on Wednesday 5th May passed a resolution which seeks to find a way by which agriculture can help mitigate the effects of climate change and for this sector to adapt to the challenges which climate change will pose.

This resolution is very interesting in that it has clear calls for a shift towards sustainable agriculture. It states that organic farming is “among the ecologically effective system[s] needing further development”. To this end it calls for the future Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to (i) encourage cultivation techniques that provide plant cover(such as leaving crop residues on the ground) and facilitate intercropping and crop rotation to maximize photosynthesis and help enrich the soil with organic matter. All these techniques are common practices in organic agriculture and permaculture farms; (ii) preserve and develop afforestation, reforestation, agroforestry etc. (iii) better management of soil and of minerals and protection of carbon-rich land and wetlands; (iv) farm modernization etc.

These calls, if heeded and introduced in the CAP, will go a long way in aiding agriculture change its methods and become much more environmentally sustainable. These measures will also have a positive impact on biodiversity, soil quality, water retention, combat erosion and pollution and mitigate the effects of farming on climate change.

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This resolution also recommends certain strategies to prevent and mitigate the adverse consequences for agriculture. This mainly includes the devising of an action plan which will include the suggestion of using certain plant varieties which are resistant to the new climate conditions, adapting the calendar of farming activities to the new conditions, forestation, building of greenhouses, managing water resources etc.

Since animal livestock is a main contributor to methane- a very potent greenhouse gas- the resolution calls for research on livestock feed and genetic selection of farm animals to be stepped up to reduce these methane emissions.

But perhaps one of the most significant sentences in the resolution is the following: “there is a need to inform consumers, by means of a targeted communication strategy, of the benefits of a healthy, balanced diet made up of high-quality regional and seasonal items produced by a sustainable and efficient agriculture, the carbon footprint of which could be differentiated from those of imported products.” The need for this is great. If consumers are educated, a demand is generated and the farmers will comply and start to supply produce from sustainable farms. That is the way by which a shift is brought about- from the conventional scenario to one which puts environmental sustainability in the centre of attention.

In order to inform the consumers on the origin of the produce being consumed, the EP endorsed the idea of a voluntary EU origin labeling for products originating entirely in the EU.

The resolution was voted adopted and all Maltese MEPs voted in favor.

Each sector has to do its part to combat and adapt to the changing of the climate and agriculture is no exception. Farmers have to change their current way of doing things but they depend entirely on the demand of the consumer for them to be able to take the risk and convert to more sustainable farming practices.

Try to keep this in mind when you buy and consume agricultural products.

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