What three words would you use to describe industrial agriculture and its food system? o Write these words on one half-sheet of paper. o Hand this in. What additional words or phrases should we add to the sticky wall to complete the picture?
What challenges pose significant risks for industrial agriculture? o Jot these down in a few words on a half-sheet of paper. o Hand it in. Which challenges are the most threatening to industrial agriculture and its food system?
Overall energy use in the U.S. food system o Energy use by households (appliances, trips to grocery store) is a bigger factor than processing, fertilizers, or food miles! Source: Post Carbon Institute & USDA
U.S. energy inputs for different foods o Daily per capita energy input for junk foods and drinks is even higher than the energy input for animal products. o Healthiest foods (fruits, vegetables, and grains) have the lowest energy input. o Total daily per capita energy input is 17,000 calories. This is more than 8-fold higher than the recommended calorie intake per person. Source: Post Carbon Institute & USDA
“Peak soil” o US soil depletion is 10-20x faster than natural replenishment. (Pimentel 2006) o Globally, erosion destroys cropland the size of Indiana annually.
Loss of beneficial species o Insecticides kill beneficial species (including pollinators and pest predators) along with pest species. o Colony collapse disorder has affected nearly 1/3 of all honeybees in the US. (Source: Natural Resources Defense Council) o Globally, the use of “elite germplasm” and expansion of fields threaten the survival of heirloom and locally- adapted varieties. Source: NY Times 2007
Loss of beneficial species o Soil biodiversity affects infiltration and storage of water, resistance to erosion, nutrient cycling, soil fertility, carbon sequestration, and crop health. o Soil organisms are affected by temperature, moisture, soil texture, salinity, pH, and biotic factors (such as interactions with plant roots). o The effects of intensive agricultural practices on soil biodiversity are still largely unknown. Source: Matson et al. 1997
Phenomenon and direction of trend Likelihood of future trends Agriculture, forestry and ecosystems Over most land areas, warmer and fewer cold days and nights, warmer and more frequent hot days and nights Virtually certain Increased yields in colder environments; decreased yields in warmer environments; increased insect outbreaks Warm spells/heat waves. Frequency increases over most land areas Very likely Reduced yields in warmer regions due to heat stress; increased danger of wildfire Heavy precipitation events. Frequency increases over most areas Very likely Damage to crops; soil erosion, inability to cultivate land due to waterlogging of soils Area affected by drought increases Likely Land degradation; lower yields/crop damage and failure; increased livestock deaths; increased risk of wildfire Intense tropical cyclone activity increases Likely Damage to crops; windthrow (uprooting) of trees; damage to coral reefs Increased incidence of extreme high sea level (excludes tsunamis) Likely Salinisation of irrigation water, estuaries and fresh- water systems Source: IPCC 2007 Synthesis Report
What three words would you use to describe what sustainable food systems look like? o Write these words on one half-sheet of paper. o Hand this in. What additional words or phrases should we add to the sticky wall to complete the picture?
“To be sustainable, a farming system needs to be sufficiently productive, robust (be able to continue to meet goals in the face of stresses and fluctuating conditions), use resources efficiently, and balance the four goals.” 1. Satisfy human food, feed, and fiber needs, and contribute to biofuel needs. 2. Enhance environmental quality and the resource base. 3. Sustain the economic viability of agriculture. 4. Enhance the quality of life for farmers, farm workers, and society as a whole.
1. Understanding systems and their dynamic behaviors 2. Intervening in systems to affect change 3. Transitioning to sustainable food systems in the face of unprecedented challenges o Socioeconomic and political priorities o Scientific priorities o Educational priorities
Systems are comprised of stocks interconnected by flows and self-regulated by feedback loops. Strengths of different loops often determine the dynamics of system behaviors. dynamics of system behaviors A system is always more than the sum of its parts. Often the least obvious part is a crucial determinant of its behavior. Vensim model of crop production Source: Meadows 2008
Why Systems Work So Well 1. Stressing a system often causes it to become more resilient (able to bounce back). This is due to feedback loops. 2. Most systems are self-organized (they adapt, learn, develop, and “complexify” through the use of simple rules). This is a source of heterogeneity and unpredictability. 3. Self-organizing systems generate hierarchies (aggregations of subsystems). These evolve from the bottom up and become a source of stability and resilience. Source: Meadows 2008
Systems surprise us 1. Everything we think we know is a model. 2. Models usually have strong congruence with the world. 3. However, models always fall short in fully representing the world. o Bounded rationality: Our knowledge is always incomplete. o “The bounded rationality of each actor in a system – determined by the information, incentives, disincentives, goals, stresses, and constraints impinging upon that actor – may or may not lead to decisions that further the welfare of the system as a whole. If they do not, putting new actors into the same system will not improve the system’s performance. What makes a difference is redesigning the system to improve the information, incentives, disincentives, goals, stresses, and constraints that have an effect on specific actors.” (Meadows, p. 110)
The Top Twelve Most Effective Leverage Points: 12.Constants: alter subsidies, taxes, standards 11.Buffers: change size of stabilizing stocks relative to flows 10.Physical structure: rebuild stocks and flows 9.Delays: alter rates of flows and feedback loops 8.Balancing feedback loops: match the strength of these loops to the impact they are designed to correct 7.Reinforcing feedback loops: reduce the gain of these loops to slow growth in the system 6.Information flows: add or restore missing info flows and accountability 5.Rules: alter incentives, punishments, constraints 4.Self-organization: add, change, or evolve system structure Source: Meadows 2008
The Top Twelve Most Effective Leverage Points: 3.Goals: change the purpose or function of a whole-system goal o Who is wielding power for what purpose? o What should be the system’s most important goal? 2. Paradigms: alter the mindset out of which the system arises o Point out the anomalies and failures of the old paradigm and keep advocating for the new one. o Work with change agents and the open-minded, not with reactionaries. 1. Transcending paradigms: keep yourself unattached o In light of bounded rationality, no paradigm truly reflects the entire spacious reality of the universe. Source: Meadows 2008 “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” by Wendell Berry
Socioeconomic and political priorities From consolidation & specialization to modularity & diversification o Consolidation – ADM, Cargill, ConAgra exert control “from seed to shelf” o Specialization – Growers under contract to produce one or two species o Modularity – “Foodshed” concept envisions regional networks of interdependent producers, companies, citizens, researchers… o Diversification – Improve resilience economically and ecologically Reform agricultural policies o Inverted food pyramids – US farm subsidies work at cross purposes with US nutritional recommendations o Sustainable food policies – build resilient food systems that promote human health and climate mitigation
Scientific and technological priorities Incremental approaches – practices and technologies that address specific production and/or environmental concerns associated with industrial agriculture o Two-year crop rotations instead of continuous cropping o Precision agriculture using GPS navigation o New varieties produced via classical breeding and/or genetic engineering o Reduced tillage or no-till practices that save fuel and reduce erosion o Integrative pest management These help, but even in aggregate, they do not solve sustainability concerns.
Social Progress Environmental Stewardship Economic Growth
Scientific and technological priorities Transformative approach – relies on whole-system redesign and synergies with natural systems o Couple mixed-crop and livestock systems (e.g. aquaponics) o Organic farming with polycultures o Development of perennial grains o Direct-marketing (e.g. CSAs, farm-to-cafeteria) o Urban organic agriculture Move towards sustainability by integrating ecological, socioeconomic, and profitability objectives. Hindered by existing market structures, agricultural policies, and prevailing paradigms.
Scientific and technological priorities Agroecosystem paradigm o Ecosystem is a “functional system of complementary relations between living organisms and their environment [that maintain] a steady yet dynamic equilibrium”. o Agroecosystem is a “complex set of biological, physical, chemical, ecological, and cultural interactions determining the processes that permit us to achieve and sustain yields.” Key emergent qualities (research priorities) 1. Energy flow – need to maximize use of renewable sources 2. Nutrient cycling – need to close nutrient loop (sewage recycling) 3. Population regulation – need diverse structures and species relationships that permit natural control and regulation mechanisms 4. Dynamic equilibrium – need sufficient structural and functional complexity in the system to enable resistance and resilience Source: Stephen R Gliessman
Scientific and technological priorities Back to the future o “Traditional and indigenous agroecosystems are different from conventional systems in that they developed originally in times or places where inputs other than human labor or local resources were generally not available... Production takes place in ways that demonstrate people’s concerns about long-term sustainability of the system, rather than solely maximizing output and profit.” o “Traditional agroecosystems… can serve as the starting point for the conversion to more sustainable agroecosystems.” Building sustainable agroecosystems o Knowledge of place (local ecology and local limits) o Wisdom of past experience (successes and failures) o Knowledge of environmentally-sound management practices o Redesigning the system to bring out ecological processes and natural control mechanisms with human management Source: Stephen R Gliessman
Scientific and technological priorities Some implications o Agroecoystems will likely have somewhat lower and more variable yields than industrial systems, but this will be offset by reduced reliance on external inputs, more reliance on natural control of pests, and reduced negative impacts off-farm. o Agroecosystems will likely require more labor and this, in turn, will likely reverse the trend towards “get big or get out”. o Agriculture is the result of a coevolution. Thus, innovations in sustainable agriculture co-require cultural transformations. o The transition to sustainable food systems is inherently interdisciplinary, encompassing ecological, social, economic, and political, philosophical, and religious dimensions of life. Source: Stephen R Gliessman
Educational priorities Teach key concepts through societal challenges o Societal challenges are too great for a “business as usual” approach Link experiential learning to communal priorities and values o Hone problem-solving, scientific reasoning, computation, teamwork, and communication skills through community-oriented projects Teach scientifically o Mentor by modeling systems thinking and problem-solving o Regularly use assessments to monitor learning gains o Employ pedagogies of engagement that reflect best research on how people learn