*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Synthetic chemicals used in farming harm the climate, says Christian Aid report

23 September 2021

Alamy

A farmer sprays fertiliser on a field in Erkenbrechtsweiler, southern Germany, last year

A farmer sprays fertiliser on a field in Erkenbrechtsweiler, southern Germany, last year

THE use of synthetic chemicals such as fertilisers and pesticides in farming is seriously harming the world’s climate and soil systems, a report for Christian Aid says. It argues that these methods are driving up emissions and degrading soils, and are the main cause of biodiversity loss.

Despite the claims of the chemical industry that they are essential to higher yields and food security, the opposite is true, it says.

The report, Climate-Resilient Agriculture, published on Thursday to coincide with the UN Food Systems Summit in New York, seeks to promote agroecological approaches such as organic farming and agroforestry, since, it says, they increase productivity and resilience, reduce emissions, and draw carbon back into soils and trees more effectively than alternatives.

The report draws on a study of agroecology in 57 countries. It found increased productivity on 12.6 million farms, and an average crop-yield increase of 79 per cent.

A co-author of the report, Richard Ewbank, Christian Aid’s climate-programme adviser, said: “Some portray agroecology and organic food as a middle-class preoccupation, but why should healthy, safe nutrition that doesn’t degrade the climate and environment be a privilege for the wealthy? For vulnerable farmers, especially small-scale farmers in developing countries already facing more extreme weather, it’s the smartest, most resilient and profitable solution.

“Far from being an optional extra, agroecology is an essential part in the fight against climate change, for improved land and water management, and to enhance vital carbon sinks.”

The report singles out nitrate fertilisers as particularly harmful, as their production releases both methane and carbon dioxide and generates 1.4 per cent of global emissions. Once applied to the soil, they are also the main source of nitrous oxide, which accounts for a further six per cent.

Only about 17 per cent of nitrate fertiliser ends up in food. It is washed into groundwater and goes on to pollute rivers and deoxygenate seas, the report says.

It suggests that the widespread adoption of agroecology would mean huge benefits for soil health, water usage, and climate change, and increased yields and profit to farmers. It puts an emphasis on developing farmer and scientific knowledge, to harness natural processes in bringing sustainability to the food system, instead of expenditure on applying chemical products.

The other co-author, Winnie Mailu, Christian Aid’s markets and livelihoods adviser, said: “Agricultural intensification has failed to yield the much-waited-for results of transforming productivity to increase food and nutrition security for the poorest. Two decades down the line, and the environment is in a worse state in terms of poorer soils, monoculture cropping, and contaminated water sources, to mention just a few. It is no longer negotiable that for humanity to survive, food systems must be in harmony with nature.

“Despite the clear benefits, agroecology receives only one per cent of global agricultural research funding. This needs to be ramped up and made a policy priority for governments, beginning this week at the UN Food System Summit.”

Download the report here

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)