Humanosity says….Many of us worry about what we as individuals can do to contribute. However without systemic changes of the sort that can only be done by governments the future looks bleak. One area where serious damage is being done is farming subsidies. The following article shows us the cost we are paying and what can be done about it.
A new report has shown the extent to which subsidies paid to farmers across the world are actually fuelling the climate crisis as well as helping to destroy wildlife.
The report reveals that the current level of subsidies given to farming globally amounts to an incredible $700bn. That’s the equivalent of $1m being paid as subsidies every single minute.
The report was published by the Food and Land Use Coalition (Folu), a collaboration of food, farming and green research groups. The detailed work on subsidies was carried out by the International Food Policy Research Institute, using OECD data
The report found that only 1% of the $700bn governments pay each year to farmers around the world benefits the environment. The rest promotes high-emission cattle production, forest destruction and pollution from the overuse of fertiliser.
“There is the incredibly small direct targeting of [subsidies at] positive environmental outcomes, which is insane,” said Jeremy Oppenheim, principal at the that produced the new report. “We have got to switch these subsidies into explicitly positive measures.”
The Impact of Subsidies
According to the Guardian, there is a wealth of scientific data and reports that show how we need to change if we want to meet the Paris Agreements on climate change, produce better health outcomes and minimise the damage being done to ecosystems.
For instance, 130 national academies of science and medicine concluded in November that our current food system is completely broken and will cause a climate catastrophe. This is on top of the fact that in the western world it is producing more obesity whilst creating malnourishment in the developing world.
Other studies have shown that livestock farming uses 83% of the agricultural land whilst producing only 18% of the calories we consume. This means switching from a meat and dairy-based diet is the single biggest contribution an individual can make.
A series of major recent reports have concluded the world’s food system is broken. It is driving the planet towards climate catastrophe while leaving billions of people either underfed or overweight. Another report found that avoiding meat and dairy was the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, with livestock using 83% of farmland to produce just 18% of calories.
The Shocking Hidden Costs
The most shocking revelation from the report concerns the hidden costs of the global farming system. The report finds three areas contribute to these costs. First that the combined costs of environmental damage. Second, the public health costs from malnourishment and obesity. Third the economic costs of 740 million people living in extreme poverty who are excluded from access to land. These costs add up to an eye-watering $12tn, that’s trillion not billion.
According to the Guardian, the security of humanity is at risk without reform to these subsidies, a big reduction in meat-eating in rich nations and other damaging uses of land,
10 Ways to Transition to a Better Future
However, the report isn’t all doom and gloom. It goes into great detail about the ways we can change what we do and most importantly what the potential financial benefits will be.
According to their findings
the economic gains to society from implementing the ten critical transitions and thereby reducing the hidden costs of current food and land use systems could reach an estimated $5.7 trillion a year by 2030 (equivalent to Japan’s GDP today) and $10.5 trillion a year by 2050.41 Rural incomes will grow twice as fast as expected as more than 120 million additional jobs paying decent wages are created in the countryside, helping to close some of the current gaps between rural and urban incomes and stem pressures to move to urban areas
The report lists 10 ways we can transition to a better future
1. Healthy Diets – Moving to a predominantly plant-based diet which includes more protective foods (fruits, vegetables and whole grains), a diverse protein supply, and reduced consumption of sugar, salt and highly processed foods
2. Productive & Regenerative Agriculture – Agricultural systems that are both productive and regenerative will combine traditional techniques, such as crop rotation, controlled livestock grazing systems and agroforestry, with advanced precision farming technologies which support more judicious use of inputs including land, water and synthetic and bio-based fertilisers and pesticides.
3. Protecting & Restoring Nature – This requires an end to the conversion of forests and other natural ecosystems and massive investment in restoration at scale; approximately 300 million hectares of tropical forests need to be put into restoration by 2030.
4. A Healthy & Productive Ocean – Sustainable fishing and aquaculture can deliver an increased supply of ocean proteins, reducing demand for land and supporting healthier, and more diverse diets. This is only possible if essential habitats – estuaries, wetlands, mangrove forests and coral reefs – are protected and restored and if nutrient and plastic pollution are curbed.
5. Diversifying Protein Supply – Rapid development of diversified sources of protein would complement the global transition to healthy diets. Diversification of human protein supply falls into four main categories: aquatic, plant-based, insect-based and laboratory-cultured. These last three sources alone could account for up to 10% of the global protein market by 2030 and are expected to scale rapidly.
6. Reducing Food Loss & Waste – Approximately one-third of food produced is lost or wasted. To produce this food that is never eaten by people requires an agricultural area almost the size of the United States. Reducing food loss and waste by just 25 % would, therefore, lead to significant benefits relating to environmental, health, inclusion and food security.
7. Local Loops & Linkages – With 80% of food projected to be consumed in cities by 2050, what urban dwellers choose to eat and how their needs are supplied will largely shape food and land-use systems. We need to build and scale efficient and sustainable local food economies in towns and cities.
8. Harnessing the Digital Revolution – Digitisation of food and land-use systems is occurring through gene-editing techniques, precision farming, and logistics and digital marketing tools, enabling producers and consumers to make better, more informed choices, and to connect to the value chain rapidly and efficiently.
9. Stronger Rural Livelihoods – Underlying all ten critical transitions is a vision of rural areas transformed into places of hope and opportunity, where thriving communities can adapt to new challenges, protect and regenerate natural capital and invest in a better future. Ensuring a just transition.
10. Gender & Demography – Women can be enormously powerful in shaping food and land use systems, thanks to their central role in agriculture and in decisions concerning nutrition, health and family planning. Making sure women have equal access to resources, such as land, labour, water, credit and other services, should be central to policies concerning the ten critical transitions, including by accelerating the demographic transition to a replacement rate of fertility in all countries.
Redirecting the subsidies to storing carbon in the soil, producing healthier food, cutting waste and growing trees could be a huge opportunity for the world. This compares to the $12tn a year cost of the incredibly damaging way land is used and food is produced in the world currently.
That’s equivalent to China’s GDP and in excess of the $10 trillion the global food and agriculture sectors contribute to world GDP. These hidden costs are expected to grow to an estimated $16 trillion by 2050 on current trends
If individuals and governments were to follow their advice and change the economic model by shifting subsidies towards investing in the ten transitions listed above then the impact on climate change, biodiversity, public health, poverty and food security would be huge.