You've heard the complaint: Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it. Well, the Nourishing the Planet project of the Worldwatch Institute has proposed 12 ways to dampen the effects of the U.S. drought on food production and prices. The list is meant for farmers and policymakers in the United States, but the recommendations also apply to other parts of the world. Below is a condensed and lightly edited version. The original list is here.
- Agroforestry: Planting trees in and around farms reduces erosion and nourishes soils.
- Soil management: Alternating crops restores soil nutrients and controls pests. Soil amendments, such as biochar, help soils retain moisture.
- Increased crop diversity: Mono-cropping can make plants more vulnerable to pests, diseases and other stresses.
- Increased livestock production: Improved animal husbandry can boost meat and dairy production without increasing herd sizes or putting more pressure on global grain supplies.
- Increased livestock diversity: Most commercial farming operations rely on a narrow range of breeds selected for their high productivity. Lesser-known breeds are often hardier.
- Meatless Mondays: Refraining from meat at least one day a week will reduce the environmental impacts of livestock and increase the availability of grain for human consumption. (See “The Hidden Costs of Hamburgers” if you haven’t already.)
- Smarter irrigation: Almost 50 percent of irrigation water is wasted through evaporation, wind, improper design and overwatering. Water sensors, micro-irrigation and better planning can make a big difference.
- Integrated farming systems: Complex systems such as permaculture improve soil fertility and agricultural productivity by using natural resources as sustainably and efficiently as possible.
- Agroecological and organic farming: Organic and agroecological farming methods build soil quality and promote plant and animal health in harmony with local ecosystems.
- Support for small-scale farmers: Agricultural subsidies cater disproportionately to large-scale agribusinesses, many of which produce corn for animal feed and ethanol. This makes small-scale food producers more vulnerable to natural disasters and fluctuating prices.
- Re-evaluation of ethanol subsidies: Encouraging clean-energy alternatives to crop-based biofuels will increase the amount of food available for consumption.
- Research and development: Public funding for agricultural R&D has gone down, while private funding has gone up. Corporations are legally bound to deliver profits to shareholders. Government support for research, development and training can help address issues such as hunger, malnutrition and poverty without being compromised by corporate objectives.
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