Localism and regenerative farming could be key features in transitioning the food industry to lower emissions and providing long term sustainability.
Alongside the impacts of land clearing and farmland management practices, fossil fuels used to transport food are causing global food systems to generate up to 35 per cent of man-made greenhouse emissions, according to a recent study published in Nature Food.
While our food systems are contributing to climate change, they are also the sectors most impacted by the consequences.
“We’ve got to build resilience, we’ve got to build community resilience and local resilience. Many of our current large-scale agricultural systems are not resilient,” said Emmanuela Prigioni, founder of Farm It Forward.
We’ve had a little taster with COVID, on how precarious this is, as soon as supply chains get broken, how are you going to get all that food here.
“They really rely on a lot of fossil fuels. They rely on a lot of transportation.
“We’ve had a little taster with COVID, on how precarious this is, as soon as supply chains get broken, how are you going to get all that food here from way out there? How are we going to transport all that?”
Based in the Blue Mountains, Farm it Forward is a social enterprise connecting landowners to young growers who want to learn about regenerative growing.
Currently in Australia, agriculture makes up 55 per cent of land use and 15 per cent of Australia’s total emissions.
Farmers for Climate Action recently released a report with EY showing agriculture can improve productivity and profitability while reducing emissions.
It also predicted Australia’s agricultural sector could reach net-zero emissions by 2040 by scaling up existing Morrison government programs to reduce methane, electrify transport, overhaul some land use, including more reforestation of marginal farmland, and improve land management through practices like increasing carbon sequestered in cropland.
"Farmers for Climate Action believes the changes will boost farm productivity and profits by scaling up initiatives, including around land use and management, already under way." – @SeymourTele
— Farmers for Climate Action (@farmingforever) September 16, 2021
It shows that Australian Farmers are wanting to reach net-zero emissions even earlier than the broader Australian target of 2050, which makes sense as global demand for greater transparency on food sustainability increases.
Recently, The European Union announced the introduction of a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) as part of the Green Deal, which will apply additional costs on trades that carry a high carbon footprint and will be active from 2023.
While the carbon tariff does not currently extend to agriculture, Farmers for Climate Action warn that the sector should be prepared for the risk that agricultural products may later be captured under the CBAM.
As a country dependent on exporting, this highlights the economic necessity for Australia to make climate policy a priority.
Nothing in nature exists alone, nowhere in nature do you see anyone being self-sufficient.
While typically seen as the antithesis of globalism, Prigioni argues localism is about empowering communities.
“No matter what you’re not going to be able to rely on yourself for everything, not everyone is going to have acres of land, or be able to produce and mill your own grain, make your own bread, do all of those things, grow your own vegetables, grow your own staple foods,” she said. “You’re always going to be part of some kind of grid, you’re always going to be dependent.
“Nothing in nature exists alone, nowhere in nature do you see anyone being self-sufficient.”
Instead, Prigioni says localism is about decentralisation and diversity as we consider how long-term sustainability can be incorporated into our food systems.
When it comes to locality and sustainability, traditional Indigenous food systems tell a 65,000 year old food story that works in harmony with the land.
Black Duck Foods is an Indigenous social enterprise committed to traditional food growing processes that care for ‘country’ and return economic benefits directly to Indigenous people.
They’ve been working on harvesting grains which come from native perennial grasses.
Our farms become biodiversity spots, and our national parks become farms.
“They’re drought resilient, they add carbon back to the soil, they provide a food system and they adapt well to fire regimes,” said Chris Andrew from Black Duck Foods.
“These are food systems where you don’t kill the soil to grow the food, they are thriving. And the benefit of that is when we go down and look at these food systems, we’re looking at a system that doesn’t have agriculture and the environment competing against each other. They are the same place.
“Our farms become biodiversity spots, and our national parks become farms.”
In this year’s budget, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud announced a biodiversity package which will offer payments to farmers in exchange for increasing biodiversity.
While the scheme was promoted as a world first, prioritising biodiversity isn’t a new idea and turning to Indigenous knowledge could benefit us all.
However, Andrew warns that any attempt to enter into Indigenous spaces should begin by sharing stories.
“For too long, we’ve imposed non-Indigenous frameworks that are for the most part pretty offensive, and pretty detrimental,” he said. “So it’s a bit of a change in the way that we act, we are invited into a space where we operate within that space. And that should start with an invitation.”
In fact, a variety of ownership in the Australian agriculture industry is severely lacking, with a 2021 Guardian Australia investigation finding the person who held the most land in Australia is mining magnate Gina Rinehart.
Large corporations and family farms have been driving out competition for years, creating a monopoly which values high-return products over diversity.
In order to achieve net-zero emissions and long-term sustainability, farmers will need government support that prioritises both economic and bio-diversity at a local level.