Food system needs options, including GM crops

An opinion piece, published in the Boulder Daily Camera on March 18, 2016

The Boulder County Commissioners this week directed county staff to draw up a plan to phase out genetically-modified crops on county-owned open space agricultural land. Decision-making in public policy must be based on the best available evidence. This issue is important first because GM technologies could play a significant role in helping to ameliorate the significant food system challenges that we face in the 21st century, and second because public policies at local scales not only affect the local food system but can also have wider impacts.

Globally, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations estimates that 70 percent more food will be needed by 2050. This is both because the world population is increasing, and because per capita food consumption is increasing in many places. Current food production systems are, in many places, putting enormous pressure on the environment: in terms of land use, water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.

At the local scale, Boulder County open space land has been a place for innovation in developing a local, diversified food system. A diversity of farms and farming practices coexist in Boulder. Many farmers in the county are trying to produce more local food in a manner that is as sustainable as possible, while maintaining or improving their livelihoods.

Responding to all of these challenges, global and local, requires the development of more sustainable food systems. This will require multiple approaches, including more sustainable diets, reduced food waste, and more efficient food production. To produce food more efficiently, we will need to draw upon all of the knowledge and tools available to us. This includes organic farming, agro-ecological production systems, and GM crop technologies. To unnecessarily rule out any one tool would be to constrain our collective capacity to respond to this challenge of developing more sustainable food systems.

Read the full article here

Carbon and communities: innovative approaches to agriculture and forest management in Indonesia

We are standing in knee-deep, tea-colored water. “Pekerjaan kami di sini”, smiles Pak Tukul, “our work is here”. He and his colleague Pak Maryanto have led my colleague Lini and me to this spot in the flooded peat-swamp forest, wading through pools and clambering across roots and over fallen trunks. We are here to see a research plot where they have been working.

They explain that the two of them have helped to painstakingly identify and measure every tree, sapling and seedling in this 25m x 25m plot, and to measure the depth of the peat, in order to estimate the carbon contained in this patch of forest. It took us an hour by canoe, and a 15-minute wade to get to this site: they tell us that this is the most accessible of the 200-plus plots that they have surveyed.

Why all the hard work? The site is part of an innovative REDD-like project, covering a vast 204,000 hectare (Mauritius-sized) tract of forest in Central Kalimantan, just east of the regional capital of Sampit. Formerly a licensed logging concession, the forest is devoid of the largest trees, but remains otherwise intact and supports enormous biodiversity, including orangutans. A small consortium of Indonesian entrepreneurs have submitted an application to the Ministry of Forestry to operate the forest as an Ecological Restoration Concession (ERC) - a form of land classification only operational in two other sites. If successful, this test case could lead the way for a new mechanism for maintaining the environmental and socio-economic benefits of forests in Indonesia.

Read the full blog post here.