Development and Peace animator Sara Michel describes the virtues of small-scale farming.

WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER

Development and Peace animator Sara Michel describes the virtues of small-scale farming.

September 26, 2011
CHRIS MILLER
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

LEDUC — The devastating effects of climate change are already a daily reality for many people, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. The industrialization of agriculture bears a large share of the responsibility for the disruption of the climate.

Therefore, the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace proposes that small-scale agriculture is the best solution for the future.

Agricultural activities and the food production system account for about 44 to 57 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. By 2050, an estimated 200 million people could be displaced as a result of climate change.

“Industrial agriculture contributes in part to climate change through land conversion, processing, packaging and transporting of food, and production models that require extensive use of fossil fuels,” said Sara Michel, Development and Peace regional animator.

She spoke at the Edmonton Archdiocese’s Development and Peace annual general meeting and fall action workshop. The AGM and workshop were held Sept. 17 at St. Michael’s Church in Leduc.

About 40 workshop participants learned that Development and Peace has a new education program focused on ecological justice, set for 2011 to 2016. The program makes the connection between ecology, agricultural production and the exploitation of natural resources.

“Ecological justice has a Christian perspective, a historical perspective, and also a scientific perspective. The earth is finite, and we are called to live in a right relationship with God’s creation,” said Michel.

The theme of the overall program is Integral Human Development Consistent with Ecological Justice. This year’s specific topic is the benefits of small sustainable farming.

“Our behaviour contributes to effects on the environment which in turn contributes to effects socially and economically, and these effects tend to be the most detrimental and destructive to people who have the least amount of influence on them and tend to be the most affected,” said Michel.

She continued, “When we look at the drought in the Horn of Africa and when we look at certain conflicts around the world, a lot of times we have very easy answers, such as ‘racial tensions’ or ‘ethnic struggles.’

“A lot of times it’s really competition over resources and it’s environmentally related.”

Small-scale farms worldwide feed 70 per cent of the world’s population. There are 1.5 billion small farmers spread over 380 million farms. They feed the hungry, and the world cannot do without their resources, especially to meet the challenge of feeding nine billion people by 2050.

Unlike industrial agriculture, small-scale agriculture protects the integrity of the soil, seed diversity and the survival of thousands of breeds of animals.

Here in Alberta, a handful of farmers are looking at again practising a form of agriculture that is environmentally friendly and could help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One such operation is Ruzicka Sunrise Farm, northwest of Killam, in Flagstaff County.

Michel explained during a video how the family farmed conventionally until 1995, taking a typical industrial approach that resulted in escalating debt. Cultivating the land meant land clearing, deforestation and buying more equipment.

HOLISTIC MANAGEMENT

A course in holistic management changed their lives, how they farmed and how they came to view the land.

Today, she said, the 800-acre farm is holistically and organically managed. The family emphasized the nurturing and environmental dimensions of agriculture, not just its moneymaking aspect.

Their approach to farming coincides with the theme of ecological justice. Instead of an appetite for profit, their new practices not only ensure their economic livelihood, but also contribute to the sustainability of their farm.

If the farm is to be economically sustainable then it must also be environmentally sustainable. Clean water, healthy soil and fresh air are important to the health of the land.

Workshop participants were asked to sign an action card, a message for solidarity for small-scale farmers. The collected messages will be sent to Development and Peace partners who are working with organized groups of small-scale farmers in the Global South.

The aim is to help strengthen their advocacy and education work with their government and communities.