Farming and Land Use to Cool the Planet

Sara J. Scherr and Sajal Sthapit

For more than a decade, thousands of low-income farmers in northern Mindanao, the Philippines, who grow crops on steep, deforested slopes, have joined landcare groups to boost food production and incomes while reducing soil erosion, improving soil fertility, and protecting local watersheds. They left strips of natural vegetation to terrace their slopes, enriched their soils, and planted fruit and timber trees for income. And their communities began conserving the remaining forests in the area, home to a rich but threatened biodiversity. Yet these farmers achieved even more—their actions not only enriched their landscapes and enhanced food security, they also helped to "cool" the planet by cutting greenhouse gas emissions and storing carbon in soils and vegetation. If their actions could be repeated by millions of rural communities around the world, climate change would slow down.1

Indeed, climate change and global food security are inextricably linked. This was made abundantly clear in 2008, as rioters from Haiti to Cameroon protested the global "food crisis." The crisis partly reflected structural increases in food demand from growing and more-affluent populations in developing countries and short-term market failures, but it was also in part a reaction to increased energy costs, new biofuel markets created by legislation promoting alternative energy, and climate-induced regional crop losses. Moreover, food and fiber production are leading sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—they have a much larger "climate footprint" than the transportation sector, for example. Degradation and loss of forests and other vegetative cover puts the carbon cycle further off balance. Ironically, the land uses and management systems that are accelerating GHG emissions are also undermining the ecosystem services upon which long-term food and fiber production depend—healthy

Sara J. Scherr is President and CEO of Ecoagriculture Partners (EP) in Washington, DC. Sajal Sthapit is a Program Associate at EP.

Farming and Land Use to Cool the Planet watersheds, pollination, and soil fertility.2

This chapter explains why actions on climate change must include agriculture and land systems and highlights some promising ways to "cool the planet" via land use changes. Indeed, there are huge opportunities to shift food and forestry production systems as well as conservation area management to mitigate climate change in ways that also increase sustainability, improve rural incomes, and ease adaptation to a warming world.

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