Wednesday, April 18, 2012

My Munchable Soapbox: Poverty and the Environment

"Suppressed, hungry and poverty stricken people are not concerned by environmental degradation even though they are the first victims of environmental degradation" - Wangari Mathi
Photo credit: CIAT/HondurasWe've been focusing a lot lately on poverty and hunger, as we draw nearer to the Live Below the Line challenge. And while the past few weeks have explored the challenge of hunger and poverty, the geography of hunger, and Passover and hunger, amazingly the environment has not played much into the discussion. 

That said, agriculture both negatively impacts and relies heavily upon the natural environment, and yet the majority of impoverished people in developing countries depend on agriculture to eat and earn a living. Converting forest and grassland into crop systems accounts for about 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions (IPCC), contributing to climate change. At the same time, higher temperatures, more variable rainfall, and extreme weather events associated with climate change make growing crops that much harder! Moreover, deforestation, degrading land management practices, and heavy use of agricultural chemicals all harm wildlife and pollinators, but also make farming unsustainable in the long-run.

Photo credit: Rachel Friedman/Los Tuxtlas
So, if poverty, agriculture, and the environment are all so interlinked, why is this even an issue? Good question; it's complicated. There are the short-term incentives of eating today vs. long-term ability to use the land, and the cycle this leads to. Population growth has made some traditional practices, like shifting cultivation and slash-and-burn, no longer viable. Poor policy and insecure land rights can remove a poor farmer's incentive to protect the health of the soil and ecosystems. And these are only a few in the web of factors influencing environmental degradation.

Much of this goes back to money. Luckily, there is increasing recognition, particularly among the donor and development communities, that sustainable agriculture is essential both for planet and people! For example, integrating trees with crops, composting, and maintaining some wild habitat on farms helps manage water resources, keeps pollinators around, and ultimately increases the resilience to climate changes. So hopefully, with the correct policies and financial boosts, poor farmers will start to see agriculture and the environment not as two warring entities, but as equal and integral to health and well-being.

Make your own contribution to the cause here.  

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