CIRS Blog about Rural California

 — Late Thursday morning, while the Capitol Hill spotlight was pointed elsewhere, three Northern California congressmen paid a quiet call on the state’s junior Democratic senator, Barbara Boxer.

They wanted to talk water.

For upward of 40 minutes, in a room near the Senate floor, Democratic Reps. Mike Thompson, George Miller and Jared Huffman sounded an alarm about water legislation coming quickly down the pipe.

The private meeting preceded, but did not instigate, the unexpected end to the water bill negotiations, led by California’s Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Republicans in the House of Representatives. It took place even as House Republican staffers believed they were within days of finishing legislation addressing California’s drought.

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The USDA’s climate change efforts are underway. Climate change is now officially embedded in the Department’s strategic goals, one of which seeks to make forests and working lands “more resilient to climate change." A 2011 Departmental Regulation requires USDA agencies to consider climate change impacts when making long-term planning decisions.

Meanwhile, USDA spending on climate change-related actions has grown in recent years – during FY 2013, USDA says it budgeted approximately $186 million across six of its agencies for climate change related research, outreach, and financial incentives.

USDA and the federal government have come a long way in starting to address the realities of climate change. But until the Department shifts its focus to existing, ‘shovel-ready,' sustainable agriculture solutions to climate change, we will not achieve the level of change that is needed.

Inordinate Focus on Biomass and Biorefineries

Over half of the $186 million in USDA’s FY 2013 climate change dollars were allocated to renewable energy programs —specifically biomass research and development.

According to a recent report, $88 million, or 47% of the USDA’s total climate change budget, went to just two biomass and biorefinery research programs. These programs seek to develop technologies for industrial-scale conversion of agricultural and forestry materials and by-products for fuels and electricity generation.

The inordinate focus of climate change funds on these projects—which will likely benefit only large agri-business interests, and few of them in California—is disappointing. Rather than throwing more millions into technology development, USDA should instead be focusing its efforts on ways to strengthen the resilience of all farmers and ranchers while also achieving on-farm greenhouse gas reductions.

By contrast, financial incentives for farmers to install renewable energy or improve energy efficiencies through the Rural Energy for America (REAP) program amounted to less than $13 million (7 percent).

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Below is a keynote speech given by Eric Holt-Giménez at Terra Madre in Oct. 2014: 

 

This year’s Terra Madre/Salone del Gusto is being held during the United Nation’s “Year of Family Farming.” This is a wonderful way to celebrate good, clean, fair food produced by family farmers, peasant farmers, smallholders, fishers and pastoralists from around the world.

 

This event is more than a celebration of food and family farmers. It’s a celebration of the millennial culture of peasant and smallholder farming and of their importance—not just in the world’s food systems—but in our societies, our economies, our politics and, we hope, in our shared future.

 

We are here to celebrate all the incredible things that smallholder, family farmers do: They:

 

  • Produce 70 percent of the world’s food on 25 percent of the agricultural land;
  • Still maintain the largest in situ reservoir of GMO-free agrobiodiversity on the planet;
  • Are the practical knowledge base for agroecology—the people’s science of sustainable agriculture;
  • Provide the food for an infinitely diverse, nutritious and delicious cuisine;
  • Provide livelihoods for nearly a third of humanity;
  • Help cool the planet by capturing carbon in naturally-fertilized soils
  • And they do many other things both material and intangible that are too vast and diverse to list.

 

But we should also celebrate what small, sustainable producers don’t do: They,

 

  • Don’t make record profits while people go hungry (I’ve never seen a farmer let anyone go hungry);
  • Don’t spread superweeds and resistant pest populations by using GMOs (though their farms do get contaminated by GMOs and they get sued by Monsanto);
  • Don’t contribute 20% of the planet’s GHG or use up 80% of its fresh water;
  • Don’t invent or traffic in deadly agricultural poisons (though farmers and farm workers are systematically poisoned by pesticides and herbicides);
  • Don’t produce antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria (though, like you and I, they are vulnerable to resistant bacterial infections);
  • Don’t speculate with our food in global financial markets (though they suffer both when prices rise and when they drop);
  • Don’t speculate with land in global financial markets, either (though they are the largest private investors in agriculture in the global economy);
  • Don’t grab large tracts of land from others (though they have been massively displaced by the 86 million hectares of land grabbed in last 7 years by corporations and sovereign wealth funds—that’s an area five times the size of Italy).
  • No, peasant and smallholder farmers don’t do any of those things (but I suspect you can guess who does).

Ever since the food crises of 2008 and 2011 that sent over a billion people into the ranks of the hungry—even at a time of record global harvests and record corporate profits—and ever since the global financial crash—suddenly, peasant and family farmers have captured the interest of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, USAID, Bill Gates, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, John Deere, Cargill, ADM, Bunge, Monsanto, Syngenta, WalMart, Tesco, Carrefour and other agrifoods giants. Even Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street financiers are paying special attention to family farmers—or at least to their land.

 

These are the big planetary players of what some of us call “the corporate food regime” those international institutions and oligopolies that dominate the global market in inputs, seeds, agricultural commodities and food.

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California had farm sales of $45 billion in 2012, including $17.2 billion worth of fruits and nuts, $6.8 billion worth of vegetables and melons, and $3.5 billion worth of horticultural specialties such as greenhouse and nursery products. The value of field crops was $5 billion, making crop sales $32.5 billion or 73 percent of the state's farm sales. Livestock and poultry sales were $12.1 billion, including $6.9 billion or 57 percent from milk. 

In summer 2014, three major farm labor trends stand out: few labor shortages, many labor-saving changes, and segmenting farm labor contractors (FLCs.) 
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The California Climate and Agriculture Network's California legislative round up relevant to climate change for 2014.

 

Farmland Protection

Assemblymember Susan Talamantes-Eggman (Stockton) authored the Farmland Conservation Strategy Act (AB 1961). The bill would have required counties with significant farmland resources to inventory their agricultural lands and describe their goals/policies to retain farmland and mitigate for its loss. AB 1961 passed through the Assembly Local Government and Agriculture Committees, but was held over in the Assembly Appropriations Committee in May 2014, after seeing intense opposition from the California Building Industry Association (CBIA).

Despite this, California is moving forward with addressing farmland conservation and climate change issues.  The Strategic Growth Council in partnership with the Resources Agency has proposed draft guidelines for a new agricultural lands conservation program [pdf] aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with sprawl development.

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