War, Food, Fertilisers and Restoration
In addition to the appalling human suffering that is going on, a food crisis is creeping into our lives. With high food prices due to the disgusting Russian invasion in the Ukraine, and demand for fertilisers soaring, what does this mean for addressing the biodiversity crisis through integrated landscape management and restoration, including regenerative agriculture, agroforestry and conservation? Nine brief observations:
1. In the short term, there is a shortage of grain, corn and vegetable (sunflower) oils, which will mainly affect poorer countries. We should be particularly concerned about countries that cannot get by without food aid. Think of Yemen, Ethiopia, Northern African countries, or Lebanon, that is very dependent on Ukrainian grain. E.g. the Egyptian authorities estimate that their reserves will be sufficient for at least the next six months, perhaps the next nine.
2. Other countries benefit, such as Australia, Argentina, the USA but also India, the world’s second-largest producer of wheat in 2022. Since the 1960s, Indian wheat production has increased by nearly an order of magnitude, to almost 110 million metric tons last year.
3. There are opportunities for regenerative farmers who are not dependent on artificial fertilisers. After all, regenerative farming is more resistant to extreme weather conditions because it is building resilient soils. Those farmers have lower risks in the long run and lower costs. A positive effect of this terrible war may be that it will give a boost to regenerative agriculture, provided it is embedded in a larger landscape plan, so that the risks decrease even further because the ecological functions remain intact. Its why the Farm to Fork strategy combined with the Biodiversity strategy, both under the EU Green Deal, makes a lot of sense.
4. Countries who benefit from these high food prices, like India, would therefore be best advised to invest those profits in landscape restoration through regenerative agriculture, agroforestry and conservation. Why? Resilient landscapes are needed to feed the world, sequester carbon, provide shelter and water, and nurture biodiversity. They are our life-support systems. E.g. India loses 16.35 tonnes per hectare annually due to soil erosion which is 5,334 million tonnes per year.
5. Higher food prices is also good news for farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa where food output grew twice as fast from 2000 to 2018 as it did in the 1980–1999 period. That boom was driven by higher food prices. Think of the areas where the Great Green Wall is now being implemented and you have a powerful combination.
6. Higher prices for fertiliser and commodities will put industrial meat production in trouble. This can lead to acceleration of rotational livestock production and plant-based diets.
7. Let’s hope it will also lead to more awareness about food waste.
8. While Yara International has difficulties to produce fertilisers due to high energy prices and sanctions, the fertiliser crisis also presents other negative pictures. For example the situation has given Brazilian president Bolsonaro an opportunity to defend mining on indigenous territory. He called for the approval of a bill that would open up these protected areas to mineral exploration. The bill has been criticised by environmental groups for its potential impact on indigenous peoples and biodiversity.
9. In addition, we may see that the demand for vegetable oil will lead to an increase in palm oil plantations with the risk of more deforestation in Asia, Africa and South America.
Above all, it means that our priority now must be to help the refugees and victims of this war and those people who are going to suffer because of the food crisis. At the same time, we will have to seize the opportunities that now present themselves to accelerate sustainable landscape management and climate-resilient regenerative agriculture.
We will have to stand firm to withstand this looming food crisis to facilitate sustainable food production based on ecosystem restoration. All this requires cooperation that transcends war.