Sunday, April 22, 2012

The rise of civil society?

Why are we only discussing the state and the market?

The figure tries to depict how various activities have moved from different spheres during the growth of the capitalist society (to the Left) and where they might go in an alternative development (to the Right). With the introduction of capitalism and market economy, many things were moved out from the family, local communities and civil society (the local communities, e.g. the villages, are here seen as part of civil society rather than as part of the state). The role of the state also increased initially: the state organized education, built infrastructure, health care, etc. It also regulated the family and civil society increasingly.

In the later phase of capitalism, more and more has been moved to the market; some aspects of life, like religion, have been relegated to the individual, mainly because they are no longer seen as essential for social order. Civil society organizations have been further weakened, mainly because the market has penetrated most of its space and realm and because of the attitude and values of the market economy. Individualism and competition have not been conducive for civil society.

In the future, we should strive for more activity in the local communities and civil society and less activity in the market sphere as well as in the central government. Also the private sphere should regain some of its relevance, in particular regarding food production and preparation and other household services.
(from Garden Earth)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Your 200 square meters of concrete and asphalt

One of our environmental footprints is the sealed area of the planet:

Uppsala from the south, highways and shopping malls spread on fertile plain, Photo: Kolbjörn Örjavik

The total sealed soil surface of the EU area in 2006 was estimated to be around 100 000 km² or 2.3 % of the EU’s territory, with an average of 200 m² per citizen. Member States with high sealing rates (exceeding 5 % of the national territory) are Malta, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and Luxembourg. Furthermore, high sealing rates exist across the EU and include all major urban agglomerations, and most of the Mediterranean coast. The latter experienced a 10 % increase in soil sealing during the 1990s alone.  Assuming an unabated linear trend, we would convert, within a historically very short time frame of just 100 years, an amount of land comparable to the territory of France and Spain combined. Moreover, it is not only the absolute land take figure that matters but the spatial distribution and the value and availability of the land taken. For example, settlement areas cover 5 % of Austria’s total territory, but this figure soars to around 14 % when Alpine areas unsuited to urban or infrastructure development are excluded. When looking at the conversion of agricultural land, land take matters even more as the share of arable land in Austria is about 16 % only. In the case of the Italian Emilia-Romagna Region, some 95 % of the land take between 2003 and 2008 occurred in the fertile plain soils that cover only half of the Region. (from the Guidelines on best practice to limit, mitigate or compensate soil sealing from the EU)
I wrote about this in a post just a few days ago:

Paving the land - and taking it back again

The EU report above has some good recommendations. 

Limiting soil sealing means preventing the conversion of green areas and the subsequent sealing of (part of) their surface. The re-use of already built-up areas, e.g. brownfield sites, can also be included in this concept. Targets have been used as a tool for monitoring as well as spurring progress. Creating incentives to rent unoccupied houses has also helped in limiting soil sealing. Where soil sealing does occur, appropriate mitigation measures have been taken in order to maintain some of the soil functions and to reduce any significant direct or indirect negative effects on the environment and human well-being. These include using, where appropriate, permeable materials instead of cement or asphalt, supporting ‘green infrastructure’, and making wider use of natural water harvesting systems.

But it also introduce another version of of the idea that we can "compensate" or "offset" the effects of our behaviours. So, in a similar way as we can 'offset' our carbon emissions by planting trees in Africa, we can 'compensate' soil sealing: 

"The eco-account system is based on determining the ‘ecological costs’ of development projects involving soil sealing through the attribution of eco-points. Developers have to ensure that compensation measures of equal value are being carried out somewhere else. Ecopoints are acquired at officially authorised compensation agencies, which are responsible for their attribution and redemption and for overseeing the system."

So next step is that we can pay for re-claiming land in Africa for us to continue building high-ways. A strange world indeed.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Paving the land - and taking it back again

"Restoring to fertility land covered with concrete is an enormous task, but not an impossible one. So, Lorenza Zambon, actress and gardener, tells the story of a couple in Turin, Italy, who decided to give to their children a patch of fertile land as a gift. It was a lot of work; concrete had to be cut and broken to pieces and the rubble carried away. Then, restoring the fertility of the soil took truckloads of dirt, charcoal, and more. Zambon doesn't tell us how long the task took nor how much it cost, but surely it was slow, messy and expensive. It was also a subversive idea: in the generally accepted view, paving the land means "developing" it, and that means making money. So, destroying property to restore the fertile soil is something that nobody in his/her right mind would - normally - do."
writes Ugo Bardi on his blog post about the increasing encroachment on agriculture land by roads, houses etc. It is very hard to get accurate data for exactly how much land is paved over or "built" in the world. Data from Denmark looks like this. 

Danish land use (ministry of environment 2004)
 4.1 %, 4.3 % and 4.4 % of the EU territory was classified as artificial surface in 1990, 2000 and 2006 respectively. This corresponds to a 8.8 % increase of artificial surface in the EU between 1990 and 2006. In the same period, population increased by only 5 %. In 2006 each EU citizen disposed of 389 m² of artificial surfaces, which is 3.8 % or 15 m² more compared to 1990. Unsustainable land use trends can be observed in Cyprus, Denmark, the Netherlands and Portugal where land take is growing considerably faster than population growth. Furthermore, there are several new Member States also affected by unsustainable land use trends due to continuing land take and at the same shrinking populations. Policy targets for land take. Quantitative limits for annual land take exist only in six Member States: Austria, Belgium (Flanders), Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. In all cases the limits are indicative and are used as monitoring tools. This can be read in a recent EU report. I write more about this report in the post EU farm land increasingly sealed. 

In Garden Earth I write:

Roads and petrol stations—the crops of the modern times

The statistical basis for assessing how much land human beings have taken in direct use for buildings, roads, etc., is surprisingly weak. Literature quote figures from 1.5% up to 9%. In Sweden 3%, 1.29 million hectares of the land, is built on in some way. Land for housing was 29% of this; roads, railroads and airports 31%; industries, etc. 11%. Of course, Sweden is sparsely populated. In the county of Stockholm 15% of the land is built upon whereas in the northernmost county of Norrbotten only 0.6% of land is built upon. There were 550,000 kilometres of roads (some 60 metres per person) covering 345,000 hectares of land (SCB 2004). In the more densely populated Denmark, human infrastructure is calculated to cover almost 20% of the land area (Danish Ministry of Environment 2005). During the 1960s, 7% of European farm area was encroached upon by roads and 15% of the agriculture land of Great Britain was built upon (Montgomery 2007). By 2010, the United States lost almost 10 million hectares, more than 2.5% of farmland, to human infrastructure since 1950 (Talberth et al. 2007). Eastern United States has a larger proportion of its total area (4–5%) in urban and suburban landscapes than in other regions (H. John Heinz III Center 2008).

We need to do something with the ongoing encroachment of agriculture land by built infrastructure. It is scandalous that soils are not protected by any international conventions. As far as I understand it is not even on the agenda in the upcoming Rio + 20 meeting.
Time for a soil convention!

Update 19 April:
Apparently the EU Commission released some guidelines about "soil sealing"
and there is an upcoming conference about it: 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Growing with love and care, Organic agriculture grows in Africa

Growing with love and care, Organic agriculture grows in Africa
 ‘Organic agriculture is extremely important in human life. The food we eat today is grown without real love and care for human life’, says Zambia's First Republican President Kenneth Kaunda, one of the prominent speakers at the 2nd African Organic Conference in Lusaka, Zambia. The conference will attract some 300 participants from more than 40 countries and four continents.

 Organic agriculture in Africa is growing rapidly. More than 1 million hectares of arable land and at least 530,000 farmers are certified, according to organic standards in Africa. Uganda and Ethiopia have each more than 100,000 certified organic farms and Tanzania some 85,000. Most of the certified organic production is sold for exports, but there are good organic markets in South Africa and Egypt and emerging markets in countries such as Senegal and Kenya. Many more farmers, from Morocco to Madagascar, from Cairo to Cape Town, practice organic farming for the benefit of local communities and the environment.
From being ignored or even oppressed by government, organic farming is increasingly recognized for its contribution to food security, poverty alleviation and the environments.
The President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, told delegates at COP 17 in Durban in December:
‘Several studies show that the use of organic methods of farming by small producers in developing countries can lead to an increase in crop yields and thus enhance food security among the poor. Sustainable crop and livestock systems provide ecosystem services that restore productivity, conserve soil, water and biodiversity, take away carbon, regulate climate and provide landscape and cultural values.’ 
The Executive Council of the African Union has recently adopted a decision on organic farming. The decision calls for the establishment of an African organic farming platform based on available best practices.  

The conference in Lusaka 2-4 May, provides an opportunity to showcase the contribution that organic agriculture already makes and discuss how it can be scaled up to meet the combined needs of more food production, maintaining the environment and increasing income. ‘It makes us proud that Zambia is becoming a pioneer in climate-smart agriculture. Our expectations are that the conference will be a practical learning and implementation experience.’ said Munshimbwe Chitalu, OPPAZ chief executive officer. Topics addressed range from organic policies and action plans, private sector initiatives, research and options for cooperation on organic standards in Africa. Research findings and studies of best practises form a major part of the conference. The full programme is available at
 The Second African Organic Conference Mainstreaming organic agriculture in the African development agenda will take place in Lusaka, Zambia, from May 2 to 4, 2012.
The conference is organized by the Organic Producers and Processors Association of Zambia (OPPAZ) in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock of Zambia, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Grow Organic Africa under the auspices of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement (IFOAM) and the African Union. Registration is open until 10 April at
More information at
 Munshimbwe Chitalu, OPPAZ,, tel. +260-21-1263 070
 Gunnar Rundgren, Grow Organic Africa,, tel. + 46 70 518 0290
 Hervé Bouagnimbeck, IFOAM,, +49-228-92650-23
 Sophia Twarog, UNCTAD, s, tel. +41 22 917 5082

-------------------------------------extended information--------------------------------------
 What is organic agriculture?
 Organic agriculture is a production system based on active agro-ecosystem management rather than on external inputs. It builds on traditional agriculture and utilizes both traditional and scientific knowledge. Certified or uncertified, organic agriculture offers a wide range of food security, economic, environmental and social benefits.
Organic agriculture builds soil fertility and structure by restoring carbon and nutrients to the soil through sustainable land and water management techniques such as composting, cover crops, mulching and crop rotation. This can help African crops reach their full potential of yielding two to four times more than they currently do. 
 Research shows that organic agriculture is a good option for food security in Africa – equal or better than most conventional systems and more likely to be sustainable in the longer term. An analysis of 114 cases in Africa revealed that a conversion of farms to organic or near-organic production methods increased agricultural productivity of 116 per cent. Moreover, a shift towards organic production systems has enduring impact, as it builds up levels of natural, human, social, financial and physical capital in farming communities.
  •     Under the Environmental Action Team project in Kenya, maize yields increased by 71 per cent and bean yields by 158 per cent. Moreover, increased diversity in food crops available to farmers resulted in more varied diets and thus improved nutrition.
  •      For 20,000 farmers in Tigray, previously one of the most degraded regions of Ethiopia, crop yields of major cereals and pulses have almost doubled through the use of ecological agricultural practices such as composting, water and soil conservation activities, agroforestry and crop diversification.
  •      In Uganda, an in-depth study of 331 farmers found that those engaged in certified organic export production had significantly higher incomes than their conventional counterparts. Conversion to organic was fairly easy, involved little risk and required few, if any, fixed investments. The organic households became more food-secure due to higher incomes.
 More resources:
 Reports from earlier conferences
 FAO web site for organic agriculture
 IFOAM Africa Office
 UNCTAD policy brief and other resources
 President Zuma’s speech:

(this is a press release for the conference, I am much involved in the organization of it)