One billion trees

The new government want to plant 100 million trees over 10 years to support achieving our climate change commitments. Northland has roughly 5.1% of New Zealand’s land area, so that equates to about 5.1 million trees for Northland per year. Of course we should probably have more, as we don’t have snow here and trees will grow faster than most other places, and therefore sequester carbon quicker.

Northland forest

Northland forest (image credit: Department of Conservation)

Food trees

No doubt many of the trees will be pine and hopefully native trees. I would like to see a commitment that a percentage of the trees are food trees, or trees that support or compliment food production, e.g. shelter belts, farm forestry, manuka and kanuka. There may be opportunities to support such plantings. It would be too easy for the planners to focus on pine trees and reforestation.

It also makes a lot of sense to be planting food trees in parks and streets in urban settings and in schools.

Sequestration rates

If we are planting trees to sequester carbon how do large fruiting plants such as avocado trees, macadamias or bananas compare? This article establishes sequestration rates for macadamias in Australia as 3tons CO2/ha per year. I can’t find data on sequestration for bananas and avocados, but we can compare pasture, native shrubs and trees for a rough estimation. Here are some examples of sequestration rates.

sequestration rates

These numbers are from this webpage and the Tane’s Tree Trust website. They are sometimes aggregated to establish a range and variables include tree age – the max figure for totara is from a 102 year stand. Notice the graph below indicates a higher value for pine.

From this table, we can surmise that bananas, for example would sequester at least as much carbon as the minimum numbers for manuka/kanuka. If anyone has data on banana or avocado biomass, please let me know.

growth and sequestration rates.png

This graph, from the Tane’s Tree Trust website reveals the growth and sequestration rates of different species. Notice that in the short term, native shrubs out perform native trees. We can assume bananas in Northland might follow a similar trajectory to native shrubs as they quickly bulk up.

Pine trees offer rapid growth rates, but harvest processes remove the above ground biomass and can create significant erosion of topsoil and therefore soil carbon, especially on steep land. On the other hand, as with any timber, incorporating wood into constructions sequesters that carbon for decades.

Other values

Timber plantations are important, but we need a broader assessment of their environmental, social and economic value. For example for every 1000 hectares forestry and logging employs 3 people. By contrast, for the same area, dairy employs 19.1 and horticulture 101 people. Thus, monocultural forestry depopulates while horticulture can repopulate rural Northland.

Michael Pollan charts a pathway to good health “eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. If we help  Northlanders to have plenty of access to food trees, and some of it free in schools and public spaces, we can support better health.

How you can help

I would like to see a message sent to the relevant Ministers, and the Regional and District Councils encouraging a target for food trees as a percentage of the 100 million trees to be planted annually. Ideally it will co-signed by relevant organisations, eg, Tropical Fruit Growers, Tree Crops Associations, Enviroschools, Health agencies (fruit trees for schools, parks and streets), and marae.

If you know of organisations to approach for support for this message, please provide the name and the name and email of a contact person.

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Feeding the world

The convergence of rapid population growth and climate change threaten our ability to feed everybody. But our thinking about solutions has been a monocultural reflection of how we grow our food. A recent Guardian article suggests switching to organic farming could cut greenhouse gas emissions and still feed the world.

What we don’t need

We don’t need more “business as usual agriculture”.  The 2016 IPES-Food report (page 54) warns us that “feed the world” narratives are one of eight “lock-ins” that inhibits our collective ability to rethink the way we grow food. Advocates of current industrial food systems claim that massive monocultures, synthetic fertilisers, genetically modified crops and toxic chemicals are essential to feed the world. But if we follow the money we are more likely to find they are serving their financial ambition rather than any altruistic concern for the greater good.

But we also don’t need purist ideologies about how food should be produced. Rather a diversity of solutions should be explored with each assessed on its own merits.

Here are some solutions. Some will work better in a country such as mine (New Zealand) where population density is low, but every bit of food grown (and not wasted) helps.

1. Rethink what it means to be “organic”

Can food only be called organic if it is grown in the soil? Can organic food be grown hydroponically? When I first studied soil science about 40 years ago, conventional horticulture relied on a handful of macronutrients and micronutrients. Now high quality products are available that supply nutrients and important microbial constituents (Rok Soild is my preferred fertiliser). USDA organic certification is now available to qualifying hydroponic, aeroponic, and aquaponic crop systems.

Since the early days of hydroponics, growers have learned how growing in a more controlled environment can reduce or eliminate the need for pesticides. And in these systems herbicides just aren’t needed.

vertical farms.png

These containers are “vertical farms” used by food banks. Crops are grown inside using LED light and energy efficient heating enabling year around production.  Aerofarms farms vertically on a bigger scale.

This system has detractors but it seems a good option for growing food close to where it is needed without nasty chemicals.

2. Try aquaponics

Aquaponics is another option – combining fish and produce production.

Ben Smith is a local advocate of aquaponics.

3. End our obsession with lawns

Lawns are beautiful additions to the landscape and great places for children to play. But in our towns and cities (especially in New Zealand) we waste too much energy mowing lawns when we could be growing more food.

Here is a kiwi example of optimising urban lawn space to create lots of food.

4. Collapse the ornamental/food dichotomy

Most of us have grown up in the traditional garden where food production and ornamentals have there own space. Municipal parks departments also have difficulties coping with the concept of mixing the two. After all fruit trees drop fruit and can be messy! But imagine a landscape where children can eat feijoas, citrus and passionfruit on their way to school. For some, it might be the most nutritious food they get that day. This video shows how a group in Portland Oregon, “glean” fruit to distribute to the needy.     Couple this with an intensification of fruit tree plantings in public spaces and we bring good food closer to those that need it.

5. Diversify protein

I’m not sure how I feel about lab grown meat, but it gets around some of the environmental problems that are presently coupled with intensified agricultural systems.

A new initiative in New Zealand produces a “chicken free chicken” out of pea protein.

 

So here’s a diverse range of approaches to getting food to people. What is most important is for people to make their own assessment about what works best for them and their communities and to have a whole lot of tolerance for other ways of growing food.

 

Trees and dairy

We have to deintensify dairy for a whole lot of reasons. Uppermost in public discourse is water quality, but also intensification has to be sustained by increased inputs that place a burden on the environment. For example, imports of palm kernel meal has risen from 96 metric tonnes in 2003 to 1,600 metric tonnes in 2017 [1]. This 2011 Greenpeace report outlined the carbon footprint of palm kernel.

In a similar timeframe, the use of nitrogenous fertilisers in New Zealand has increased from 231 kilotons (kt) in 2002 to 428 kt in 2014. [2]  Nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas that, according to MPI, “comes from the conversions in the soil by microbes of nitrogen in fertiliser, urine and dung”. Nitrogen is especially needed to pump up grass growth where stocking rates are high.

Transitioning to sustainable stocking rates

Farmers are impelled to increase stock rates for farm viability, so to deintensify, how are dairy farms incomes sustained? There are four pathways:

  • reduce input costs
  • increase per cow productivity
  • create other income streams
  • reform economic practices to deflate speculative practices.

Fortunately there are farms that are showing the way.

Paulownia NZ

Graham and Tess Smith of Paulownia NZ  have a small dairy farm in the Waikato. They have two income streams, dairy, and Paulownia timber.

paulownia-wood-suppliers

They now have 500 paulownia’s planted and are harvesting wood. This image shows how the paulownia canopy still enables reasonable light penetration to the pasture. When the trees drop their leaves the cows love to eat them and the roots penetrate deeper into the earth than pasture roots. The Paulownia NZ website cites Canadian research that shows that trees in pasture (agroforestry) reduces “farmland nitrogen losses by 50 per cent, compared to conventional farming methods”[3].

Paulownia is a remarkable tree, capable of growth rates of 6 metres per year, and has an expanding market. According to the Farm Forestry New Zealand website, the wood was selling for between $1,750 and $2,450 per cubic metre in 2007.

Paulownia

Graham and Tess Smith sell their paulownia for $11 per lineal metre for 100 X 50. The timber is very light, second only to balsa wood and in New Zealand is used for boats, surfboards and skis. Here is an example of a surfboard blank.

wooden-surfboard-supplier2

Paulownia need a free-draining soil, so are not a solution for every dairy farm , but it is great to see examples of diversification. We will look at more in future posts.

Footnote:  I am not a dairy expert, but coming from a rural background and living in Northland I am very interested in how we navigate our way to a post-carbon world, and they way we grow our food is a big part of that.


[1] from Index Mundi

[2} from Australia and New Zealand Fertiliser Market and Fertiliser Usage Status, the International Plant Nutrition Institute.

[3] from Agroforestry: A New Approach to Increasing Farm Production. A Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust report by Stephen Briggs.

Election outcome a great result for MMP and sustainable food systems

Our new government, led by Jacinda Adern is a win for MMP and sustainable food systems.

A win for MMP and the evolution of governance

To form a government in New Zealand a party has to obtain a majority of seats. In a mixed member proportional (MMP) government, any party will need to work effectively with smaller parties to sustain their government. Our new Prime Minister, Jacinda Adern has skilfully woven a coalition agreement with New Zealand First, with support in supply and confidence from the Green Party.

Coalition agreement.png

Winston Peters and Jacinda Adern signing the coalition agreement (source RadioNZ)

This result represents another advance in our political system. It is fitting that 124 years after Kate Sheppard led the fight to win the vote for women, a female Prime Minister is the first leader who has only voted in the MMP electoral system. Ms Adern must be aware that the continuation of her government can only be achieved by the continued success of her coalition partners. Early signs are that she has the skill and awareness to lead us to a new style of co-created governance based on strong consensus.

A win for the environment

The new government also represents a win for the environment with the three partners supporting the establishment of a Climate Commission and agreeing to legislate emission reduction goals to comply with the Paris agreement. Climate change action is touted as a clear winner in the Labour, Greens agreement. Climate change was on the agenda this election and we can be sure that it will be even more prominent next time, so it will shape future governments. This will cause the National Party to rethink its stance.

For the first time the Green Party will have ministerial roles (albeit outside cabinet). These roles include climate change and conservation.

A win for a sustainable food system

A feature of the coalition agreements is the commitment to regional development. Both New Zealand First and the Green Party are champions of local economies. The agreements also include the intention to prevent foreign ownership of farms.

I have no doubt that we need to turn back dairy intensification and diversify farm incomes to reduce environmental impacts (more about this in future posts). The new government will discontinue subsidies of irrigation that fuel intensification.

The plan to increase the minimum wage potentially has a benefit for regional economies. We are a low wage economy and government assistance for wage and salary earners enables employers such as the foreign owned fast food chains to keep employment costs low. In effect this is a tax payer subsidy for these employers, and in the case of foreign-owned corporates, part of our taxes disappear off-shore.

Engaging with Government

According to the Drawdown Project, the 31% reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions can come from food system and a further 14% from land use. We need to engage with government to ensure that the synergies between climate change action, their new forestry programme, and regional development aspirations are realised and support the development of sustainable food systems.

Let me count the ways… food makes us sick

A new report from the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food (IPES-Food) outlines how industrial food and farming systems are making people sick in a variety of ways. An Overwhelming Case for Action lead author Cecelia Rocha says “Food systems are making us sick. Unhealthy diets are the most obvious link, but are only one of many pathways through which food and farming systems affect human health.”

This infographic from the report summarises the carnage and the resulting economic impact.

IPES Food costs of health impacts

In addition to highlighting the perils of the industrial food system, the document identifies five co-dependent leverage points for building healthier food systems. Among these are lines of action we can all champion.

  1. Promoting food systems thinking.
  2. Reasserting scientific integrity and research as a public good.
  3. Bringing the alternatives to light.
  4. Adopting the precautionary principle.
  5. Building integrated food policies under participatory governance.

This report follows on from their ground-breaking first report From Uniformity to Diversity: A Paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems. 

 

Bananas and climate change

Northland bananasThe question is not “is climate change happening?” The question is, “what are we going to do about it?” Some people continue to deny it, others choose to look the other way and hope it will go away, and another group only want to take action if it doesn’t interfere with economic growth.

In his book Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell described a similar scenario. It was the early 1400s and the world was getting colder, not warmer. In Greenland there were two populations – the Vikings and the Inuit. As temperatures dropped, the Inuit were OK, because their staple was fish. The Vikings liked their meat, so when grass growth slowed down, they first ate their mature animals, then the young, and then their dogs. Archeological evidence reveals that the population crashed – and it happened rapidly. The lesson for us is our adaptive capacity.

Bananas as one of many climate change solutions for Northland

The Drawdown project as described in this post, identifies reductions of 1,051 gigaton of CO2 that can be achieved by its top 80 solutions. Food solutions account for 31% of these reductions – 325 gigatons.

Number 14 on the list are tropical fruit crops (including bananas), accounting for a reduction of 20.19 gigatons of CO2 globally, over 30 years.

Tropical staple crops currently grow on 116 million acres, mostly in the tropics. Their rate of sequestration is high at 1.9 tons per acre per year. Expand this area by another 153 million acres by 2050 and they can sequester 20.2 gigatons of additional carbon dioxide. Our analysis assumes that expansion only occurs on existing cropland, with no forest clearing. Because their yield is 2.4 times higher than annual staples—at 60 percent of the cost—savings are signicant, while cost to implement is low. (Drawdown)

New Zealander’s consume about $18 kgs of bananas a year, mostly all imported. If we can grow our own bananas, we would need about 7,700 hectares of bananas to meet our own needs. Northland is great place to grow bananas. We are at the warm end of the temperate zone, but as we are a long skinny peninsula surrounded but the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea, our climate is benign enough for some tropical crops, especially those from higher tropical altitudes.

Bananas vs. white bread

So can we adapt or are we the 21st Century Vikings? One thing we could do, is to plant and eat more bananas (grown as a perennial crop), and eat less white bread (using wheat derived from an annual crop). Here are some comparisons.

Growing and eating bananas

Buying and eating white bread

Carbon consequences
  • perennial crop with a longer-term presence, building soil carbon
  • large biomass per hectare
  • suits mixed plantings and permaculture approaches
  • grown in Northland, and consumed in Northland
  • minimal to no processing
  • made from wheat, an annual crop with disruptive impacts on soil carbon
  • less biomass per hectare
  • grown as a monoculture sourced from the South Island or imported
  • significant processing
Nutrition consequences
  • Nutrient density rating: 30[1]
  • Glycemic index: 52 for 136 grams[2]
  • Glycemic load: 14 (medium)
  • Higher levels of vitamins and minerals[3]
  • no dodgy additives
  • nutrient density rating: 9
  • glycemic index: 70 for a 30 gm slice
  • glycemic load: 10 (low)
  • generally lower levels of vitamins and minerals[4]
  • additives including possibly canola oil, sugar, acidity regulator and emulsifiers
Economic and social consequences
  • locally grown
  • can be grown in home gardens and by small holders
  • imported from out of region
  • production dominated by large companies

Go bananas!

In another lesson from history, The people of England were collectively traumatised by the First World War and didn’t want to be involved in another. They tried to ignore the threat that Adolf Hitler posed in a “fog of denial”. But Winston Churchill persisted in raising the alarm.

“The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”

Winston Smoking a bananaBananas are part of our Northland climate change solution, so to paraphrase Sir Winston, … we shall plant them near the beaches, we shall plant them in the school grounds, we shall plant them in the fields and in the streets, we shall plant them in the hills; we shall never surrender.

 

 

 

[1] from  Dr. Furhman’s Nutrient density chart https://www.drfuhrman.com/content-image.ashx?id=73gjzcgyvqi9qywfg7055r

[2] from SelfNutritionData: http://nutritiondata.self.com/topics/glycemic-index lowest number is best

[3] For additional nutritional information about bananas: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/baked-products/4872/2

[4] For additional nutritional information about white bread: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/baked-products/4872/2

[1] from  Dr. Furhman’s Nutrient density chart https://www.drfuhrman.com/content-image.ashx?id=73gjzcgyvqi9qywfg7055r

[2] from SelfNutritionData: http://nutritiondata.self.com/topics/glycemic-index lowest number is best

[3] For additional nutritional information about bananas: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/baked-products/4872/2

[4] For additional nutritional information about white bread: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/baked-products/4872/2

Climate change hope

drawdownThe Drawdown project has raised my optimism about climate change. There are plenty of doomsayers who think that we are stuffed. For a whole lot of people, its a problem that is just too big to handle, so the strategy is to ignore it. In New Zealand our government tells us that we are too small to make much impact and they appear to believe, action on climate change and improving the economy are mutually exclusive.

There be dragons!

Centuries ago Europeans had some limiting perceptions that inhibited world travel. Some pre-Columbus maps marked the possible presence of dragons, and there was always the prospect of falling  of the edge of a flat earth. Now we have got better knowledge and GPS!

Our collective perception of climate change is like those centuries old perceptions of the world. Climate change is scarier than dragons, so for most people it seems it is better not to go there – and just hope its not true.

Drawdown has changed all that. As most of us accepted, climate change is the result of an increase in greenhouse gasses but the Drawdown team have quantified targeted reductions of CO2 that will get us to the point where we start to reduce atmospheric concentrations. They have also quantified the top 80 solutions and calculated the CO2 reductions in gigatons. We now have a map and GPS! They acknowledge that the         System is dynamic, so exact calculations are problematic. However most of the calculations are based on trends that are already happening.

So we can move beyond our collective paralysis and choose the solutions that work best in our lives? Here is a link to Drawdown’s Solutions webpage.

Mother Teresa told us “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love”. I love this planet and its more than gravity that makes me attached to it. When it comes to climate change, I can’t do great things, but I can do small things with great love. Not just for the planet, but for all of my descendants, and all those who will suffer as a consequence of climate change. And what encourages me more is the actions I can take to reduce CO2 in my world also have other positive benefits.

Here are some solutions I can work on.

No. 3: Reduce food waste

Drawdown calculates the a 70.5 reduction in gigatons of CO2 over 30 years if we collectively waste less food.

A third of the food raised or prepared does not make it from farm or factory to fork. Producing uneaten food squanders a whole host of resources—seeds, water, energy, land, fertilizer, hours of labor, financial capital—and generates greenhouse gases at every stage—including methane when organic matter lands in the global rubbish bin. The food we waste is responsible for roughly 8 percent of global emissions. (Drawdown)

I can reduce waste by growing my own food – that cuts out the waste in the supply chain. I grow my own bananas, so I am not contributing to the waste produced when those bananas that are either too long or too short are discarded. I can also monitor what goes out into the compost. Working my own land and composting returns food waste to the land and increases the organic matter (carbon) in the soil. I only have a little bit of land, but it all helps.

No. 4: Plant-rich diet

I’m reducing my meat intake. Meat takes a whole lot more resources than fruit and vegetables. According to Drawdown this will reduce CO2 by 66 gigatons in 30 years. We can also expect a health dividend from reducing meat intake.

Plant-rich diets reduce emissions and also tend to be healthier, leading to lower rates of chronic disease. According to a 2016 study, business-as-usual emissions could be reduced by as much as 70 percent through adopting a vegan diet and 63 percent for a vegetarian diet, which includes cheese, milk, and eggs. $1 trillion in annual health-care costs and lost productivity would be saved. (Drawdown)

No. 69: Electric bikes

I want to by an electric vehicle (no. 26) but I have never spent more than $10,000 on a car. But I can get an electric bike. If I do, I will be contributing to the 0.96 of a gigaton in CO2 reductions over 30 years. Not a lot, but every bit helps. And if I keep riding my non-electric bike the result will be better still.

An e-bike’s battery gets its charge from the nearest outlet, tapping into whatever electricity is on hand—from coal-based to solar-powered. E-bikes have higher emissions than a regular bicycle or simply walking, but they still outperform cars, including electric ones. (Drawdown)

So there are just three of the 80 solutions that I can contribute to. How about you?