Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Is it time for transition?

What connects farming, famine, food, fossils fuels and fertilisers? The answer is somewhat surprising: oil. This was one of the conclusions of the Soil Association annual conference: Transition - Food and Farming in 21st century Britain. Fossil fuel depletion, climate change, diminishing soil and water resources and population growth present an unprecedented threat to global food security.

Those threats are based on our dependence on fossil-fuels for both our energy needs and for the mass production (and transportation) of food. This places us in a very precarious position. Precarious because oil has peaked and we are beginning to run out. Precarious because mass, non-organic, agriculture is so dependent on synthetic, oil-based fertilisers. Precarious because the burning of fossil-fuels is leading to irrevocable climate change. Precarious because our dependency on imported food and energy leaves us a vulnerable, net importer and precarious because we are destroying the very thing that nurtures us: the soil beneath our feet.

But rather than produce despondency (a common enough human reaction) these problems have led to some remarkable grass-roots solutions. From the rapidly growing Transitions Towns movement to Catherine Sneed’s remarkable and moving ‘healing through horticulture’ programme in US prisons to Dr Vandana Shiva’s ‘Soil not Oil’ movement. You can listen for yourself here:

Ashden Awards was there too, to share the experience of our pioneering winners, as a major contributor to a workshop on farming and energy. The workshop outlined the lessons we can learn from international biogas systems for UK farmers and demonstrated the benefits of biomass in sustainable farming energy solutions as well as the role farmers (and landowners) can play in powering the national grid through wind. There was overwhelming interest.

Whilst the global issues can seem at times insurmountable, this conference demonstrated that it is the often small, frequently bottom up, mostly local and always sustainable solutions that may provide the shoots of hope for us all.

Simon Brammer
UK Programme Manager for Ashden Awards

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