Small Organic Farmers Can Cool the World That Chemical Farming Has Overheated

A new report, published today by GRAIN, shows that agriculture can put much of the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere back into the soil.

October 7, 2009 | Source: GRAIN | by

A new report [1], published today by GRAIN [2], shows that agriculture can put much of the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere back into the soil.

Soils contain enormous amounts of carbon, mostly in the form of organic matter. Evidence provided in the report shows that industrial agriculture, and the global food system of which it is part, has sent large amounts of this carbon into the atmosphere. Calculations in the report show that policies oriented towards an agriculture in the hands of small farmers and focused on restoring soil fertility would make a huge contribution to resolving the rapidly escalating climate crisis. The report makes it clear that, through a coordinated global programme, the organic matter that has been lost over the past decades can be gradually rebuilt. In 50 years the soils could capture about 450 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, which is more than two thirds of the current excess in the atmosphere [3].

The report shows that the role of the global industrial food system in creating the climate crisis has been seriously underestimated. Calculations reveal that the global food system is the most important single factor behind global warming, responsible for almost half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. This includes oil-dependent industrial farming, together with the expansion of the meat industry, the destruction of world’s savannahs and forests to grow agricultural commodities, the use of fossil-fuel energy to transport and process food, and the extensive use of chemical fertilisers.

To transform the world’s food system so that it cools the planet rather than heats it up would require fundamental changes in how we produce food. The current trends towards increased land concentration and the expansion of industrial farming would have to be reversed. [4] Only if millions of small farmers and farming communities have access to land and can count on policies to support their livelihoods, can we restore the billions of tonnes of organic matter that the world’s soils have lost.

“The evidence is irrefutable. If we can change the way we farm and the way we produce and distribute food, then we have a powerful solution for combating the climate crisis. There are no technical hurdles to achieving these results, it is only a matter of political will.” said Henk Hobbelink, coordinator of GRAIN.



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[1] GRAIN, Earth matters – tackling the climate crisis from the ground up, Seedling, October 2009,

[2] GRAIN is a small international non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems. For more information, see:

[3] For a detailed explanation of GRAIN’s calculations, see the report at

[4] GRAIN, The international food system and the climate crisis, Seedling, October 2009,