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Making The Case For Earth Repair Work – Part 2

Over the past couple of years, there has been quite a bit of attention paid to the purchase of massive amounts of agricultural land by rich countries and corporate entities in the developing world. Craig Mackintosh wrote about this on this site, as have many other very informative reports and press stories.

To summarize, there has been approximately US$100 Billion mobilized to purchase somewhere between 40 – 50 million hectares (roughly 100 – 125 million acres) of agricultural land worldwide.

Quoting a recent article published by The Financial Times on July 27, 2010, World Bank warns about the ‘farmland grab’ trend:

Investors in farmland are targeting countries with weak laws, buying arable land on the cheap and failing to deliver on promises of jobs and investments, according to the draft of a report by the World Bank.

“Investor interest is focused on countries with weak land governance,” the draft said. Although deals promised jobs and infrastructure, “investors failed to follow through on their investments plans, in some cases after inflicting serious damage on the local resource base”.

In addition, “the level of formal payments required was low”, making speculation a key motive for purchases. “Payments for land are often waived … and large investors often pay lower taxes than smallholders … or none at all.”

[A World Bank study entitled] ‘The Global Land Rush: Can it yield sustainable and equitable benefits?’ is the broadest study yet of the so-called “farmland grab”, in which countries invest in overseas land to boost their food security, or investors – who are mostly locals – buy arable land. The “farmland grab” trend gained notoriety after an attempt in 2008 by South Korea’s Daewoo Logistics to secure a large chunk of land in Madagascar for a very low price and vague promises of investment. The deal contributed to a coup d’état in the African country." – farmlandgrab.org

A couple of excellent examinations of this issue has been published by The Oakland Institute. They are:

This topic has also been featured by news outlets such as Al-Jazeera English’s Riz Khan Program "Land Grab or Investment":

Part I

Part II

What is, in essence, the primary driver behind these land deals is identified in a UK Telegraph article titled ‘Britain facing food crisis as world’s soil ‘vanishes in 60 years’, which was published on February 3, 2010. Quoting from the article, which followed the Carbon Farming conference that took place in Borenore, NSW Australia November 2009:

An estimated 75 billion tonnes of soil is lost annually with more than 80 per cent of the world’s farming land "moderately or severely eroded", the Carbon Farming conference heard.

A University of Sydney study, presented to the conference, found soil is being lost in China 57 times faster than it can be replaced through natural processes.

In Europe that figure is 17 times, in America 10 times while five times as much soil is being lost in Australia.

Soil is also a valuable store of carbon and can release the greenhouse gas if it is ploughed or dug up.

The conference heard world soil, including European and British soils, could vanish within about 60 years if drastic action was not taken.

This will lead to a global food crisis, chronic food shortages and higher prices, the conference heard.

Despite better than average farming practices, European soil might last for 100 years if no further damage occurs worldwide, scientists said.

In reality, however, increased land pressures aimed at compensating global production losses would likely mean it will run out faster, they added. – telegraph.co.uk

The issues connected to the Global Land Grab controversy are directly linked to those of the global Earth Repair/Ecosystem Restoration Work (ERW) agenda. ERW has yet to be seriously discussed as means by which the global ecological dilemma and degrading of natural capital can be effectively addressed.

The attempts made to purchase these vast amounts of arable land speaks to the manner in which investors treat natural capital like financial capital. The impression given is that the ecological problem is something that can be avoided by buying our collective way out of the situation. The rich and wealthy are mostly woefully ignorant of how to manage & use natural capital. This is where those acquainted with ERW techniques and strategies can provide an indispensable service.

I was invited to speak at a socially responsible/triple bottom line investors conference taking place in London November 2010. The event is being put on by TBLI (Triple Bottom Line Investment). I intend on addressing this very issue in my presentation entitled: "Economic Support for Global Earth Repair Work and Ecological Restoration – Making The Case".

Rhamis Kent

Rhamis Kent is a consultant with formal training in mechanical engineering (University of Delaware, B.S.M.E. '95) and permaculture-based regenerative whole systems design. He has previously worked for the renowned American inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kamen at DEKA Research & Development, with subsequent engineering work ranging from medical device research and development to aerospace oriented mechanical design. After taking an interest in the design science of Permaculture, he sought extended training with permaculture expert and educator Geoff Lawton at the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia. This led to his involvement with design work connected to the development of Masdar City in UAE after Mr. Lawton and his consulting company (Permaculture Sustainable Consultancy Pty. Ltd.) were contracted by AECOM/EDAW to identify solutions which fit the challenging zero emissions/carbon neutral design constraint of the project.

6 Comments

  1. Nice work Rhamis.

    In your presentation you share the Loess Plateau example in China. Another example you may want to work in is this one. It’s quite possibly the largest and most successful land regeneration project in the world.

    Another resource you may be able to use is here, from the longest running scientifically monitored organic/conventional side by side comparison field test in the world.

  2. Hey, Craig

    I’ve got the Rodale Institute info. They’re listed as one of the EWR Practioner references.

    The other two examples you gave are excellent. I’ll be sure to include them.

    Let’s teg team on this. There’s still time to make additions and changes to tighten things up.

  3. Great article! ERW is a rapidly growing field in the USA as well as Payment for Ecosystems Service (PES). However, I would classify it as more of an emerging market with regulations often working against the efforts. In the presentation I would like to see more detail or examples on the profitability. For these efforts to go mainstream the bottom line is still the bottom line for business especially in difficult and uncertain economies. Also two great books to consider specifically on this subject are by Storm Cunningham – Restoration Economy (www.restorationeconomy.com) and his new one ReWealth (www.rewealth.com). Also folks may want to check out Ecosystems Marketplace (www.ecosystemmarketplace.com). Lastly, you mention a lot of ERW being in agriculture but let us not forget straight up regenerative ecosystem restoration to re-establish lost natural/wilderness area.

  4. Hey, Chuck

    Concerning profitability, ERW is by definition a fully profitable activity. I quote a study that was published in Nature which attempted one of the first foral valuations of ecosystem services. The average annual cost was estimated to be US$33 trillion – which is approximately twice annual global GNP (compare US$18 Trillion).

    Currently, we create wealth by literally destroying the source of our wealth (i.e. – natural ecosystems and the services they provide). Logically speaking, it’s absolutely absurd. If it were any other type of asset – for example, a financial asset – there’s no way anyone in their right mind would actively degrade or destroy it, decreasing its value.

    My contention is that an industry could be – should be – created that has as its explicitly stated goal the restoration and improvement of natural ecosystems as an intelligent, sensible asset management strategy. I’m not even arguing for it from the standpoint of its ecological benefits – because for money people, that’s not a compelling motivator (which has been thoroughly demonstrated).

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