farming

Carbon Farming to Reverse Climate Change

This paper outlines the global threat from Climate Change and proposes a simple economic model as a practical solution through which land use innovation can drive behaviour change and reverse global warming. The planet is warming, we are losing the race to save all the inestimable physical wealth and cultural value that humankind created over the centuries and yet we have singularly failed to use the most efficient tool for reducing carbon dioxide levels: photosynthesis. Nothing else comes close to sucking carbon out of the atmosphere, yet we neglect it.Two decades of policies to address the rising threat of catastrophic climate change have focused on reducing emissions. They failed, however, to slow the increase in greenhouse gas levels. Instead, directly and by default, government policies have brought about continuing increases instead.

Forestry and farming are the cheapest and most effective ways to take carbon out of the atmosphere, sequestering it in the vast unexploited reservoir of the soil and trees. Yet instead of actively pursuing these low-cost options we have deforested and degraded forest carbon and soil sinks.  How can we fix this?

The “4 per 1000” (‘Quatre pour Mille’) initiative launched at the Paris COP21 aims to do just that, by rewarding carbon farming.vBritain is a signatory and a Forum and Consortium member.  “4 per 1000” states that, if farming and forestry increased soil organic carbon annually by four parts per thousand per year, that would be enough to totally offset the annual 16 billion tonnes increase in greenhouse gas levels.  With carbon a marketable crop, we could stop worrying about global warming.

In 2015, the French National Assembly responded to ‘4 per 1000’ by setting a €56 (£50) a tonne carbon tax to comes into effect in 2020.

Carbon emissions reduction policies have failed so far:  

  • HM Govt has spent over £1.5 billion supporting Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), the idea that you can capture CO2 emissions and bury them securely in the ground. For CCS to work and be effective it would cost at least €70 per tonne CO2 stored and require an increase in fossil fuel use of 35%.

  • The voluntary market has created credits for 1 billion tonnes of CO2 in the past 10 years. That’s a mere 1/500 of emissions. Cap and trade is subject to political vagaries. The European Climate Exchange and the Chicago Climate Exchange went bust in 2010 when EU political decisions led to a gross oversupply of carbon allowances.

  • The EU Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation requires mixing sugar beet ethanol, rapeseed oil or palm oil with petrol or diesel. 7 million tonnes of the world’s annual palm oil production of 66 million tonnes is burned as biodiesel, much more than is consumed as food in the EU. Land across the EU is degraded by intensive production of sugar beet and rapeseed for biofuel use, with negligible reductions and, even in some cases, increases in CO2.

The “4 per 1000” initiative is predicated on there being a price on carbon, whether emitted into the atmosphere or removed from the atmosphere. The Government sets a price for carbon and all emissions of CO2 are paid as part of a company’s tax bill, declared as part of its annual returns.  If a company can purchase carbon offsets for less it can deduct these offsets from its tax bill from carbon aware farmers. 

What would happen if there were a £50 per tonne CO2 price?

  • Nitrates, pesticides and herbicides would become uneconomic in many applications and farmers would minimise or abandon these inputs

  • Farmers would increase soil carbon by the use of grass leys and compost. They would minimise tillage and grow green manures to keep ground cover all year round

  • Carbon from straw, sawmill waste and forestry arisings would be converted into biochar (agricultural charcoal) then added to the soil to permanently enhance fertility and increase the carbon in the soil ‘carbon bank.’ Biochar is 80-90% pure carbon and stays in the soil for centuries.

  • Farmers would plant trees and hedgerows instead of growing rapeseed for biodiesel.

  • Wood burning would 10.5 billion be disincentivised. Wood would replace steel and concrete in buildings and homes. Wood is carbon negative. Modern cross lamination technology produces wood that equals or exceeds the strength, durability and load bearing capacity of concrete and steel.

  • The £1.5 billion Government subsidy to date wasted on carbon capture and storage research would be saved.

  • Peat use would end overnight - peat bogs capture more carbon than any land use other than salt marshes.

  • The sea would be more productive. Reduced fertiliser use and reversal of soil erosion would herald the end of harmful algal blooms that damage coastal ecosystems and fish stock populations.

Soil is the world’s most important and valuable commodity.  With a realistic carbon price, we would not suffer the resource misallocation of agricultural subsidies such as in the Common Agricultural Policy. 

Wind and solar are getting cheaper, but are nowhere near as competitive as 4/1000.  Money has been poured into supporting wind energy.  Every tonne of CO2 saved by onshore wind costs €162, from offshore wind £267.

A regenerating degraded forest can profitably generate CO2 savings for a cost of less than £5 tonne CO2.  Forestry management costs of planting, then thinning are minimal. Forests, pasture and arable farmland can easily sequester “4 per 1000 per annum.”  Yet we still lose 31 football fields per minute globally of productive agricultural land because industrial farming methods need take no account of carbon emissions.

How does a Carbon Price affect Fossil Fuel Prices?

A carbon tax would add $10 to a barrel of oil.  That is well within the range of fluctuations in the oil price (e.g. recent OPEC decisions).    

There is a financial opportunity. The Government simply establishes a tax that can be offset by carbon credits.  This then puts carbon dioxide, like any other valuable commodity, in the hands of markets.   

Fossil fuel emissions are 33 billion tonnes CO2 a year globally. At £50/tonne the market for carbon credits would be more than £1.5 trillion. If Britain leads on this by example then London would be the financial hub for carbon trading . The City of London has the depth of liquidity and the reputation for integrity that a global carbon market will need to succeed. 

The flow of cash into sequestration will be transformative.  Agricultural subsidies can fall away without impacting on land values.  Rural economies will be invigorated and farming can begin to remediate the misallocation of resources that current CAP policy encourages.

Auditing, validation and certification of carbon sequestration represents an opportunity for the certification industry, much of which operates out of the UK.

What is the scale of the opportunity?  Carbon sinks are primarily forests, fields and meadows.

The world has 1.5 billion hectares of arable land, 4 billion hectares of forest and woodland and 5 billion hectares of grassland, a total of 10.5 billion hectares that can be put to work removing CO2 from the atmosphere.  The annual net increase in CO2 levels is 16 billion tonnes.  If every hectare of our available land annually removed 4 tonnes CO2 then we would remove 41 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere every year, which would get us back to pre-industrial levels in just 35 years.

Is 4 tonnes CO2 per hectare realistic?

La Vialla, a biodynamic family farm in Tuscany, comprises 1440 hectares including arable, pasture, woodland, vines and olives. Taking this as an example and microcosm of the global distribution of land use types, the University of Sienna, using IPCC methodology has evaluated La Vialla’s annual carbon cycle for the past eight years. Calculations show that 4.24 tonnes of CO2e per hectare have been captured every year for the past eight years. 

 An obvious criticism of soil and forest sequestration is that it can be reversed through human and natural impacts.  A farmer can plough up the soil, a forester can chop down the trees and then much of the carbon captured is released back into the atmosphere.  An additional risk is that fire, war, flood or hurricane can reduce the carbon store.

A two-part payment can address this by providing:

  • a payment for the annual increment of CO2;

  • an additional ‘interest’ payment on the carbon that is stored in the carbon ‘bank.’

Soil is the foundation of our natural capital.  In a capitalist system it should be valued.

Farmers can insure against loss of carbon. Banks will advance loans against land to farmers who operate best practice carbon farming in the knowledge that the asset that is loaned against is increasing in value as its carbon content increases.

The cost of low carbon food would come down and the cost of high carbon food would go up. No longer would price be a barrier to eating food that is rich in nutrients, low in pesticide residues and which delivers tangential social and environmental benefits.

Carbon sequestration in farmland, pasture and forests is a cheap and effective way of reducing greenhouse gas levels.  Compliance with agreed Paris COP 21 targets will be unlikely if we continue to depend on technological solutions and biofuels to reduce emissions.  Using up precious soil and forests for the production of biofuels is wasteful, uneconomic and does nothing to help mitigate climate change. An economic incentive to maximise soil and forest sequestration of carbon dioxide is the most effective, practical and low- cost solution to achieving greenhouse gas reduction.

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Capitalism Must Price Carbon - Or Die

This was a speech I gave at the Harmony in Food and Farming conference in Llandovery, Wales in July 2017.

Please click here to see video clips of the Prince of Wales, Patrick Holden and myself during the conference, which was organized by The Sustainable Food Trust. It aimed to develop an agricultural perspective on the ideas propounded in the book 'Harmony' by HRH The Prince of Wales and Tony Juniper.

In 1967 Joni Mitchell wrote a song called Woodstock that included these lines:

“We are stardust, We are golden

We are billion year old carbon

And we got to get ourselves

back to the garden”

We are indeed ‘billion year old carbon’ – the average person of about 80kgs/176lbs  contains about 15kgs/33lbs of carbon.  That ancient carbon is in our bones, our muscle, our fat and our bloodstream, as carbohydrate, fat, protein and other compounds.  The carbon in our bodies may have been previously in soil, in trees, in charcoal, in dinosaur turds, in mosquitoes, in honey...  It was everywhere before it ‘reincarbonated’ in us.  Carbon is immortal.   And it is stardust.

A billion or so years ago a very hot star kept getting hotter.  As it got hotter, it formed hydrogen, then carbon, then oxygen and then the other elements that we know.Sir Fred Hoyle, the great astrophysicist, described this as ‘stellar nucleogenesis’ – stars creating atoms.

When that star got too hot it exploded, became a ‘supernova’ and blasted its carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and rock into space.  Those chunks of rock and elements consolidated to form our solar system, with a sun that is still burning today with the remaining heat of the star that formed it a billion years ago.

Carbon is a promiscuous atom, it has 4 points where it can ‘mate’ with other elements.  That’s why there are so many carbon-based molecules and why carbon is the foundation of all living things.  Where there’s life, there’s carbon.

 According to Hoyle, life, in primitive form, was everywhere. This was called ‘Panspermia.’

Life in rock was called ‘Lithopanspermia.’

Life was fungi. That life bumbled along, depending on acid rain from the very CO2-rich atmosphere a billion years ago to break down carbon that was stored in rock. Then a miracle happened that changed everything.

Bacteria called cyanobacteria became able to combine carbon dioxide CO2 from the atmosphere with H2O water, using sunlight energy, to make carbohydrate C6H12O6, whilst excreting oxygen.  That carbohydrate was the sugar that is the basis of all living energy in plants and, eventually, in animal life too.

Once this happened, one can speculate that the rock-eating fungi saw their chance and organised the cyanobacteria into chain gangs, maximising their potential to capture carbon from the carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere, then at about 95% CO2.

These became algae, then simple plants, all busy making sugar to feed their own growth and, more importantly, to nourish the growth of the fungi that created them.

The fungi worked with other microbes in the soil, thriving on the sugar coming from the plants and delivering back to 'their' sugar-making plant all the mineral nutrients that they needed to grow.  Plants died and decomposed.  Fungi and bacteria died and decomposed. The carbon-rich detritus of their existence rotted down to become what we know as ‘soil’ – a most precious resource because it is the perfect habitat for fungi and bacteria and a rich source of recycled nutrients for plants.

This soil built up over millions of years, producing rich plant growth that eventually could support the large life forms such as dinosaurs and brontosaurs that existed in the ‘Carboniferous’ age.

This was the soil that early pioneers found in the American Midwest, rich in organic matter that ran very deep thanks to the 3 metre roots of prairie grasses.

When my great grandfather began to plough virgin prairie in Nebraska back in 1885, the soil on our farm contained over 100 tonnes of carbon as organic matter (organic matter in soil is approximately 50% carbon).  By the time I was born in 1944 this was down to about 20 and now it is closer to 10, totally dependent on fertilizer and pesticides.

Farmers are frugal, on our farm we grew and processed almost all the food that we ate, only buying in commodities like flour, salt, sugar and soap that we couldn't make on the farm.  Old calico flour sacks were washed and recycled as clothing, overalls for the boys and dresses for the girls.

Some enterprising flour companies printed pretty patterns on their flour bags when they realised this was happening.  My mother and her sister Thelma wore Nell Rose flour sack dresses.

The men were frugal too, but they were unwittingly wasting the most precious resource on the farm, the soil.  As the poet Wendell Berry put it:

 "We didn't know what we were doing because we didn't know what we were undoing." 

What we were undoing was all the decomposed plant matter that had been accumulating ever since those first Cyanobacteria sped up the process of life on Earth.

The destroyed soil lost its water holding capacity and lost its structure and integrity.  The result was the great Mississippi floods of 1927 when the river was 60 miles wide from April to October, sparking the Great Migration of African-Americans to northern cities as their farms were submerged for half a year.

Then in the 1930s the Dust Bowl triggered another migration, of "Okies" from their farms in Oklahoma, Kansas and western Nebraska as their farms became submerged in dust and dirt.  Richard St. Barbe Baker, an Englishman who founded Men of The Trees in 1926 and was a founder member or the Soil Association, helped restore the broken soils of the Midwest.  Operating under the banner of President Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps he oversaw 3 million men who planted 10 billion trees between 1933 and 1940.  (These men also made good soldiers in WW2).

Tractors also played a destructive role, they could plough twice as deep as a horse-drawn plough, bringing up fertility and carbon from deeper in the soil.  My Uncle Floyd (pictured with me in 1947) still used horses to draw his 8-row planter because horses didn't compact the soil. Tractors did, weakening soil structure.

This experience alarmed people in Europe.  In Britain Eve Balfour wrote "The Living Soil" which proposed a new approach to agriculture that worked with nature and became known as 'organic farming.'

Eve Balfour collaborated with Dr. Innes Pearce who had shown at the Pioneer Project in Peckham that low income families did much better if they understood the basics of good nutrition and domestic hygiene.

Together they formed the Soil Association in 1947 on the premise that good farming would produce heathy food to nourish healthy people and create healthy societies.

My introduction to organic food and healthy eating came via the Japanese guru Georges Ohsawa, author of Zen Macrobiotics.  I imported the books to the UK and sold them via various bookshops.

I sold brown rice snacks at the UFO Club, where the Pink Floyd were the house band.  In February 1966 I opened a restaurant in Notting Hill to spread the macrobiotic message.  In 1968 my brother Gregory opened Seed restaurant, our larger restaurant in Bayswater, London.

Getting ourselves back to the garden

ZEN MACROBIOTICS - Taoism

  • Balanced - Yin and Yang
  • Organic - Sustainable
  • Wholegrain
  • Food for health
  • 'Justice' (Fair)
  • Japanese (Miso, Nori, Tamari)
  • No additives, no hormones
  • Avoid sugar
  • Eat only when hungry
  • Exercise and Activity

Like the Stoics mentioned in the Prince of Wales’ book "Harmony" we believed in "an attunement between human nature and the greater scheme of the Cosmos."  We saw this through the prism of Daoist yin and yang philosophy and saw it as the key to a long and happy life ('macro' = 'big, long', 'bios' = 'life').

When we launched a range of macrobiotic food products in 1970 we branded them "Harmony" with a trademark that was a Yin Yang symbol with leaves and roots.

The company went on to become Whole Earth Foods a decade later - unfortunately 'Harmony' was a brand we couldn't register in our key European markets.

When I launched Whole Earth cornflakes in 1997 a friend Dan Morrell, who had founded Future Forests (later to become the Carbon Neutral Company) asked me if I'd like to take the corn flakes 'carbon neutral' -  a term he originally coined. .  He then commissioned  Richard Tipper of the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management to measure the carbon footprint of the cornflakes.

To our pleasant surprise we had to plant hardly any trees to offset the carbon used in growing, shipping, processing, packaging and distributing the cereal because the increase in the organic matter on the farms where the corn was grown almost completely offset the carbon emissions from everything else.  That's when I understood that, if we priced carbon into the cost of food, people would farm in a very different way.  It is now urgent that we do so

The UN has said that we only have 60 years of farming left. Farming generates more than a third of the annual increase in greenhouse gas. 

Volkert Engelsmann of IFOAM has calculated that we are losing farmland at the rate of 30 football fields every minute.  None of these losses come from organic farming, which is restorative and regenerative.

Industrial farming wastes energy.  It takes 12 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce one calorie of food energy.  A farmer with a hoe uses 1 calorie of human energy to produce 20 calories of food energy.  On a calorie-for-calorie basis a farmer with a hoe is 240 times more carbon efficient than a farmer with lots of equipment and inputs.  More than 30 years of trials at the Rodale Institute farms in Pennsylvania show that organic farming can sequester 1 tonne of carbon per annum.  They have also shown that once the soil is in good shape, the yields match those of industrial farming.

There is an effort afoot to attempt to bring market forces into bringing an end to this potentially disastrous loss of viable farmland.  Part of this is to attempt to appeal to the self-interest of companies like Unilever and General Mills whose supply chain will suffer if farmland becomes unviable and unavailable.

The French National Institute for Agricultural Research published a report in 2015 that stated that if farmers could sequester 4 parts per 1000 of organic matter,  that’s 0.04%, every year in their soil that would be enough to totally offset the annual increase in greenhouse gas emissions that is causing climate change.  That’s without counting any transition to solar, wind or greater energy efficiency.  As a result the French National Assembly voted a carbon price of €65 per tonne to take effect in 2020 and to include agriculture.  French Agriculture Minister Stéphane Le Foll then announced his ‘4 per 1000’ initiative which became part of the Paris Climate Agreement. It was endorsed at COP 22 in Marrakech and  36 countries so far have signed up to participate in restoring soil, the capital base of every nation.

The Prince of Wales co-authored a children’s book called ‘Climate Change’ that shows how carbon goes into the atmosphere and how it comes back into the earth and the sea.  The net annual increase is 16 billion tonnes.

A 3000 hectare biodynamic farm called Fattoria La Vialla in Tuscany Italy has its carbon measured every year by a team from the University of Siena.  La VIalla are sequestering ‘7 per 1000’ every year.  If everyone farmed like those 3 brilliant brothers  in Italy, whose farm is roughly 1/3 pasture, 1/3 forest and 1/3 everything else (grape vines, cereals, fruit, vegetables), then we would not only cancel out the 16 billion tonne increase in CO2 but would see a 12 billion tonne reduction every year.   Additional benefits would be greater biodiversity, cleaner water, less risk of drought and flooding and safer food.  (Their wine is pretty awesome, too).

Going beyond stopping degeneration is the regeneration movement.  This includes: Regeneration International, an offshoot of the mighty Organic Consumers Association in the US; the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation FAO; Soil and More (Netherlands); People 4 Soils (Slow Food movement); and Save our Soils (UK).

Corporations like General Mills are taking strong initiatives.  They have 100,000 hectares of land from their supply chain to be organic by 2020 as part of their carbon reduction policy.

But we still burn food.  One half of the annual USA corn crop is converted to ethanol using more energy to produce it than is embodied in the ethanol. It is mixed with gasoline to be burned as fuel.  The US is now exporting oil and gas yet still burns vast amounts of food in the name of 'energy security.'

We still destroy forests.  According to HRH the Prince of Wales this is at a rate of 15 football fields per minute.  If we valued the carbon stored in those forests at $20 tonne each hectare would be worth $15000.  Once the forest is cleared and then planted with soybeans it is worth $300 per hectare.  HRH described this in a speech in 2008 as ‘The greatest example of market failure in the history of capitalism.’

We still burn wood.  There is a false virtuousness to burning wood.  200,000 wood burning stoves a year are sold in the UK alone.  Wood smoke is more harmful to health than smoke from coal, oil or gas.  It takes a tree 50 years to sequester the carbon that is then consumed in a wood burning stove in 50 minutes. If a replacement tree is planted, will take 50 years to take that carbon back out of the atmosphere.

Wood has the resilience of steel and the load bearing capacity of concrete.  'Glulam' and other new wood technologies mean that wood can be used in 20 story buildings ('plyscrapers'), sequestering the embodied carbon in the wood for centuries.  We should never burn wood, it's a terribly inefficient waste of carbon.

Biochar, or charcoal made from wood, is a way to convert wood by-products into a carbon rich substance that can be put in the soil and will stay there for decades or even centuries.

It dramatically increases the population of beneficial microbes in soil, delivering a healthier plant immune system,  increased water retention and reduced loss of nutrients from leaching.  It is the best use for woody material that is not suitable for building or furniture making.  It is proven to help restore degraded soils and make them fertile and fit for farming again.  There are many examples of its benefits: tomato growers use it to combat plant diseases and increase yields; it cures honey fungus, ash dieback, chestnut blight, phytophthora and other tree diseases; it helps cocoa farmers overcome the devastating impact of black pod.  Stockholm uses it for all their new urban tree plantings as it enhances survival rates.  In Qatar the Aspire Park now use it for all their new tree plantings, with gratifying results.  Biochar in soil protects the beneficial microbes that are part of a plant’s immune system, its food supply and it’s water supply.

Farming and forestry would be transformed if carbon pricing were to be introduced for their activity.   People would plant trees instead of growing wasteful biofuels.  Prairie grass would replace corn in the Midwest.  Farmers would adopt regenerative methods such as organic and biodynamic farming.

Farmers would profit from farming carbon in 2 ways:

  1.  An annual payment for any increase in soil carbon and a charge for any decrease in soil carbon
  2.  An 'interest' payment on the actual level of soil carbon on the farm. This would be effective at around 10% annually.

A typical organic farm would benefit to the tune of approximately £100 per hectare and an industrial farm would have to pay a carbon tax of as much as £100 per hectare.  Farmers would change behaviour overnight and agribusiness behemoths like Monsanto, Bayer and John Deere would have to rethink their business model.  Taxpayer-funded subsidies to farming could be largely phased out as carbon markets would trade the carbon credits.

Farmers could also insure against catastrophic events such as flood and drought that might impact on their soil carbon.   However, farming with carbon in mind would reduce the likelihood of such damaging events.

Soil is Nature’s capital and the foundation of all life on Earth.  Capitalism is about valuing capital and pricing it.  Capitalism has failed to deal with carbon because industry, transportation and farming have been allowed to pollute freely at no cost.  All other forms of pollution are nowadays strictly controlled for wider social benefit. It is time for carbon to be priced and traded like very other important commodity.

We can get 'back to the garden' - the Garden of Eden.  We just have to price carbon and change the way we farm our beautiful planet.

"We are stardust, We are golden

We are billion year old carbon

And we got to get ourselves

back to the garden"

Agribusiness

xorganic-farming-640x426-jpg-pagespeed-ic-thzrqz2irqWhen a business sector sees a rash of mergers and acquisitions, it's for one of two reasons, growth or decay. The organic food industry has seen a lot of acquisitions by companies anxious to get in on the ground floor of the 5% annual growth rate in organic food and regenerative farming. Meanwhile, on the dark side, Monsanto is facing takeover by Bayer, not for any positive reasons, but because they are both looking into the abyss. Merger is one way to survive when the farmers they are competing for are spending less. Farmers aren't stupid - they can do the maths. When they see diminishing returns on their investment in seeds and agrichemicals, they reduce their spending. Normally in a situation like this the agribusiness operators would go to the EU or Washington and just wheedle more subsidies out of the national purse, bleating about food security while encouraging biofuels to prop up soy, rapeseed and corn prices. Who cares if you're destroying the earth's precious farmland at 30 football fields a minute? If you were a big landowner, you'd feel entitled to being paid to do this. That's what us mugs are here for. Now that the EU even subsidises grouse moors you'd think the gates were wide open. But the money is running out. Half the EU budget goes to farmers, much of it British money going via Brussels to France. The US spends $350 billion a year propping up agriculture in the US, channeling money through farmers to agribiz.

Let's take a look at who's eating whom. The potash fertiliser price has halved in the past 3 years, from $450 a tonne to $219. So in Canada, Agrium and Potash, two of the world's biggest potash producers, are merging in a desperate attempt to keep afloat while they wait for a bounce in price that may never happen. Bayer and Monsanto are both facing plunging sales and profits. Monsanto have the seed and Bayer have the pesticides to go with them. But again it's desperation. They hope that innovation will save them, but innovation is not something you find in mega corporations.   GMOs are losing support - US farmers never wanted them but were denied choice after Monsanto bought up all the seed companies and forced GMOs down their throats.

The whole ethanol biofuels scam is blowing up, too. It was never even vaguely 'carbon neutral' - it takes more energy to produce a litre of ethanol than the energy you get by burning it. It's more energy efficient to just mix corn with coal and shovel it into a power station, but that would be too obvious and repulsive.

Chem China has taken over Syngenta. They make the herbicides that Syngenta's GM seed can resist. Nobody in China will eat GMO rice but they'll tolerate pork or chicken fed on GM maize. But the real prize for Chem China is Syngenta's strong presence in US market: they're after Bayer/Monsanto's piece of the diminishing pie. Their US competitors are suddenly bleating about food security.   Two other agrichemical giants, Dow and DuPont, also merged recently. They're all like a bunch of drunks spilling out of the pub after a good night out, trying to keep each other from falling down.

If you're a farmer, what do you do? You used to be able to play off one agrichemical giant against the other, but soon you'll just take what you're given. Or look for an alternative and boy, what an alternative is on the horizon!

When the French '4 per 1000 initiative' succeeds at the Marrakech COP22 climate conference in November every hectare of organic farmland will be set to get over €150 a year in carbon credits. A hectare of chemical-dependent farmland will have to pay for its carbon footprint and that could cost close to €100 per hectare.   It won't happen overnight but the French have fixed a price of €56 per tonne for carbon, to take effect by 2020. The world will probably follow, even the US.   If you were a government that was facing huge annual costs to subsidise farmers with money that flows through their bank accounts to Dow/DuPont, Bayer/Monsanto and Chem China/Syngenta and you could instead just let the carbon markets transfer the money from fossil fuel power stations direct to organic farmers, what would you do? Keep on propping up a dying industry or finally recognise that organic food, when the carbon is priced in, is actually cheaper than the degenerative kind that is destroying our available soil at the rate of 30 football fields per minute? (I can't repeat this often enough)

Governments have been holding back for quite a long time because of the immense political power of the agrichemicals industry and of the landowning fraternity. They passionately hate socialism in all its forms, until it comes to their welfare payments.

It's time for a change. We need to bring freedom to farming. Carbon pricing that encourages regenerative farming instead of degenerative farming is the way forward. Organic is good for you and the climate, too.

Is Agribusiness a 'stranded asset' class?

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Is it time for investors to dump Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer?

The UNFCC has launched its '4 per 1000' initiative based on data from the French National Institute for Agronomic Research that shows that just by increasing overall the carbon-rich organic matter of soil by 0.4% per annum we could completely and totally offset all our annual GHG greenhouse gas emissions.  The farming methods that can take carbon out of the atmosphere and lock it in the soil include big reductions of nitrate fertilisers and fungicides.  Just doing that will make a difference as they represent a 15% contribution to annual GHG emissions.  The rest comes from 'agroecological' practices, mostly pioneered by organic and biodynamic farmers, that are now tested, refined and proven to be competitive in yield with industrial methods of farming.  They do not deliver high revenue streams to agribusiness companies and they also do not externalise all sorts of other costs onto society.  These biggest cost is greenhouse gas emissions as that's the planetary existential threat.  But the personal and social costs are pretty costly, too: pesticide residues in food, soil erosion, dust storms, water pollution, flooding, biodiversity loss, toxic algal blooms and an archaic subsidy system that has the hard-working poor subsidising rich landowners in the name of 'cheap food.'.  But forget about that, just concentrating on the carbon dioxide equivalent emissions from farming is enough.  There are plenty of untested technological solutions like mirrors in space or the delusion of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) that you can pump carbon dioxide into old oil wells and somehow convince yourself and everyone else that it will stay there.   The beauty of what I should like to call Soil Carbon Capture and Storage (SCCS) is that with soil carbon, what goes in the ground stays in the ground.   All it needs is the right price signals.  If carbon has a value then the farmer who reduces emissions and increases sequestration will be rewarded. When carbon has a value it will be traded and there is no need for complicated and inequitable government farm subsidy policies that punish environmentally responsible behaviour.  SCCS farmers will sell their carbon right alongside their corn and beans.

Ideally a SCCS farmer would receive three carbon-related payments per annum,  as well, of course as their normal income and profit from growing wheat or carrots or alfalfa or eggs or whatever .  There would be a capital payment and an interest payment and an avoided emissions payment.  Here's how it could work:

  1. Capital Payment:  This is a payment to a farmer for the net annual increase of carbon in the soil.   Rodale's research has shown that an organic farm can sequester 2.5 tonnes CO2 per hectare per year.  There are 1.5 billion hectares of farmland and 3.5 billion hectares of pasture.  For farmland alone, 1.5 billion ha. times 2.5 tonnes is 3.75 billion tonnes of CO2 per annum.  Conversely, a farm that continues to reduce its soil carbon annually would have to pay for that reduction.
  2. Soil Interest Payment - This would be an 'interest'  payment of the market price of carbon based on the amount of carbon that is already in the soil, the 'deposit' so to speak.
  3. Avoided emissions payment - emissions include fossil fuels and the emissions involved in the manufacture and application of fertilisers, pesticides and agricultural equipment.

How does it work in practice?   Let's say a farmer has 100 hectares of land.   The carbon price is $50 per tonne CO2.  There are already 60 tonnes of CO2 as soil organic matter per hectare.  The farmer adds 2.5 tonnes in one year.  What is the annual carbon payout?

Capital Payment: 100 hectares x 2.5 tonnes x $50 =   $ 12,500

Interest Payment: 100 hectares x 60 x 0.5%            =   $    3,000

Avoided emissions payment:  1 tonne $50  x 100     = $    5,000

So the farmer can sell carbon credits to gain an additional $20,500 of revenue on 100 hectares

What about the  industrial farmer?

Capital Payment: 1 tonne p.a. soil CO2 decrease, $50 x 100   =   - $5,000

Interest Payment: 100 hectares x 60 x 0.5%            =                        $ 3,000

Emissions Payment:   .5 tonne CO2/ha =                                         -$ 2,500

(a fee for nitrous oxide, methane and carbon dioxide emissions from the soil due to the use of nitrate fertiliser and pesticides and fungicides)

Total carbon cost of farming as usual:                                          $4,500

Total 'spread' between SCCS farmer and industrial farmer 100 hectares:

$20,500 + $ 4,500  =  $25,000

If yields are equal and input costs are comparable then this is a significant edge in competitiveness in favour of the agroecological or organic farmer.

That's $250 per hectare.  About what a farmer gets nowadays by way of government subsidy but, instead of it coming from the taxpayer and the farmer acting as a conduit that channels it to agribusiness the payment is funded by the carbon markets and most of the money stays in the farmer's pocket.

Michael Pollan's made a lovely video that tells the story of soil carbon.  And Deborah Garcia's film 'Symphony of the Soil' is certainly worth watching to get a full understanding of the real underfoot magic of our existence.

And the Financial Times published my letter on December 18th 2015 that was a warning to investors not to get caught in a meltdown of agribusiness shares similar to what's been happening with fossil fuel company shares - the writing is on the wall for businesses that generate high greenhouse gas emissions - there's no hiding place any more.  The Paris talks have tipped the balance.

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Soil Carbon: Where Life Begins

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Back in 1967 my brother and I ran an organic macrobiotic restaurant and food store – we followed macrobiotics, the way of eating described in the book Zen Macrobiotics by Georges Ohsawa. The restaurant bought as much as possible from organic producers around London so we built strong links with the Soil Association, which was founded by Lady Eve Balfour in 1946.   In order to talk about biochar I will first talk about soil, because that is the context into which biochar fits.   Satish Kumar also spoke about soil last year in his excellent magazine Resurgence.

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What is soil? Where did it come from? When life on earth began there was no soil, just rock. On and in that rock lived fungi that eked out a precarious living extracting carbon from the calcium carbonate of limestone. The atmosphere was mostly carbon dioxide and when it rained the rain became a weak carbonic acid solution that helped fungi to extract carbon from rock.

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The rock slowly broke down to sand, silt and the finest particles - clay. But there was no ‘soil’, no humus, none of the decomposing plants, organic matter and living organisms that define soil.

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Then a miracle happened

Tiny single celled organisms, ‘cyanobacteria’ (Latin for ‘blue bacteria’) developed the ability to take carbon dioxide and water and, with the help of sunshine, convert CO2 and H2O into simple carbohydrate: C6H12O6, or sugar. This was and is the fuel that powers all life on earth. The fungi saw their opportunity and locked the cyanobacteria into cells and strung them together in chain gangs.

Then they started to bundle them together in a form that we would recognise as plants

pic8 These strands of cyanobacteria became the earliest plants, such as horsetail

Plants were an efficient way to comb CO2 out of the air. The original plants didn't even have roots, the fungi had their own root system inside the plant to extract the sugar as soon as it was made. The plants were the root extensions of the fungi, not the other way round, which is how it appears today. Plants evolved with root systems and the fungi continued to keep their root network in the plant's root system. These fungi are called 'vesicular arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi'   ‘Arbuscular’ means 'tree-shaped' and reflects the form they take when the occupy the root system of a plant. 'Myco' means 'mushroom' and 'rhizzal' comes from rhizome and means 'root' - so they are ‘tree-shaped root mushrooms’. ‘Vesicular’ refers to the vesicles that are the storage areas where the mycorrhizae hold a stock of nutrients and sugar.

mycorrhizae

A plant will deliver in its sap from 10-20% of the sugar it makes in its leaves to the mycorrhizae, retaining the rest for its own growth. The mycorrhizae increase the reach of the plant’s roots by up to 10 times, penetrating soil that plant roots can’t access.

The ‘arbuscular’ shape of the fungus is shown in a root cell – this tree-like shape is a mirror of a root system – the fungus has its roots in the plant, the plant has its roots in the soil.

fungus

There are other organisms in the soil that live symbiotically with the mycorrizae. Most notable are the actinomycetes bacteria – originally they were thought to be fungi because they copied the form of fungal hyphae, with filamentous threads. With the advent of electron microscopes they turned out to be bacteria that had strung themselves together in chains in order to efficiently ferry nutrients to the mycorrhizae in exchange for sugar.   Most of our antibiotics come from soil bacteria. Streptomycin When a plant needs medicine, the mycorrhizae can farm it by feeding sugar to the bacteria that can produce that particular antidote – most commonly jasmonic acid, salicylic acid (aspirin) or ethylene. These medicines are sent up with the sap of the plant to provide it with immunity to fungal and insect attack.

One example of how mycorrhizae are used in farming is the French practice of ‘alley cropping’ where rows of fruit trees keep the fungal network going and enable crops planted in between to flourish rapidly thanks to the existing network of mycorrhizae supported by the trees. In Windsor Great Park an oak nursery accelerates the growth of oak saplings by raising them in ground surrounded by mature oaks – the big oaks provide the sugar to support a large mycorrhizal population. The baby oaks get sugar and nutrients from the mycorrhizae and grow away rapidly and healthily.

Soil is fascinating. It’s wonderful stuff. So what do humans do with it? Since the dawn of agriculture we mostly just kill it. Ploughing breaks up the neural network within the soil, though it reconnects fairly quickly but with a lot of casualties. Adding chemical fertilisers breaks up the symbiosis – the mycorrhizae no longer can exchange mineral nutrients for sugars because the farmers is providing them for free. The plant cuts off the sugar supply to the mycrorrhizae clustered around its roots and the mycorrhizae die off. Their 10,000 or so co-dependent microbial species also die off. The plant is then exposed to the challenge of fungi and other pests that give it nothing and just want to consume it. This creates the need for pesticides including fungicides, which further deplete the microbial population of the soil.

I have several generations of form in the area. My great great grandfather farmed virgin soil on the Koshkonong Prairie in 1842, cutting down trees and raising crops of grain and grazing cattle. My great grandfather farmed virgin prairie in Nebraska. These Norwegian farmers were notoriously stingy. They were frugal people in everything they did, they wasted nothing and recycled everything. Here’s an example:

Frugalism-Less is More

My grandfather would deliver eggs from his chicken houses to the Safeway supermarket and other stores in Sioux City. He would then purchase tools, sugar, flour, salt, paper and other essentials that could not be produced on the farm. The flour sacks were made of calico, so the farmer’s wives would recycle the bags to make overalls for their boys and dresses for the girls.

Nell Rose flour company bags

Flour is a commodity – one bag of white dusty flour is just like the next. So the Nell Rose flour company marketing people got clever and printed nice floral patterns on their flour bags.

This appealed to people like my grandmother and she used Nell Rose flour to make the dresses for my mother (on the right) with her sister Thelma and their cousins.

Margie on the farm

This remarkable frugalism and avoidance of waste stands in stark contrast to the way that the soils of the Midwest were relentlessly wasted, often beyond recovery. Here there was no recycling, just relentless ploughing and harvesting, breaking down the soil. The farmer’s wives wasted nothing, their husbands wasted the fertile heritage of millennia. When land was ‘farmed out’ people would just move further west.

The original Louisiana Territory and adjacent territories embraced the great river network of the Mississippi, Ohio and Missouri Rivers, a 2000 mile wide water system draining into the Gulf of Mexico.

Original Louisiana

By 1925 more than 80% of the trees in this great river network had been cut down in order to create productive farmland.

trees cut down

The result was inevitable – the Mississippi Floods of 1927 were devastating – 27,000 square miles were inundated, up to depths of 30 feet. It triggered huge migrations of Afro-American farmers to Northern cities. Below Memphis Tennessee the Mississippi was 60 miles wide, 3 times the width of the Straits of Dover. The land was flooded from April to June. Floods

This great flood was followed by further devastation. The weakened fractured soils of the prairie began to turn to dust and the winds blew up vast clouds of dust that reached as far as Washington DC, prompting Congressional action.   President Roosevelt created the Civil Conservation Corps and 3 million recruits planted 10 billion trees from Mexico to Canada to try to hold down the soil.

Dust bowl

This destruction of soil happened also in Argentina, Manchuria, Ukraine, and other fertile breadbaskets around the world as tractors and chemical fertilizer accelerated the rate of soil destruction.

The greenhouse gases carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane that were emitted accounted for half of all the increase in greenhouse gas levels between 1850 and 1980. Since then agriculture’s annual rate of emissions has continued to grow, but has fallen behind the astronomic rate of emissions growth from manufacturing, energy and transport.  But it is still responsible for at least one third of our excess emissions.

Emissions

From 1850-1980:

Total CO2 from Farming:      160 Billion Tonnes

Total CO2 from Fossil Fuels: 165 Billion Tonnes

How can we stop this wasteful and environmentally damaging activity?

Part of the answer lies in a discover that was made nearly 500 years ago. When the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizzarro was buy looting the silver and gold of the Incas he heard about cities of gold with even greater wealth. He deputed his brother and Francisco de Orellana to find these cities and to bring back their gold.

Orellano

The parties were separated and Orellana could not return up river. The chaplain on his boat kept records of their travels. They encountered wealthy populations but were repelled by armed natives, led by fierce women warriors. These natives knew already that if you came close to a white man you would break out in red spots of measles or smallpox and then, because they had no immunity, die. They attacked and drove them away – Orellana described his boat as looking like a porcupine after one such attack. They called this region the Land of the Amazons and this is how the river got its name. When explorers sailed up the Amazon about 30 years later the wealthy civilisations Orellana had described were gone – wiped out by disease. People questioned whether the ‘El Dorado’ he had described ever really existed.

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Within the past 50 years archaeologists have found that the areas he described as populated coincide with areas where the soil is black to a depth of several metres - the ‘Terra Preta’ of the Amazon river settlements. Farmers who have Terra Preta have little need for fertilizer and even sell their soil to less fortunate farmers who are on the typical infertile jungle soils. The Terra Preta was made by the Amazons by taking all their waste, including animal bones and forest waste and domestic waste, piling it into pits, covering it with clay and setting fire to it. Once it was burning hot they’d cut off the supply of air and the material became charcoal and provided the growing medium for the next season’s crop.   The contrast between Terra Preta and soils of the forest is apparent when the land is cut away.

Terra Petra

Brazilian farmers who farm on Terra Preta benefit from its fertility and crops like corn grow vigorously when planted in black earth. They sell it to other farmers and bag it up for sale in garden centres. It is what we now call ‘Biochar’ – charcoal for use in the soil rather than charcoal for use for barbecuing sausages.

So what is Biochar? What does it do?

Biochar provides a supportive environment for mycorrhizae and their associated microorganisms. This leads to a doubling or more of the microbial population that is the living essence of soil.

Biochar had a high surface area – a single gram of biochar can have twice the surface area of 2 tennis courts – this means there are lots of points where minerals can stick, each point has a negative charge, so it sticks to minerals with a positive charge – this stops the leaching of nutrients from soil, keeping it in the zone where it can reach the plant.

Biochar also helps retain moisture. The result is healthier plants, more nutrient availability, more water availability and better soil structure.

Biochar also reduces soil emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more harmful than carbon dioxide.

Biochar stays in the soil, too, for anything from 10 years to 4000 years, depending on the type of biochar, the soil type and the farming system. The scientific consensus settles around 1000 years. This represents carbon dioxide that is kept out of the atmosphere – most woody biomass ends up returning to the atmosphere by rotting or being burned. Thus biochar can be an important tool for reducing atmospheric greenhouse gas levels. It is estimated that recycling woody waste as biochar could remove 1 billion tonnes of CO2 annually from the atmosphere. Instead we burn it.

Biochar cell  structure

Biochar retains the cell structure of the original feedstock. So biochar from bamboo has larger pores, biochar from chestnut has small pores. But all those pores provide a refuge for mycorrhizae and a base from which they can expand even if they are disturbed by ploughing or by predators such as mites, protozoa or nematodes that feed on them.

Imagine the pieces of biochar as a ‘five star hotel’ for mycorrhizae or, even as Norman castles in the English countryside. Each biochar particle is a base for a contingent of mycorrhizae, helping them to weather the stresses and pressures of life in the soil.

We have an image of mushrooms as passive softies but they are much more than that. When nematodes that threaten a plant enter mycorrhizal territory they get more than they bargained for. The mycorrhizae attach to them with sticky substances that hold them fast, then insert their filamentous hyphae into the tiny worm and suck out its amino acids, providing protein for more mycorrhizal growth and nitrogen for ‘their’ plants. Some mycorrhizae form lassoes that are scented with fragrances that attract nematodes – the nematode pokes through the lasso that then snaps tight, holding the nematode while it is digested.

nematode

Mycorrhizae also oversee the production of insecticides and fungicides. When there is a threatening insect or fungal pest the news travels fast through the underground internet – the mycelial network. The appropriate preventive medicine such as jasmonic acid, salicylic acid or ethylene is produced and delivered via the plant’s sap to the threatened area. How is this done? We don’t really know but it is likely that the mycorrhizae simply feed more sugar to the bacteria that produce these defensive chemicals and then pass them over to the plant.

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It may be that the plant produces the defensive chemical itself or that it produces it in conjunction with the soil microbes. Both the plant and its supportive microbial community have a shared interest in defeating any disease threats quickly, before they have time to weaken the plant.

Biochar, by providing a resilient and abundant network of soil fungi and bacteria, is the framework of the plant’s immune system and helps it with nourishment and water.

So what have we done at Carbon Gold to turn this theoretical ideal situation into a reality?

biochar kiln

The first thing we discovered was that the production method for charcoal was expensive, slow and inefficient – we wanted to reduce our carbon footprint in biochar production as much as possible and make it available cheaply to small farmers. We developed the Superchar 100 kiln.

It makes a 100 Kg batch of biochar in 8 hours instead of the usual 3 days. It delivers double the yield of traditional ring kilns. It has greatly reduced emissions – we recycle the gases emitted by the wood and burn them to heat the kiln contents instead of letting them escape into the atmosphere. They’re now hard at work in Belize, Botswana, Turkmenistan, Fiji, Brazil and the UK, with orders for more in the pipeline.

We also make a double-barrelled kiln that will produce 2 x 400 kg batches of biochar in a 12 hour day.

This one is part of a marshland regeneration project north of Perth, in Scotland

double barrelled kiln

Whitmuir Organics, just south of Edinburgh, are making biochar for their horticultural operation and are experimenting with it in pig feed, where a small amount makes a big difference to pig health and feed conversion.

The first UK field trials of biochar were on my smallholding near Hastings in September 2010. We planted cabbages and winter lettuce in late September, some with biochar and some without. In November we had heavy snows and the lettuces were covered in snow for 3 days. When the snow melted the winter lettuces without biochar had died. Those with biochar were intact. I think this could be that a high microbiological population in the soil acts as underfloor central heating, biological activity generates heat and this is probably what saved the plants. We also discovered that biochar has no repellent effect on hungry pigeons, which destroyed the cabbage crop completely.

biochar field trials

We work closely with Rijk Zwaan, the world’s 5th largest seed company and one that regards GMOs as an obsolete technology – they are world leaders at using natural breeding methods harnessed to genomic data. Their Field Trials Manager, Martin Kyte, stopped a comparative trial of Carbon Gold seed compost and peat compost after a few months because the results were so obviously in favour of our seed compost.

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And Fergus Garrett, head gardener at the marvelous Great Dixter gardens in Sussex, has switched to biochar.

Stephanie Donaldson, Gardening Editor of Country Living magazine, trialled Carbon Gold with lettuces. After one month the difference was significant:

In Belize one of our shareholders took 3 Maya cacao farmers to Cornell University in 2008. We studied biochar production and its use with Johannes Lehmann, the world’s leading authority on biochar and founder of the International Biochar Initiative. After that we helped the farmers build a simple kiln. They did trials and found that cacao tree seedlings raised with biochar outperformed those without biochar in the nursery. A $50,000 UNDP grant helped them expand production and recently the Inter American Development Bank funded the establishment of 9 new nurseries with a target of producing 45, 000 cacao trees to really expand cacao production. It normally takes 6 or 7 years for a cacao tree to begin to produce, with biochar it starts in 3 years – that makes a huge economic difference to a farmer who has invested in establishing a cacao orchard.

cacau

Belize: Biochar + Cacao = fruit within 3 years

Normal maturation time: 6-7 years

We’re also working with farmers in Africa.

In Ghana, where tomatoes retail at $12 per kilo, Sunshine Organic Farms are starting to grow tomatoes near the capital, Accra. Biochar will help ensure healthy abundant cropping.

In Ivory Coast cashew nut waste will provide a feedstock that can then be used on cashew trees and in Senegal it will be rice husks that provide the feedstock.

We have just shipped a kiln to Botswana. Farmers in Fiji are now making biochar with our kilns to improve their fertility and cropping.

Wight Salads grow more than half of the organic tomatoes sold in the UK every year. They have greenhouses in Portugal and the Isle of Wight. Last year they started using biochar from us. The results:  8% higher yield, 10% higher sugar content in the fruit, less watering and fertilizer cost and, most excitingly, a dramatic fall in the population of root-eating nematodes. They had a lower level of this pest in their organic biochar production than in their conventional production where they use nematicide to kill this damaging pest.

Wight Salads tomatoes

They were considering cutting back on organic tomato production because of these nematodes, but now they are going to expand.

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Some nematodes work collaboratively with mycorrhizae, some eat them, some just eat plants and some provide food for the mycorrhizae when they venture too close to the plant the mycorrhizae are protecting. Once lassoed they are soon converted into nitrogen compounds

Biochar works wonderfully on turf as well. Forest Green Rovers Football Club trialled Carbon Gold last year and found that at the end of the season this year the treated part of the pitch had withstood the stress of weekly games and practice far better than the rest of the pitch. Last week they spread biochar over the entire pitch and their groundsman has helped initiate trialy by the groundsman at Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal. Those trials will open up new opportunities on sports grounds everywhere and help reduce the use of nitrates and other chemical treatments.

We make products for gardeners too. These are available from some garden centres, but most of our sales come from our own website, other online retailers, QVC and Amazon. This is because biochar still takes a bit of explaining and garden centre staff are not always available or able to tell a customer about it.

Last year we worked with Bartlett Tree Experts, the Queen’s tree surgeons, on trials with Carbon Gold biochar. They successfully cured honey fungus and saw accelerated growth in horse chestnut seedlings. The results of their research were published in April in the prestigious Arb Magazine, the journal for members of the Arboricultural Association. An ash dieback trial they initiated last year has so far shown no sign of infection, but they are waiting until this October before publishing any results. They have endorsed our tree growth enhancement and protection range and are now offering it to all their customers.

Biochar to CO2

We are not yet capturing the carbon offset value of using biochar, but it is now becoming available as a carbon offset of value. The conversion ratios vary – our own figure is based on making biochar in a Carbon Gold kiln and reflects the greater efficiency and lower carbon footprint of the Superchar range of kilns.

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In 2011 I visited the Green Party MEP Caroline Lucas in Brussels. She invited me back to present the biochar story to the Green Group of MEPs. In attendance were representatives from DG Agri and DG Enviro. They had a meeting after our meeting and the outcome was Eurochar. This programme funds research into biochar as a strategy for long term carbon sequestration and funds research into greenhouse gas mitigation with biochar.

Lady Eve Balfour lost the post war argument about the future direction of agriculture, but the Soil Association continued to fight the good fight while the introduction of subsidized nitrate fertilizer forced farmers into the industrial fold. The same process happened in the rest of the world and led to the Green Revolution, which is now running out of steam. Ten years ago there was a major collaboration to map out the future of agriculture in a world with diminishing resources and increasing population. WHO, FAO, UNDP, UNESCO, Defra, USDA, Monsanto and Syngenta were just a few of the global stakeholders who selected a crack team of 400 of the world’s leading agronomists to look at how we could reduce hunger, improve livelihoods and ensure social and environmental sustainability. 2 weeks before their report was published in 2009 both Monsanto and Syngenta went public by rubbishing its contents. Why? Because it said that the Green Revolution hadn’t delivered sustainable results, that genetic engineering was a dead end and that we should listen to small farmers and adopt traditional farming systems.

All of the other benefits of their proposals are summed up in rewarding farmers who prevent climate change. Whether you call it organic farming or agroecological farming, the fact is that farming in support of the living soil and its wonderful microbiological population is the only sustainable way to go. It is lower in carbon emissions and hugely effective in carbon sequestration. If only Lady Eve had lived to see this outcome that so firmly vindicated her predictions in The Living Soil published in 1943.

carbon farming

We are eating oil – it takes vast amounts of fossil fuel energy to make food energy and this is plainly unsustainable.

Farming Systems Trial

The Farming Systems Trial at the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania has been growing the same crops side by side using organic methods and conventional methods. Once the health of the soil was restored, the organic crops matched conventional yields, showing greater resilience in years of drought.   Every year the organic soil added 1 tonne of carbon to the soil, while the industrial crops gradually lost it. The organic crops used 45% less energy.

Professor Pimentel at Cornell University mapped it out: organic farming could reduce atmospheric CO2 by 1.1 trillion pounds a year. That’s half a billion tonnes of CO2 – about 1/10 of the annual increase in CO2 equivalent. Add in biochar and you would get at least another half a billion tonnes, bringing down CO2 levels by 20% a year.

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If the cost of CO2 was factored into food production, then organic farming would deliver a € 350 per hectare cost benefit if carbon was priced at the real cost to future generations of €70 per tonne. Add in the benefit of €210 per hectare for every tonne of biochar added to the soil and agriculture could be part of the climate change solution instead of a major element of the problem. Lord Nicholas Stern quoted the figure of €70 per tonne in his book Blueprint for a Safer Future but a few months after it was published he said he was mistaken the real cost was €150 per tonne. Anyone who experience Hurricane Sandy in New York would probably agree. But even if CO2 was only priced at €35 per tonne it would deliver an economic imperative to farm organically and to use biochar universally. The Paris climate talks in 2015 will not exclude agriculture or transportation, the fatal mistake of the Kyoto protocols back in 1993. That will be when farming has to face reality and get a grip on its emissions.

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And not a moment too soon. Every year 125 million hectares of land become so degraded they can no longer reliably produce crops. That’s nearly 2% of the world’s arable land. We have replaced that lost land by cutting down forests, but that is no longer an option. We have to live within the means of our natural capital of soil and that means not spending it but saving it and building on it.

Public health will benefit too. Antibiotics saved millions of lives – they were derived from soil bacteria. Now, due to overuse in agriculture they have created resilient disease pathogens that can no longer be treated effectively with antibiotics. 80% of all antibiotic use is in agriculture, to keep animals alive that could not survive in the filthy conditions in which they are raised, on beef feedlots where they wallow in their own excrement or in pig and chicken farms where antibiotics are the only thing that keeps the animals alive during their brief lifespan.

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The sad thing is that industrial farming isn’t feeding the world. The world is feeding itself despite the waste and inefficiency of industrial farms.

70% of world’s food grown on farms smaller than 5 hectares

NO SUBSIDIES

30% of the world’s food grown on industrial farms

$350 Billion yearly SUBSIDIES

No wonder the IAASTD was so adamant that small farmers using agroecological and traditional methods were the only way to feed the world. They can produce up to six times as much per hectare as industrial farms, using fewer fossil fuel-based inputs and more human labour. Our taxes are being wasted on subsidising the destruction of our soils and dangerous increases in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. Only a carbon tax can reverse this.

As this is a Slow Food Eire event it would be remiss of me not to touch on the similarities between the microbiological health of the soil and the microbiology of its counterpart in us, the gut flora, whose product is often referred to as ‘night soil.’ One third by weight of what we excrete is the offspring of the gut flora that have multiplied on our food in our digestive system and pass out along with the digested food. There are clear parallels in function between mycorrhizae and actinomycetes bacteria in the soil and the lactobacilli and bifidobacteria and associated microbial forms in the gut.

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We know that babies born by C section are likely to lack the microbial flora that are part of a healthy immune system. It’s now established that stool transplants in patients with clostridium difficile can save lives – 110,000 Americans a year die of this infection, which arises after antibiotic use.

In the soil, worms are a sign of good health. The emerging medical treatment of helminthic therapy reflects the finding that the absence of worms in the human gut is associated with diminished immune function. When an earthworm consumes soil containing actinomycetes bacteria, an important part of the soil’s immune system that produces antibiotic substances, it excretes six times as many as it ingests. Roundworms in the human gut consume food we eat and excrete cytokine, an immune booster.

pic48In Chinese tradition, Kwan Yin is the Goddess of Mercy and ‘mercy clay’ has saved millions from famine – it is rich in humus, minerals and microbial activity and can sustain a person when no other food is available.

pic49In Haiti the production of clay cakes is commonplace. Made with clay, salt and oil, they aren’t consumed to keep hunger at bay, they nourish and have special benefits for pregnant women as it prevents morning sickness. Clay helps eliminate toxins and infections.

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When one’s tummy is upset, particularly if traveling in foreign lands where a combination of different prevalent bacteria and different hygiene standards can lead to digestive disorders, charcoal tablets have the same beneficial effect on our digestive night soil as it does in the soil in which we grow our food.

I began this talk by quoting three people who have deeply influenced my thinking about soil and about its fundamental importance to our lives.

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I would like to close by quoting an even higher authority:

Genesis 3:19

"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."

The soil’s living community provides an example to our society of how a cooperative community of plants and microorganisms can maximise and efficiently share the production of food derived from the abundance of water, sunlight and carbon dioxide with which our planet is blessed. We come from the soil and we return to the soil, we owe all life on earth to the soil.

We should never treat it like dirt

The Future of Food, Wessanen

GOOD AFTERNOON.  AND MANY THANKS FOR INVITING ME TO SPEAK HERE THIS AFTERNOON.

AS THE FOUNDER OF WHOLE EARTH I’D LIKE TO DISCUSS HOW WE TOOK OUR VALUES, WHICH FOR MANY YEARS HAD BEEN A COMPETITIVE DISADVANTAGE, AND TRANSFORMED THEM INTO A COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE.

FORGIVE ME FOR DRAGGING YOU BACK INTO THE DIM AND DISTANT PAST, BUT TO OFFER ANY COMMENTS ON THE FUTURE FOR WESSANEN ORGANICS IT HELPS TO KNOW A BIT ABOUT ITS HERITAGE AND THE STORY OF THE WHOLE EARTH BRAND HAS BEEN WOVEN INTO IT FOR AT LEAST 34 YEARS. 

IN 1965 I TRAVELLED THE ‘HIPPIE TRAIL’ JUST A FEW YEARS BEFORE IT ACQUIRED THAT NAME, HITCHHIKING, WALKING AND TAKING TRAINS AND BUSES FROM LONDON TO INDIA VIA SYRIA, IRAQ, KUWAIT, IRAN AND PAKISTAN.

EVENTUALLY I WAS IN NEW DELHI, WHERE I SPEND A NIGHT IN THE GENERAL HOSPITAL WITH ADVANCED AMOEBIC DYSENTERY AND INFECTIOUS HEPATITIS.

REALISING I MIGHT DIE IF I STAYED IN THE HOSPITAL, I STRUGGLED ON TO KABUL, WHERE I RESORTED TO THE SIMPLE FOLK REMEDY OF UNLEAVENED WHOLEMEAL FLATBREAD AND UNSWEETENED STRONG TEA TO TREAT THE DYSENTERY.

THE LIVER PAINS SUBSIDED AND I WAS FIT ENOUGH TO TRAVEL BACK TO LONDON.  HOWEVER, I HAD LEARNED THAT DIET AND HEALTH WERE INEXTRICABLY INTERLINKED AND, BACK AT UNIVERSITY IN PHILADELPHIA LATER IN 1965, I ADOPTED THE MACROBIOTIC DIET.

ON GRADUATION IN 1966 I DECIDED TO OPEN A MACROBIOTIC RESTAURANT IN LONDON, SOON TO BE JOINED BY MY BROTHER GREGORY.

SETTING TRENDS:

- MACROBIOTICS

- Organic - Sustainable

- Wholegrain

- Local and Seasonal

-‘Justice’ (Fair)

- Balanced

- Zen/Japanese (Miso,Nori)

- No Additives, hormones

- Avoid sugar

- Eat only when hungry

- Exercise

SEED RESTAURANT WAS A SUCCESS,  IT WAS THE LEGENDARY HIP - AND HIPPIE - MACROBIOTIC WATERING HOLE OF THE LATE 60S, WHERE BROWN RICE AND ORGANIC VEGETABLES DOMINATED THE MENU. OUR RESTAURANT ROCKED, BOTH WITH PROGRESSIVE MUSIC AND A GROOVY CLIENTELE DRAWN FROM LONDON’S ALTERNATIVE SCENE OF MUSIC, THE ARTS AND FASHION.

JOHN LENNON WAS ONE OF OUR REGULARS AND HE GAVE MY BROTHER GREGORY A LITTLE CARTOON IN GRATITUDE FOR OUR FOOD AND FOR HARMONY, THE PIONEERING MAGAZINE GREGORY PUBLISHED.

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WE ESPOUSED A DIET THAT PRESCRIBED WHOLEGRAINS AND ORGANIC FOODS THAT WERE LOCAL AND SEASONAL – AND PROHIBITED ADDITIVES,  COFFEE, SUGAR, FACTORY FARMED MEAT AND YEAST.  WE THOUGHT MACROBIOTICS WAS THE ESSENTIAL FOUNDATION FOR A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE IN A WORLD RUNNING OUT OF RESOURCES, WITH A GROWING POPULATION AND INCREASING DEGENERATIVE DISEASE.   I STILL DO.

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THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION RATHER ALARMINGLY SAID THAT THE DIET WOULD ULTIMATELY LEAD TO DEATH.  THEY WERE OF COURSE, ABSOLUTELY RIGHT.  I HAVE FOLLOWED A MACROBIOTIC DIET FOR 49 YEARS NOW AND, MUCH AS I HATE TO ADMIT IT, IT’S A MATHEMATICAL CERTAINTY THAT I’M CLOSER TO DEATH THAN I WAS IN 1965

BUT I FEEL HEALTHIER THAN I DID THEN AND I’VE NEVER FELT BAD ENOUGH TO NEED TO SEEK MEDICAL HELP OF ANY KIND, FOR WHICH I AM GRATEFUL.

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MY BOOK, ABOUT MACROBIOTICS, WAS PUBLISHED IN 1972 AND HAS BEEN TRANSLATED INTO 8 LANGUAGES, IS STILL IN PRINT IN PORTUGUESE AND HEBREW.

I WROTE A FEW OTHER BOOKS, THE LITTLE FOOD BOOK COVERED FOOD ISSUES FROM A 2002 PERSPECTIVE AND THE GREEN & BLACK’S STORY INCLUDED SOME OF THE STORY OF WHOLE EARTH FOODS

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WE SOON HAD CERES (LATIN FOR DEMETER) - EUROPE’S FIRST NATURAL FOODS STORE - GOING FULL TILT ON THE PORTOBELLO ROAD, IN THE ALTERNATIVE SOCIETY’S THEN HEARTLAND.  THEN OTHER BUDDING RETAILERS WHO WANTED TO DO WHAT WE DID CAME TO US FOR SUPPLIES, FORMING THE WHOLESALE CUSTOMER BASE FOR HARMONY FOODS.

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WE WERE KNOWN AS THE BROWN RICE BARONS, BECAUSE IF YOU BOUGHT BROWN RICE IN THE 1970S IN BRITAIN OR IRELAND IT CAME FROM US.

WITH OTHER RETAILERS, WE FORMED THE NATURAL FOODS UNION, PROMISING EACH OTHER NEVER TO SELL PRODUCTS CONTAINING SUGAR OR ARTIFICIAL INGREDIENTS, THUS DEFINING THE NATURAL FOODS MARKET.

WE ALSO MADE PEANUT BUTTER UNDER THE HARMONY BRAND.

IN 1977 I CREATED APPLE JUICE SWEETENED JAMS THAT WERE THE FIRST PRODUCTS IN THE ‘NO SUGAR ADDED’ CATEGORY.  THAT WAS THE YEAR THAT WE ALSO STARTED TO SUPPLY SUPERMARKETS, BREAKING THE BRAND BARRIER THAT STILL INHIBITS RETAIL SALES OF ORGANIC PRODUCTS IN MANY EUROPEAN COUNTRIES AND MAKES THE DEVELOPMENT OF NATIONAL BRANDING MORE DIFFICULT.  WE HAD DEVELOPED THE WHOLE EARTH BRAND TO BE OUR SUPERMARKET BRAND BUT THEN DECIDED TO USE WHOLE EARTH TO BRAND ALL OUR PRODUCTS AND MIGRATED OUR HARMONY PEANUT BUTTER ACROSS TO WHOLE EARTH AND THE HARMONY BRAND WAS RETIRED.

WE WERE THE FIRST WITH ORGANIC BROWN RICE, SOURDOUGH BREAD, NORI SEAWEED, MISO, BREWED SOYA SAUCE, ADUKI BEANS, NATURAL PEANUT BUTTER, NO SUGAR ADDED JAMS, ORGANIC BAKED BEANS AND CARBONATED FRUIT JUICE DRINKS - BUT THERE WAS ALWAYS SOMEONE BIGGER AND STRONGER THAN US WHO WAITED UNTIL THE CATEGORY GOT BIG ENOUGH, THEN DID WHATEVER IT TOOK TO GET RID OF US. OFTEN THEY WERE OUR OWN DISTRIBUTORS AND IT WOULD BE UNREALISTIC NOT TO MENTION DISTRIBORG AND NATUFOOD, BOTH OF WHOM BUILT THEIR BUSINESSES ON EXCLUSIVE DISTRIBUTION AGREEMENTS OF WHOLE EARTH JAMS AND THEN LATER SWITCHED CUSTOMERS TO THEIR OWN LABEL VERSIONS, NATUFOOD AND BJORG, FRUSTRATING OUR HOPES OF BUILDING A EUROPEAN BRAND IN PARTNERSHIP WITH OUR IMPORTERS.

NONETHELESS, BY THE LATE 1980S WE MANAGED TO CREATE A VERY SUCCESSFUL AND MUCH-LOVED PRODUCT IN WHOLE EARTH PEANUT BUTTER.  IT HAD A RESPECTABLE 20% OF THE BRANDED PEANUT BUTTER MARKET. THEN NESTLE TOOK OVER SUN PAT.  THEY COULDN’T ACCEPT OUR EXISTENCE AND TOOK STEPS TO ELIMINATE US.

IN 1989 NESTLE SUN PAT LAUNCHED WHOLENUT – THE LABEL ARTWORK LOOKED LIKE OURS, THE NAME SOUNDED LIKE WHOLE EARTH EVEN THE RECIPE EMULATED OURS.   VISITING A SUPERMARKET BUYER WAS LIKE SEEING YOUR OWN FUNERAL REFLECTED IN THEIR EYES – THEY KNEW THAT THIS WOULD PROBABLY BE YOUR LAST VISIT – THEY’D SEEN THE STORYBOARDS FOR THE £5 MILLION TV ADVERTISING LAUNCH THAT NESTLE WERE PLANNING. WE MANAGED TO SEE THEM OFF, SHOWING THE POWER OF THE WHOLE EARTH BRAND. THEY COULD HAVE BOUGHT OUR BRAND AT THAT TIME FOR £2 MILLION AND SAVED £3 MILLION BUT EGOS DON’T WORK LIKE THAT.  NESTLE’S WHOLENUT LASTED JUST 4 YEARS.

Sugar vs Apple Juice
Sugar vs Apple Juice

WE ALSO LAUNCHED THE FIRST NO SUGAR ADDED SOFT DRINKS IN 1984 – SWEETENED WITH APPLE JUICE

THESE WERE THE FORERUNNERS OF THE WHOLE EARTH SOFT DRINKS RANGE

REPLACING SUGAR WITH APPLE JUICE WAS THE BACKBONE OF THE WHOLE EARTH RANGE IN THE 1980S BUT THE FUTURE FOR THIS CONCEPT OF NO ADDED SUGAR IS LIMITED – UNLESS THE CALORIE CONTENT IS LOWER THERE ISN’T REALLY MUCH DIFFERENCE.

AT WHOLE EARTH’S 20TH BIRTHDAY PARTY IN 1987 I MADE A HERBAL BREW BASED ON OUR WHOLE EARTH COLA BUT WITH ADDED GUARANA AND CHINESE HERBS.  IT REALLY PEPPED UP THE OCCASION.  WE COULDN’T LAUNCH IT AS A WHOLE EARTH PRODUCT AS IT WAS EDGIER THAN RED BULL – NOT RIGHT FOR THE BRAND. SO WE NAMED IT GUSTO.

Gusto poster
Gusto poster
Gusto poster 2
Gusto poster 2

MY SON AND DAUGHTER LAUNCHED GUSTO IN 1990 AND IT BECAME A £500,000 BRAND.

IN 1999 WE SOLD SHARES IN WHOLE EARTH FOODS TO A GROUP OF INVESTORS AND THEY MISTAKENLY REFORMULATED GUSTO AND LAUNCHED IT IN NEW PACKAGING, ON THE ADVICE OF A WAITROSE SUPERMARKET BUYER. IN 2002 WE SOLD WHOLE EARTH AND GUSTO TO WESSANEN AND I OFFERED £100,000 TO TAKE GUSTO OUT OF THE DEAL.  I WAS REFUSED. A YEAR OR SO LATER WAITROSE DELISTED GUSTO AND I BOUGHT THE BRAND BACK FOR £2000.  MY SON WENT BACK TO THE ORIGINAL FORMAT, MADE IT ORGANIC AND IT IS NOW A £300,000 BRAND AND GROWING

IN 1989 WE LAUNCHED THE FIRST ORGANIC PEANUT BUTTER. TESCO GAVE US A LISTING.

THEN A SHIPMENT OF PEANUTS FAILED OUR QUALITY CONTROL AND IT TOOK 7 WEEKS FOR ANOTHER CONTAINER FROM PARAGUAY TO REACH US. SO WE STARTED LOOKING FOR A SUPPLIER WE COULD RELY ON.  LISBETH DAMSGAARD OF URTEKRAM TOLD ME ABOUT AN ORGANIC PROJECT IN TOGO, WEST AFRICA AND I GOT IN TOUCH WITH ANDRE DEBERDT, A FRENCHMAN WHO WORKED WITH THE GROWERS. ANDRE SENT ME A PEANUT SAMPLE AND WE TESTED IT FOR AFLATOXIN.  IT FAILED. I RANG ANDRE TO GIVE HIM THE BAD NEWS. HE MENTIONED THAT THE SAME FARMERS ALSO GREW ORGANIC COCOA BEANS.  I GOT HIM TO ARRANGE FOR A SAMPLE OF 70% SOLIDS CHOCOLATE TO BE MADE FROM THOSE BEANS.  WHEN IT ARRIVED I MANAGED TO KEEP SOME BACK FOR JOJO FAIRLEY, MY GIRL FRIEND AND A JOURNALIST.

WHEN SHE TASTED IT SHE SAID “THIS IS THE BEST CHOCOLATE I’VE EVER TASTED! YOU’VE GOT TO DO IT!”

IT COULDN’T GO UNDER THE WHOLE EARTH BRAND AS WE WERE A NO SUGAR BRAND.  JOJO HAD JUST MOVED IN WITH ME AND HAD £20 GRAND IN THE BANK FROM THE SALE OF HER FLAT IN FULHAM, SO I DECIDED TO TAKE A RISK - WITH HER MONEY.

THERE WAS NOTHING ELSE THAT HAD EVEN 50% COCOA SOLIDS, NOTHING THAT WAS ORGANIC AND NOTHING THAT TASTED AS GOOD, SO WE CHARGED INTO THIS TRIPLE NICHE.

WE SAT IN BED ONE NIGHT THINKING UP A BRAND NAME – WHOLE EARTH WAS A NO SUGAR BRAND AND HAD TO STAY THAT WAY.

I’M GLAD WE DIDN’T CALL IT ECOCHOC, ORGANICHOC OR NATUCHOC

WE WANTED A BRAND THAT SOUNDED LIKE IT HAD A GLORIOUS CONFECTIONERY HERITAGE.  IT NEEDED TO SOUND LIKE WE’D BEEN CRAFTING ARTISAN CHOCOLATE SINCE TIME IMMEMORIAL.

WE WERE ‘GREEN’ BECAUSE WE WERE ORGANIC AND ‘BLACK’ BECAUSE WE HAD THE DARKEST CHOCOLATE ON THE MARKET, SO GREEN & BLACK’S PUSHED ALL THE RIGHT BUTTONS.  AND YOU COULD PRONOUNCE IT IN ANY LANGUAGE.  SOME OF YOU HERE MAY HAVE HAD TO REPEAT THE WORDS ‘WHOLE EARTH’ SEVERAL TIMES BEFORE ANYONE UNDERSTANDS WHAT YOU’RE SAYING. AS SOON AS SHE SAID ‘GREEN & BLACK’S’ WE KNEW WE HAD OUR NAME.

THE WHOLE EARTH OFFICES WERE IN THE SHOP BELOW MY FLAT ON PORTOBELLO ROAD SO I LEAPED OUT OF BED AND MOCKED UP A DESIGN IN 10 MINUTES.

Green & Black's 1st design
Green & Black's 1st design

THE NATURAL FOOD TRADE WERE RESISTANT.  SUGAR WAS STILL A BIG NO-NO IN THE TRADE AND YOU CAN’T SWEETEN CHOCOLATE WITH APPLE JUICE..

Green & Black's 1st bar
Green & Black's 1st bar

COMMUNITY FOODS, THE BIGGEST NATURAL FOODS WHOLESALER, REFUSED TO STOCK GREEN & BLACK’S BECAUSE IT CONTAINED SUGAR.  HOWEVER, BECAUSE THEY WERE ALSO A MASTER DISTRIBUTOR FOR THE WHOLE EARTH RANGE. I URGED THEM TO RECONSIDER THEIR NO SUGAR POLICY AND THEY WERE RELUCTANTLY BLACKMAILED INTO STOCKING THE CHOCOLATE.  THAT WAS THE END OF THE NO SUGAR RULE IN THE UK NATURAL FOODS SECTOR.

WE ALSO GOT IN TO SAINSBURY’S AND SAFEWAY.

FROM THE OUTSET WE EDUCATED THE PRESS AND CONSUMERS ON THE ETHICAL ISSUES, EMPHASISING THE BENEFITS TO THE AFRICAN PRODUCERS.

IN 1992 WE WON THE FIRST ETHICAL CONSUMER AWARD AND GAINED THE IMPORTANT SUPPORT OF THE WOMEN’S ENVIRONMENTAL NETWORK, WHO HAD JUST PUBLISHED CHOCOLATE UNWRAPPED, A BOOK WHICH HIGHLIGHTED THE DREADFUL PLIGHT OF WOMEN ON LARGE COCOA PLANTATIONS AND SUGGESTED WOMEN SHOULD REFUSE TO BUY CHOCOLATE

Chocolate Unwrapped
Chocolate Unwrapped

JOJO BONDED INSTANTLY WITH BERNADETTE VALLELY, WHO FOUNDED THE NETWORK AND WE MADE SURE THAT OUR CHOCOLATE WAS AVAILABLE AT ALL THEIR EVENTS.  IF YOU JOINED THEIR NETWORK, YOUR JOINING GIFT WAS A BAR OF GREEN & BLACK’S.

WE CALLED IT GUILT – FREE CHOCOLATE.  BUT FIRST WE HAD TO EXPLAIN TO PEOPLE WHAT THEY SHOULD FEEL GUILTY ABOUT.

WE ADDRESSED MORAL GUILT - WE PAID FAIR AND FIXED PRICES AND THE GROWERS WERE NOT EXPOSED TO DANGEROUS CHEMICALS.

WE ADDRESSED SUGAR GUILT - IT WAS LOWER IN SUGAR THAN ANY OTHER CHOCOLATE, ALL THE REST WERE 50-65% SUGAR, OURS WAS ONLY 29%.

WE ADDRESSED ENVIRONMENTAL GUILT - WE WERE SHADE-GROWN ORGANIC, SO WE HELPED THE RAIN FOREST.

ABOLISHING GUILT ON CHOCOLATE-RELATED ISSUES HELPS TAKE THE EDGE OFF THIS PURITANICAL GUILT OF SELF INDULGENCE AS WELL.

A HEADLINE IN THE INDEPENDENT SUMMED IT UP: “RIGHT ON – AND IT TASTES GOOD, TOO.”

Independent on Green & Black's
Independent on Green & Black's

IN 1993 I CONTACTED SOME OLD FRIENDS AMONG THE MAYA IN BELIZE, WHOSE COCOA PLANTATIONS I HAD VISITED 5 YEARS EARLIER AND WHO WERE MEMBERS OF THE TOLEDO CACAO GROWERS ASSOCIATION.

Toledo Cacao Growers Assoc
Toledo Cacao Growers Assoc

I FOUND THAT THERE WAS AN OPPORTUNITY TO LAUNCH A PRODUCT AND A PROJECT THAT FROM THE OUTSET COULD BE DESIGNED TO BE A PERFECT EMBODIMENT OF ORGANIC AND FAIR TRADE PRINCIPLES.

WE WORKED OUT A NEW DEAL FOR A NEW PRODUCT CONCEPT - MAYA GOLD - AND MADE AN OFFER TO THE TCGA.

1. A FIVE YEAR ROLLING CONTRACT, PAYING $1.75 PER POUND

2. HELP TO OBTAIN ORGANIC CERTIFICATION.

3. A  $20000  CASH ADVANCE SO THAT THE FARMER MEMBERS WERE GUARANTEED ‘SPOT CASH’.

4. WE TRAINED KEY COOP MEMBERS IN MANAGEMENT ACCOUNTING, CORRECT FERMENTATION AND QUALITY CONTROL TO ENSURE THAT OUR ORGANIC COCOA BEANS TASTED BETTER THAN ANYONE ELSE’S.

A FEW WEEKS LATER I MET MIKE DRURY OF THE FAIRTRADE FOUNDATION, WHO URGED US TO CONSIDER THE FAIRTRADE MARK.  IT HADN’T YET BEEN SEEN ON ANYTHING AT THAT TIME AND WHAT WE WERE DOING MATCHED OR EXCEEDED ALL THEIR CRITERIA, SO WE AGREED.

Maya Gold 1st packaging
Maya Gold 1st packaging

MAYA GOLD WAS LAUNCHED ON MARCH 7 1994 ON THE OXFAM STAND AT THE BBC GOOD FOOD SHOW IN LONDON.   WE DIDN’T ADVERTISE – WE DIDN’T NEED TO.  BBC NEWSROUND SENT A CAMERA CREW TO BELIZE AND CAME BACK WITH FOOTAGE OF MAYA KIDS EATING MAYA GOLD, THE FIRST TIME MANY OF THEM HAD EVER TASTED CHOCOLATE AND PROBABLY THE FIRST TIME THAT PRODUCERS OF CACAO HAD SEEN THE FINISHED PRODUCT OF THEIR EFFORTS.

THAT DATE MARKED THE BIRTH OF THE FAIRTRADE MARK AND TOOK IT FROM A WORTHY IDEA TO A SUPERMARKET SHELF REALITY, STARTING WITH SAINSBURY’S AND SOON IN ALL THE MAJORS.  CLIPPER TEAS AND SOON FOLLOWED

Fairtrade
Fairtrade

BEING FIRST WITH THE FAIRTRADE MARK GENERATED A HUGE WAVE OF PUBLICITY -

.

THE ECONOMIC BENEFITS OF MARKET SECURITY TO THE GROWERS ARE OBVIOUS.  A BONUS HAS BEEN A CASCADE OF UNFORESEEN ADDITIONAL BENEFITS – A VERITABLE FAIR TRADE VIRTUOUS CIRCLE.

Maya village
Maya village

EVERY MAYA VILLAGE IS SITED ON A RIVER, WHICH SERVES AS BATH AND LAUNDRY AND DRINKING WATER SUPPLY. SKIN DISEASES, RASHES AND BLISTERS ARE A THING OF THE PAST NOW THAT CHEMICAL USE HAS BEEN ABANDONED.

Maya bird
Maya bird

MIGRATORY BIRD POPULATIONS HAVE INCREASED DRAMATICALLY, REFLECTING INCREASED FOREST SHADE COVER AND REDUCED PESTICIDE RESIDUES.

MAYA RESERVATION LAND HAS BEEN KEPT INTACT AND THE BANK HAS NOT FORECLOSED ON THE OLD LOANS.

parrot
parrot

THE AMERICAN AUDUBON SOCIETY OWN A SCARLET MACAW BREEDING RESERVE IN BELIZE.  THE FARMERS THERE HAVE STARTED GROWING CACAO IN ORDER TO PROTECT THE HABITAT OF THIS AREA WHERE MACAWS FROM ALL OVER CENTRAL AMERICA COME TO BREED

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fish

THE MANGROVE AND CORAL REEF WERE BECOMING SILTED UP FROM AGRICULTURAL RUNOFF AND DAMAGED BY PESTICIDES.  NOW TARPON ARE RUNNING UP THE RIVERS, ATTRACTING AMERICAN FLY FISHERMEN, ANOTHER GOOD SOURCE OF TOURIST INCOME.

OUR ENLIGHTENED SELF INTEREST PAID OFF.  MOST ENTREPRENEURS BENEFIT FROM KEEPING THEIR SUPPLIERS AND CUSTOMERS IGNORANT OF EACH OTHER.  OUR SUCCESS AROSE FROM BEING ACTIVELY TRANSPARENT.

THE SOCIAL BENEFITS WERE THERE, TOO

UNTIL WE BEGAN TRADING WITH THE MAYA, THERE WAS VIRTUALLY NO SECONDARY EDUCATION FOR CHILDREN FROM THE COCOA-GROWING VILLAGES.  TODAY, 80% OF MAYA PRIMARY SCHOOLCHILDREN GO ON TO ATTEND SECONDARY SCHOOL, AND QUITE A FEW HAVE MOVED ON TO UNIVERSITY.

Craig with Maya women
Craig with Maya women

WOMEN CONTROL THE FINAL STAGES OF CACAO PRODUCTION AS THEY DO THE FERMENTING AND DRYING.  THEY TAKE IT INTO TOWN ON MARKET DAYS AND CONVERT IT INTO CASH. THIS STRENGTHENS THE ECONOMIC POSITION OF WOMEN AND WOMEN SPEND MONEY ON HEALTH AND EDUCATION.

AN ENTREPRENEURIAL CULTURE IS EMERGING, TOO.  CYRILLA CHO, FOR EXAMPLES, RUNS A NURSERY THAT SELLS LOCAL VARIETIES OF CACAO TREES TO FARMERS, REPLACING THE UNRELIABLE HYBRIDS INTRODUCED IN THE 1980S.  SHE ALSO MAKES CHOCOLATES FROM HER OWN COCOA BEANS, WHICH ARE SOLD IN LOCAL HOTELS AND SHOPS.

Cyrilla Cho & Craig
Cyrilla Cho & Craig

ANDREW PURVIS

WE WOULD NEVER HAVE DARED TO MAKE THE CLAIMS THAT THE ARTICLE MADE ABOUT US - SOMETIMES PR IS THE ONLY WAY TO TELL A REALLY GOOD STORY.

Observer Food Monthly
Observer Food Monthly

ALL THIS HAPPENED WITHOUT US EVER ACTUALLY MAKING A BAR OF CHOCOLATE.  IN FACT I STOPPED MAKING PEANUT BUTTER AND JAM WHEN I SOLD MY EQUIPMENT TO DUERR’S IN 1988.   A FACTORY THAT MAKES THINGS IS NO MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE ROAD OR THE TRUCK THAT DELIVERS THINGS.  THE ORIGIN OF INGREDIENTS, WHEN THEY ARE ORGANIC, CLIMATE FRIENDLY, FAIRLY SOURCED AND SUSTAINABLE ARE THE ISSUES THAT CUSTOMERS AND STAKEHOLDERS CARE ABOUT.

SCALE OR RESILIENCE?

WHAT WE ACHIEVED IN BELIZE HAD MUCH WIDER RAMIFICATIONS.  INSTEAD OF BEING SEEN AS A MARGINAL AND QUIRKY APPROACH TO CACAO PRODUCTION, THE ORGANIC AND SUSTAINABLE APPROACH IS COMING TO REPLACE THE CHEMICAL DEPENDENT PLANTATION MODEL IN COFFEE, OIL PALM AND RUBBER TO NAME A FEW EXAMPLES.  THE SMALLHOLDER FARMER IS NO LONGER SEEN AS A BACKWARD PEASANT TO BE REPLACED BUT IS BENEFITING FROM A REAL SHIFT IN THE BALANCE OF POWER IN THE FOOD SUPPLY CHAIN.

UNTIL THE 1960S ALMOST ALL THE WORLD'S CACAO WAS GROWN BY SMALLHOLDER FARMERS ON HOLDINGS OF A COUPLE OF HECTARES. IN THE EARLY 1970S A MAJOR PROGRAMME OF DEVELOPING INDUSTRIAL SCALE COCOA PLANTATIONS EMERGED, WITH THE MAIN NEW LOCATIONS BEING THE MALAYSIAN PROVINCE OF SABAH AND THE REGION OF BAHIA IN NORTHEAST BRAZIL

HISTORICALLY CACAO TREES WERE PLANTED 15 FEET APART, WITH SHADE TREES IN BETWEEN.  THE SHADE TREES CAPTURE SUNLIGHT FROM THE CANOPY AND RAISE MINERALS AND WATER FROM DEEP WITHIN THE SOIL.  THE LEAF FALL FROM THESE TREES FEEDS THE CACAO TREES AND THE SHADE ALSO INHIBITS THE SPREAD OF INSECT AND FUNGAL DISEASES.  IT'S A FUNCTIONAL ECOSYSTEM.  THE NEW INDUSTRIALISED SYSTEM PLANTED TREES 8 FEET APART. THERE WERE NO SHADE TREES.  CHEMICAL FERTILISERS WERE APPLIED TO SUPPLY NUTRIENTS AND ENCOURAGE HIGHER PRODUCTION. LACK OF SHADE MADE THE TREES PRONE TO FUNGAL DISEASE.   THE HOPE WAS THAT FUNGAL DISEASES AND PESTS COULD BE CONTROLLED WITH FUNGICIDES AND INSECTICIDES. THEY COULDN’T

THE PLANTATION MODEL IS FLAWED BECAUSE ITS COSTS AND RISKS ARE EXCESSIVE

FERTILIZER AND PESTICIDES COST MONEY

CLOSE PLANTING AND REDUCED SHADE ENCOURAGES FUNGAL DISEASE

WITHIN 20 YEARS BIG PLANTATIONS FAILED ALL AROUND THE WORLD.

IN 1989 85% OF BRAZIL’S COCOA PRODUCTION WAS IN THE PROVINCE OF BAHIA.  AN OUTBREAK OF THE FUNGAL DISEASE WITCHES BROOM WIPED OUT MOST OF THE PREVAILING MONOCULTURE CACAO PRODUCTION. COCOA PRODUCTION FELL 90% FROM PREVIOUS LEVELS

IN MALAYSIA THE COCOA PRODUCTION AREA FELL FROM 414000 HECTARES IN THE LATE 1980S TO A CURRENT LEVEL OF 20,000 HECTARES, A 95% REDUCTION.

SO WHERE ARE WE NOW?  LEADING CHOCOLATE PROCESSORS HAVE INTRODUCED INITIATIVES TO BUILD RESILIENCE BACK INTO THEIR SUPPLY CHAIN.   THESE PROGRAMMES ARE WELL FUNDED

MONDELEZ, OWNERS OF CÔTE D'OR, GREEN & BLACK'S AND CADBURY, HAVE INITIATED THE COCOA LIFE PARTNERSHIP, WITH $400 MILLION FUNDING AND A 10 YEAR DEVELOPMENT PLAN TO ACHIEVE THE FOLLOWING GOALS, IMPLEMENTED IN COLLABORATION WITH WWF AND ANTI-SLAVERY INTERNATIONAL.

INCREASE SMALLHOLDER INCOMES BY IMPROVING CACAO YIELDS AND QUALITY.

INTRODUCE CACAO VARIETIES THAT THRIVE WITHOUT AGRICHEMICALS

TRAIN FARMERS IN TRADITIONAL SKILLS SUCH AS SHADE MANAGEMENT, PRUNING, NATURAL FERTILITY BUILDING AND DISEASE CONTROL

ENCOURAGE DEMOCRATIC FARMER COOPERATIVES, CUT OUT MIDDLEMEN AND ESTABLISH LONG TERM SECURE CONTRACTS WITH FARMER COOPS

THIS IS ENLIGHTENED SELF INTEREST – BUT ALSO SATISFIES INVESTORS WHO CARE ABOUT SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY AND SATISFIES CONSUMERS WHO NOW EXPECT ALL BRANDS TO OPERATE AT A HIGHER MORAL LEVEL THAN HITHERTO.  BARRY CALLEBAUT HAVE A SIMILAR SCHEME

Cacao
Cacao

MARS HAVE ALSO DONE A WONDERFUL THING

THE MARS COCOA GENOME PROJECT HAS MAPPED THE ENTIRE GENOME OF DIFFERENT VARIETIES OF CACAO AND HAS PUT THIS INFORMATION FIRMLY IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN. RESILIENT CACAO VARIETIES ARE BEING DEVELOPED AND NO OPPORTUNISTIC COMPANY LIKE MONSANTO WILL BE ABLE TO CAPTURE THIS INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY FOR THEIR PRIVATE GAIN.

SMALLHOLDERS ARE THE BACKBONE OF ANY DEMOCRACY. PEOPLE WHO OWN THEIR OWN BUSINESS OR THEIR OWN LAND CHERISH FREEDOM, INDEPENDENCE AND HUMAN RIGHTS. INDUSTRY WILL NO LONGER NEED LARGE ARMIES OF WORKERS AS AUTOMATION TAKES OVER MOST MANUFACTURING AND ASSEMBLY OPERATIONS.  BUT THEY WILL STILL NEED CUSTOMERS FOR THEIR PRODUCTS.  SMALLHOLDERS, WITH DECENT INCOMES BASED ON FAIR PRICES, REPRESENT THAT FUTURE MARKET. THE ERA OF CHEAP FOOD BASED ON EXTERNALISING ENVIRONMENTAL COSTS SUCH AS CLIMATE CHANGE AND SOIL DEGRADATION IS COMING TO AN END.  RESILIENCE AND RESPONSIBILITY WILL BE ESSENTIAL REQUIREMENTS OF FUTURE FOOD PRODUCTION.  THE CACAO EXAMPLE IS AN EARLY INDICATOR OF THE FUTURE OF MOST FORMS OF AGRICULTURE.

CLIMATE AND FOOD SECURITY

MANY PEOPLE THINK THAT IT’S FACTORIES AND AIRPLANES THAT ARE CAUSING GLOBAL WARMING. IN FACT LAND CLEARANCE AND AGRICULTURE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR NEARLY HALF OF ALL THE GREENHOUSE GAS INCREASE SINCE 1850.

Original Louisiana
Original Louisiana

MY PLATTDEUTSCH FARMING ANCESTORS BEGAN TO CONTRIBUTE TO THIS PROCESS IN THE 19TH CENTURY, PLOUGHING VIRGIN PRAIRIE IN WISCONSIN – THE BLUE ON THE MAP AND THEN DOING THE SAME IN NEBRASKA, IN THE GREEN PART, WHERE I WAS BORN.

trees cut down
trees cut down

BY THE 1930S 80% OF THE TREES IN THIS TERRITORY HAD BEEN REMOVED.

REGULAR PLOUGHING AND CHEMICAL FERTILIZER USE ALONG WITH THE INTRODUCTION OF TRACTORS EXHAUSTED THE SOIL CARBON CONTENT.  IT FELL FROM 100 TONNES PER HECTARE TO 5 TONNES PER HECTARE. THE CARBON RICH HUMUS OF THE BLACK SOIL DISAPPEARED AS CARBON DIOXIDE.  THE SOIL LOST ITS WATER HOLDING CAPACITY, WHICH WAS IN ITS ORGANIC MATTER

THE RESULT WAS INEVITABLE

Floods
Floods

IN 1927 A PERIOD OF PROLONGED RAIN LED TO THE GREAT FLOOD OF THE MISSISSIPPI.  WATER CRESTED AS MUCH AS 9 METRES ABOVE THE FLOOD STAGE AND A MILLION AMERICANS BECAME REFUGEES.  INSTEAD OF REPLANTING TREES, THE GOVERNMENT BUILT LEVEES AND DAMS TO CONTAIN FUTURE FLOODING.

THEN IN THE 1930S CAME DROUGHT.

Dust bowl
Dust bowl

AN AREA LARGER THAN ALL OF THE BRITISH ISLES TURNED TO DUST, EVERY SUMMER, YEAR AFTER YEAR.  A MILLION REFUGEES MOVED OUT – THE ‘OKIES’ OF JOHN STEINBECK’S BOOK THE GRAPES OF WRATH.

THIS ALARMED PEOPLE IN EUROPE AND IN BRITAIN, WHO FEARED THE SAME THING WOULD HAPPEN IF FARMING WAS INDUSTRIALISED ALONG AMERICAN LINES. IT WAS A MAJOR FACTOR IN THE FOUNDING AND NAMING OF THE SOIL ASSOCIATION

Soil Association founder
Soil Association founder

THE SAME PROCESS HAS SINCE HAPPENED IN THE CHINA, INDIA, BRAZIL, UKRAINE, KAZAKHSTAN AND AUSTRALIA.  THE RATE OF CARBON EMISSION HAS DECREASED ONLY BECAUSE OUR SOIL CARBON STOCKS ARE SO DEPLETED THERE IS LITTLE LEFT TO WASTE.  BUT WE CAN RESTORE CARBON TO THE SOIL.  IT IS A BANK THAT WE'VE ALMOST EXHAUSTED OF CAPITAL, BUT WE CAN REBUILD ITS.  AS A CARBON STORE IT IS UNRIVALLED AND ALSO SECURE - CARBON IN THE OCEANS CAN RETURN TO THE AIR AS OCEANS HEAT UP. CARBON IN FORESTS CAN BE CHOPPED DOWN AND BURNED.  CARBON IN SOIL STAYS THERE.

IN 1995 THE PRINCE OF WALES DELIVERED A LADY EVE BALFOUR MEMORIAL LECTURE CALLED ‘COUNTING THE COST OF INDUSTRIAL AGRICULTURE.’  I REALISED THAT IF THE CARBON EMISSIONS SAVINGS OF FARMING ORGANICALLY WERE PRICED INTO THE COST OF FOOD AT THE REAL COST OF EMITTED CARBON THEN ORGANIC FOOD WOULD BE CHEAPER THAN INDUSTRIALLY PRODUCED FOOD.

400 OF THE WORLD'S LEADING AGRONOMISTS CAME TO THE SAME CONCLUSION 4 YEARS AGO.

IAASTD
IAASTD

-

  • Stop subsidies
  • Put human health first
  • Green Revolution had unintended consequences
  • Genetic Engineering a problem, not a solution
  • Little time left
  • Protect our agricultural capital (soil)
  • Support small farmers and diverse ecosystems
  • Study and learn from traditional farming
  • Reward farmers who prevent climate change

THIS REPORT IS NOW THE MAIN DETERMINANT OF UN POLICY ON AGRICULTURE.

I’VE HIGHLIGHTED THE LAST POINT – TO REWARD FARMERS WHO PREVENT CLIMATE CHANGE

Industrial Farm – 12 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce 1 calorie of food
Industrial Farm – 12 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce 1 calorie of food
Organic Farm
Organic Farm
Farmer
Farmer

Farmer with a hoe:    120 times more energy-efficient than an organic farmer

                                   240 times more energy-efficient than an industrial farmer

AN INDUSTRIAL FARM USES 12 CALORIES OF FOSSIL FUEL TO PRODUCE ONE CALORIE OF FOOD – WE ARE EATING OIL

AN ORGANIC FARMER USES HALF AS MUCH ENERGY TO PRODUCE THE SAME AMOUNT OF FOOD ENERGY

A FARMER WITH A HOE USES ONE CALORIE OF THEIR OWN ENERGY TO PRODUCE 20 CALORIES OF FOOD ENERGY, SO IS 120 TIMES MORE EFFICIENT IN ENERGY TERMS THAN AN ORGANIC FARMER AND 240 TIMES MORE EFFICIENT THAN AN INDUSTRIAL FARM

ORGANIC ISN'T PERFECT - IT STILL DEPENDS TOO MUCH ON FOSSIL FUELS, BUT AT LEAST IT PUTS SOMETHING BACK IN EXCHANGE FOR WHAT IT TAKES OUT.

OBVIOUSLY WE CAN’T ALL GO BACK TO HOEING THE SOIL, BUT WHAT IF THE WHOLE WORLD JUST WENT ORGANIC?

Farming Systems Trial
Farming Systems Trial

Rodale Institute 30 year trial results

  1. Organic uses 45% less energy
  2. Average yields match conventional (soybeans/corn)
  3. C sequestration 1 MT/ha (3.7 T CO2/ha) per annu

A 30-YEAR TRIAL IN PENNSYLVANIA SHOWS THAT ORGANIC FARMING CONTINUOUSLY SEQUESTERS 1 TONNE OF CARBON PER HECTARE PER ANNUM.

WHAT WOULD THIS MEAN GLOBALLY?

- USA arable: 172 Million Ha

Global arable: 1.4 Bn Ha

US is 1/8 of Global farmland

Organicc
Organicc

- USA in Metric:         Per Annum

- Conventional:  .45 Gt Co2 emitted

- If Organic:       .50 Gt CO2 sequestered

- Worldwide  Per Annum

- Conventional:  3.6 Gt CO2 emitted

- If Organic:       4    Gt CO2 sequestered

- Net improvement 7.2 Gigatonnes

- Net annual CO2 growth 2013: 5.5 Gt CO2

- Good  - but can we do better?

IF EVERY ONE OF OUR 1.4 BILLION HECTARES OF ARABLE LAND WAS ORGANIC THERE WOULD BE A NET REDUCTION OF 7 BILLION TONNES OF CARBON DIOXIDE TAKEN OUT OF THE ATMOSPHERE ANNUALLY – ENOUGH TO STABILISE AND REVERSE GREENHOUSE GAS LEVELS.

THE CLIMATE COST OF INDUSTRIAL FARMING

  • 7,000,000,000 tonnes CO2 p.a. difference
  • 1,400,000,000 ha arable land
  • = 5 tonnes CO2 per Ha per annum
  • The real cost of CO2 emitted is €70 tonne
  • €350 per ha cost benefit from organic farming

IF WE TAX CARBON EMISSIONS AND REWARD CARBON SEQUESTRATION ORGANIC FOOD IS CHEAPER

HOW MUCH CHEAPER?

WHAT WOULD THE IMPACT BE ON THE COST OF FOOD?

THE COST OF A TONNE OF CO2 EMITTED IS ESTIMATED AT BEING AT LEAST €70 PER TONNE TO FUTURE GENERATIONS.  CARBON MARKETS CURRENTLY PRICE IT AT BETWEEN ONLY €3 and €20 PER TONNE.

CARBON TAXES FACE FIERCE RESISTANCE FROM OIL, AGRIBUSINESS, MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL AND TRANSPORTATION LOBBIES WHO UNDERSTAND WHAT CARBON PRICING WILL DO THE MARKET FOR PETROLEUM, AGRICHEMICALS, INDUSTRIAL FOOD, WAR AND TRANSPORT.

BUT THE PARIS CLIMATE TALKS IN 2015 WILL BE A TURNING POINT.

THE 1994 KYOTO PROTOCOLS EXCLUDED CHINA AND INDIA AND DEVELOPING COUNTRIES AND EXCLUDED AGRICULTURE, FORESTRY AND TRANSPORTATION.  THE USA REFUSED TO SIGN, SO EUROPE ATTEMPTED TO COMPLY ALL ON ITS OWN.  IT WAS HARD FOR EUROPEAN MANUFACTURERS TO COMPETE WITH COUNTRIES THAT EMITTED UNLIMITED CARBON, LIKE CHINA.  THE VOLUNTARY MARKET HAS GROWN ANNUALLY, SUPPORTED BY COMPANIES LIKE WESSANEN WHO OPERATE SOME OF THEIR BRANDS, INCLUDING WHOLE EARTH, AS CARBON NEUTRAL.  THE COOL FARM INSTITUTE HAS LAUNCHED A WEB APP SUPPORTED BY PEPSICO, UNILEVER, HEINEKEN AND MARKS AND SPENCER THAT WILL ENABLE FARMERS TO MEASURE THEIR CARBON FOOTPRINT.  SO IS THERE HOPE, OR DO WE FACE ANOTHER 20 YEARS OF INACTION?

WHAT’S DIFFERENT TODAY?

EUROPE STILL HAS AN EMISSIONS TRADING SCHEME.  CALIFORNIA INTRODUCED ONE A YEAR AGO. QUEBEC INTRODUCED A SCHEME THAT NOW FREELY EXCHANGES AT PARITY WITH CALIFORNIA. CHINA NOW HAS 8 ACTIVE CARBON EXCHANGES IN ALL ITS MAIN REGIONS AND IS NEGOTIATING TO HAVE PRICE PARITY WITH CALIFORNIA.  THE NEW ENGLAND STATES ARE JOINING AND THE MIDWESTERN STATES SEE A HIGH CARBON PRICE AS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR WIND ENERGY.

SO AT PARIS 2015 THERE WILL BE CHINA, MOST OF THE US, CANADA AND THE EU ALREADY PRACTICING A CARBON TRADING REGIME AND PUSHING FOR A GLOBAL AGREEMENT.

AFTER PARIS THERE WILL BE A MORE ROBUST CARBON PRICING REGIME AND IT IS REALISTIC TO EXPECT IT TO CHANGE THE WAY WE FARM

pic42
pic42

WE HAVE TO MOVE SOON.  125 MILLION HECTARES A YEAR OF FARMLAND GO OUT OF PRODUCTION EACH YEAR.  AT THAT RATE TODAY’S FARM LAND WILL BE GONE IN 110 YEARS.

pic43
pic43

THE DEMAND FOR CHEAP MEAT HAS SEVERAL DANGEROUS EFFECTS AS INTENSIVE MEAT PRODUCTION RELIES ON ANTIBIOTICS TO KEEP ANIMALS ALIVE IN SHITTY CONDITIONS WHERE THEY WOULD NORMALLY DIE OF DISEASE.

  1. THE LOSS OF FOREST WHICH TURNS CARBON SINKS INTO CARBON EMISSIONS
  2. OBESITY, BOWEL CANCER AND OTHER DISEASES OF EXCESS MEAT CONSUMPTION
  3. THE EMERGENCE OF E.COLI H7/O157, A VIRULENT MUTATION OF E.COLI THAT KILLS 100 AMERICANS A YEAR AND SICKENS 265,000
  4. FAILURE OF ANTIBIOTICS – 80% OF ANTIBIOTIC USE IS ON FARMS AND EMERGING SUPERBUGS THAT ARE ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANT RAISE THE SPECTRE OF A MUTATION OF BUBONIC PLAGUE THAT COULD BE FATAL TO BILLIONS. BACTERIA LEARN FROM EACH OTHER AND TRANSFER RESISTANCE TO ANTIBIOTICS. ALL FOR A CHEAP HOT DOG

Who’s Feeding the World?

- 70% of world’s food grown on farms smaller than 5 hectares

                         NO SUBSIDIES

- 30% of the world’s food grown on industrial farms

$350 Billion yearly SUBSIDIES

THE PRICE WE PAY IN CLIMATE DISRUPTION SOIL EROSION AND DISEASE RISK FOR CHEAP MEAT AND OTHER FOOD IS DISPROPORTIONATE.  MORE THAN 2/3 OF THE WORLD’S FOODS IS GROWN ON SMALL FARMS OF LESS THAN 5 HECTARES, YET ALL THE AGRICULTURAL SUBSIDIES GO TO INDUSTRIAL FARMS THAT CAUSE THE MOST HARM AND ONLY PRODUCE 1/3 OF THE WORLD’S FOOD

Modern Farmer
Modern Farmer

A YEAR AGO IN THE UNITED STATES A MAGAZINE CALLED MODERN FARMER APPEARED.  IT IS REACHING OUT TO THE NEW ‘RURBANISTAS’ – PEOPLE WHO MAKE A LIFESTYLE CHOICE TO OWN AND WORK SMALL FARMS – THE GROW-YOUR-OWN MOVEMENT HAS MOVED FROM PEOPLE’S GARDENS TO LARGER FIELDS AND REFLECTS THE FAILURE OF INDUSTRIAL AGRICULTURE, WHICH CANNOT SURVIVE WITHOUT SUBSIDIES.  CAN IT ALSO REPRESENT THE FUTURE OF SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE?

DROP SHOP

-How will Wholesalers operate when customers shop online and then collect delivery from a Drop Shop?

Drop Shop
Drop Shop

ANOTHER AREA WHERE THE FOOD INDUSTRY CAN SAVE MONEY AND CARBON IS IN DISTRIBUTION.  ONLINE SHOPPING IN THE UK REACHED 20% LAST YEAR.  THE DAY OF THE SUPPLY CHAIN RUNNING FROM MANUFACTURER TO DISTRIBUTOR TO RETAILER TO CONSUMER IS COMING TO AN END.  WHAT WILL REPLACE IT?

THE ‘DROP SHOP’ CONCEPT IS EMERGING, WHERE A CUSTOMER ORDERS THEIR FOOD ONLINE AND HAS IT DELIVERED TO A LOCAL OUTLET.  THE CUSTOMER PICKS UP THE ORDER WHEN READY. THE RETAILER HAS LOW STOCKHOLDING COST, LOW STAFFING COSTS AND NO SHOPLIFTING.  THIS EMERGING MODEL, CALLED DISINTERMEDIATION OR, IN PLAIN ENGLISH ‘CUTTING OUT THE MIDDLEMEN’ HAS IMPLICATIONS FOR THE WESSANEN OWNERSHIP OF DISTRIBUTION COMPANIES AND ITS PARTNERSHIPS WITH RETAILERS. IT WILL ALSO BUST OPEN THE DIFFERENTIATION IN BRANDING BETWEEN SUPERMARKET ORGANIC BRANDS AND NATURAL FOOD ORGANIC BRANDS – THE NATURAL FOODS CUSTOMER WANTS TO AVOID SUPERMARKETS BUT IS HAPPY TO ORDER ONLINE.

WHEN CARBON PRICING COMES IN THIS MODEL WILL BECOME EVEN MORE COST EFFECTIVE AND DISRUPTIVE.

SO WHAT AM I DOING ABOUT CARBON AND SOIL?

Corn Flakes Future Forests
Corn Flakes Future Forests

Future Forests became The Carbon Neutral Company

Carbon Neutral Company
Carbon Neutral Company

IN 1996 WHOLE EARTH CORN FLAKES BECAME THE FIRST CARBON NEUTRAL FOOD PRODUCT.  WE DISCOVERED THAT, BECAUSE IT WAS ORGANIC AND WHOLEGRAIN THAT WE DIDN’T HAVE TO PLANT MANY TREES TO BALANCE OUR CARBON FOOTPRINT.  THAT GOT ME GOING ON THE LOW CARBON FARMING WARPATH.

MY NEW BUSINESS VENTURE IS AIMED AT ACCELERATING THE REMOVAL OF CARBON FROM THE ATMOSPHERE AND REBUILDING SOIL CARBON.

THERE IS AN FAST AND EFFECTIVE WAY TO REBUILD SOIL CARBON.  THIS IS TO MAKE CHARCOAL OUT OF ORGANIC MATTER SUCH AS WOOD CHIPS AND AGRICULTURAL WASTES LIKE RICE HUSKS, COFFEE HUSKS AND SHREDDED PALM LEAVES. THEN YOU PLOUGH THIS CHARCOAL INTO THE GROUND, WHERE IT IS STABLE FOR A HUNDRED YEARS OR SO. THE PRODUCT IS CALLED BIOCHAR, TO DIFFERENTIATE IT FROM THE BARBEQUE CHARCOAL

BIOCHAR DELIVERS SAVINGS IN WATER COSTS AND INPUT COSTS AND PROVIDES HEALTHIER PLANTS WITH HIGHER YIELDS.

RAR IN PORTUGAL WILL HAVE 105,000 OF THEIR 250,000 SQUARE METRES OF GREENHOUSE CROPS RAISED WITH BIOCHAR THIS YEAR. THEY DO THIS FOR ECONOMIC REASONS, BUT THE CARBON CREDITS ARE MEASURABLE .

WHEN THE CARBON BENEFITS CAN BE MONETISED, IT WILL BE EVEN MORE PROFITABLE . THIS IS ALREADY HAPPENING ON THE VOLUNTARY MARKET.  WE HAVE BEEN IN DISCUSSIONS WITH THE CARBON NEUTRAL COMPANY ABOUT THIS

Biochar
Biochar

Biochar

What is it?

• Charcoal made to be used as a soil improver

What does it do?

•Increases microbiological populations

•High surface area adsorbs mineral nutrients

•Reduces plant disease

•Improves soil fertility

•Reduces fertiliser use

•Help soils retain moisture

•Increases crop yields

•Improves soil structure

•Reduces soil greenhouse gas emissions N2O

•Long term carbon sequestration

IN A NUTSHELL, BIOCHAR SAVES MONEY ON INPUT COSTS, INCREASES YIELDS, MAKES PLANTS HEALTHIER AND SEQUESTERS CARBON

NOW WE’RE MAKING IT REAL

Making it Real

Production

Projects

Products

WE DEVISED A SERIES OF MODIFICATIONS TO A TRADITIONAL CHARCOAL KILN THAT MORE THAN DOUBLES YIELDS TO 25-30% AND REDUCES EMISSIONS BY 80%.

Carbon Gold logo
Carbon Gold logo
biochar kiln
biochar kiln

THERE ARE TEN OF THESE KILNS IN BELIZE, WHERE CACAO GROWERS WHO SUPPLY GREEN & BLACK'S USE THEM TO GENERATE BIOCHAR THAT IMPROVES YIELDS AND REDUCES DISEASE.

cacau
cacau

AS WELL AS SALES TO UK GROWERS AND PRODUCERS, WE OFFER BIOCHAR TO HOME GARDENERS.

biochar3
biochar3

SO WE’VE LAUNCHED GROCHAR, A BLEND OF BIOCHAR WITH MYCORRHIZAL FUNGI, WORMCASTS AND SEAWEED. THE PRODUCTS ARE APPROVED FOR USE IN ORGANIC FARMING.

TRIALS WITH BARTLETT TREE EXPERTS THIS YEAR SHOW EXCITING RESULTS IN CONTROLLING HONEY FUNGUS IN BUCKINGHAM PALACE GARDENS, ASH DIEBACK, PHYTOPHTHORA AND IN ESTABLISHING BEECH HEDGING.  TREE DISEASES ARE AN EXPANDING PROBLEM – BIOCHAR OFFERS A SOLUTION.

The Gulf
The Gulf

LAST WEEK I MET IN ABU DHABI WITH THE LANDSCAPE CONTRACTORS FOR THE NEW PRESIDENTIAL PALACE. THEY WANT 1700 TONNES OF BIOCHAR FOR THE PALACE GARDENS.  THIS PROJECT WILL BE A MODEL FOR REGREENING THE DESERTS OF THE ARABIAN REGION AND A MODEL FOR LAND REHABILITATION

The Climate Trust
The Climate Trust

Biochar : Carbon Dioxide

1 tonne : 2.35 tonnes

VCS
VCS

Biochar : Carbon Dioxide

1 tonne : 3 tonnes

Carbon Gold logo
Carbon Gold logo

Biochar : Carbon Dioxide

1 tonne : 6 tonnes

(Biochar made in Carbon Gold Kiln)

ONE DAY THERE WILL BE CREDITS FOR CARBON.  EVERY TONNE OF BIOCHAR WILL GENERATE FROM 3 TO 6 TONNES CO2 OFFSETS.

BUILDING TRUST IN A BRAND

ONE WAY TO BUILD TRUST IS THROUGH THIRD PARTY CERTIFICATION.  NOBODY TRUSTS BRAND OWNERS ANY MORE – THAT’S WHY INDEPENDENT CERTIFICATION OF ORGANIC, FAIR TRADE, CARBON NEUTRAL OR GMO FREE IS THE WAY FORWARD.   SOME COMPANIES TRY TO SELF-CERTIFY, BUT IT DOESN’T GENERATE THE SAME LEVEL OF TRUST. THE HORSEMEAT SCANDAL, COLLAPSING FACTORIES IN BANGLA DESH AND GMOS IN BABY FOOD ALL POINT TO THE NEED FOR THIRD PARTY CERTIFICATION

UNFORTUNATELY IN THE ORGANIC WORLD WE HAVE A PROBLEM – FAR TOO MANY CERTIFIERS.

EMPOWERING CUSTOMERS: Operation Raleigh and Community Development in Dominican Republic

Operation Raleigh and Community Development in Dominican Republic
Operation Raleigh and Community Development in Dominican Republic
Volunteers
Volunteers

THERE ARE 430 DIFFERENT CERTIFIERS OF ORGANIC FOOD IN THE WORLD.  THERE IS ONLY ONE FAIRTRADE, ONE SLOW FOOD, ONE MARINE STEWARDSHIP COUNCIL AND ONE FORESTRY STEWARDSHIP COUNCIL.

THE ORGANIC MOVEMENT HAS ITS ROOTS IN ALL THESE INDEPENDENT CERTIFIERS BUT THE TIME HAS COME TO BRING THEM TOGETHER UNDER ONE BANNER IN ORDER TO ENSURE THE INTEGRITY OF THE ORGANIC ‘BRAND’.  JUST ONE ROTTEN APPLE IN THIS BARREL OF 430 CERTIFIERS CAN DAMAGE THE CREDIBILITY OF ALL ORGANIC FOOD BECAUSE EACH CERTIFIER RELIES ON THE DOCUMENTATION OF THE OTHER ONES.  WE HAVE ALL HAD CLOSE SHAVES WITH ORGANIC PRODUCTS OF DUBIOUS AUTHENTICITY.

THE MANY DIFFERENT CERTIFIERS NEED TO HARMONISE THEIR STANDARDS, CREATE A HARMONISED DATA BASE OF ALL THEIR INSPECTION AND CERTIFICATION DATA AND CLOSE THE LOOPHOLES THAT ALLOW FRAUD.  AT THE SOIL ASSOCIATION WE HOPE TO FORM CLOSER ALLIANCES WITH OTHER CERTIFIERS – WHAT WE SHARE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN OUR COMPETITION FOR BUSINESS.  ORGANIC COMPANIES SHOULD ACTIVELY SUPPORT AN INITIATIVE LIKE THIS AS THE VALUE OF YOUR BRANDS RELIES HEAVILY ON TRUST.

LET ME CLOSE WHERE I BEGAN, WITH A PROPOSED SYMBOL THAT COULD HARMONISE ALL THE DIFFERENT ORGANIC CERTIFICATION BRANDS.

Harmony Logo
Harmony Logo

WITH CARBON PRICING, INCREASINGLY STRINGENT CONTROLS ON HEAVY METALS IN FOODS, THE NEED TO CONTROL THE MEAT INDUSTRY AND ITS DRUG DEPENDENCY, SOIL DEGRADATION AND THE TREND TOWARDS VEGETARIANISM AND VEGANISM THE WESSANEN COMPANIES ARE WELL POSITIONED TO CAPITALISE ON THE FUNDAMENTAL CHANGES THAT ARE TAKING PLACE GLOBALLY.  BUT THIS WILL ALSO HERALD AN INVASION OF YOUR TERRITORY BY COMPANIES THAT HITHERTO HAVE

THANKS

CRAIG

Apples: the Frugal Fruit

Great grandparents were Nebraska sodbusters. They grew apples and mulberries and watermelon

Apples – Apple pie, baked apples,  apple crumble, apple butter, apple jelly from the peels, dried apples, sold apples to stores in Sioux City.  Canned applesauce and apple butter and  stored in the cave that was the original house. 

Where did apples come from?  Garden of Eden?  Avalon?

Kazakhstan Map – Apple forests, with wild apricots and pears.

Kazakhstan apple forest No other forest like this in the world, except on the Chinese side of the Kazakhstan border. 56 wild forms but thousands of different hybrids.

Apples and Me:

Zen Macrobiotics: No sugar, some apples OK, apple juice just about OK

Aspall – first organic apple juice and Ceres was first customer

Glastonbury – Avalon – Isle of Apples – 100s of gallons of apple juice

Whole Earth Jams  - apple juice sweetened – then spag sauce, ketchup, cola, soft drinks, everything

Legal trouble

Why do British bureaucrats hate apples so much?  UK Apple grubbing out vs French subsidies

Spicy Apple Spread – Maya Gold

Stonelynk Orchard

Myth and Religion

Judgement of Paris – Athena Hera and Aphrodite.  They all stripped off, then offered him a bribe.  Aphrodite offered him Helen, who had already married Menelaus, they made love and this kicked off the Trojan Wars

Atalanta – faster and tougher than any suitor, killed them if they failed in combat or race.  Hippomenes threw three golden apples behind him in race and she stooped to gather and lost the race and her freedom.  This painting show her moving from nature to materialism

Saltcote Pippin  Pippin or Seedling refers to an apple that grew from a seed.  Saltcote story James Hoad

Apples and Polyphenols

  • Phloridzin – inhibits glucose uptake by 52%
  • Apple phenols reduce fat in organs and tissue
  • Apple phenols reduce blood ‘stickiness’
  • Most phenols are in the skin

Taking Biochar to Market

IBI Sonoma

Biochar – Farming Carbon

Craig Sams Founder and Executive Chairman

May 8 2012

Louisiana Territory - Virgin Prairie

DUST BOWL 1935 Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska

Eve Balfour Founded Soil Association 1946

Johannesburg April 2008 400 experts Report:

Stop subsidies Put human health first Green Revolution had unintended consequences Genetic Engineering a problem, not a solution Little time left Protect our agricultural capital (soil) Support small farmers and diverse ecosystems Study and learn from traditional farming

Reward farmers who prevent climate change

Carbon Farming Efficiency Energy needed to produce 1 calorie of food:

Industrial Farmer: 12 calories fossil fuel Organic Farmer: 6 calories fossil fuel

(Man with a hoe: 1 calorie of energy produces 20 calories of food)

Rodale Institute 30 year trial results

  1. Organic uses 45% less energy
  2. Average yields match conventional (soybeans/corn)
  3. C sequestration 1 MT/ha (3.7 T CO2/ha) per annum

WE DECIDED TO FOCUS ON ORGANIC GROWERS

USA arable: 172 Million Ha Global arable: 1.4 Bn Ha US is 1/8 of Global farmland

Source: Pimentel Cornell

USA in Metric:

Conventional: If Organic:

If Worldwide

Per Annum

.45 Gt Co2 emitted .75 Gt CO2 sequestered

Per Annum

Conventional: 3.6 Gt Co2 emitted If Organic: 6Gt CO2 sequestered

Good - but can we do better? Biochar could double the figure – if all farming was organic

Making it Real and Creating Routes to Market

Production Projects Products

Carbon Gold

Biochar Kiln (Near Fairlight)

66% yield increase

Up to 90% emissions reduction

Farm-scale 10 sold overseas 5 sold in UK Order pipeline

Carbon Gold Biochar Kilns

CG Tilting Ring Kiln 10m3

CG Tilting Ring Kiln Array

• Skid mounted and semi-automatic • Production capacity 1 tonne/day

• Permanent site •Production capacity of 3.5 tonnes/day

Confidential and Proprietary Information of Carbon Gold Limited.

First UK Commercial production E.Sussex September 2010

Trials: Little Gem lettuces Trial by: Stephanie Donaldson – Gardening Editor Country Living

25th August 2011 23rd September 2011

Replacing Peat

“Delfland Plants ran trials on Carbon Gold’s biochar-based seed compost on 5,000 plants – a mixture of brassicas, lettuce, rainbow chard and red mustard.

The trials ran alongside a control batch of each of these plants using Klassman, our peat-based seed compost of choice.

Carbon Gold’s seed compost produced the same excellent results as our normal seed compost choice and it performed as well in terms of germination and growth rate

We would be happy to use biochar-based compost products for a specific range of vegetable plugs for growers, using Carbon Gold’s excellent product range”

John Overoorde, CEO Delfland Plants

Trial results starting to appear:l

6 July 2012

Trials Oversight

GroChar + Cacao = fruit within 3 years Normal maturation time: 7 years

Slash and burn farming replaced with Slash and char

Rolling it out: UNDP Supporting crop trials and biochar production with $50,000 grant, followed by $500,000 when trials complete

Pipeline Dominican Republic – Cacao –

Honduras - Coffee Ghana – Cacao – Kuapa Kokoo

Partnering for Biochar PRO NATURA PARTNERSHIP

Strong Brand Values

Corporate Brand: Commercial, track record, market leader, global

Product Brand: Tested, trusted, competitive

- Soil Association Certified for organic use - Peat-free - Organic ingredients or from FSC certified woodland

Positioning

Not competing with subsidies CGW or externalised cost peat

Reposition as long term Investment

Branded Products

Design and Packaging: Iconic, Challenger, Disruptive, Engaging

On Sale in Garden Centres, Waitrose, Amazon and other Online suppliers

Replacing Peat

250g Tube GroChar Soil Improver

GroChar Merchandiser

Stock Holding : 60 x 1kg GroChar Tubes

Mechandiser Supplied FOC with 100 Tubes

Stock Value - £290.00

1kg Tube GroChar Soil Improver

8ltr Peat Free Seed Compost

Mixed Merchandiser

Stock Holding :

77 x 1kg GroChar Tubes 80 x 8ltr Seed Compost 42 x 20ltr All Purpose

Merchandiser Supplied FOC

Stock Value - £547.20

All prices quoted are exclusive of VAT

20ltr Peat Free All Purpose Compost

Sales Contact : Nigel Clarke Tel : 01476-530374 Mob : 07798-815832 E : sales@donum.biz

J

J

oi

Advertising

GroChar is packed with all the good stuff your soil needs to give you happier, healthier plants. Its unique biochar complex supercharges your soil – bringing it to life, delivering more nutrients to speed up plant growth. And it reduces your carbon footprint.

GroChar is packed with all the good stuff your soil needs to give you happier, healthier plants. Its unique biochar complex supercharges your soil – bringing it to life, delivering more nutrients to speed up plant growth. And it reduces your carbon footprint.

oin the movement for better soil at carbongold.com

n the movement for better soil at carbongold.com

Closeup of Leaflet

PR Activity Cuttings

Catastrophic market conditions

Lucky we didn’t have good sales – stock overhang crisis and default risk But now we know what sells, key price points Rate of sale in 30 typical garden centres

Extrapolate to brand value and net sales value

2013 Sales forecast

 

Treated like Animals

What is it about the meat industry? Vegans say meat is murder, what’s clear is that its production often defies morality.

A recently published inquiry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (http://bit.ly/aKqz2U) has been pretty horrifying: women working in meat and poultry processing factories barred from going to the lavatory because it would slow down the production line. Result: urine and blood (if they’re menstruating) dripping down their legs. Angry managers pelt workers with frozen hamburgers and call them ‘you f***ing’ shit Polish.’

Press reports use terms like “Treated Like Animals.” I guess we take brutal and uncaring animal treatment for granted: cattle in Colorado feedlots up to their knees in their own shit, sick with e.Coli infections and salmonella. US poultry meat has to be washed with chlorine before it can safely be put on sale. I visited a chicken farm in West Virginia 18 months ago: the ammonia from fermenting chicken poop burned your eyes so badly that we could only stand in the shed full of 100,000 birds for a minute before we had to retreat to the fresh air outside. The country girl who assisted the manager commented that she had got used to the smell: her job entailed removing the dead birds every day. The corpses were then burned to generate heat that was helped heat the chicken barn – as recycling efforts go, probably a cut above grinding them up and feeding them to the survivors.

In the 19th Century a report from a Royal Navy vessel that intercepted a slave ship summarised conditions on that most horrendous of transatlantic voyages. “The sick, the dead and they dying were pulled up onto deck, shackled together, and thrown overboard.” The slaves were tethered in cubicles about 2 feet wide and 3 feet high for the entire voyage, which could last 4-12 weeks. The longer the trip the higher the death rate. Slave ships were ‘tight pack’ or ‘loose pack.’ ‘Tight pack’ profitably fitted more slaves into a ship, but the death rate was much higher: 10-20%. Modern pig and chicken factory farms go for ‘tight pack,’ raising the death rate to 5-14%, even with routine antibiotic use. Disease spreads in conditions where faeces cannot be cleared – even slaves above deck were chained in place for the entire voyage – otherwise they would jump overboard to escape the conditions.

I suppose when we consider the cruelty that surrounded the slave trade we shouldn’t be surprised that similar evils infest the meat industry. The trust of an animal is a wonderful thing. As pets they have a therapeutic effect that defies medical explanation. Yet if someone were to take a puppy or a kitten, smother it in its own excrement for a month or so, torture it, starve it and throw it into a furnace while it was still alive they’s be excoriated on the cover of the Daily Mail.

A new dairy ‘farm’ in Lincolnshire is planned to house 8100 dairy cows in darkened stalls, modelled on American dairy production. It is estimated that half of US dairy cows suffer from mastitis and they also suffer leukaemia, milk fever and a bovine form of AIDS. ‘Downers’ – cows that collapse - are turned into ground beef before they can die and become unsuitable for consumption.

It’s not often that Human Rights Watch take up cudgels on behalf of American workers, but they have pointed out that meat industry workers have 3 times the injury rate of other industries, with workers being asphyxiated by fumes and having their legs cut off and their hands crushed.

When you look at the cruelty we inflict on animals is it any wonder that we treat abattoir workers so badly? When you look at the kindness that typifies organic animal rearing, is it any wonder that places like the exemplary biodynamic Laverstoke Farm build their own meat processing facilities, carefully designed to keep the animals calm right up to the final moment, rather than send them off to a slaughterhouse where the people, let alone the animals are treated like…well, slaves.

People somehow manage to get over their concerns about animal welfare when they buy non-organic meat in a shop or restaurant, but how easy is it to be a participant in the human degradation as well?

From Green & Black's to Blackened Greens

Here's the story of how I moved from dark chocolate to even darker materials - biochar

Back in 1995 the Prince of Wales delivered the Lady Eve Balfour Memorial Lecture on the theme of ‘Counting the Cost of Industrial Agriculture.’ He argued that if you incorporate the externalised costs of non-organic farming, such as nitrate pollution, gender-bending herbicides in the water supply, biodiversity loss and the climate change cost of greenhouse gases (from nitrous oxides and soil carbon emissions) the real cost of non-organic food would nearly double.

A year later Dan Morrell of Future Forests (later to become the Carbon Neutral Company) encouraged me to go carbon neutral with Whole Earth’s organic wholegrain cornflakes. The whole life cycle carbon footprint of the cornflakes was calculated by independent experts who found that it was surprisingly low: because organic farmers increase rather than reduce the stored carbon in soil, this offset much of the other carbon cost of the cornflakes.

By now it was pretty obvious to me that the sooner we could get policymakers to force us to include the cost of greenhouse gas emissions in the cost of food the sooner we would all be eating organic food, because it would usually be cheaper.

Roll on 14 years to 2009 – the climate negotiations in Copenhagen have soil carbon and forest carbon on the agenda. Lord Nicholas Stern, former chief economist at the Bank of England and author of the Stern Review that put the cost of every tonne of carbon we emit today at £140 for future generations (currently carbon markets value a tonne of carbon at £11) has said that any future climate agreement has to be ‘universal and equitable.’ In other words, no cheating, no get-outs, no let-outs, no sacred cows. That means that all countries and all activities, including agriculture, forestry and transportation must be included in the new climate regime that begins in 2012. Hitherto only Europe has complied and then only for the heavy industries that emit half of our greenhouse gases – farming and transport have been excluded. But no longer.

2 years ago I invited Dan Morrell to join me in a new venture: Carbon Gold. What do we do? For a start, we believe biofuels are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Every bit of biomass carbon is too precious to waste by burning it. At Carbon Gold we aim to capture woody material such as waste biomass, forestry co-products and tree prunings and convert it into charcoal. But we call it ‘biochar.’ Why? Because we don’t burn it, thereby putting the carbon back into the atmosphere as CO2. Once we’ve made the biochar we blend it with fertility-building clays and composts and add it to the soil. Biochar is a wonderful soil conditioner: it improves drainage but also prevents soil drying out; it reduces the leaching of nutrients from soil by rainfall; it provides 5-Star accommodation for beneficial soil fungi and bacteria, increasing their populations; it improves soil structure and aggregation; it helps suppress soil-borne diseases that are harmful to plants and biochar helps raise the pH of acid soils. Universities around the world are gearing up to do biochar research that will more precisely quantify its benefits. These vary depending on soil, climate and the amount of biochar applied to soil.

Meanwhile at Carbon Gold we are busily making biochar and selling the carbon credits from avoided emissions as well as selling the biochar as a soil improver. In Belize cacao farmers produce biochar that is blended with compost and used by banana growers to reduce their dependence on fungicides and irrigation. In East Sussex we are regenerating ancient chestnut coppice woodland and producing organic biochar which we use to produce “Gro-Char” peat-free compost which will be sold through garden centres. Garden Organic members will be trialling it in various applications during the 2010 season. In Mozambique we are partnering with a conservation organisation to help small farmers produce biochar, encouraging them to protect their forests and improve their soil fertility. On my own smallholding near Hastings there is a magnificent peach tree dripping with perfect fruit that had its base covered with biochar last February. The ones that didn’t get biochar haven’t done so well, peach leaf curl was worse for them. My biochar potatoes still show no signs of blight, while everyone else’s have suffered.

I feel like I’m still in the food business (and I have made a delicious risotto nero charbonara that delighted dinner guests recently), I’ve just moved my focus towards food security.

Roll on $200 a barrel oil prices

Much as I hate what Gaddafi is up to and much as I dread any threat to the stability of the Saudi regime, I can’t help hoping that the oil price goes up and stays up.

There are a lot of reasons for this.

Cheap oil is what drives industrial farming. 7 years ago in The Little Food Book I calculated that when the oil price hit $70 a barrel organic food would be cheaper than non-organic. That’s because it take twice as much fossil fuel for an industrial farmer to produce a calorie of food as it does for an organic farmer. Broadly speaking, an industrial farmer uses 12 calories of fossil fuel to produce one calorie of food. Then it takes more fossil fuel to convey the food to the supermarket distribution depot, then to the store, including refrigeration costs. An organic farmer uses 6 calories of fossil fuel to produce one calorie of food and is more likely to sell it at a farmer’s market or to local outlets.

Industrial farming replaces jobs with chemicals. Instead of people planting, weeding and composting chemicals do the job. Nitrate fertilisers are made using natural gas. Gas prices follow oil prices upwards – energy is energy. So nitrates are getting a lot more expensive, but still not expensive enough. They’re killing us by releasing nitrous oxide into the atmosphere, a greenhouse gas 310 times more harmful than carbon dioxide in causing global warming. Nitrates are responsible for the equivalent of 1 billion tonnes of CO2 every year, about 1/6 of the total excess emissions that are turning up the heat on dear old Planet Earth. And farmers need to use more and more as underlying soil fertility dies out, making a bad problem worse. At $200 barrel, even with the current extravagant level of subsidies, farmers would switch to organic in droves. If you can grow your own fertiliser by leaving fields fallow, composting and growing green manures, why pay for a bunch of horrendously expensive chemicals? The price of food will go up as the price of oil goes up, but the impact per calorie on organic food will be half that on industrial.

A lacto-ovo vegetarian consumes half the energy resources for the same nutrition as a non-vegetarian meat-eater. A vegan consumes just one quarter. An organic vegan will consume just 1/8 the fossil fuel inputs of a non-organic non-vegetarian.

The price of carbon offsets goes up with rising oil prices. Companies have to pay for EU carbon emission allowances. They are currently priced at around £12 per tonne. Sir Nicholas Stern, author of the last government’s report on climate change and of the book Blueprint for a Safer Planet, said the real price should be £70 per tonne. (Then he said “I was wrong – the real figure is £140 per tonne”). The higher the price of oil, the higher the price of carbon offsets and the more attractive it is to invest in energy-saving and renewables. A tonne of oil produces more than 3 tonnes of carbon dioxide, so just to offset the cost to the future of this planet, it should cost £140 times 3 or £420. A barrel is 1/5 tonne, so the carbon cost of a barrel should be priced in at about £80, or $120 per barrel. Then the producers need to make a small profit, too, after all it costs anything from $3 (Kuwait) to $9 (Texas) to extract a barrel of oil from the ground. They’ve got used to making $90/barrel profit, add that to the $120 carbon cost and you’re over $200.

When you see the taxis with their engines running queuing up outside railway stations, vans parked with their engines running and people whizzing along at inefficient speeds you can’t help wondering if they would be so wasteful if petrol cost 3 times as much.

Think of the jobs that high oil prices would bring, too. Every time an out of town supermarket opens local employment suffers. Yeah, yeah, I know they claim they are creating jobs but James Lowman of the Association of Convenience Stores did a check last year. Supermarkets created an extra 2.75 million extra square feet of store space and cut their staff levels by 426. So we are gutting the high streets of our towns and putting more people on the unemployment register and forcing people to drive to the supermarket to buy a week’s worth of food, 1/3 of which goes off and ends up being wasted.

When oil prices go up people will shop locally, on an ‘as needed’ basis. They’ll eat organic. They’ll eat less meat. They’ll walk more and drive less. They’ll pay lower insurance premiums as adverse climate events reduce the impact on insurers. They’ll breathe cleaner air as people switch to less polluting transportation. They’ll drink cleaner water as pesticides and

Subsidies - who really needs them?

Every year the governments of the world back winners in Big War, Big Ag, Big Energy and Big Pharma. The total bill to taxpayers? A stonking $3500 billion! Yes, $3.5 trillion. How much of this do you get? Nothing. You just get to pay for it. Unless you’re Big.

You can't blame the poor despised bankers for this one, this is our elected representatives doing what they are told by unelected powers and their well-connected lobbyists.

How does it break down? Big Agriculture gets $350bn a year to degrade our soils with chemical fertilisers, kill off our wildlife and living soil with pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. Big War uses up $1500 bn a year on wars of aggression. Direct and indirect subsidies to Big Pharma cost $1000 bn. And Big Energy gets $550 bn - mostly subsidies to help struggling oil companies discover more oil.

See the pattern? Tax the little guys and subsidise the big and powerful. Then they 'optimise' taxation to make sure they pay as little tax as possible in a place like Britain.

How does it feel to know that the tax on the money you've diligently earned without any help from the government is being spent to help powerful competitors drive you out of business?

Then there's the non-governmental subsidies, harder to measure but with the same effect. Supermarkets subsidise industrialised bread to lure customers to their stores. This is ruinous for small bakers who have to make their profit from baked goods.

Ocado - a direct competitor of many readers, has managed to lose £300,000,000 over the past 10 years and managed to lose £25 million last year, but in so doing it undermines retailers that have to make a profit or go under. This is a subsidy from private equity to gain future profit but its impact is to drive honest traders out of business and clear the field for another monster. Their investors probably include your pension fund.

Every £1 of subsidy from the EU costs us £2. How so? The administration, policing, storage and fraud inherent in running the CAP swallows half the money that goes to farmers. It would be cheaper to give every food shopper a 'CAP tax back’ at the checkout and dismantle this unwieldy system. They claim subsidies help small farmers but the fact is that smallholdings and small farms began to disappear as soon as we joined the CAP.

The Common Agricultural Policy is up for reform in 2013. They've been ‘reforming’ it ever since the 1970s. Because of our subsidies, farmers in other countries can only compete by exploiting slave labour, degrading soil, destroying rain forests and poisoning themselves and the environment with nasty chemicals. Activists campaign to support the forests and indigenous people and to ban slavery, but would freak out if we had to pay the real cost of food at the supermarket. The average dairy cow in Europe gets over £600 a year in subsidy - no wonder milk is cheaper than bottled water! (And there’s still surplus cheap milk to dump to Russia, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria)

Will the CAP be reformed? What happened last time, ten years ago? While negotiators from the UK attempted to inject some sanity into the discussions the heads of state of Germany and France excused themselves and stepped out of the room for half an hour. They returned and announced that there would be no reform of the CAP until 2013. And that was that. Since then they’ve instituted a 10% Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation that keeps the countryside full of rapeseed and pays for deforestation of the last habitats of orangutans to grow palm oil to burn in buses.

These people couldn’t reform a piece of plasticine.

Belize Breezes

Arrived in Punta Gorda on Thursday Nov 13 and visited cacao farmers up country, with Neil, the Green & Black's supply chain manager and Lisa, our marketing manager and 4 journalists from the US and Canada.

The cacao crop at this time of year is fairly small, but is called 'Christmas cacao' because it generates extra cash in December to pay for presents. The varieties that are being developed and for grafting from budwood are starting to have an impact on yields, which is good news and farmers are getting a lot better at pruning, so the ever-present threat of monilia (a devastating disease) is diminished.

We visited the farm of Justino Peck, who is the outgoing chairman of the Toledo Cacao Growers Association and who was also chairman in 1993 when I visited to persuade the farmers to go organic, dangling a long term contract, cash in advance and a good price. Justino bought into my offer and brought the association along, for which I am always grateful. His trees were looking good, but in need of pruning on the top growth, something that our charcoal (more later) project will address.

We then went on to Uxbenha, where recent archaeological evidence indicates that cacao use and trade predates that found at any other site, confirming that the 'botanical epicentre' of cacao, i.e where it was first domesticated, is right here in the Maya Mountains. There were a few wild citrus trees and we gathered some cooling refreshing fruit before heading off to visit Eladio Pop in San Pedro village, overlooking the Columbia river. Eladio's wife served us with tortilla, rice, chicken caldo (spicy stew) and pumpkin and we then drank his homemade kukuh out of calabash cups. He grows the cacao, ferments it, dries it, roasts it, winnows the husks and then grinds it and shapes the resulting paste into balls which keep for months. When he wants kukuh he grates off some of the balls and blends it with warm water, vanilla, ground allspice and honey or sugar. All home grown (except the sugar). It was delicious and after several calabash cups full we were bouncing off the walls and ready to move on. Eladio is a 'new man' to the extent that he cooks at the weekend to give his wife a break and takes a keen interest in culinary matters as well as the growing of organic food. Perhaps this is a good time to mention that I just got an email from Bob Bond, who keeps bees on our family woods and orchard at Fairlight, that 'our' honey won First at the National Honey Show. We and the bees are very very proud!

We bade Eladio and family goodbye and headed off for Lubantuun, where Justino and I did interviews on camera for Vivien, the Canadian journalist and we all learned about the history of the ruins. In 1987 I had written in the guest book "Get rid of these trees, they are eating into the ruins and will make them unrestoreable.' A lot of work has been done since then but the trees are growing back and some misguided government official has forbidden their removal as trees are a 'good thing.' That evening we have a convivial dinner at the Hickatee Cottages and restaurant, set in deep jungle and run by a lovely English couple, Kate and Ian. Kate is slight and delicate in appearance, but tough as nails and unmoved by any adversity, even the near failure of their electricity generation in the middle of her dinner preparation efforts.

I saw a guy barbecuing chicken for sale to passers by and inquired about where his charcoal came from. "Supaul's store just around the corner from Main Street." Supaul told me that there are charcoal makers at Boom Creek Village, a Spanish speaking community a few miles west of Punta Gorda, so plan to visit them on Monday to study their methodology.

Sunday morning: go for a long walk along the seafront up to the edge of town at Joe Taylor Creek, where there is a small landing. Walking back I sit on another wooden landing, feet dangling in the water to try to ease the itch of sandfly bites, lying back flat in the hazy sun listening to Andy Palacio and Ernest Ranglin. Oh yes. Then barefoot, trousers rolled up to the knee, walking back to town to Grace's Cafe for lunch of ginger ale, rice and stewed beans, with a double helping of lightly dressed cole slaw. Oh yes, indeed. Then I pass a house with turkeys in the back yard, only a few weeks till Christmas. I always like John Maynard Keynes' comment that turkeys, on the basis of previous evidence, think that the economy will always be growing, with everyone getting larger and fatter and with more food every day, then comes the crunch. One has jumped over the fence and I wake up its owner, who is snoozing on his porch, to warn about the break out.

On Sunday afternoon Lisel Alamilla, the executive director of the Ya'axche Conservation Trust picks me up with Bartolo Teul, her conservation officer and Elseno DuBon, a consultant who grows cacao and has helped the TCGA in the past, to have a look at their forest reserve location and to discuss how we can integrate biochar production with sustainable cacao growing, organic farming and permanent protection of the amazing biodiversity that they enjoy. There have been some pretty ugly scenes with illegal loggers crossing over from Guatemala - in their own country they'd be shot but they think they can get away with it because there's so few people in the reserve that they can take out logs without being noticed. Regular biochar harvesting activity will keep more people in the deep bush and this will provide early warning if anybody is trying to steal trees. They give me a slide show about their activities and it is clear they see cacao as a way of combining agroforestry with conservation and we discuss how best to overlay biochar production so that they can generate income for the farmers and for their great work. My late dad's friend, Dr. Adrian Wilson, is one of many generous sponsors but they are keen to become self sufficient as their reserve links to some much larger reserves that they have the opportunity to manage - of montane forest, tropical forest and riverbank land going right down to the mangroves at sea level, the Golden Stream watershed. On our way to the river crossing Bartolo laughs when I tell him that my first encounter with Golden Stream was August 1987, when it was in full flood. (They have since built a new bridge that is 10 feet higher). The old wooden bridge had 2 running boards for each vehicle wheel, set on cross boards and the river had flooded up several feet above the level of the boards. We waited through the night and by 4 am the waters had subsided enough for me to wade across the bridge bent over feeling through the stream to stay on the track of the running boards, my butt in the air and the vehicle with all our cameras and equipment (we were there to film the Deer Dance as part of a scheme to return the Crystal Skull to its home in Lubantuun) following me a few feet behind to make sure it also stayed on track. A sudden swift current tore off my plastic sandal and as we crossed the bridge I joked that I could see it stuck on a branch. Lisel suggested that when we came back on Friday with the full group that we could return by canoe down the river, meet a boat and thus see the whole flow of the landscape. Maybe I really will find my sandal. Then we could go round to John Spang and Tanya Russ' 1500 acres that are only accessible from the sea for a cup of tea and work out how to char the vast amounts of wood that were destroyed on their forest by Hurricane Iris, before it rots away completely. Not sure how you char rotten wood, I assume it gets damp. But they all liked the principle of char as carbon credit, safe household fuel and agricultural amendment, especially as some of the cacao farmers on their land are having trouble because of acid soil. There is clay everywhere, often so hard that people can't get a spade through it. They have a nursery where they raise 10,000 trees a year to give out to farmers, mostly cacao, balaam (a native variety with a white bean), mahogany, red cedar, mango and other native varieties. It's getting on for the dry season so they are anxious to get the remaining trees out of the nursery and into the ground while the wet weather lasts. Monday November 18th Go to TCGA to see if I can get a lift to Boom Creek from Alvaro Pop. Cirila Cho is waiting there to get a check for a delivery of her new chocolate bars. With a well designed wrapper and much smoother texture they are one of about 5 brands of chocolate that are aiming to capture the local market before going global. She used to make Brigadeiros, toffee like balls, now she makes a creditable dark chocolate bar. She is very smartly turned out in a beautifully embroidered white on black skirt and is very businesslike. Things are going well, she now has a proper grinding and conching set-up and is increasing sales, despite the competition. Her son is helping her in the business, Annemarie, her daughter, who used to be the TCGA compliance officer and has recently had a baby, so she's now a granny. She still winnows the roasted beans by hand, a tedious task, but having the grinder is pivotal to quality. I'm glad to see that she has progressed by leaps and bounds from her kitchen tabletop operation just a year and half ago. Meeting with Santiago Sanchez at Boom Creek Village. He makes charcoal which he supplies to Supaul's store in Punta Gorda, who then sells it to the streetside barbecue chicken vendors and to the public. Santiago's house is stacked with bags of charcoal which he has prepared earlier and is waiting to sell and we sit down for a chate. I mention that I am interested in charcoal etc and then ask him if he has every tried it mixed with soil. His face lights up, he leaps up and beckons me to his charcoal pit, about 100 yards from his house. The pit is about 10 feet long and 5 feet wide, logs on either side, charcoal in the bottom, and rich black charcoaly earth on the sides. He calls it 'black soil' and I pick up a handful, it smells very neutral, less earthy than compost but it has a lovely texture, almost edible. So far Santiago has experimented with it on his cabbages ("They have much wider heads and are much greener, lots of big green leaves") and his peppers. The soil runs dark and deep and it seems like the carbon has percolated down, or been taken by worms, to a deeper level as I scoop out some from the sides from the very bottom of his pit and it is rich and black several inches in, though this could just be burnt earth. We go back to his house where he has a rusting old pickup truck carcass that his wife uses as a nursery. There are some rather sad looking plants in black plastic 'pots' and I ask if the soil in them is char-enriched as there is a pile of black soil on the truck bed. He shakes his head and points to the anaemic looking soil in the pots and says "I tell my wife to mix it in but she don't do it." As a fellow innovator I know how hard it is to get people to take your crazy ideas seriously. I buy 4 bags full of charcoal to take back as gifts for TCGA and YCT folks and we bid him goodbye, arranging to come back on Wednesday afternoon. Pop in to see SHI (Sustainable Harvest International) director Nana Mensah who shows me their new solar poo drier and urine collector. Nana Mensah took up the biochar baton last year when I preached the gospel to him at the Cacao Fest. He sent his staffer Kenny Cal to a course in Honduras in May of this year where they learnt how to make biochar from corncobs. As corncobs are not thrown away but used as toilet paper charring is a good way to capture and sterilise otherwise pathogenic waste. As the Japanese keep urine to enrich charcoal and cool it down after processing, things are coming together. Kenny Cal now works for YCT. Then to TCGA office for a planning meeting for the next few days' guests. Neil has been summoned back to London and Lisa wonders if I can possibly go with the group and her to Maya Mopan on Wednesday...I tentatively agree. Then we go off at my suggestion, to Gomier's, whose rastafarian restaurant is the only place you can get at tofu based meal in Punta Gorda. I order a rice and vegetables with tofu/oat balls in curry, the best meal I've had all week. They have fish now, so the others don't suffer to much from lack of protein. Chat on phone with William Kendall while lunching at Gomier's about proposed management changes. Then I head back to the hotel where I bump into Terrell, the North Carolina environmental civil servant who muses about how he used to round up stray dogs as part of his job and how he could deal with the Punta Gorda lot in no time. We go off to the Sea View bar above the fish market where a drum and rap group are doing Garifuna versions of Blondie songs. I down a Belikin, we stroll over to visit Chet, there is a Rasta and a hippie on his porch but he's gone to bed and doesn't respond to my soft calling of 'Schmidtie' so we go back to the hotel and I get an early night. The toilet is oozing (clean) water so I stuff a dirty shirt around the base to delay the inevitable puddling of the bathroom floor (Tate's Hotel, in case you're interested). Before retiring I send an email to our board suggesting that Neil's return be postponed.

Tuesday November 18th

Meet the journalists at the TCGA depot where Ernestina Bol has brought in some cacao for weighing. They are slightly overfermented, an unusual problem, but still acceptable. Neil gets a phone call to say he should stay on, so I am off the hook on Lisa's trip to Maya Mopan, though I'll go there at some point. Neil explains to the journalists about pricing and Lisa is getting anxious about time, but it is important that they understand the relation between the high prices we pay, the consistency of quality supply and the benefits to all parties. You get what you pay for and the customer is the ultimate beneficiary of the principle. When the see the fair trade premium of $150 and the organic fair trade premium of $200 they are impressed, then Neil shows them the Green & Black's premium of $1000 and they begin to understand why it all makes such a big difference. He also explains that because we now buy daily and also will soon be buying in San Antonio more women bring in cacao and they use the money more wisely. He comments that in the old days the men would bring in a large amount of cacao, get a large check, cash it at the bank next door and then spend the money on drink, to which I quip "...and then squander the rest." We head off to San Antonio and visit the new buying centre. This will provide solar warmed and naturally ventilated drying for farmers, to take away the tedium of constantly needing to watch out for rain without accelerating this crucial stage in the flavour development process. A rusting old barrel oven from the San Antonio wood fired drier that dates back to the Peace Corps help in 1986 is there. It never worked properly, just made cacao that tasted like kippers. All my anxieties about driers were based on that but this is as good or better than sun drying. Then we go up to see 3 generations of Bols: Reyes Bol, his son Justiniano and his grandson Justianano Bol Jr, or 'Junior.' If there's an 80:20 rule about cacao it's that the Bol family and the Chun family supply most of our cacao. Their plantation is beautifully placed and I pick some allspice leaves for us to sniff, then we eat fresh cacao fruit, some are absolutely au point with just right balance of sweetness and acidity, everyone is greedily and with sticky fingers pulling out the seeds, sucking off the pulp and spitting the pits. I slice one lengthwise to show the deep purple of a fresh unfermented bean as all they've seen is well fermented and don't know what unfermented looks like. Then we go back to Junior's place for a lunch of caldo, rice, tortilla and what looks like potato. It is slightly sweeter, but almost a spud, so I ask what it is and am told that it's yucca. I go into the kitchen area and ask Junior's wife if she has one and she points to a huge tuber, about 8 times the size of a potato, on the floor in the corner. Wow. I pick it up and dangle it in front of Darragh and Susan, who are from Dublin "Let's see a spud this size from Oireland then" I challenge. There is a huge poinsettia outside the house that is clustered with beautiful flowers. It's always amazing to see perennials and their potential when we see them either as annuals

or just as house plants. Even more amazing to walk throught he bush with a machete, hacking away at plants that, if you were in the Kew Gardens Tropical House, would have you locked up for a 4 stretch.

Then we go off to see Luciano Cho, who has 100 year old trees that he inherited from his Dad and refuses to prune because his mother entrusted them with them and he can't bring himself to remove a single branch. They are big fat trees, thick mossy branches, not very much fruit. He has planted a lot of cacao in recent years and will be the biggest single producer within a year or two as the 5 and 6 year old trees start to bear serious amounts. He and I go off for a walk away from the group to look at his mahoganies, a few very heavily laden cacao trees, and a wild pear that is huge. He has little hot pepper plants that seem to

pop up everywhere, scorching even when green. Back with the group I ask him what schooling he had "Six years, that's why I don't speak so good." The journalists assure him that he speaks English well, but he knows they're being kind. I ask how many kids he has in high school and he says 2 at the moment, each one cost him US$500 a year in tuition, uniforms and books but he is determined that all his kids graduate and that's what inspires him to grow such good cacao and in such quantity. He's on his land at 6 a.m and knocks off at 4 p.m and is a picture of health and happiness, a man rooted in his ancestral land, though in fact most of it is of uncertain tenure, the nightmare that threatens to haunt all these farmers unless the debate over land tenure is resolved one way or the other. The Maya Council want reservation land to be protected from any alienation ever, they don't want farmers to be able to sell land to outsiders so think it should be held in common, though prior use will be respected. Some farmers want ( and a handful have) the security of private ownership, but that opens the ever-present risk that the rising number of refugees from 'civilisation' will outbid the locals when the land is sold and that gradually the distinctive Maya character of the homeland will be diluted, divided, diffused and dissipated. We drive back to Punta Gorda and regroup in the evening for dinner at Marion's Bay View. It's my last night with this group so I go off with Sue White from Sydney and we do a one to one interview. Then we all have dinner, lovely vegetarian options, I have dhal, rice and salad and rehydrate with lime juice drink. Mrs Ramclam has made a lovely filled pastry sheet with some kind of fruit nobody can identify. Turns out is the pulp left over from juicing star fruit that has been pureed and then made into baker's jam with sugar. Someone asks me about the Crystal Skull and I regale them with my stories of the Harmonic Convergence, Malcolm Electric Warrior, visiting Anna Mitchell-Hedges in Kitchener and sitting with the skull on my lap as she tells me about how Harriot Topsey came to visit her to talk about recovering the skull for Belize and how she had to pull out her .38 to keep him from just grabbing it and bolting. Tomorrow is the big Settlement Day celebration, the day the Garifuna came ashore in Belize and we expected the town to be throbbing with drums but it was quiet, people seem to be saving themselves for tomorrow.

I have breakfast with Darragh and Susan, then go with them to Beya Suites to say goodbye to the other journalists. Then I walk back into town along the seafront.

John and Jessica arrive Go to YCT office, meet Rachel Kerry, then to SHI, closed. then to Santiago Sanchez, see peppers growing in biochar, his pit, his collection area, people melting banana leaves for tamales, then to dinne

Thursday 20 Late start, gather flock and head up to San Antonio to see the new centre. Then on to Uxbenka, where we see a stela with engravings and stand on top of hill and see centres in all directions, then with Justino to San Jose for lunch, Christina, Griselda, Justino Junior, Sandra. Then to Justino's cacao, pruning with machete, weighing, argy bargy then speak to shrimp farm nephew, then back to PG, stopping for a quick look at milpa/huamil but everyone's tired and nobody's paying attention. At dinner at Emery's we have jewfish, also known as 'Goliath grouper' that is apparently getting smaller due to overfishing. It is one of the world's most delicious fish so it's going to be struggle to control the fishermen. Then we walk back to Coral House Inn, grab a beer from the self service bar fridge and relax by the pool under a starry sky, Orion just above the horizon.

Friday November 21st 2008

Rice Mill – we set off en masse to the Big Falls rice mill, where there is a mountain of rice husks rotting away. Stephen knows a thing or two about rice mills, char and the use of heat to dry rice so we leave him and Niklaos there to investigate while we carry on, with Lisel aboard, to YCT. There we are given the presentation about their lands, their work and their potential and visit their nursery. They have a ‘keystone’ estate of only 15000 acres but it holds together 150,000 acres of Columbia River Forest Reserve, 90,000 acres of the Bladen Nature Reserve, the privately owned land of the Jungle Lodge on the southwest side of Golden Stream, who encouraged them to buy the northeast side to that it never turned into cattle pasture. My Dad's good friend Dr. Adrian Wilson helped them to buy that land through the Grass Valley Trust and it now protects both sides of the river all the way to the mangrove forests at the sea. The Golden Stream is teeming with tarpon as the runoff diminishes, though some citrus plantations still cause problems. We don't meet Bartolo Teul, who is coming to Cornell, but we do meet Auxebio Sho, their agroforestry extension officer, who comes with us on our journey. We go through the nursery and learn more about the trees they are planting - they have a great stand of mahogany in their field overlooking the Maya Mountains on the horizon. Then off to try to catch up with Stephen and Niklaos. I phone the rice mill but they've gone to town so we go down a narrow track to the water's edge, bid Elliot goodbye and head off in a couple of canoes downriver. On the way Jessica sees a toucan and their boat disturbs and iguana which plops into the water just ahead of our boat. We are with Rachel Kerry, the river biologist who maps the snail and other populations of the river to measure its health and I engage her in conversation saying: "Do you ever study the gut flora of snails? I was just reading an interesting paper on seasonal changes in the gut flora of striped bass in Chesapeake Bay, as one does while waiting for East Enders to come on, and noted the way their flora reflect the seasonal availability of food." We had an enjoyable conversation as we floated down the river with Arthur and then got out at Jungle Lodge, a huge complex of cabins on a raised wooden walkway and a restaurant and airstrip. It doesn't seem awfully busy, we're the only people in a huge area for dining indoors and out, but it's a nice place and we have a good dinner overlooking the river from the verandah of the restaurant. I get some bits of bread and watch the sunfish fight over morsels down below, while our waiting motorboat captain casts endlessly for tarpon. A few yards down the river an iguana hangs precariously from the fronds of a cohune palm.

We speed downriver in 2 motor dories, and then cut through some channels in the mangrove by way of short cut, then arrive at Tanya Russ and John Spang's landing. It's getting late but we have a quick look at the 'whole pod' cacao trees. Marco is finally convinced that I know what I'm talking about and begins to understand the validity of this method of planting. Tanya is gracious in the face of an onslaught of a dozen people and I shepherd them back onto the boat and we get back to Joe Taylor Creek and disembark as the sky turns pink and grey and blue with the setting sun. We don't have time to look at the thousands of large tree blowdowns still in their forest as a result of Hurricane Iris, which hit land directly over their place - when the hurricane hit they were sad but they had 1500 acres of very tall straight trees that they could saw and sell and then replant. Then they discovered that every tree had been twisted by tight powerful cyclones within the hurricane, sort of like twisting a towel, so when they cut them the boards had huge gaps and fell apart and were useless. A couple of decades of stewardship down the drain. But we thought we might be able to char them and recoup some of the loss. I promise to update her on how best to do this - tricky as they have no road acess so any kit will have to come in to be unloaded at their rickety wooden jetty.

Dinner at Hickatee with Lisel, Marco,. Neil LaCroix joins us. Very happy with all the outcomes – the TCGA is in good heart, production is rising, the journalists are all keen as mustard to get home and write up their stories, the film crew and photographers are coming next week, he didn’t have to go back to London on Wednesday which would have been a real setback and he reiterates his gratitude to me for intervening.

Saturday November 22 2008

Up to watch sunrise with Rick, he invites me to be a sponsor of the Rotary Club’s (newly formed, he is the Chairman) plan to refurbish the park in Punta Gorda. It’s the triangular shaped space where the Cacao Fest was held last year and where the Settlement Day celebrations were this week. They are going to put in a kids’ playground, repaint the clocktower (done, by a US artist and a local guy, great evocative murals of toucans, jungle, multiethnic faces etc) and put an arbor in front of the stage, in which gazebos can be erected. It’s a nice plan and for BZ$1000 I can have my and Jo’s names engraved in a stone plaque for posterity to wonder who the hell we were.

Then Elliot turns up in the van and Arthur and Marco and I head off to San Antonio for the AGM. Elliot will come back later for John and Jessica. On the way we pass two fishermen who are on the roadside, their small dugout dory tethered along the shore, skinning a massive jewfish – it is the largest of the grouper family and must weight a good 120 lbs, worth about $1000 BZ for these guys. We ask where they are planning to sell it and they say to Emery’s and Marion’s (which is where we are planning to eat that evening). Rachel from Blue Belize, who is the world’s leading whale shark expert and a grouper lover who exhorts fishermen not to keep the 30-40 pound young fish as they are the future breeding stock, has already been notified of the catch and has seen it. We bounce along and get to San Antonio just as Neil LaCroix has finished his speech in which he assures the farmers that Green & Black’s is there for the long term and that we are endowing scholarships for farmers’ kids to go to high school (cost is BZ$500 per year to cover tuition, uniform and books). There are 400 people, farmers and wives and kids and a real festival atmosphere but also real focus and attention on the agenda. We also missed the Agriculture Minister’s speech. The San Antonio Buying Centre isn’t quite complete,

but it looks spanking new with fresh paint and roof and a big sign at the front describing it and with the names of various sponsors of its construction. Green & Black’s aren’t a sponsor but get pride of place at the bottom centre of the sign. There must be 20 buses parked up along the road that the TCGA has laid on to bring farmers from every village. 5 Hogs have been roasted and cooked up with red beans and rice to feed the farmers once the business of the AGM is completed. It started at 8 am, finishes after noon.Justino Peck then speaks, acknowledging my presence in the audience, giving the history of the TCGA in brief detail and explaining how the new buying centre here and the one in Maya Mopan will relieve farmers of the burden and cost of taking their cacao all the way to Punta Gorda to sell. The drying units mean farmers can sell wet fermented beans to the association and they will be dried, without heat, but under cover with air circulation so that they are nice and clean and even and mould-free. It’s a big step forward in rising to the challenge of increased production that has come from the tree planting of the previous 4 years. Then the Minister for Foreign Affairs speaks, taking farmers through the sad history of how Hershey got them to buy seeds that weren’t that good, then dropped the price after the aid workers went home, then how Green & Black’s came in and how they have been struggling to keep up with demand ever since. He talks about fair trade and organic and tells the farmers that they have been a beacon to the rest of the world, that fair trade began with them and that it is now worth $3 billion worldwide. They have much to be proud of, he says, and all of Belize is proud of what they have achieved. During his speech someone starts serving orange juice so lots of people are getting up and walking to the side to get a cup but the majority are listening. Then the accountant goes through the numbers: very profitable year, grants have been a help, new buying centres fully paid for, the association is asset rich and has BZ$ 460,000 in the bank. Wow! That’s $230,000 US, a lot of money by any measure for a cooperative of poor cacao farmers. He proposes more scholarships for high school kids and also a ‘Disaster Fund’ so that if a farmer is hit by hurricane, fire or other natural calamity the association can afford to help them to get back on their feet with new trees, grafting budwood etc.

Then Diego, who is Master of Ceremonies, urges the Minister to help the farmers build roads so that they can get closer to their farms without having to go up foot paths. The minister promises to consider it.

Then it is time to debate the big issues and elect the officers.

The scholarship proposals go through with total support, but one farmer proposes that, as San Antonio produces the most cacao, the scholarships should go to kids from there in preference to other villages. This is firmly slapped down by all – the scholarships will go to the brightest kids, regardless of how much their village produces, but they must be kids of cacao farmers. All agreed.

Then the issue of land tenure. There is a big debate going on where the village leadership have called on the government to recognise the ownership of the land in Toledo by the communities and for communal land ownership, based on ownership by the village but use decided on the basis of whether a farmer is actually using the land actively or not. The alternative is ‘lease land’ where a farmer leases the land and after 20 years has an option to buy it at a discounted rate. Many farmers want lease land as, with cacao, once you’ve planted trees, you want to be sure that you can pass them on to your kids and be secure in ownership. However other farmers who don’t’ grow cacao or on a smaller scale prefer the old system. This is difficult If a farmer owns land they can use it as collateral for a loan, if they can’t repay for any reason, the bank repossesses and the land can be sold to anyone, Maya or otherwise. It is the ‘alienation of native reservation land’ that so vexed the US Congress that they voted in1932 to prohibit it in all cases. By then it was too late for many reservations, including the Winnebago Sioux in Nebraska – I was born on a farm that my great grandparents bought from a trader who had carved out hunks of reservation land to repay debts for, probably, whiskey sold on credit. It was disgraceful, but the title was legal. And no going back. The Indians used to hang out on the slopes on the south side of Emerson, disgruntled and landless, begging occasionally, gradually finding barbed wire hampering their progress across their not-ancestral (they came from Wisconsin) lands. In the end, after animated debate and an organised chant of ‘lease land, lease land’ the vote is heavily in favour of lease land. As the ministry has been refusing to issue leases until the court case over communal lands is resolved, it’s a hollow victory, but farmers continue to put in applications pending resolution of the debate in the Belize Supreme Court. This whole debate is rooted in the decision in the 1990s by the Minister of Natural Resources to give a logging contract to a Taiwanese company called Atlantic Industries that mobilised a massivle local protest. I contacted the Indian law Center in Washington DC, who fight cases using funds from rich Canadian and US tribes, on behalf of their poorer cousins. I met their lawyer in Belize in 1997 and one thing led to another and a landmark decision granting communal land rights to 3 villages in the Toledo District in November 2007. Now all the villages want the same and the Maya are divided.

Then on to the election of officers. Cayetano Ico gets the mike and announces that last year he was elected to the Committee (4 elected officers, 5 appointees ) but went to the meeting and was told he had to go out, which he did. ½ hour later he was told he wasn’t on the committee and should go home. Justino Peck then explained that Cayetano had abandoned his cacao so was no longer a grower, had been nominated by a non member of the TCGA and was therefore deemed ineligible. The matter was left to smoulder.

Justino and 2 other candidates were nominated, Justino with103 bominations, the other with 12 and the last on on the day. Diego called for a show of hands but there was a call from the floor for a secret ballot as people could put up their hands twice, Then papers were handed out where, to cover the illiterate farmers, each candidate was a number : Gregorio Choco 1, Justino Peck 2, the other guy 3. The votes were cast but then there was an objection that some farmers may have cast 2 or more votes. So the voting was resumed with a long queue before a station 1 large box for votes. The votes were cast and nobody came around twice. As Maya women are easily intimidated and the earlier shouting of 'lease land' showed how mob rule can prevail, it was a good result and women were voting in large numbers where few had raised hands on the first round.

Justino won handily and everyone ate a lot of pork caldo with rice and beans.

There were a few large bottles of rum around that were looking dangerously low, the rum must have gone somewhere, so I gathered up John, Jessica, Arthur and Marco and we headed off to Lubaantun to see the ruins. Santiago Coc was in great form we had a great tour, exchanged anecdotes about Anna Mitchell Hedges, who had been there 11 years before. Jessica felt obliged to distribute her wealth equally among all the handicraft sellers who lined our way, we then drove back to San Pedro where I popped in to see Leonardo Akal, leader of the Toledo Maya Cultural Council, strong advocate and leader of the movement for communal land rights, but he was not at home and I just left my card and a note to say I was sorry I missed him. Back in Punta Gorda it had started to rain, we chilled for a few hours, then off to Marion’s Bay View where we thought we’d be eating jewfish. No such luck, nothing but snook, which was very good but we were disappointed as we’d seen the giant monster and had been looking forward all day to eating it. Cassava pudding for dessert somewhat compensated for our dismay. Early night as we had a 0645 plane to catch in the morning.

Sunday November 23, 2008

It’s 0637 and John and Jessica are still not ready to go. I go up to chivvy them along and Jessica is still getting a few things sorted. I grab a suitcase to start moving them along. Rick has already warned that Maya Island Air are sticklers for punctuality, that Tropic Air would wait but Maya go whether or not you’re there. Jessica is mad at me, in a friendly way, for rushing them and, as it turns out, we get to the airfield by 0643, which is OK, we all check in and Jessica takes farewell shots of Elliot, our wonderful driver and others. Then we fly direct to Belize City, high over the mountains and the various nature reserves, forest reserves, privated protected reserves and other wooded land that we want to slowly and sustainably turn into charcoal. We pass over a large Mennonite community, a few token trees, mostly pasture, all livestock, cows, pigs chickens. Bloody Germans, and as I am the descendant of German Lutheran farmers who share the same attitude I feel qualififed to comment. At Belize City we check our bags through to Ithaca and go up the restaurant and ‘waving gallery’ to have some breakfast. I’ve brought along one of Justino’s cacao pods that I pre-cut around the edges. Justino pulls it open along the cut lines and we all feast on the sweet beans and Marco offers some to the waitress, who, it turns out, is from Barranco and for whom cacao seeds are a known treat. She is delighted to share in our after breakfast snack. I hadn’t realise that John and Jessica hadn’t tasted cocao fruit pulp before. Justino then shows us how to eat the placenta, which is also tasty, the stringy thing that holds all the seeds in a bunch as you lift them out of the pod. I ask the waitress if she knew Andy Palacio and she says that his family lives just across the street from hers. Barranco had a few cacao growers but the soil isn’t good for cacao. The Garifuna eat yams, cassava and seafood so this isn’t a big problem for them as these crops grow well on the poor soils of Barranco. In the departure lounge the shop has a display of Green & Black's but no reference to the fact that it contains Belizean cacao, just stuffed onto a Cadbury's display rack, grabbing prime space from Dairy Milk and Bournville.

At Houston we part company with Jessica. She has been a real trouper and her presence and uninhibited female energy had leavened what would otherwise have been a bunch of men and all work and no play. We got a lot done in the past 3 days, understand things a lot better, have gotten to know each other better and we are all, John, myself, Arthur, Marco, Justino and Bartolo Teul from YCT, looking forward to the course. Niclaos knows most of it already, but he has been a mine of information, though he needs to be asked before he comes out with it. That’s fine, scientists should be on tap, not on top, as Churchill once said.

The flight to Newark is uneventful, arriving half an hour early. Then we make the connection to Ithaca, arriving at 10:20, the bags come off the carousel, except for John's and mine. We go to a desk where a woman struggles to work the computer, calls a guy out from the back who is clearly pissed off that we have interrupted his nap, who sorts it out, snaps at her and disappears into the US Air back office. Then to the Statler Hotel where they have an emergency razor/toothbrush/deodorant kit. I advise John to keep his undershirt on to avoid BO tomorrow.

Monday November 24th

We all meet for breakfast, Jerry, Teri, Craig and Richard are here, too, so we all head off to Cornell's ag school building, which looks like Treblinka, no windows, forbidding brick 10 storey edifice, for the char course. Stephen's is more complex than I'd expected for an introductory course and the audience are intimidated by all the science. John then comments "I've got a degree in physics and I don't know what he's talking about so don't worry if you don't." This relieves the anxiety. Stephen also dwells on explosions, crop failures from the wrong kind of char and other downside aspects without really extolling the positives at any point. I tell him at the break that he's scaring the pants off the Belize group and he comments in a later session that he is just trying to make people aware that there is a right way and a wrong way of doing things and this course is about the right way. We then do a workshop outlining a project plan, our group does Belize, of course and Arthur is nominated as our rapporteur. Before we report we go to a Cornell-owned farm out in the boondocks where we see a lot of woodburning stoves that are being trialled with different kinds of biofuels made from pelletised switchgrass and other biomass as well as just burning wheat grains. I hold my tongue. Then we go across to see a demonstration of a cookstove that converts biomass into a stream of gas for cooking and leaves a residue of charcoal. It isn't working and the student demonstrating it has eventually put more starter material in than actually pyrolysis material. The wind is blowing through the barn, smoke in everyone's face, snow howling down from the hills beyond, Jerry and I go into the other barn to warm up in front of burning grass pellets. Then we do the presentations and Arthur does a very clear explanation of the range of possibilities, putting the rice mill on the back burner for his talk as it is a very different project, but connects to the rest. Back at the hotel everyone is tired and we regroup at 7 for a very jolly dinner in the Statler's Tuscan style restaurant before retiring, tired little bunnies. Justino is most unwell, but I'm flagging too.

Tuesday November 25th

After 2 weeks of getting up at 4:30 or 5 each morning and being at full attention all day until nearly midnight I finally run out of steam. Really tired but soldier on as the interesting nub of the course is this morning: our chance to design a reactor. Stephen has given us designs with deliberate flaws and our task is to modify them and to improve on the design. We do a great job and John O’Donnell does our presentation but I have to leave before he’s finished as we have a conference call booked for me, Johannes, Debbie, Dan and Jerry for 2 pm. We dial through on Skype, usual echoes and poor comprehension, redial to his land line from Skype and we’re away. The strategy unfolds and Dan will be there from the 4th to the 6th. I may go on the 9th or 10th, if needed. Then I decide to go back to the hotel and lie down in a darkened room. I feel better but don’t join the crew who go out for a Thai dinner, instead eat with Stephen (who’s also reached the end of his tether physically) Niklaos and John O’D. I explain my ‘rags and famine’ approach to biochar – if we just grew biomass for one year and turned it all into char and didn’t eat food or buy new clothes we could remove 60 Gigatonnes of C, that’s 200 Gigatonnes of C02 from the atmosphere in a single year. It’s unfeasible but the calculation helps to put the scale of the task in perspective and we realise it’s not that daunting, we could do it in 10 years with a 10% reduction in food and clothing usage, 20 years with a 5% Reduction. And that’s not counting benefits from solar, wind , insulation etc. We then work out how to utilise the dead forests of British Columbia that are now dying due to a beetle that’s moving northwards in response to global warming. I’m in bed by 9 pm and sleep fitfully until 6 – the longest, if not the best, night’s sleep I’ve had in weeks.

We foregather in the hotel lobby at 7 and the cars are there to take us to Ithaca airport. Jerry comes down and some of the cars leave but no sign of John. I check at the desk and he’s on his way. Jerry and I wait in the lobby rather than sit in steaming cars in gently falling snow. Damn it’s cold here. Eventually we’re all at the airport – they have framed the famous timeline map of the history of civilisation, starting with Adam and Eve and going through to the present. John looks for the Greeks and finds them well represented, I look for Sheba and she’s not there in the time column that includes Solomon. The Arabs get short shrift, too, with the line ‘Ferdinand and Isabella rescued Spain from the Arabs in 1492”

Then onto a 15 seater Jetstream, snack trays from Wegmans, unimpressive pastries and bagels, a little tea and coffee facility, - it’s only an hour to Winchester VA. At Winchester some Homeland Security crew are playing around with empty suitcases, putting little ones inside big ones. Bartolo goes off to the toilet, comes back and his bag has disappeared. He follows the uniformed guys into the room where they’re taking the suitcases and recovers his bag. He emerges but soon a large angry guy appears shouting at him “We’re doing important work training dogs here and you shouldn’t have left your luggage unattended. Do you understand me!??” Bartolo listens to this rant patiently then responds: “But my bag wasn’t empty.” It was the obvious point – how could they have not noticed that one of the bags they were lifting was much heavier than any of the others? It reflected badly on their competence and the guy in uniform then launched into a loud, aggressive and threatening rant against Bartolo saying “When you come into this country you should look after your bags and never leave them unattended, you hear me?” At a small private airport where we are the only people and we've come off an internal flight in a plane with no toilets this isn't quite as relevant as having a fit over someone leaving a bag unattended at JFK but this guy clearly has an inflated sense of the global importance of whatever he is doing here at Winchester VA. Bartolo calmly walks away towards the door with me and this guy keep ranting “Are you walking away from me while I’m talking to you? Are you?” as he follows us out to where our cars are waiting. I should have asked if I could speak to his commanding officer but he was in full spate and the best thing was just to get away from him as soon as possible. This was a small private airport that has no security, the only luggage of the occasional private plane that lands, it’s obvious these guys should have taken more care and not blame their incompetence on the victim. Sadly, Obama being President won’t change this situation. We apologise on behalf of the USA to Bartolo for this scandalously unprofessional behaviour and head off to Josh Frye’s chicken farm at Wardensville in West Virginia. When we get there we huddle in the kitchen and eat chicken noodle soup cooked up by a real country girl in her forties called Jackie. Arthur and I chat to Josh and the subject of moonshine comes up and I quote the old line from White Lightning: “G Men, T men Revenooers too, looking for the place where he made his brew, They just kept on lookin, Poppa kept on cooking: White Lightning.” Josh laughs - it's probably as close as West Virginia gets to having a national anthem.

Then Jackie asks me if I like chocolate and I explain my particularly fondness for it. She has some moonshine filled cherries coated in chocolate back at her place and I say I have a bar of chocolate with rum soaked raisins and candied orange peel out in the car. I get one from the car and give her a bar and she promises to go and get the cherry bombs later. When everyone's arrived we go and look at the gasifier. The engineers who put it in are there and they say they can make char, but the boss says that at first when someone asked him if he could make biochar he said ‘Sure, what’s biochar?” The chicken poop is mixed with woodchips from a local tree surgeon and also the 75 or so dead birds every day, out of a 96,000 flock, that don’t make it to maturity every day. All end up as grey dust with a byproduct of a lot of heat, which heats the chicken units. There are 3, each with 32000 birds. The heat is drier than propane and this helps reduce ammonia formation and means chickens reach maturity 8% quicker, in 37 days instead of 40. Apparently KFC like these birds as the flesh is more open and cooks more quickly. Maybe that ‘s why they’re called Yum Brands.

We see the whole process and Stephen has lots of ideas for making it work better.

Then we take a peek at the chickens. The ammonia makes the eyes water, I can only look into the long shed full of 32000 birds for a few seconds before I have to withdraw, the chicks are just 2 weeks old, ready for a change of feed – they start as chicks, then growers, then finishers. The chicks and the feed are supplied by Greenfields, who also buy and slaughter the birds. The outsourced farmers get paid on a formula that compares their efficiency to each other, so they are competing to be most efficient. If things go wrong it’s the farmer’s problem, they still have to pay for the feed, chicks and bank loan to put up the unit. Jackie is blithe about the ammonia, saying she can work there all day without a mask or eye protection. I guess you can get used to most things.

She had brought back my cherries and Josh insists she puts them out for everyone to try but there are still plenty left for me to bring back.

We pile into the cars, drive to Washington Dulles, say our fond farewells and head off to Miami, San Francisco and London.

Subsidised Theft

In 2005, the US government paid $180 billion in direct and indirect subsidies to American farmers.

MY GREAT-GREAT-grandfather Lars Dugstad emigrated to America from Norway in 1842. He lived in a dug-out cave for fifteen years while he cleared eighty acres of virgin Koshkonong Prairie land in Wisconsin. His was the typical pioneer experience.

His son Ole, my great-grandfather, went to Nebraska in 1887 and broke the prairie sod on 160 acres of land in Dakota County. Ole’s son Lewis, my grandfather, farmed it until I was born there in 1944. Lewis’ only son, my Uncle Floyd, sold it and went on to become one of the first beef feedlot operators on the farm he bought across the Missouri River in Iowa.

Floyd offered me 625 acres in 1966, but I didn’t like the idea of sticking diethylstilbestrol hormones behind the ears of cattle, and I made the fateful decision to come to London instead and open a macrobiotic restaurant. That led on to a career in the retail, manufacturing and marketing of organic foods that included Whole Earth Foods and Green & Black’s chocolate, and also my work with the Soil Association.

Uncle Floyd’s son now farms those 625 acres as part of an expanded total of 1,600 acres – all farmed with just one assistant. Last year he lost $40,000 on sales of $300,000 but ended up with a net farm income of $110,000, thanks to a hefty $150,000 subsidy from the US government.

So from Thomas Jefferson’s dream of a rural democracy, where every self- sufficient and prosperous family had a small farm or business, we have reached – in three generations – a corporate state where a viable family farmer needs 1,600 acres, a lot of machinery and GM crops and still operates at a huge annual loss that has to be made up by subsidies.

In 1944 Charles Erwin Wilson, President of General Motors and Director of the War Production Board, called for a Permanent War Economy to prevent a post-war return to the Great Depression. The Permanent War Economy, in giving birth to the military-industrial complex, also gave birth to the military-agricultural complex. Both operated on the same principle – if the free market wouldn’t take everything that was produced, the government would take up the slack, keeping the economy humming. The same companies that made tanks for the war could make tractors and pick-up trucks; the same companies that made nitroglycerine explosives could make nitrogen fertilisers.

The problem was that farmers weren’t up for it. Either a command economy or false economic signals were needed to force them to industrialise and adopt chemical inputs.

In the UK, the Soil Association was lobbying hard for a sustainable post-war agriculture based around rural communities and the avoidance of chemical fertilisers. ICI lobbied hard for increased nitrate use and eventually, with the Agriculture Act of 1947, ICI won the argument and the British government fell in line with the policy of its European and US counterparts by introducing a direct cash subsidy of ten shillings on every bag of nitrate fertiliser.

This subsidy made all the difference to farm economics: once nitrates were in use weeds thrived on the extra nutrients and created a market for herbicides, fungal infections proliferated on the densely packed plants and created a market for fungicides, and the elimination of fertility-building rotations created a market for insecticides to deal with the inevitable build-up of pest populations. CO2 emissions from the soil escalated, as soil structure and carbon-rich humus collapsed under the onslaught of chemical fertilisers.

Subsidies set land prices and farm incomes from then on. Agriculture had, in effect, been nationalised and was part of the Permanent War Economy that has been the economic model of the West and of Russia ever since. From the start, US farmers saw what was coming and formed leagues in which they all faithfully promised each other never to accept subsidies. But once some farmers took the subsidy, they could sell their crops more cheaply; the rest had to follow suit if they were to be competitive. The inherent bias of government policy towards larger producers led to the steady extinction of small farms.

The same thing happened in industry. The US Government pays out $167 billion a year to support the US’s largest corporations. In 1950, 25% of US tax income came from corporations. That figure is now 10%.

In 2005 the US government paid out more than $30 billion in direct payments to US farmers and an estimated further $150 billion in indirect subsidies including tax breaks on fuel and equipment, tariffs, protective pricing, drought loss payments and purchasing surpluses.

The biggest recipients of this support are the largest corporate farmers and commodity giants like Cargill and ADM (Archer Daniels Midland), agrichemical and seed suppliers like Monsanto and Dupont, and huge corporations such as the Fanjul family’s Florida Crystals sugar empire and meat producers Tyson and Smithfield.

The real damage from this subsidy policy is not just the financial cost to the US economy, though the numbers are significant. The real cost is to the health of the global economy, to the stability of our climate and to human health.

THE COST TO THE health of the American people has been spelt out by such authorities as the Harvard School of Public Health. The fast-food industry has contributed directly to the epidemic of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis. These degenerative diseases threaten the future capacity of Western economies to finance health care. If subsidies on corn and soybeans alone were removed, the cost of a cheap hamburger would be forced up from $1 to $3. This would directly affect rates of junk food consumption. If the subsidised rangeland that supports the production of cheap calves were charged at a market price and if the externalised costs of the beef industry such as unsustainable levels of water pollution, environmental degradation and greenhouse-gas production were taken into account, the same hamburger would cost closer to $5 or $6. At this level hamburger consumption would be reduced to the healthier levels that public health authorities urgently recommend. The cost of obesity to the US is estimated at $117 billion just in lost work days and in additional health-care costs, a high price to pay for unfeasibly cheap burgers.

But the real harm of the subsidy system is to the global economy. So, the question is: How do US subsidies cause world poverty?

US farmers grow maize at a cost of 6¢ per pound. A Mexican farmer can grow maize at a cost of 4¢ per pound. So you would think that Mexico would export corn to the US – and at the very least would dominate the US domestic market. But the world market price is set at 3¢ per pound on the Chicago Board of Trade on the basis of subsidised US farmers. If the Mexican farmers seek to make a profit over their cost of 4¢ per pound, grain traders around the world will import or, more importantly, threaten to import US corn in order to continue to purchase at a price of 3¢ per pound. In the cruel world of subsidised agriculture, the so-called inefficient Mexican farmers go out of business trying to compete with truly inefficient US farmers whose cost of production is really 6¢ per pound, but who have the mighty US taxpayer prepared to subsidise their farm-gate price down to 3¢ per pound. In recent years 100,000 Mexican farmers have been driven off the land, denied access to their domestic market by US imports. Real trade justice would be to either abolish the subsidies or allow farmers all around the world to get the same subsidies from Uncle Sam.

Subsidies in the US determine the commodity prices quoted on the Chicago Board of Trade, which are the benchmark for commodity prices worldwide. It is not the actual exports as much as the fact that a phoney price is the global standard that causes the damage.

Majority world farmers, if they were allowed to benefit from their greater efficiency, would prosper from both increased income and land values, their countries would prosper, and problems of disease, overpopulation and poverty would be greatly alleviated by the increased domestic and foreign income. We also know that, as family income increases, family size decreases: it’s the paradox of wealth but another good reason to liberate food prices in order to non-coercively stabilise global population growth.

So can we quantify the actual cost of subsidies to the world economy?

A simple calculation can be made on the basis of the US and EU current subsidy levels. James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, sets the total annual subsidy spend at $350 billion – nearly $1 billion a day. Subsidies now represent 50% of net farm income in the US and the EU.

This means that, if subsidies were not in place, US farmers would need to double their prices to make a living.

On the basis that the US and the EU represent one-sixth of the world’s food production, we can assume that, if commodity prices doubled worldwide, the increased income for the majority world would be $2.4 trillion per annum. Total foreign aid amounts to $50 billion, or just 2%, which is paid back to the victims of what amounts to global theft from farmers outside the industrial countries that benefit from the rigging of market prices.

However, because the producers of the majority world operate on lower cost bases, are more efficient and have a higher real productivity level, the price of agricultural commodities would probably not double, as market forces would come into play at this stage. US and EU production of cereals and oilseeds would fall dramatically if faced with global competition and a level playing field.

THERE IS ANOTHER factor. The price of oil is going up. It was $12 a barrel in 1998, George Bush came to power in 2000, and it has now touched $70 a barrel and shows little sign of falling. The increase in the price of natural gas has already led to the closure of half of North America’s fertiliser manufacturing capacity in the past four years.

Demand for our diminishing reserves of natural gas for domestic heating and cooking or as motor fuel will ensure that natural gas, which generates tax income, will always be, as a priority, used in those applications where it can bear the extra cost of being taxed. This does not include fertiliser manufacture, where it is already too expensive. People are prepared to pay a 300% tax on petrol and diesel for their cars, because consumers put a high value on personal transportation. When similar taxes are imposed on bunker oil, aviation fuel, heating oil, natural gas and power generation, people’s subsequent choices will reflect the real cost of fossil fuels.

Growing food needs energy. To produce a calorie of food using fossil-fuel-dependent industrial farming takes fifteen calories of energy input. To produce a calorie of food organically still uses five calories of energy input. A gardener with a hoe uses one calorie to produce twenty calories of food. Organic farmers are closest to optimising energy use with productivity, and since their only fossil-fuel use is in running tractors and equipment, they will have the economic advantage as energy prices increase. When the oil price reaches $100 per barrel farmers will no longer be able to justify the use of inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides. On a global scale, the farmer who is ‘carbon-frugal’ is due for big rewards.

Carbon isn’t the only greenhouse gas we get from agriculture. Intensive cattle-rearing also leads to increased methane emissions. Feeding a cow on corn and soybeans leads to an acid rumen, incomplete digestion, and methane emissions several times more than from a cow fed on grass and hay. When you consider that the combined weight of cattle on this planet exceeds that of human beings, that’s a lot of gas. The widespread use of nitrogen fertilisers is the main source of atmospheric nitrous oxide, a gas that is nearly 300 times more warming in its effects than CO2.

As the price of oil-based inputs rises, farming on a small scale will become more attractive. Hobby farming, where farmers have other sources of income but use their farmland to augment that income, will expand. We will see more diversity in the countryside, and more vibrant local economies.

This article is based on the Martin

Radcliffe Lecture 2006. www.brookes.ac.uk/public_lectures

PREVENTION vs CURE - IN FARMING AS IN FOOD for BANT

Untitled
Untitled

The story of my beginnings goes back to 1965 when I first got into the macrobiotic diet.   I had been travelling in Afghanistan and India and amoebic dysentery led to hepatitis. I discovered that a diet of unleavened wholemeal bread and unsweetened tea cured the dysentery and the hepatitis symptoms subsided. This was the beginning of my understanding of the importance of gut health to overall health. Back at university some friends introduced me to the macrobiotic diet and I adopted it enthusiastically

At the time it was radical and Reader's Digest ran a cover story calling it the 'Diet That's Killing our Kids' while the American Medical Association said it could lead to death. Which is pretty much true about any diet, the question is more about when than whether. Nowadays eating wholegrains, organic seasonal and local food, avoiding sugar and hydrogenated fat and artificial additives doesn't seem so weird but at the time it was revolutionary. So revolutionary that the FBI closed down the macrobiotic bookshop in NY and burned its books because they suggested that healthy diet could prevent cancer.

Seed
Seed

So, in 1967, my brother and I started Seed Restaurant, the legendary hip -and hippie - macrobiotic watering hole of the late 60s, where brown rice and organic vegetables formed the backbone of the menu.   We figured if the AMA and the FBI didn’t like it then it had to make sense.

lennon cartoon
lennon cartoon

John Lennon gave my brother Gregory a little cartoon in appreciation of our food and of Harmony, the magazine Gregory published.

Books
Books

I wrote a guide to macrobiotics called, imaginatively, About Macrobiotics, which was translated into 6 languages and sold nearly half a million copies.

More recently I wrote a guide to all issues surrounding food called The Little Food Book

When I wrote About Macrobiotics I just tried to simplify the complexities of Yin and Yang that made some earlier books on macrobiotics daunting and even impenetrable. It was well received for that reason.

We soon had Ceres - Britain's first natural foods store - on the Portobello Road. Then other budding retailers came to us for supplies, forming the customer base for Harmony Foods, which evolved into Whole Earth Foods.

Ceres interior
Ceres interior

Our business thrived on innovation. We were the first with organic brown rice and were known as The Brown Rice Barons because if you bought brown rice in the 70s it came from us.   We bought and milled or flaked all of the organic grains grown in this country and usually exhausted available stocks before the new crop came in. In our retail and wholesale business we only sold food, only wholefood, no sugar and not even honey and no vitamins or supplements. We were macrobiotic then and I continue to follow the diet, not religiously but almost passively. In other words I eat whatever I feel like, but mostly I feel like eating wholegrains and vegetables.   Occasionally I take zinc or Vitamin C when I feel a cold coming on, but otherwise don’t take supplements.

Whole Earth Peanut Butter label
Whole Earth Peanut Butter label

Eventually we pandered to market demand, with a successful brand of peanut butter that rose to take the number 2 position after Sun Pat in the UK market. I created the first range of fruit juice sweetened jams, using apple juice instead of sugar as a sweetener. We had created a market for sugar avoidance - and apple juice - if only for semantic reasons, satisfied it.

In my quest for organic peanuts for our peanut butter I came across a group of farmers in West Africa who also grew organic cacao and from that encounter Green & Black’s, the first ever organic chocolate, was born.

Green & Black's 1st bar
Green & Black's 1st bar

Needless to say, my kids, who had been brought up in a committed macrobiotic household, were somewhat dismayed to see their Dad going into the sugar business, but I consoled myself with the fact that 70% chocolate had a glycaemic index of only 22, less than half the GI of brown rice, and carried on developing the brand.

So what are the key aspects of macrobiotics?

You should eat wholegrains and vegetables as the basis of your diet.

ZEN MACROBIOTICS

You should always choose organic, seasonal and local

You should avoid yeast and sugar

You should avoid preservatives and other chemical food additives.

You should minimise meat and dairy

There are good nutritional reasons for all of the above, seasonal food is fresher, organic food doesn’t contain pesticide residues, wholegrains have more B vitamins than refined cereals and preservatives can give you cancer. But is there more to all of this? A nutritional therapist might feel that there is insufficient emphasis on maintaining a high intake of necessary nutrients and it’s true that in the early days a lot of macrobiotic followers looked rather wan and pasty-faced. They blamed it on expelling toxins but it was more like nutritional deficiency. Was it the fault of macrobiotics or was this part of a transition to better health?

One of the key facets of macrobiotics is that you don’t get sick. Prevention is everything and cures are fairly perfunctory.

One of the key facets of organic farming is that your plants and animals never get sick. Prevention is everything and cures are fairly perfunctory. In fact if you cure a problem with chemicals or drugs on an organic farm, whether with plants or livestock, you lose your organic status.

The Soil Association regularly has a debate about its name. Should we change it to The Organic Society or something similar?   We always decide to keep our rather unappealing name because we firmly believe that ‘The answer lies in the soil.” But we never ask the question: The answer to what?

I submit that it is the answer to the question: “What is the Meaning of Life?”

So how can the soil contain such a revelation?

A gramme of healthy soil contains over 10,000 different species of microbial life, you could say that it is a microbiotic jungle. Except that it is remarkably ordered, with bacteria, viruses, algae and protozoa living in a web of complex fungal growth. Worms play an important role as well.

We are always impressed at how well organised and efficient bees and ants are. But bees only have three variants – the queen, the worker and the drone. Ants are similar.

Yet the most efficiently organised system we know comprises 1o thousand life forms, all working in close tandem. They communicate with enzymes, chemicals and odors and probably electric charges. Research into this is in its infancy. At the heart of the system is the fungal mycelial network that feeds the other life forms, regulates their growth and variety.   In plant growth the most important are the mycorrhizal fungi, which are, to organic farmers the foundation of soil health and fertility.

These organisms predate plants by 100s of millions of years. If your parents predate you then you consider yourself their offspring. We trace our ancestry back to early primates, respecting and recognising their importance in creating what we are today, a recognition confirmed by genetics and DNA research. We respect and honour our ancestors, but soil is seen as something dirty and underfoot, barely worth of recognition. Are we missing the point of our existence?

Long ago, when the atmosphere contained a lot of carbon dioxide, life forms were anaerobic, they didn’t use oxygen in their life cycle.

CYANOBACTERIA

When the earliest microorganisms dwelt on this planet one group, the cyanobacteria developed the ability to convert carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, using sunlight, thereby opening up a new food source, thin air.

Once this ability emerged, it was harnessed by the existing network. The cyanobacterial ability to make carbohydrates out of carbon dioxide was captured and enclosed in cells called chloroplasts and we had the first green plants.

Plants are the means whereby a very well organised team of soil microorganisms can extract food from the air.   The mycelial network brings together the rest of the life in soil to support this food gathering mechanism and to extract its main benefit to them, which is sugar. These fungal webs can have eight miles of thin mycelium in a single cubic inch, stretching over miles underground, communicating with each other.

When you look at a tree or a blade of grass or a fern, you are looking at the food gathering and early stage digestion mechanism of a very clever bunch of invisible organisms. The plant works hard up there, busily converting carbon dioxide and sunlight and water into carbohydrates that it then feeds to its underground masters. It even knows who’s boss. It will only feed those mycorryzzal fungi that have the correct identity papers. They are good servants and only take orders from their master. When this happens the fungal lord inserts a tentacle or hypha into a subcutaneous layer of the plant root so that it can drink its sugar solution direct from the source. It needs to keep the plant going so it gathers phosphorus, nitrates and other minerals to ensure that the plant thrives and competes successfully with other plants. The mycorrhizal fungus lives for about 32 days, then as it decomposes it provides food for a network of other soil organisms that support it and that benefit from its demise. It generates a carbon-rich substance called glomalin, both proteins and carbohydrates, that is sticky and helps bind soil together in aggregates that give the soil structure and keep other soil carbon from escaping.

As the world’s atmosphere became filled with the excreta of these plants the level of oxygen increased.

It was now possible for new complex teams of soil biota to organise themselves to move about and capture plants. Animal life was discovered. In effect they invented airplanes and cars to increase their range and were able to capture from above the food of their underground brethren. With flying creatures and worms and eventually mammals, one thing was shared by all: a set of controlling microorganisms that guided every stage of the animal’s development, ensuring that it could gather food and reproduce.

These mobile plants used smell and vision to identify likely food sources and arms, legs, mandibles, and claws to gather it up.

So if we accept that the soil biota created and control plants, why is it so hard for our egos to accept that perhaps the reason for our existence is to perpetuate the dominion of a very clever collection of soil biota who created an internalised soil environment in the gut of living animals? Is it really that humbling? Consider Genesis 3:19

"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."

This dated from an era before the sky gods took over and mother earth took a back seat

Let’s take a closer look:

There are 200-600 million nerve cells in the gut - more than in spinal cord, what does this tell us about the importance of the gut to intelligence and consciousness? It appears to be linked to information storage, decision-making and joy and sadness.   The question is, who’s holding the reins? Is the control originating in the gut and determining our conscious decisions or do we make conscious decisions in our brains and then, for some reason, pass this information to the gut? A nerve is a 2 way street. No other part of the so called peripheral nervous system acts autonomously and locally. The Enteric Nervous System is called our ‘second brain.’ I submit that it could well be the Primary brain. After all, why does our gut need to tell our brain that it is regulating intestinal contractions, the release of digestive fluids and all the other activity in the gut? Our gut talks to itself and only bothers to communicate with our brain when it considers a message from the eyes, nose or palate about what food is out there. All the gut needs to tell our cerebral consciousness is if it feels pain, hunger or satiety. You don’t need half a billion nerve cells to do that.

There are 500 to 1000 bacterial species alone in the gut with 2 to 4 million genes, if you look at them as one microbiome they contain 100 times more genes than the human genome and represent 10 times the total number of human body cells.   They are overwhelmingly anaerobic, in other words they evolved in the absence of oxygen and like to keep it that way.

The gut biota make a huge difference to the development of capillaries in the intestinal villi, promoting host nutrition. When they are absent a breach in the gut wall can be fatal, when they are abundant a breach in the gut wall is harmless and doesn’t trigger inflammation.

So if soil biota and gut biota are related and our relationship to plants is derived from that ancient relationship what similarities are there between the way we produce our food, in soil and the way we prepare and digest our food, in our gut soil. Which the Chinese call ‘night soil.

So let’s look at a few examples and compare

In the 1840s, when Baron Justus von Liebig discovered that nitrates and phosphates were essential soil nutrients it engendered a revolution in agriculture. No longer did farmers have to faff around with fallow periods, fertility building cycles or any of the traditional ways of extracting a crop from the earth. Instead they could add chemicals. What happened?

First: The nitrates and phosphates short circuited the cycle whereby mycorrhizal fungi fed these minerals to plants in exchange for sugars.

Second: The mycorrhizal fungi died off, unable to compete with free food. As they died and decomposed, the soil structure collapsed and vast amounts of carbon were emitted. Even Justus von Liebig realised what a terrible mistake he’d made and 20 years after he started the chemical farming revolution he wrote: SLIDE LIEBIG

I have sinned against the Creator and, justly, I have been punished.

I wanted to improve His work because, in my blindness, I believed that a link in the astonishing chain of laws that govern and constantly renew life on the surface of the Earth had been forgotten.

It seemed to me that weak and insignificant man had to redress this oversight.

But it was too late, human greed was in full spate and the farmer who didn’t use chemicals had trouble competing on price as part of his yields were sacrificed to keep the soil biota happy, reducing overall yields and income. Nobody got paid for maintaining topsoil depth and quality.

Nearly one half of all the increase in carbon dioxide in today’s atmosphere since 1850 is the result of this folly. Global warming’s roots stretch back to his one big mistake that still haunts us.

Liebig spent his later years on a project to recycle London’s sewage for agricultural use but lost the argument to the great Victorian sewer builder Joseph Bazalgette, who made sure all London’s waste was carried out to the Thames Estuary.

If we are seeking parallels, what is the human equivalent of nitrates? Plants feed the soil biota with carbohydrates in the form of sugars in order to get minerals.   Animals feed on plants in order to get carbohydrates. Around the same time that nitrates were introduced into agriculture, sugar became a major factor in our diet, with equally deleterious effects.

Just as cheap nitrates killed off the web of soil life, so cheap sugar quickly pushed aside slower digestive and gut biota-based mechanisms to deliver glucose straight to the organism. Just like the poor old mycorrhizal fungi in the soil, the carbohydrate - producing digestive flora were outflanked and rendered redundant. Even more humiliating, the consumption of sugar led to rampant overgrowth of aggressive yeasts that caused all manner of upsets and the destruction of whole swathes of formerly stable gut biota. It also led to heart disease, diabetes, tooth decay, cancer and obesity. We don’t know what other quick fixes bypass the gut flora, but we should consider the impact on them when we consume vitamins or supplements that may displace some gut function and render it redundant, creating an ongoing dependency on supplementation.

Bread suffered as well. Roller mills made white flour as cheap as wholemeal and white bread replaced wholegrain breads, with resulting diverticulosis and, thanks to industrial yeast, candida.

Let’s compare 2 ways of making mankind’s principal food, wholemeal bread, the modern and the old fashioned .

Modern – Chorleywood Process – take wholemeal flour and ascorbic acid and sugar and 24 times as much yeast as you would use in a traditional bakery and whizz it in a high speed mixer for 20 minutes until the yeasts are agitated and in a feeding frenzy. Shape into loaves, dump into tins and as they bread goes into the travelling oven it is rising. Oh, add a little hydrogenated fat to give it structure so it doesn’t collapse when it comes out – just one hour after you’ve started. It was introduced in the 1960s, around the time that irritable bowel syndrome, gluten allergy, Crohn’s disease really began to become widespread issues. You could say that we just hadn’t realised those diseases existed before then, but for anyone who’s experienced IBS or had a reaction to gluten you know that’s pretty unlikely

Old Fashioned – Judges Bakery process. Germinate wheat and liquidise. Add to organic wholemeal flour, add kelp powder, sesame seeds, hemp nuts and flax seeds. Make up a dough and let stand overnight in linen lined baskets for 18 hours. The enzymes from the germinated wheat snip the long chain proteins of gluten into shorter, less clingy and tastier proteins and make maltodextrins slowly available for fermentation. The bran softens throughout the process with phytic acid breakdown of up to 90%. Lactic acid bacteria increase magnesium and phosphorus solubitility.

If you were a colony of gut flora, which bread would you prefer?

ROUNDWORMS EARTHWORMS

What about worms? Not only are worms common flatmates with gut flora and soil flora, many species can live freely in soil and also survive quite happily in the digestive system.

In the soil worms are the great grinders of all vegetable matter into fine particles. Charles Darwin wrote admiringly of their ability to pile up vast amounts of soil and raise its height.

The soil doesn’t have teeth, but we do. Chewing your food 50 times does much of the work that worms do in the soil. This is recommended by all macrobiotic dietitians from Christophe Hufeland (Goethe’s doctor) through to George Ohsawa, creator of the Japanese version known as Zen Macrobiotics. So what if we just puree our food? Doesn’t that do the same thing? What about if you puree food and then spit in it and leave it for a while, won’t the salivary enzymes do the job for us?

Research published in the Archives of Surgery showed that patients who had part of their colon removed passed gas and solids up to a day sooner if they chewed gum. The process of chewing stimulates nerves in the gut and hastens recovery. Now we have to ask what is stimulating those gut nerves, is it the chewing, or does chewing activate the gut flora, which then stimulate the gut nerves? When you chew the gut biota are getting a signal that food is on the way, so they become active in anticipation. This activity stimulates the nerves in the gut.

GUT WORMS

In the gut worms are seen as parasites, but they fulfil similar functions in the case of roundworms, of helping with the digestion of food, particularly when it has been poorly chewed. They also provide exudates that prevent auto immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and they are food for many fungi.

EARTHWORMS

In modern sterile soils worms are infrequent. I remember visiting Paul McCartney at his farm in Sussex, which is certified organic. He commented – ‘the Soil Association may say my land is organic but I don’t believe it really is until the soil is teeming with worms when the plough goes through.’   Could we consider the absence of worms as the pathology? When 80% of the world’s population are host to worms, can that be abnormal?

What about Gooey stuff – mucus and humus.

In the soil Glomalin is the product of the mycorrhizal fungi. It is sticky like glue and it binds together bits of sand and clay and organic matter into joined up granules called aggregates. These help to keep carbon in the soil instead of escaping into the atmosphere and they also help retain moisture. This creates ideal conditions for soil biota and a soil that is rich in glomalin has a high and stable population of bacteria, fungi and protozoan life.

What is the digestive equivalent of gooey stuff? It’s the mucus membrane, but how do we support it?

In macrobiotic medicine the cure for all tummy troubles is ume-kuzu. That’s a blend of kuzu arrowroot and pickled underripe plums that are rich in sodium sorbate, a natural yeast inhibitor. The yeasts get controlled and the kuzu provides a rich sticky matrix in which gut biota can flourish and rebuild their populations. Other sources of mucilaginous material are traditional remedies such as comfrey and aloe vera, both of which contain allantoin, which encourages cell proliferation. Chicken soup is a natural gel that also helps in this way.

If our gut biota came from the soil itself, then is soil good for you?

There are lots of examples of what is known as geophagia and not all of them relate to desperate hunger or psychological disturbance.

When we don’t have food, we can still feed our gut flora and they can still feed us. We don’t just eat clay to fill our bellies, it may not have nutritive value by analysis, but if it provides a medium where gut biota can proliferate. We can then get nutrition from them.

KWAN YIN

Pearl Buck’s novel The Good Earth describes how Chinese peasants would eat what they called ‘Goddess of Mercy earth’ named after Kwan Yin, the goddess of Mercy of Taoist tradition. In Taoism Yin is the earth and Yang is the sky.   In Haiti mud cakes are a traditional food, particularly sought after by pregnant women, a compound of clay, fat, salt and pepper.

MUD CAKES FACTORY IN HAITI

Hippocrates described Geophagia 2500 years ago, saying “If a woman feels the desire to eat earth or charcoal and then eats them, the child will show signs of these things.’

Pliny recommended red clay as a remedy for mouth ulcers. In the Levant it was called Terra Sigillata and used to help childbirth and alleviate menstrual problems.   In France they call it argillophagy and a popular hangover cure is to take argile verte, or green clay, in a creamy solution on the morning after. A three week course begins with a twice daily glass of white clay and then a transition to green clay mixed with liquorice powder, with separate doses of charcoal.

CARBON GOLD

And what about charcoal? I must confess a commercial interest here as the founder of Carbon Gold, an enterprise that seeks to restore the soil’s carbon content by the expedient of turning biomass into charcoal and ploughing it in.   Charcoal encourages high populations of soil biota which are extremely stable, very water retentive and antagonistic to pathogenic fungi and bacteria, helping to prevent soil-borne plant diseases. Charcoal stays in the soil for hundreds of years so it effectively is the only way to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and keep it out.   It also reduces the acidity in soil that causes methane, turning this toxic greenhouse gas into the 60 times less toxic carbon dioxide.

CHARCOAL BISCUITS

Charcoal biscuits and charcoal tablets are a common treatment for wind and other digestive upsets. They adsorb gases like methane and create a healthy environment for the gut biota to thrive, providing niches and structure in which a shattered gut population can rebuild itself. Just as it suffocates toxic bacteria in the soil, in the gut it cracks down on aerobic bacteria such as salmonella and shigella.

Charcoal in soil encourages microbiological density, reduced activity but higher population.

In the soil charcoal maintains an ideal slightly acid pH but even adding wood vinegar to a char- enriched soil doesn’t make it more acid, the bacteria maintain stability at an optimum pH level that is unfriendly to pathogens

What about Fallowing?

Let’s compare organic farming’s fallow periods with our own dietary resting times.

One of my least popular sayings is: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day - to skip.” I always try to skip breakfast and also to fast at least one day a month. Why?   If your digestive transit time is somewhere between 12 and 18 hours then skipping breakfast means that for a few hours each day your gut is empty.   This allows the gut flora to rebalance their population. Every time you excrete, one third of the weight of the faecal matter is gut flora who get flushed away, the remainder need time to recover from the loss of their gutmates. There are of course, also other factors – the blood glucose and the liver’s stored glycogen are used up by the time you wake up in the morning and so the body has to turn to its fat reserves for carbohydrates. It’s like the Atkins Diet, but without all the meat and fat. But it’s a good idea to let the gut flora have a rest in between bouts of food digestion.

Organic and traditional farmers have fallow periods, the farming equivalent of fasting, where nothing is added to the soil, it is just left alone. The soil flora need a period when nothing is happening so that they can sort themselves out, deal with imbalances, before the next crop is planted. Fallow is not just about rebuilding fertility, it’s about recreating a healthy balance of food gathering biota. Eating food is like ploughing manure into a field. There is nutrient being introduced but there is also disturbance as a new set of nutrients is introduced, along with the oxidising effect of air on stored carbon, along with the disruption of the mycelial networks.

I’ve just been in Belize. The farmers there don’t even plough the soil. The grow on quite steep hillsides with no erosion problems. Every year they let an area of ground become overgrown, sometimes for several years, then they cut the resulting vegetation and let it rot or, in some cases burn it off. They plant their corn direct into the ground, where the crop takes off, surrounded by beans and squash as ground cover, so that other plants are crowded out. The soil has no fertilisers, not even compost or manure, added to it and it generates healthy crops of corn with plants 12 feet high.   The farmers abhor the idea of tearing up the soil and have resolutely avoided offers of rotovators and other mechanical ploughing aids.

NEZ PERCE CHIEF JOSEPH

"The earth is our mother. She should not be disturbed by hoe or plough. We want only to subsist on what she freely gives us." --Chief Joseph, Nez Perce

We can’t go back to that level of respect for the soil in today’s crowded world, but it is worth noting that in the long term agriculture has to address its problems of unsustainability and treat the soil as a living organism, not as a hydroponic system with dirt added.

I was there in Belize because they supply cacao to Green & Black’s. They provide us with fully fermented cacao beans in which all the simple cyanins have been oxidised and have lost their astringent taste. The reason our chocolate tastes so good is because the farmers are so good at fermenting the beans.

Every few months Mars publish more research saying that chocolate is good for the heart and have even launched a chocolate range in the US called Cocoa Via based on research that shows that anthyocyanins from unfermented cacao lowers blood pressure. So I took at look at the research to see why they’d launch a chocolate with a mildly unpleasant taste as a nutraceutical. What I came across was the European Polybind Project. They were looking at polyphenolic substances and trying to assess how they could help prevent cancer. They studied onions, apples, broccoli and chocolate. What did they find?

Chocolate contains procyanidins and other simple phenolic compounds. When it is fermented these become oxidised polymers and lose their astringent taste. They also don’t have a noticeable effect on blood pressure, unlike unfermented chocolate where the phenols trigger a measurable pressure drop soon after ingestion.   Hence Mars’ excitement about using unfermented chocolate in their products.   But the Polybind Project found something else: the complex phenolic compounds stayed in the gut wall. When the host was stressed the gut flora would snip them up with enzymes and pass them into the host in the exact amount needed to modify blood pressure.   Instead of outwitting and bypassing the gut flora, it makes more sense to work with them.   The same arguments apply to inulin-rich foods such as chicory and Jerusalem artichokes.

A ‘gut feeling’ is more than a feeling, it’s knowledge, indeed wisdom.

The gut flora control intelligence. They can memorise and learn and encode much faster than multicelled organisms such as us.   They don’t forget as their memories go straight to their DNA, which is constantly in flux.

By maintaining a healthy balance and large population of gut flora the nutritional therapist also offers psychotherapy in a genuine way - this may be described as a ‘placebo effect’ by some, particularly doctors whose summation of nutrition is ‘eat your greens.’   By eating organic food we are mirroring the natural process by which healthy food is grown and we are avoiding the chemical residues that are just as toxic to the health of our gut biota as they are to the health of soil biota.

To me the importance of nutrition has been a guiding light. I have not had to see a doctor since 1965.   Nutritional therapy is ultimately about treating the originators of plant and animal life on this planet with the respect they deserve. More than that, with the respect they demand. They can get quite angry if they are ignored, as sufferers from IBS and colitis, to name a few examples, can attest.

To go even further, if the gut biota are really the All-Knowing, All-Seeing masters of our universe, our original and true Creator, with a capital C, then the nutritional therapists are the high priests of human society and are our true link with the infinite and unknowable!

Thanks

Cacao Story

On Monday (May 7th) of this week I was in Hastings at a celebration called 'Jack in the Green'. A large leaf-covered man paraded through the streets, accompanied by hundreds of dancers and drummers dressed in leafy green garb, or as giants, foxes, deer and badgers. Our house, which was on the procession route, was decked in ivy and other leaves, as were most of the houses on the street. Everything was garlanded with ribbons, mostly yellow, green and white, echoing the colours of early leaf and blossom. On Sunday the local 14th C Church, much to the disgust of some of its more sanctimonious members, had even allowed the dancers into its sacred precinct, where they played and sang and danced. This ancient celebration is rooted in the old pagan festival of Beltane and acknowledges the idea that there is a 'green spirit' which was long ago anthropomorphised into the "Green Man." There is a stone carving of the Green Man's leaf-clad face carved into the stonework of the Church, reflecting a time when the Church was more accomodating of what are still seen by purists as heretical views. Jack in the Green has survived tenaciously and now the celebration grows in numbers every year and seems doomed to become a tourist attraction.

When we look at cacao, we see a tree that embodies the spirit of the forest and acts as a link between the canopy, the middle storey and the ground level. Cacao plays an important role in the rain forest where it grows, a role which extends into its products, which are pivotal to human trade and society and which have led to its propagation around the world wherever growing conditions are suitable. As an unreconstructed Lamarckian, even a Lysenkoite, I intuitively believe that an organism can consciously evolve and that the discoveries of Crick and Watson and the Human Genome Project actually confirm the Lamarckian idea that acquired characteristics can be transmitted to future generations. This contradicts the Darwinian thesis that evolution is just a series of mass extinctions punctuated by lucky genetic accidents.

I am intrigued by the conspiracy theory that humans are not the masters of the planet, but merely the mandarins or administrative class who run things for the cows, who reward us with their highly addictive milk and meat. In exchange for their products, we manage the surface of the planet to accommodate their needs, clearing forests and creating artificial pastureland in areas where forest would otherwise prevail. While cattle exist in smaller numbers than humans, their combined weight exceeds that of all humanity and the land area they occupy is greater than for any other land life form. Certainly the close cohabitation with cattle that prevailed until recently in the southern Jutland peninsula, home of the Holstein and Friesian breeds, as well as the myth of Europa, reflects an earlier belief in the mystic power of these life-giving and life-saving, beasts. If there is a candidate for a vegetable counterpart to the cow, I submit that it must be cacao. Its character, its cultivation and its natural history suggest that it is worthy of the deification that it received from the Maya and other Central American civilisations.

Every plant, as it follows and reveals the universal principles that animate all living systems, can tell us much about ourselves.

Nicholas Culpeper, the pioneering 17th Century English herbalist, wrote in his introduction to The Complete Herbal: "God has stamped his image on every creature, and therefore the abuse of the creature is a great sin; but how much more do the wisdom and excellency of God appear, if we consider the harmony of the Creation in the virtue and operation of every Herb? "

So, what is it about cacao that makes it such a special food? Theobroma Cacao grows wild in Central America in the Maya Mountains of southern Belize. Cacao is a unique tree with a unique way of capturing nutrients, protecting itself and reproducing in a harsh environment and rearing its offspring in a caring and nurturing way. In the process it produces substances that have a profound attraction to humans.

In the wild the cacao tree grows to a height of 10-20 metres, which for other trees in the rain forest would mean an inability to survive. Typically, the mahogany tree, which occupies the canopy of the forest, drops its crop of seeds to earth where they will germinate and grow to a few centimetres fed by the nutrients in the seed and then enter a sort of stasis. It takes an event such as a hurricane or logging or the collapse of an aged or diseased tree to allow in enough sunlight for the mahogany to seize its chance and make a bid for the top.

To flourish in the middle storey of the rain forest requires a very different strategy. The cacao tree still needs some sunlight, it just gets by with a lot less than most plants need to survive, by exhibiting a frugality and intelligence of function that enables it to live and reproduce in extremely deprived conditions. It tends to do best on hillsides, where glancing light increases the otherwise sparse availability of sunshine. Hence its success in the Maya Mountains, where south-facing mountain slopes allow light to cut through the canopy at an angle. In the wild it is often found in stands, where it has managed to colonise an area. The cacao tree flowers on its main trunk and leading branches. The flowers are pollinated by midges which breed on the rotting debris of the forest floor. The pollinated flower forms a pod which grows on a callus-like pad directly off the trunk or branch. The pod is as hard as wood. Each pod contains 30 or so seeds surrounded by a sweet juicy milky pulp. As the pod ripens the seeds begin to germinate, still in the pod. When the shoots and roots are a few millimetres long the pod falls to earth and rolls away from the parent tree. The pod still forms a helmet-like protective barrier over the seedlings. The clustered seeds all send down roots and send up shoots together, closely packed on the jungle floor. Eventually the shoots raise the pod up and it falls over and off, but by then the seedlings are off to a good start. If they are all successful then they gradually merge into one tree. In this respect the cacao tree has evolved in a way that is rare in nature: 1. Like a marsupial, the offspring is retained by the parent and not released into the world to fend for itself until it has developed beyond a certain point. The mother tree feeds its children until they have developed sufficiently to survive in the wild 2. Even with developed shoots and roots, the plantlets still stick closely together and sacrifice their individuality in the interests of common survival in a hostile environment.

In domesticating cacao the Maya made few changes to the wild tree. As the matriarchal horticulturalists who created many of the world's most commercially important and sensual plants including maize, amaranth, pumpkins, kidney beans, papaya, guava, chilli peppers, vanilla, tobacco and dahlias, it is perhaps not surprising that they could effect precise changes in developing the 'criollo' cacao tree. ('criollo' means 'native' in Spanish). The criollo tree differs from the wild cacao in three main ways: 1 The pod is softer and easier to open with a stone or a knife 2 The tree grows to a limited height, reduced from 10-20 metres to 3-5 metres, making pruning and harvesting easier. 3 The seeds, which are creamy coloured in wild cacao, are purple in colour in the criollo variety. This reflects a greatly increased content of alkaloids and other compounds.

It was women who domesticated cacao and created maize. With sacraments including morning glory seeds, they developed a deep rapport and understanding with plants, persuading them to evolve in ways that are beyond the ability of modern plant breeders and molecular biologists to comprehend.

The Maya cultivated cacao in forest gardens in which every tree had a function. As a result, the trees that provided shade for the cacao also provided thatching and building material, fodder, oilseeds, wood, medicines, fruit and allspice. Careful management of the shade ensures that the cultivated cacao doesn't grow too quickly and thrives in a healthy and controlled environment that closely replicates the natural wild environment of the cacao tree.

(An example of how successfully the Maya domesticated the cacao without depriving it of its intrinsic ability to live sustainably in the wild happened two years ago. One of the members of the cooperative of Maya Indians who supply us with cacao led an archaeological expedition to ruins in a remote region of Belize that has not been inhabited since the collapse of the Maya civilisation in the 9th Century. In the surrounding forest he found a stand of several hundred domesticated cacao trees that have reproduced without human support on that spot for over a millennium).

Nowadays cacao plantations are laid out on three basic patterns. 1. The oldest are in Belize and were planted on the 'whole pod' basis The farmer would simply prepare a space in the forest and then plant a germinating mature pod. Once the tree had emerged he would allow all the branches to grow and then, as some revealed themselves as more productive than others, would prune selectively to maximise yield. Yields are about 400 Kgs per hectare, combined with other forest products. 2. The typical plantation-based mode of most of the last century was to plant the cacao in rows that were 5 metres apart, growing the trees from seed. This leaves sufficient space between the trees to allow for tall shade trees, which are then managed to provide the appropriate level of light. Yields are about 500 Kgs per hectare, but considerable other economic benefits accrue, particularly to those farmers who also plant mahogany and red cedar as shade trees. Over a 25 year period the income from wood can greatly exceed that from cacao and increase with each further year. Unfortunately, because of forest protection laws and land tenure uncertainties in many areas, smallholders often do not plant high value trees in case they are confiscated by the national government. 3. The most modern and intensive method represents the system imposed by American, British, Dutch, German and Swiss 'aid' organisations in the 1980s. This massive aid programme successfully created global overcapacity in cacao and was in response to the upswing in cacao prices caused by the President of the Ivory Coast's decision to hold back supplies from the market in 1982. The trees are closely planted at 2.5 metres apart. The only shade comes from small and economically valueless shrubs and also from the top part of the cacao tree itself. Fertility comes from regular applications of nitrogen fertiliser. Yields are around 800Kgs per hectare, double the least intensive system. But, there is no other income from the land used. Disease is rampant and requires constant control. The fungal diseases Witches' broom and black pod, are common and devastating and becoming more virulent. This method represents a step too far in intensification. There are large areas of Brazil where cocoa production has collapsed completely due to ineradicable disease that has wiped out the entire base of cacao trees. A conference was held in Costa Rica1998 at which the leading chocolate companies met to seek solutions to the crash in cacao production. The conference concluded that a return to less intensive practices was the key to sustainable production. However, the legacy of the 1980s aid programme will haunt the industry for decades.

In the first two systems, fertility is almost entirely 'passive' and this has attracted criticism from organic certification organisations which are wedded to the idea that good organic agriculture requires the production and use of animal manure and vegetable composts to encourage growth. However, excessive growth, due to fertiliser and sunshine, leads inexorably to fungal disease in the cacao tree.

In a well managed plantation following the first two systems the fertility sources are manifold, but fertility is delivered over a longer time frame. The shade trees draw mineral nutrients from deep below the forest floor and transform them into leaves. When the leaves fall these nutrients are made available to the cacao tree, which has a shorter taproot combined with a mat-like network of surface-feeding roots. If you scrape back the leaf litter on the forest floor you immediately come upon the cacao roots, some of which are pointed upward, clinging to and eating into the decomposing leaves without waiting for them to break down into humus. Canopy-dwelling birds and mammals regularly deposit small amounts of guano and manure which splashes on the leaves of the cacao trees and then is washed down to the soil by rain. Because it is drip-fed to the cacao tree in continuous small quantities it does not encourage the soft sappy growth that is prone to fungal and insect attack.

Perhaps because it is slow-growing and accessible, the cacao tree exudes caffeic acid from its leaves. It is common among the Maya to snap off a leaf of cacao and chew it to a pulp, extracting a mildly stimulating dose of caffeine. In the beans in the pod, caffeic acid becomes the alkaloids theobromine (food of the gods)and theophylline (leaf of the gods), both methylxanthines in the same group of alkaloids as caffeine, which is a breakdown product of their consumption. The levels of theobromine in cacao are highly toxic and are targeted at birds and mammals. For a squirrel or a monkey one or two cacao beans are enough to bring on heart palpitations and a speedy retreat to the treetops, reinforcing the memory that this is a food not to be toyed with. Other predators on cacao don't eat the cacao, but use it to farm other food products.

Woodpeckers will make a hole in the cacao pod. This is done in order to attract flying insects that lay their eggs in the sweet inner pulp surrounding the seeds. The woodpecker then returns at regular intervals to eat the larvae. Leafcutter ants march across the forest floor carrying small sail-shaped pieces cut from leaves of cacao. They do not eat them however, but take them below ground where they provide food for a fungal culture. It is the fungus that the ants then consume.

The Maya believed in a sort of coevolution with animals, plants, soil and water. Their belief was that the quest for perfection that characterises humankind cannot be achieved without the collaboration of perfected plants and animals. The frog and the jaguar, the morning glory and the cacao tree all played significant roles in this evolutionary process and were accorded a value not solely based on what they could give to humanity, but also, like household pets, loved for themselves and treated with the same care that one would give to a family member.

Cocoa beans were also used as money during this era, one of the few instances of money truly growing on trees. The Maya trading economy used cacao as capital, in much the same way as cattle were used in Europe.

In Mexico, hot chocolate is never served at funerals but everyone drinks it on the Day of the Dead, when the souls return from another world, temporarily reborn to this world. There are many present-day cultural associations of cacao with fertility and regeneration. Hot chocolate is a symbol of human blood, much like wine in Christianity. In the bad old days of human sacrifice, the Aztec priests would wash the blood off the sacrificial obsidian knives with hot chocolate and give the resulting drink to calm the nerves of those awaiting sacrifice. In the iconography of Maya archeological sites, cacao is associated with women and the Underworld, where sprouting and regeneration are portrayed in myths with echoes of Persephone and Demeter.

The cacao tree figures prominently in Maya creation myths, being considered one of the components out of which humanity were created. Dedicated deities embody the spirit of the cacao tree and it features in the Popol Vuh as well as in the 4 day long Deer Dance. I witnessed the cutting of a tree which was to be used in the Deer Dance during the Harmonic Convergence in August 1987. It took nearly an hour of explanation, persuasion and extracting of permission from the spirits of the forest and of the specific tree before any Maya would dare to presume to touch it with an axe.

The Maya's 4-day long Deer Dance evokes the entire history of the Maya, with male dancers dressed as black dwarves in black masks referring to the era when the Maya had no culture and lived in caves. Other male dancers in pink masks and women's dresses evoke the horticultural matriarchal era before 'the Grandmothers' created corn. The dance depicts the moment when the leader of the men gently but firmly tells the Grandmother: "Henceforth we men will grow the corn." This was the moment when the holistic and horticultural matriarchal world succumbed to the hierarchical and agricultural world of priests, warriors and princes that led to the extraordinary flowering of Maya culture, short-lived but incredibly diverse, and then to sudden collapse as maize cultivation stretched the ecosystem beyond its limits. The Maya had abused their historic partners in coevolution.

Nowadays, smallholder cacao is increasingly shade grown, bird friendly, sustainable and organic. By contrast, plantation-grown cacao depends on management as waged labour cannot be relied upon to show. The usual capitalist measure of productivity, return on capital employed, does not apply in cacao production, where land value bears little relation to net income, which depends heavily on chemical inputs and waged labour. It takes one foreman to oversee about 4 labourers and the reliability of foremen is hard to measure. If trees are planted at too great a spacing then management becomes correspondingly more difficult as control depends on lines of sight and voice commands. Planting trees more closely creates more problems than it solves. Low world prices and increasing input costs put downward pressure on labour costs. This leads to increasing dependence on slave labour. This occurs in the Ivory Coast of non-Ivorian Africans, in Malaysia of tribal people. Many of these are women, who are short enough to get under the trees with backpack sprayers and then fog the tree with fungicides. Smallholder grown cacao offers the following advantages: 1 Trees enjoy considerable longevity, exceeding 100 years 2 A forest canopy performs the functions of chemicals and low waged labour in providing nutrients and preventing disease, thereby increasing carbon sequestration and biodiversity 3 Slavery is avoided 4 Sustainability is achieved as diseased trees are rare and fossil fuel inputs are not required 5 Individual freedom and enterprise, the foundation of stable democratic societies, is encouraged among smallholder farmers.

There is one cloud on the horizon for cacao. Genetic engineering of rape seed is being developed which will produce oils with the same characteristics as cocoa butter. If successful, this will lead to the reduction of the cacao tree population of the planet, with consequent loss of forest canopy and forest biodiversity that is inherent to successful cacao cultivation. A tonne of cacao costing $1000 yields approximately 1/2 tonne of cocoa powder worth $300 and 1/2 tonne of cocoa butter worth $2000. If cocoa butter is genetically engineered in rapeseed the overall value of cocoa beans will be greatly diminished. This will lead to a considerable reduction in land area devoted to cacao production, regrettably at a time when mainstream thinking is moving back to the forest-based and more extensive systems that preceded the ultra-intensification of the 1980s. More cacao and more cocoa butter, if grown on a sustainable smallholder basis, means sustainable agroforestry, with all the consequent gains in CO2 sequestration, soil protection, biodiversity and economic and political stability. More rapeseed means more soil erosion, more biodiversity loss, more concentration of power, more CO2 creation, more poverty, more subsidies and more asthma.

What is it about chocolate that makes it addictive? Is it good for you?.. What are the chemical constituents of cacao that make it so appealing? How come the cacao tree hits so many of our deepest needs right on the button? Here we come back to my cow analogy - are cacao's properties part of a pact with humans to ensure the plant's survival? A plant that is clever enough to survive in the middle storey can make itself indispensable to potential protectors. Cacao is rich in; 1. Polyphenols - these are the antioxidants found in red wine green tea, grapeseed and bilberry, are also present in chocolate. A single 20g bar of dark chocolate contains 400mg of polyphenols, the minimum daily requirement. 2. Anandamine - this substance locks onto the cannabinoid receptors, creating mild euphoria. 3. Phenethylamine - this is the substance that is found in elevated levels in the brains of people who are 'in love.' The association of chocolate with Valentine's Day and romance has sound chemical foundations. 4. Methylxanthines - Cacao's theobromine and theophylline are kinder stimulants than caffeine. They provide less coercive stimulation than coffee as they take time to break down into caffeine. 5. Magnesium - As you might expect from a plant that was developed by women, cacao is the plant world's most concentrated source of dietary magnesium. Falling magnesium levels create the symptoms of premenstrual tension, hence the premenstrual craving many women feel for chocolate. 6. Copper - an important co-factor in preventing anaemia and in ensuring that iron makes effective haemoglobin. The Maya view of hot chocolate as blood is more than a metaphor. 7. Cocoa butter - Cocoa butter is the perfect emollient for the skin, far better than the petroleum jelly substituted for it in cheap bodycare products. It melts at precisely the human body temperature. That's why people love the mouthfeel of chocolate. As the cocoa butter melts, it acts as a heat exchanger on the palate, cooling the tongue as it goes from a solid to a liquid state. Unlike hydrogenated fats, which are often substituted for it in cheap confectionery, cocoa butter stays liquid at normal body temperature, thereby avoiding the occlusion of arteries and distortion of lipid metabolising functions that hydrogenated fat consumption entails.

You show me a cow that can deliver such a comprehensive package of addictive, stress-reducing and health-enhancing ingredients.

Maya Gold In 1987 I visited a cacao grove for the first time, in Belize. I was transfixed. I was with a film crew making a film about the Deer Dance and the Crystal Skull, a Maya artefact, but something told me that cacao would be part of my future. It was one of those moments when something undefinable happened, when the hair on the back of your neck stands on end. My diary of the time includes drawings of chocolate bars called 'Maya Maya'. In 1991 a series of coincidences led me to add a chocolate business to my trading portfolio, hitherto a wholefood range that proudly proclaimed that we had never sold anything containing sugar in 24 years. Our Green & Black's organic chocolate was successful and in 1993 I contacted the Maya cacao growers in Southern Belize. This soon led to the production of Maya Gold, the first ever controlled named origin chocolate. The marketing of Maya Gold emphasised the biodiversity contribution and the social and economic benefits of smallholder cacao. To date, just a few of these benefits have been 1. Secondary school attendance has risen from under 10% to over 90% 2 A logging permit granted to a Malaysian logging company was successfully challenged by a coalition led by the cacao growers' association and 100,000 hectares of rain forest were spared the axe 3 The Kekchi and Mopan Maya, who communicate in English because their Maya languages diverged such a long time ago, have overcome mutual suspicion and work together in harmony in the democratically constituted growers association 4 Women's rights and health have benefited. Although the men do the planting, pruning and harvesting, the women control the post-harvest fermentation and drying and therefore control the end product and income from it. They are less likely to spend it on beer than men, thereby ensuring it is invested in education, clothing and health.

Maya Gold is now a supermarket staple in the UK. Of course, it helps that it tastes delicious and echoes the Maya recipe for hot chocolate, which uses allspice, vanilla and choisya (Aztec Mock Orange) leaves as flavouring. In our recipe we substitute orange for choisya but think we have recaptured the essence of the Maya cacao experience.

The success of Maya Gold shows that consumers respond to a processor's declared commitment to acknowledge and support the integrity of the cacao plant, of its forest world and of the people who tend it. They understand their place in the web of life and the leveraging impact of their purchasing decisions on issues of global concern. We are privileged to have been able to make and illustrate this connection and to profit from it, along with the Maya growers and the cacao and the forests which cacao production generates.

Knowing Your Food

Most people have little idea where food comes from, but when they do, their expectations are shattered. Once they realise the huge contrast between organic farming and factory farming, they usually forget about price differences and become committed organic consumers, end of story. If that's what it takes to win people to the organic cause, how do we get the message across?

In the 1960s and 70s my brother and I had a natural foods store called Ceres Grain Shop on London's Portobello Road. Many of our customers turned up every Thursday morning for the delivery of freshly harvested vegetables brought down from Lincolnshire by John Butler. You could literally see the radiant aura of robust good health in his cabbages. He wrote for our magazine, Seed, The Journal of Organic Living, and his monthly column, Changing Seasons, enabled our 25,000 readership to get inside the head of the man who grew their vegetables. The combination of tasting the difference and understanding the underlying philosophy made them core organic consumers.

Next door in Ceres Bakery we baked bread made with flour that we milled from wheat grown by Stuart Pattison and we put up pictures of him and his horse-drawn plough working the land on which he grew the wheat for our bread. This was on the Portobello Road in the 1970s where we were in competition with 30 fruit and vegetable stallholders as well as cheap bakers, and when the yuppification of Notting Hill was just a glint in the property developers' eyes. Our customers vacuumed up the organic vegetables and queued into the street for organic wholemeal bread.

Those encounters gave me a profound faith in the wisdom of the buyer - once people are offered the link to the producer and are given the opportunity to make an informed choice, a goodly number will override considerations of price and convenience, and plug into the higher energy of being properly connected with their food source. When they do, they become a force to be reckoned with.

Last month the 2004 Soil Association National Conference's theme was Reconnecting the Public with Agriculture. The question was: how can we reawaken a passion for good food and good husbandry in the public? (ew: from programme). Saturday afternoon focused on the soil, the organic farmer's prize asset - and the very foundation of human health (programme). In the Soil, Compost and Health workshop, soil scientists produced evidence about the importance of a balanced soil using compost and other soil-building techniques. Their measure of success was improvements in plant health, significant reductions in vets' bills and increases in animal fertility. That translates, in human terms, into healthier food for people: lower NHS costs and less business for infertility clinics. Healthy soil also produces plants that heal quickly - slash a compost-grown cucumber along its sides and the gaps will close with minimal scars. Do the same to one grown with chemicals instead of compost and it goes rotten. How much proof do people need?

The Soil Association believes that seeing is believing. That is why they have a network of working organic farms that are open to the public. Last year 300,000, including legions of schoolchildren, visited. A trip to an organic farm is often all it takes to see that the soil is the foundation of all plant, animal and human health.

For some people what they see with their own eyes is not enough - they want scientific proof. One conference speaker was Paul Hepperly, research manager of Rodale Institute in America. He reported that their long-term comparison of 22 years between organic and chemical farming systems demonstrated the superiority of organic farming. Both nutritional content - and yields - were higher in the organic crops. It all came down to the soil. Hepperly berated the chemical farming system: "We've been mining soils rather than building them."

People frequently suggest that the Soil Association changes its name to 'The Organic Society' or something equally zippy. Our founders had great foresight - the answer lies in the soil and once people understand that, all the spurious questions about whether to choose organic or not go out the window.