Soil degradation: Over a third of the corn belt, the epicenter of American corn and soybean production, has lost its carbon-rich topsoil. Credit: Bigstock.URBANA, Ill., Feb. 26 (IPS) – The White House, under the presidency of Joe Biden, just released an ordinance on America’s supply chains stating the country must have resilient, diverse, and secure supply chains to ensure economic prosperity and national security. Recognized threats that can reduce the resilience of American supply chains include climate change and extreme weather events.
Indeed, climate change and extreme weather, all of which have become very common and of economic concern, can have a huge impact on the agricultural sector. This was evident even before the global pandemic.
The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service recently reported that 2020 was linked to 2016 as the hottest year in history. That same year, the United States saw many extremities linked to climate change, including the Iowa Derecho, a costly thunderstorm disaster, California wildfires, and Michigan flooding. These extremities started back in 2021 and are expected to continue.
The step taken by the Biden administration is commendable. A central question is: What does a resilient agricultural system that is resistant to climate change and extreme weather events look like? What are the pillars? Can resilience be achieved in today’s agricultural systems in the United States? Could we trigger the operation’s warp speed to create resilient farming systems that are critical to meeting U.S. food security requirements?
Of course, there will be many visions and ways to achieve resilience in the agricultural sector as agriculture and the agricultural value and supply chain are complex and many pillars and activities are interconnected and interdependent. Despite the complexity of building resilience, some basic and important things need to be done.
First and foremost, a resilient agricultural system must be rooted in healthy soils. Soils are the foundation of life and the foundation on which we grow resilient plants. Healthy soils are necessary and a prerequisite for sustainable national food security. They are also a useful resource in the fight against deteriorating climate change as they absorb and store carbon from the air.
Worryingly, soils are unhealthy and degraded. A recent paper reported that over a third of the corn belt, the epicenter of American corn and soybean production, has lost its carbon-rich topsoil. Soil degradation is a global problem as one third of the earth’s soil is considered degraded in part due to agriculture. Resilient agriculture is not possible without healthy soils, which play many important roles, including storing carbon in the soil.
Second, the resilient agricultural system must be fully vaccinated against climate change and the extremities that come with a changing climate. Just as we have increased the warp speed of the farm to combat COVID-19, it is important to develop science-based solutions to inoculate our farming systems. From using artificial intelligence to predict climate-related disasters like floods, drought, and insect pests, to growing climate-friendly crops that can withstand disasters, to using smart and smart systems across all agricultural value and supply chains to ensure that agriculture and food systems are in place Stay ahead of all challenges.
Third, resilient agricultural systems must be racially inclusive, just and just. Data suggests that there are fewer black farmers, a number that has fallen from nearly 1 million farmers in 1920 to fewer than 50,000 farmers due to historical discrimination, exclusion and inequalities in federal agricultural policy.
It is commendable that US Senators headed by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tina Smith (D-MN), Reverend Raphael Warnock (D -GA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) are taking the lead in changing these statistics by introducing a comprehensive bill to address these injustices.
Ultimately, resilient systems must be set up in such a way that progress made can be transparently monitored and tracked. Americans deserve transparency.
The task of building resilient American supply chains in the face of current challenges is undoubtedly difficult, but it can be accomplished by focusing on healthy soils, vaccinated crops, and just and equitable farming systems. The time is now
Dr. Esther Ngumbi is an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and a Senior Fellow in Food Security at the Aspen Institute, New Voices.
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