Le Foll takes a deep breath and lets his eyes settle on me. “If nothing happens,” he says, “I fear we will have a forceful expansion of the desertification of soil. Global water and wind erosion of soil will be catastrophic. Secondly, I fear if we don’t move concretely forward with this project, the biodiversity of soil itself will be lost. If we do nothing, I fear we will lose the fertility of soil. We will lose biodiversity. We will lose agricultural soil and at the end there will be escalating hunger and enormous problems in terms of feeding the planet. The longer we wait the higher the likelihood we will unleash this irreversible process. Because once it becomes infertile, it takes a very long time for soil to regain fertility.”
Coming from the man who only yesterday proclaimed we could solve the world’s problems with soil, this sounds cataclysmic. But herein lies Le Foll’s real reason for promoting soil-based carbon capture. It is not the warming of the planet he worries about. It’s feeding the planet’s growing population.
“What happens when you have an agriculture that doesn’t offer any more employment to a large swatch of the population? It causes large migrations,” explains Le Foll. “These migrations gravitate to cities. This causes more unemployment and more hunger. A state that has become destabilized is a state that has become vulnerable. It becomes the prey of those that want to take advantage of it and change it. This happened in Syria five years ago. There was a huge drought that displaced 1.5 million people and was a contributing part in the destabilization of Syria. That’s what we have with Daesh in Syria and Iraq. And once that process is unleashed, the regions lose control. The agricultural goods and the costs associated food can destabilize a country and from there destabilize a continent. Political instability is linked to hunger. We know this.”
Le Foll believes what has happened with Syria is just the beginning of the type of crisis that could grow to encompass billions of people. “In the discussion we’ve had with African countries,” he says, “They well know that they are going to see their population double in fifty, maybe forty years…double! If there is no agriculture there to offer employment to the youth of tomorrow, then a political catastrophe, one of geopolitical proportions, will come in its place.”
For the minister there is no unlinking the climate crisis and hunger. The two are intimate results of the same root problem. I ask him how he explains his view to people in the climate movement. “The entire world focuses on the polar bear, but there’s another reality,” he say. “If we let climate change get out of control, there will be millions of climate refugees. Millions! Where will their populations go?” As countless refugees currently pressure European countries for new homes, Le Foll’s point is clear. Shocking footage from the French border cities shows refugees pouring over fences like rivers of human bodies. These disturbing real-life videos look like scenes from the all-hope-is-lost Brad Pitt zombie movie World War Z.
“That is why everything we are developing in France for agroeconomics is to change this cycle. To ensure the transformation into what we call agroecology or intensive ecology,” Le Foll explains. “To intensify the natural mechanisms in agriculture and not increase the use of machines or chemicals because we are at the end of that process. This is the only way we can feed the world. I am absolutely certain of it.”
We we talk about feeding the world in the United States what we really mean is increasing profits in agricultural and food companies. But when Le Foll speaks about feeding the world, he is speaking directly about feeding impoverished countries in places like Africa. And has he sees it, feeding the world is not something you do by giving handouts of overproduced grain made through chemicals, it is something that ids done by redesigning agriculture from the ground up.
All this makes it an even bigger slap in the face, both to France and the governments of the developing world, that the United States refused to participate or even be seen in the same room where the 4 of 1,000 event was held. It’s not as if the US government was not aware of the event. Le Foll met with US Department of Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack afterward. (I got Le Foll’s assistant to text me a photo of the two of them meeting, just for fun.)
My time with the minister is almost up but I have one more question. I ask him if it didn’t make him angry that the United States hadn’t bothered to send even a low-level administrative assistant to the 4 for 1,000 signing. His answer is careful and diplomatic. “We are at the beginning, I hope, of a beautiful project hat perfectly joins the fight against climate change with the fight against world hunger. Yes, it’s true that the US didn’t sign it but we are generally in agreement that carbon storage in soil is a common goal. Why did they retreat from it? Because in American agriculture there exist huge goals that don’t concern the soil, they concern the industry.”
I tell him he hasn’t answered my question. I want to know if it personally offended him that the United States did not show up. He dodges me again: “At the very least, we must try to cooperate. Okay, at COP21 the US brought their project called GACSA.” GACSA, again, is the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture, the Monsanto-backed nonprofit that promotes genetic engineering and to which the United States and other countries have signed on. Le Foll explains that “this climate-smart agriculture does not permit nongovernmental organizations from truly participating in their agreement.”
This is because all the technology for genetically engineered crops is patented and owned by a few corporations. NGOs can’t honestly participate because there is no room for the “teach a man to fish” model here. It’s all based on control of the source of food (the seed) and the resulting profits.
Le Foll continues, “It is not a project on a truly global scale. It isn’t dynamic enough to carry the weight or need of what we have here.” He won’t come out and say it but it is obvious that climate-smart agriculture is a means to sell and profit from patented technology.
Behind the lights and cameras and very much behind the scenes there was a showdown at COP21. It was a showdown between the 4 for 1,000 initiative and the GACSA-proposed, genetically engineered “Climate Smart Agriculture.” While there will be no shoot-out at the OK Corral per se, there’s pleanty of pressure from those who would prefer to see Le Foll, biosequestration, 4 for 1,000, and agroecology go the way of the dodo bird. – Josh Tickell, Excerpt from Book: KISS the GROUND, he is referencing his meeting with Prime Minister of France., Stéphane Le Foll at the time of COP21.