The theme for Week 4 was ‘Obtain a Yield.’ To begin, and drawing on our emphasis on soil in the previous week, we asked the students to read through a newspaper article about a recent speech from the current UK Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove. We asked the students to read the article in groups, and then to tell us what the article was about.
We then introduced the concept of a Yield, and asked students what they understood by the term:
To make a link between the previous week’s sessions on soil, we then showed the class a short video about the ‘Greening the Desert’ project, co-ordinated by Permaculture teacher Geoff Lawton in Jordan.
The video explains how through the implementation of simple permaculture design principles, a previously arrid and barren landscape was transformed into an abundant and productive ecosystem. While watching the video we asked students to make a note of as many yields as they could. We wanted to encourage the students to consider the potential benefits of polycultural agriculture systems. Students made note of fruit trees, figs, pomegranates, citrus, dates, mushrooms, insects, oxygen, water and de-salinated soils! It was good to see that the students were begining to think of yields as more than just food! Students were then asked to explain how the Greening the Desert project was so successful:
Steve then gave a short slideshow comparing monocultural and polycultural agricultural systems. Students were encouraged to think about how the strategies and techniques shown in the Greening the Desert video might be useful for tackling climate change:
We concluded the lesson by looking back at answers to questions the students had written for us during Monday’s session. We handed out sheets with the questions and answers written on them so that students could read through them in their own time, and possibly also share them with their parents. See below:
Climate Questions and Answers
Why do you think global warming should be stopped and do you think we can adapt?
We think global warming should be stopped because the scientific community has told us in no uncertain terms that we face a catastrophe if we don’t. We are struggling to adapt to the 1 degree change we are already experiencing. Look up Puerto Rico or Houston for the effects. At 2 degrees warmer it will be much, much worse.
Do you dislike farming and think this should be stopped?
Not at all! I am a farmer’s son and a grower. I do recognise, however, that current industrial monocrop practices are part of the problem and we will have to investigate and develop restorative and climate friendly ways of farming. I think this innovation is exciting and I look forward to seeing it happen.
What other ways of ploughing a field instead of using machinery?
Low tillage and zero tillage methods are already well established, and there are many examples of how to do this. Using green manures, deep rooted plants to cycle nutrients are also a part of the answer, as well as smaller farms and different types of crops. A mulch covering the soil, whether organic matter or something non-biodegradable, can exclude light and kill off the plants below ready for re-sowing.
Why do scientists blame agriculture for climate change? We are the backbone of this country and don’t get enough money/credit for what we do!
Agriculture worldwide is responsible for 5 Gt pa of CO2, of the global total of 40 Gt. So it is wrong to ‘blame’ farmers. It really is all of us, especially in the first world, who are causing it. There is no doubt that farming practices will have to change and evolve to suit the changing reality. Globalisation has reduced food prices, and we in UK pay too little for what we eat, this is part of the reason why farmers don’t get enough for their products.
How will all the already made diesel/petrol cars be disposed off?
They will get used until they wear out I imagine. In big cities it will be much cheaper to use an electric taxi than to drive your own polluting petrol car. Some cities are already preparing for this as they are being fined for having bad air quality as a result of the traffic.
How much CO2 do we produce each year?
Globally 40 billion tonnes. 5 countries are responsible for all the historic emissions, UK, USA, Japan, Germany and France. China is now the biggest emitter, but they also produce many goods like steel for US and UK which is very dirty. Total UK carbon dioxide emissions have decreased by around 29% since 1990. Transport is now the biggest source as we phase out our dirty coal power stations
What can we do to cut the amount of CO2 we produce?
1. Switch to electricity from renewable sources.
2. Change our transport systems, and re-localise much of our economy, and learn how to produce much more food organically.
3. There are also carbon removal strategies such as re-growing forests, and exploring exciting new products like biochar.
Will Abraham get rain on his farm?
Yes, but instead of being regular and predictable by season it has become much more erratic.
How will farmers afford new proposed technology?
New taxes and incentives will come online very soon. A carbon tax will penalise bad investments and help subsidise good ones.
How will me and my dad earn a living from this?
By staying ahead of the game and understanding these changes are inevitable.
What will happen to our old equipment?
Good question. Recycled, re-purposed, reinvented maybe. Much of it may remain useful but we will find ourselves using it in new and different ways
What do you think of farming and how can it be improved?
Farming has to become carbon negative as soon as possible. We can develop methods rapidly that improve soils and repair damaged landscapes. Farming has a bright and interesting future. It will be an area of innovation and new ideas.
Can the world be saved from global warming?
Yes it can, but the clock is ticking! Big changes have to be made in the coming few years. That is why we are here working with you.
Will our class have an effective impact on reducing global warming?
Yes, I really believe it can. You can be leaders! The most powerful way to bring about change is to create examples that can inspire others.
The second teaching session in Week 4 continued with the theme of ‘Obtain a Yield.’ We started by reflecting back on the questions we had tried to answer for the students, and explained how these questions and answers could also be considered as yields. We wanted to know whether students were happy with the answers we had given. We explained how their questions, and our answers to them, would be published in the next issue of the Tanat Chronicle! We will post it when it is published.
We then watched the first 8 minutes of a Geoff Lawton video about soil dynamics. While watching the video we asked the students to make note of at least five different types of organisms living in the soil.
Students noted: bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, amoebas, insects, worms…
We then asked students to reflect back to the Greening the Desert video from the previous session, and to think about what this new knowledge about the soil tells us about how the Greening the Desert project was so successful:
To draw the session to a close, and to make links between soil fertility, yields and agriculural practice, Steve introduce the students to biochar as an innovative means of simultaneously adding carbon and nutrients back into the soil. He explained the process of wood pyrolysis used in the manufacture of biochar, which is a form of pure carbon created by heating organic matter in a kiln. The surface area of the biochar is an idea habitat for soil organisms, which it can be innoculated with (for example by feeding it to cattle ground up and then spreading the manure on fields). Students were asked to explain the process of wood pyrolysis and why it is a useful technology:
At the end of the lesson we set students the task for Monday’s lesson of producing a poster about biochar and how it can be used to enhance biodiversity in soils.