Philanthropy Can Seed Agroecology
Wendy Schmidt, Guest Contributor
Published by Inside Philanthropy
If you’ve ever flown over California’s Central Valley or the Midwest, you might have noticed expansive quilt-like patches of agricultural landscape. Indeed, over the past century, we’ve come to expect that farmland is organized into tidy, uniform squares.
In fact, those squares represent a dramatic loss to the planet. Today, on International Biodiversity Day, it’s crucial to consider how global industrial food systems hurt our world. Philanthropists can help change those systems for the better by supporting farmers pursuing agroecology, which draws from Indigenous knowledge to create resilient food systems that preserve biodiversity and feed communities.
Around the world, farmland now growing single crops was once a thriving habitat for a variety of species — animal and plant. Biodiversity isn’t only about polar bears and pollinators. More than 200,000 edible plant species have nourished humans throughout our time on Earth, including during the thousands of years we have practiced agriculture.
But over the past century, with the rise of industrial agriculture, at times heavily funded by philanthropic dollars, we’ve abandoned 75% of all crops we once farmed in favor of singular species that, to grow, require harsh chemicals, immense irrigation systems and polluting machinery.
We once believed these methods were essential to feed the world — we’ve added 7 billion people to the planet in less than 100 years. But in fact, we have built a food system that is at once enormous and extremely fragile. The global food system is the single largest cause of biodiversity loss worldwide and accounts for one-fourth of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions. It has degraded not just our soil but also our ocean, which is deeply affected by all we do on land.