Feed The Future

Climate Change & The Food Factor: The Planet Needs A New Kind Of Agriculture

Let's not underestimate the impact on the planet of industrial, intensive agriculture, focused on exploiting machines, pesticides and fertilizers across wide tracts of land.

Agroecology, optimizing the relationships between plants, animals, humans and the environment.

If anyone still wasn't clear about the urgency to act to stop climate change, another Northern Hemisphere summer of extreme weather has given us a glimpse of how immediate the threat already is. Catastrophic floods killed scores and caused massive damage in Germany, Belgium and the UK; wildfires swept through large swathes of the Mediterranean, ravaging rural communities; record-breaking heat waves battered typically cool northern latitude regions in Canada and Siberia.

By now, most decision-makers have realized it's high time we took action. The United Nation's upcoming COP26 climate change conference, in Glasgow between October 31 and November 12, will be a chance to channel the attention into real policy change. Still, there is a glaring hole in the debate about the ecological emergency, which tends to focus on fossil fuel producers, car manufacturers and heavy industries like steelmaking and shipbuilding. Of course, we need to continue to ramp up renewable energy production, but there is a major factor contributing to the environmental wreckage that never gets the attention it deserves: agriculture.

"Climate change and food are strictly interrelated," says Marta Messa, Director of Slow Food Europe. "The way we produce, process, distribute and consume food […] can contribute to climate change or help tackle it."

We should talk about the impact on the planet of industrial, intensive agriculture — the type that farms vast amounts of land with the help of machines, pesticides, fertilizers and the like. Its relationship with the climate crisis is well documented in scientific literature. The global food system is responsible for about 26% of man-made carbon emissions — including CO2, methane and nitrous oxide. And this is only one example of its negative impacts on the environment: the others include biodiversity loss, desertification, deterioration of ecosystems, soil and water pollution. Fertilizers, for instance, are among the main culprits of bee die-offs.

According to Elena Višnar Malinovská, Head of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Climate Action, the systems for producing and distributing food are responsible for 60% of territorial biodiversity loss and 24% of greenhouse emissions. "We need to bring industrial farming to an end," she declared.

What's particularly striking is how little the sector has improved over the past several decades on the environmental front, even while other industries are making strides to lower their carbon footprint. Why have policymakers and the public given industrial agriculture a free pass for so long? In part, this may be explained by the ultimate importance given to the necessity that humans are well fed. "We all need to eat..." is a common refrain.

But there are other forces at work. The EU's Common Agricultural Policy, for example, earmarked more than €100 billion for "climate spending" between 2014 and 2020 — only to watch as agricultural greenhouse gas emissions did not budge. And while EU governments have at least attempted to set emission reduction targets for other sectors by 2030, they failed to set any for agriculture.

Another kind of food production is possible, one based on sustainability and ecology, and led by small, conscientious producers. Some call it agroecology: a type of farming that applies ecological concepts to optimize the relationships between plants, animals, humans and the environment. To take just one example, agroecology includes the targeted planting of forests in hotspots of environmental pressures to sequester agricultural emissions. But it also means eating more healthily — with a diet that includes more fruit and vegetables, ideally from local sources, while limiting animal-based products both in reduced quantity and higher quality.

Scientists have begun to document how non-industrial agriculture is more sustainable: according to a recent Nature Sustainability study, small-scale agriculture offers more yields and is better at preserving biodiversity.

Much of the industry, however, is aggressively moving in the opposite direction, focusing on tech-heavy solutions rather than a locally-driven ecological transition. Instead of putting the relationship between humans and nature at the center of efforts to make the food industry sustainable, more and more attention is directed to genetic innovation, feed additives and precision agriculture.

The multiple environmental crises we are facing will not be solved by some utopian technological fix to save us from the brink of disaster. We must confront every aspect of our lives that are contributing to ecological degradation and climate change. It's time to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work it takes to change the way we live in harmony with our surroundings — and make our food more sustainable, respectful, ecological. It's high time agriculture was given the attention it needs at COP26.

Be part of the solution by signing our Slow Food Climate Action Pledge here.

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Latin America, The Next Mecca For Digital Nomads

Latin American countries want to cash in on the post-pandemic changes to the fundamental ways we work and live, in particular by capitalizing on a growing demand from the new wave of remote workers and "youngish" professional freelancers with money to spend.

Working in the Atacama Desert, Chile

Natalia Vera Ramírez

LIMA — Niels Olson, Ecuador's tourism minister, is working hard to bring "digital nomads" to his country. He believes that attracting this new generation of freelancers who can work from anywhere for extended visits is a unique opportunity for all.

Olson recently tweeted that the average freelancer based in New York City could lower standard monthly costs from $4,000 to $1,000 by setting up shop in Ecuador.

Living in a town like Puerto López, he wrote, the expat freelancer could "work by the sea, live with a mostly vaccinated population, in the same time zone, (enjoy) an excellent climate, and eat fresh seafood." For Ecuador, the new influx of visitors with money to spend would help boost the country's economy.

To this end, he says, the government of President Guillermo Lasso is preparing a temporary residency visa for such workers. It "allows foreigners to work remotely for foreign firms in Ecuador. How does it benefit our country? By bringing foreign exchange into our economy and creating jobs," Olson stated.

Ecuador wants to be the first Latin American country to issue such visas, and the timing could not be better. While online-based freelancers already hopped from country to country before COVID-19, the pandemic has boosted their current numbers to around 100 million worldwide. The Inter-American Development Bank estimates there could be a billion roaming, digital workers by 2050.

A remote worker on the beach in Mexico

A remote worker on the beach in Mexico — Photo: Wonderlijk Werken

Latin America wants to compete with Europe 

Some European countries already issue visas for digital nomads. They include Germany, Portugal, Iceland, Croatia, Estonia and the Czech Republic, but in the Americas, only four countries make the list, namely Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Panama and Costa Rica.

In August 2021, Costa Rica approved a law for remote workers and international service providers, intended to attract digital nomads and make its travel sector more competitive. The law provides legal guarantees and specific tax exemptions for remote workers choosing to make the country their place of work.

It allows foreign nationals earning more than $3,000 a month to stay for up to a year in the country, with the ability to renew their visa for an additional year. If applicants are a family, the income requisite rises to $5,000.

Carlos Ricardo Benavides, the legislator promoting this law, says it will be a stimulus for Costa Rica's "economic reactivation. With this legislation, which is pioneering in its area, Costa Rica has a great tool to boost the country as a choice destination."

Neighboring Panama is also creating short-term residencies for remote workers and plans to extend tourist visas. The nation hopes to use the foreign cash spent on hospitality, retail and local services to revive an economy that shrank 17.9% in 2020.

Mexico offers temporary residencies to attract digital nomads

Mexico, meanwhile, offers no particular visa for digital nomads but remains one of their favored destinations, with 20 Mexican cities and towns currently hosting remote workers.. At the moment, the country simply offers temporary residencies for applicants able to show financial solvency (either $1,650 in monthly income or a bank balance with at least $27,000).

In Colombia, the government approved a Law of Enterprises that includes special migratory rules. It stipulates that the "Government, through the Ministry of Foreign Relations, shall expedite a special regimen for the entry, residence and work of digital nomads [...] with the purpose of promoting the country as a center for remote work."

When it comes to choosing a destination, taxes are often a decisive factor for digital nomads. Foreigners must consider facilities and infrastructure provided by host country, says Valeria Galindo, People Advisory Services Partner with the accounting firm EY Perú. But no less important in the choice of destination are " the tax consequences moving to a foreign country can have for themselves and their firm. Let's remember, many countries work on the basis of territoriality, which can generate taxes both in the destination country and in terms of the firm's settlement arrangements."

AirBnB partners with the city of Buenos Aires

Why are various Latin American countries courting digital nomads as residents? A study by the Adventure Travel Trade Association, called "Work and Wander: Meet Today's Digital Nomads," found that 87% of them earned around $4,500 a month, and spent around 36% of these earnings wherever they reside. Their work profiles were a mix of writing, sales and IT programming.

The website Nomadlist also finds these workers are generally young and more disposed to try different experiences and visit new places.

Their disposable income — and their willingness to spend it — makes digital nomads a boon to the continent's battered travel sector. The Mexican government found that a single person's stay for three months or longer translates to thousands of dollars poured into the local economy.

Victoria Bramati, Airbnb's communications chief for South America, says "the pandemic is changing the way we work, live and travel. People want to live anywhere," and technology is making this possible. This, she adds, is "happening in real time." In June 2021, the company came up with Live Anywhere on Airbnb, a pilot program where 12 people shared various Airbnb lodgings for 10 months. She said it was an opportunity for people to "make the world their home" for nearly a year, with most of the costs at Airbnb's expense. The firm recently signed an agreement with the Buenos Aires city government to jointly promote the Argentine capital as an international destination, particularly for remote workers.

Between its low costs, exotic destinations and colorful cultures, Latin America has a major potential to become the next digital nomad hotspot. And the moment is ripe to entice travelers who don't need — or want — to return home.

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