“Agricultural rewilding” should be a part of our response to climate change.

In general, I believe that we should be investing heavily in various modes of indoor food production. There are a lot of different forms this could and should take – I’ve talked before about diversity as the foundation of resilience – but central to the case for all of them is the same. The vast majority of food production depends on predictable seasonal weather patterns; weather patterns that become less predictable by the year. Another part of the reason for that is that it would free up current farmland to be used either for carbon capture, or rewilded.

Here at Oceanoxia, we view humanity as being a part of the various ecosystems in which we exist. That means that when those ecosystems are threatened, it puts us in danger too. We’re accustomed to thinking of ourselves as apart from the so-called “natural world”, but that was always a fantasy rooted in supremacist ideologies. Rewilding land, if done right helps increase the resilience of those ecosystems, which benefits us in turn.

So what does it mean to “do it right” when it comes to rewilding? Well, there are a lot of answers to that, and maybe I’ll dig into it more in the future (let me know in the comments, I guess?), but for those article there are two things I want to focus on. The first is that it’s going to be different in different places. With invasive species, pollution, climate change, and a hundred other factors, there cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution to this.

The second is that we should not necessarily be trying to recreate some ideal of an “unspoiled wilderness”. I’ve talked before about how Native Americans, and many other groups around the world, practiced agriculture as ecosystem management. This means cultivating the wildlife to create an ecosystem where edible and medicinal plants are abundant and easy to find. It also means cultivating your society so that everyone knows to care for this common resource. I think it’s also important to note that with the rising temperature, trying to recreate past ecosystems may be a literally fruitless endeavor.

Regardless, I think that we should be cultivating “edible ecosystems” as one part of the work we’re doing, and the science says I’m right!

‘Agricultural rewilding’ can also help to overcome concerns about the impact of rewilding on livelihoods and produce “win-win” environmental and human benefits, according to the researchers.

Agricultural rewilding involves restoring ecosystems via the introduction, management, and production of livestock with domestic species (typically hardy, native breeds) acting as analogues for their wild counterparts.

Researchers say combining rewilding and agriculture in this way helps to address some of the key concerns related to rewilding – the exclusion of people and agricultural work from the land, and reduction in food self-sufficiency.

It can also support the production of high-quality, high-welfare, high-value meat that is environmentally, ethically, and financially sustainable.

Conventionally, rewilding seeks to remove or reduce human intervention in a landscape in order to restore damaged ecosystems. Researchers argue that agricultural rewilding can achieve ecological benefits such as habitat restoration, tree planting, and natural flood management while still allowing for human management of land.

The paper was first presented at the conference of the European Society for Agricultural and Food Ethics and is now published in Transforming food systems: ethics, innovation and responsibility. The work was a collaboration between Virginia Thomas from the University of Exeter, England, and Aymeric Mondière, Michael Corson, and Hayo van der Werf from the French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food, and the Environment.

Dr Thomas said: “Agricultural rewilding offers the potential for win-win scenarios in which biodiversity is increased and ecosystems are restored along with active human intervention in landscapes and the provision of livelihoods which are financially and environmentally sustainable.”

“Agricultural rewilding can potentially have biodiversity benefits over those of conventional rewilding since it can create and maintain habitats which may be lost in “hands-off” rewilding practices and whose loss would pose a threat to habitat-specialist species.”

“Furthermore, extensive farming as part of agricultural rewilding offers an advantage over more intensive agriculture in that animals can be kept in naturalistic conditions and in accordance with high welfare standards.”

“Domestic livestock can be present in the landscape, restoring biodiversity and regenerating ecosystem function, while still contributing to agricultural production where their lives are lived to high welfare and environmental standards and their deaths provide high-quality meat, thus contributing to food self-sufficiency and reducing the outsourcing of food production to systems with higher environmental impacts. Meanwhile, management of livestock allows for continued active human intervention in the landscape, thereby supporting rural livelihoods and communities.”

Yes, please. I want that.

For all I think that we should be planning for a world where people can’t go outside without serious heat protection during growing parts of the year, I also think that we should be reshaping our cultures to make our connection to the rest of the biosphere harder to ignore. Some of that means bringing the outside in, and having more plant and animal life within places like cities (which may need to be enclosed at some times? I feel like people don’t think enough about how hot things are likely to get), but it also means having a different relationship with the outdoors. Yes to recreation, yes to having the time to be outside, but also as a part of maintaining and governing our communities.

As much as capitalists and their supporters may hate to hear it, the biosphere is a common resource. All of our fates are tied to it, and efforts to privatize it have proven disastrous. We can have a better world, than this one, but we should expect it to be radically different from what we’re used to.

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  1. John Morales says

    Not directly related (preservation not re-creation), but this was on today’s news here in Oz:

    The federal government will reserve 30 per cent of land for conservation to improve biodiversity and set a goal of no new extinctions in an overhaul of its threatened species action plan.

    The new plan, to be outlined by Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek on Tuesday, includes a commitment to protect an additional 50 million hectares of land by the end of the decade.

  2. Katydid says

    The farm where I get my chicken and beef has 1200 acres and rotates their 30 cows between fenced pasture. When the cows leave a pasture, the chicken caravan is brought in for the chickens to pick through and scatter the manure. There are lines of trees between pastures, and the grass re-grows between cow visits.

    So much cleaner and more biodiverse than the McMansions-on-a-quarter-acre surrounding them.

  3. says

    @Katydid – I think one could also add in coppiced trees spaced out in the fields for a renewable source of wood without shading out the grass enough to matter.

  4. says

    @John Morales – that IS good news, but I’ve reached a point where I want to hear about what a country has already done or is actively doing. It feels like these commitments always end up having loopholes to allow resource extraction or something.

  5. timbr says

    We going to need a lot more food in upcoming years imo. Latest knews about crab population going down is just a first step: not so long ago I went diving with my sealife camera https://gritroutdoors.com/sealife/ and to be frank – there are much less marine life compared to previous years(I’ve been diving at my friend’s town for well over a decade, and it’s been getting pretty bad in last 2-3 years). If it keeps going like this, we would need to heavily rely on farms(even more so than currently) and that’s not something I’m looking forward to.

  6. says

    @timbr – I don’t think we can predict exactly when we’ll see a global food shortage, but unfortunately I think I can predict how it will manifest. Poor countries that have been forced to produce cash crops and import their food are going to see those imports vanish, and they’ll starve first.

    Unless we can get real political and economic change in the rich parts of the world.

    But yeah – we should be treating seafood as a resource that’s going to be functionally gone pretty soon. Subsistence and indigenous fisheries should maintain rights, but the industrial-scale stuff needs to be largely phased out.

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