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Reflection on Agriculture and Climate Change

Written by Claire Burch, 2017 Southeast Asia: Animal Conservation

My passion for agriculture started in a classroom discussing a food system I had grown up in: the industrial food system of the U.S. I was familiar with the pitfalls of this system, from animal welfare to longterm food supply sustainability. Through courses during my previous years of undergrad, I knew all about climate change, what was causing it, and what the consequences were. I knew that our current food system was a huge contributor of carbon dioxide and how this was playing into the current climate crisis we face.

We tied all of this to agriculture in my food studies course, and a lot of the information was familiar. This was the first time I’d really encountered agriculture, however, outside of the expanse of corn and soybean fields in Southern Illinois along roads I had driven many a time. It piqued my interest and I wanted to know more.

Through four months of coursework and lab work on my university’s organic farm, I began to fall in love with agriculture, all it entailed, and all it could do! As I was taking this course, though, I was taking courses on development in the periphery, and had taken courses previously on poverty and related topics. All of this tied together for me; the connections between our current industrial agricultural system, organic farming, global development and agriculture, and climate change and sustainability. The reality of our impacts on climate, our unwillingness to change our ways, and the impact of our decisions on other countries resonated.

Bill McKibben (founder of environmental group 350.org) reminded me, in a lecture he gave at my university, that the decisions we make are impacting those who have no say in what the climate does to them.

This resonates so strongly in the work Ockenden does, and I was reminded that the struggles associated with climate change hit hard in places where they have not made choices that caused it in the first place. Ockenden works to educate farmers in climate change adaptation and disaster resilience, and helps them to effectively implement farming practices that will help protect crops from the unpredictable climate they are trying to make a living in.

We had the opportunity to meet many farmers during our time working with the non-profit, and the underlying story was all the same. In the U.S., it’s sometimes hard to fathom food supplies and income generation faltering because our system seems to be fail-safe. Here in Cambodia, however, I believe we’re reminded that this self-centred view of OUR food system pulls us away from our global impact.

Being in the field grounded me and reminded me of why I love organic farming, and all it can do to help relieve pressure on the environment. It also proved that it is not some big feat to pull off, as most farms in Ockenden’s program run organically.

The work of Ockenden stretches beyond just educating farmers; they work on helping to provide education to young people, providing training in methods of income generation, and working towards women’s empowerment in the region.

We got the chance to work alongside school children on an Ockenden project and I loved seeing the excitement the youth had to be involved in what we were doing! It is this younger generation in this rural province that may one day take over the land from their parents, and I hope they tackle that with the same vigour.

Sohka, one of our Ockenden guides, emphasized that farming is the livelihood for so many people in the region, and I think involving education in the plan of attack is so important for getting youth involved in agriculture early. It was a wonderful experience getting to spend a day with the school children and seeing how Ockenden tries to reach as many people as they can.

In the end, the time spent in the field brought all of us a little closer to where food comes from. When we can make the connection between the ground our food grows in and the hands that gather it when it’s ready, when we can imagine it beyond the shelves of our grocery store, I think we can really begin to understand why climate change is dangerous and a pressing issue. Working with Ockenden brings us close to our impacts and reminds us that we’re not the only ones being affected.

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