What is “climate positive food”?

By | September 17, 2015

When climate positive food is produced and transported to the consumer’s table, no greenhouse gases are emitted or more greenhouse gases are sequestered than emitted, such that its total climate effect is positive.

Additionally the food’s nutritional value is higher than the energy used to produce, process and transport the food. The energy used comes from sun, water and soil, no fossil fuel needed.

Example: A traditional farmer with his hoe working full time can feed 10 people.

He needs a piece of land, seeds and animals to start with. He does not need external fertilizer, oil, coal, gas, pest control or chemicals. His fertilizer is compost and dung. Weeding is part of his job, insect control is done by birds and other useful creatures he provides with their favourite living and breeding conditions.

In this example calculating energy balance is easy:

One farmer feeds ten people, ONE unit yields TEN units.

The current “modern food industry” uses TEN units of energy to produce ONE unit of nutritional value.

It is 100 times less efficient than the hoe farmer.

Does that mean we should go back to hoe-farming?

No. Not bad for the climate BUT there are at least two fundamental issues:

  1. hoe farming needs a lot of space. Far too much to feed 8.3 Billion humans said to live in 2050.
  2. Every tenth of us would have to lead the life of a hoe farmer which does not seem to be an attractive job description these days

And there are more issues. The produce of a hoe farmer might not be a good match for the consumption patterns of “modern people”. The rather scattared production pattern is not a good match to the concentration of people in ever growing cities and agglomerations. The necessary transport might ruin the climate balance.

And: what does work?

The basic idea for our climate positive food future is: Let nature do the work, not machines, not people, not factory produced chemicals.

The task for humans is to create edible forest gardens which bind ever increasing amounts of green house gases in animals and plants, vermin and microbes, biochar and soil. At the same time the edible forest gardens produce an abundance of food for people, live stock and wildlife. In the cities there are green patches, around every settlement and city there are edible green belts, multi layered food producing agro systems thoroughly designed from the root to the canopy, highly biodiverse.

What is this biodiversity good for?

The biodiversity of perennial, multi annual and annual plants, live stock and wild stock, insects, vermin and microbe is utilized to substitute all functions performed by humans, machines and chemicals in the agro systems we see today:

specially selected geese feed on weeds; pigs eat windfall fruit; chicken, toads, frogs, lizards and wild birds take care of the insects; root systems, vermin, bugs and microbe loosen the soil and increase fertility; legumes capture nitrogen;  plant disease cannot spread because many different plants are grow together in families; the smell of one plant drives away the pest from another; useful creatures feed on varmint …

Such a highly complex system needs a lot of observation skills, patience, know how, experience and profound local knowledge until it will be self sustaining without significant intervention.

If this “activation energy” has once been invested, humans have no task left but to sew and to harvest and keep an eye on things on a regular basis. Alien invasive species, rare weather incidents and long term cycles could potentially destabilize a seemingly stable system.

bottom line

Edible forest gardens are highly productive climate positive high tech agro systems, requiring only very low numbers of operating staff. Roughly ONE person can feed ONE HUNDRED.  Planted in or near cities, only small transport costs are caused. These gardens can be organized by foundations and food co-operatives, also by self producing traders. I see a plethora of organizational possibilities coexisting.

Here is the website of Dave Jake the author of a very good book on how to plant an edible garden

Here is the website of his Co Author Eric Toensmeier.


!!! Correction (01.10.2015): Globally the energy content in fossil fuel used to produce food is about ten times the energy content of the food.


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  1. Pingback: Executive Summary | Klimafarm: Gesunde Nahrung. Gesunde Umwelt. Gesunde Profite.

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