Effects of industrial agriculture on climate change and the mitigation of small-scale agro-ecological farms

Brenda B. Lin, Michael Jahi Chappell, John Harry Vandermeer, Gerald Ray Smith, Ivette Perfecto, Eileen Quintero, Rachel Bezner Kerr, Daniel M. Griffith, Stuart Ketcham, Steven C. Latta, Philip McMichael, Krista McGuire, Ronald Nigh, Diana Rocheleau, John Soluri

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    53 Citations (Scopus)


    According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), agriculture is responsible for 10-12% of total global anthropogenic emissions and almost a quarter of the continuing increase of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Not all forms of agriculture, however, have equivalent impacts on global warming. Industrial agriculture contributes significantly to global warming, representing a large majority of total agriculture-related GHG emissions. Alternatively, ecologically based methods for agricultural production, predominantly used on small-scale farms, are far less energy-consumptive and release fewer GHGs than industrial agricultural production. Besides generating fewer direct emissions, agro-ecological management techniques have the potential to sequester more GHGs than industrial agriculture. Here, we review the literature on the contributions of agriculture to climate change and show the extent of GHG contributions from the industrial agricultural system and the potential of agro-ecological smallholder agriculture to help reduce GHG emissions. These reductions are achieved in three broad areas when compared with the industrial agricultural system: (1) a decrease in materials used and fluxes involved in the release of GHGs based on agricultural crop management choices; (2) a decrease in fluxes involved in livestock production and pasture management; and (3) a reduction in the transportation of agricultural inputs, outputs and products through an increased emphasis on local food systems. Although there are a number of barriers and challenges towards adopting small-scale agro-ecological methods on the large scale, appropriate incentives can lead to incremental steps towards agro-ecological management that may be able to reduce and mitigate GHG emissions from the agricultural sector.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-18
    Number of pages18
    JournalCAB Reviews: Perspectives in Agriculture, Veterinary Science, Nutrition and Natural Resources
    Issue number020
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


    • Industrial agriculture Agro-ecology Small-scale agriculture Greenhouse gases Land conversion Mitigation Climate change Global warming Adaptation


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