LAWRENCE — Revolutionizing the way humans practice agriculture by implementing new practices supported by international bodies might sound like a radical idea. Yet it’s possible, according to a University of Kansas legal expert whose new book shares how similar international bodies have already moved beyond the 16th century idea of sovereignty. A global corporate trust for agroecological integrity could help prevent a collapse in the systems humans use for food production.
Climate change, soil degradation, erosion and poor farming practices have put agriculture and ecosystems around the world in peril. John Head, the Robert W. Wagstaff Distinguished Professor of Law at KU, has written a new book and a pair of law review articles outlining how institutional changes could form entities that oversee agricultural concerns in what he calls “eco-states” instead of nation-states. Those could usher in a change from current extractive agricultural methods to natural-systems agriculture featuring grains and legumes that are perennial and grown in polycultures.
“A Global Corporate Trust for Agroecological Integrity: New Agriculture in a World of Legitimate Eco-States” outlines not only how such a massive transition is possible but how the formation of eco-states that govern ag concerns across borders can be done and how similar bodies already exist.
“We have such an urgent problem right now of soil erosion, soil degradation and climate change. To reverse that, there has to be some way of coordinating a type of entity such as ecological states,” Head said. “With the weight of climate change and the pressure that this puts on agriculture, there have to be points of departure and a ‘taking of the bull by the horns’ to make change.”
Head uses his extensive experience in law, international organizations and farming to make his case through three propositions. The first is that the extractive form of agriculture humans have used for about 10,000 years can and should be replaced with natural-systems forms of agriculture, known as agroecological husbandry. He acknowledges that this requires major changes in agricultural philosophy and practices, but he also points to remarkable progress already made in developing perennial grains as a result of research in places such as the Land Institute in Salina. Head also cites gains in African and East Asian nations, including perennial rice in China. Such an approach could ultimately produce the grains that make up about 67% of the human diet without requiring land to be turned annually and without requiring nearly the amount of fossil fuels currently used.
“I think there’s enough momentum already built up on the shift to perennial polycultures that it’s time to develop legal reforms to facilitate that shift,” Head said. “The science is underway. I’m saying we need to make the legal and institutional changes to support the transformation.”