Ventures into global agriculture and the future of food
Agriculture drives climate change, extinction, erosion and water depletion. It uses about 40 percent of all land on earth and more than 70 percent of all freshwater, drying up riverbeds and draining aquifers. Due to over-exploitation of the soil and climate change, desertification is one of the greatest threats to life on earth. Every minute of every day, 23 hectares of arable land are lost to growing deserts, and land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23 percent of the global land surface.
Meanwhile, by 2048 the world population is expected to increase to nearly ten billion. Combined with changing diets – from plant based to meat and fish – this means a higher demand for food and the threat of an even faster degradation of our soil due to exhaustion, while at the same time more and more harvests will fail as a result of climate change.
Fertilizer disposal from industrial farming activities harm the ecosystems of rivers and coastal areas, while deforestation and the transformation of grassland into farmland cause soil erosion and loss of biodiversity. Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history and agriculture and land-use changes are the main drivers that also contribute roughly a quarter of greenhouse gases driving the global climate crisis.
All combined, agriculture is the single most transformative thing humans are collectively doing to the planet. Yet, most people don’t realize how fragile our food systems are.
That is why we have been documenting the social and environmental consequences of global agriculture since 2007. In a slow journalism approach we build close relationships with farmers, ranchers and fishermen, policy makers, activists and scientists. Our projects grow organically, chapter by chapter, in a constant cycle of research, production, and presentation. This open process allows them to surface in ever-new contexts, gradually building bridges from magazine publications and documentary films, linear web documentaries, and interactive apps to spatial installations at art institutions.
White Gold (2007-2012) examines the social and ecological effects of global cotton production. Cotton is in our clothing, in banknotes, animal feed, toothpaste and film rolls. From the outset, cotton has been traded more unfairly than most other product, and the reputation of cotton as a natural product can easily be exposed as an illusion. It destroys entire regions because of its excessive water needs. Cotton uses more pesticides than other plants, threatening ecosystems. And cotton stimulates the global industrialization of agriculture.
LandRush (2011-ongoing) analyzes the impact of large-scale agro-investments on rural economies and land rights, the boom of renewable fuels, the reallocation of land, and the future of agriculture around the world. It documents neo-colonial land grabbing in Ethiopia, industrial mega-companies in Brazil, family farms that are flourishing due to ethanol production in Iowa, and organic farming and land use policies in Eastern Germany – amongst many more phenomena.
Dry West (2014-ongoing) documents the hydrological society and human shaped landscapes of the American West, where rivers run in concrete beds, across mountains and deserts and up towards money. Increasingly this system that made deserts bloom and cities boom is out of balance. The region demands more water than nature provides. More than 80 percent of the water goes to an agricultural system that turned harvesting into a mining operation: instead of copper, gold, or oil, it mines highly subsidized water.