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 2050 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 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 unprecedented rates in human history. Agriculture and land-use changes are the main drivers. They also contribute about a quarter of greenhouse gases that drive the global climate crisis.
All combined, agriculture is the most transformative force humans collectively unleash onto the planet. Yet, most people don’t realize how fragile our food systems are.
We have been documenting global agriculture’s social and environmental consequences since 2007. We collaborate with farmers, fishers, scientists, indigenous peoples, and activists to investigate seed-, water- and land rights, environmental justice, climate change, and the future of agriculture worldwide. LandRush grows organically, chapter by chapter, in a constant research, production, and presentation cycle. This open process allows our project to surface in ever-new contexts, gradually bridging traditional journalistic publications, linear web documentaries, interactive apps, video archives, books, and spatial multichannel installations at art institutions and museums.
White Gold (2007-2012) examines global cotton production’s social and ecological effects. Cotton is in our clothing, banknotes, animal feed, toothpaste, and film rolls. Yet, from the outset, cotton has been traded more unfairly than most other products. Cotton’s reputation as a natural product is merely 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 worldwide. It documents neo-colonial land grabbing in Ethiopia, industrial mega-companies in Brazil, family farms 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 water use and the 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.