LandRush - Ventures into Global Agriculture
From March 20 to August 29 2021 at Pomhouse
LandRusH –Ventures into global agriculture is an artistic exploration of the social and environmental impact of agriculture around the world.
Agriculture drives climate change, extinction, erosion and water depletion. It uses about 40 % of all land on earth and more than 70 % of all freshwater; drying up riverbeds and draining aquifers. Due to over-exploitation of the soil and rapidly intensifying global temperatures 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, while 23 % of the global land surface1 has reduced productivity due to land degradation.
By 2048 the world’s population is expected to balloon to nearly ten billion. Combined with changing diets — primarily 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 an increasing number of 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 causes soil erosion and a 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 actually are.
Frauke Huber and Uwe H. Martin have been documenting the social and environmental consequences of global agriculture since 2007. Using a slow journalism approach they build close relationships with farmers, ranchers and fishermen; and interview policy makers, activists and scientists. Their projects have grown organically, chapter by chapter, in a constant cycle of research, production, and presentation. This open process allows their work 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.
For the first time this exhibition brings together all three chapters of Huber and Martin’s ongoing investigation:
WHITE GOLD (2007 – 2012) examines the social and ecological effects of global cotton production. Cotton is used in our clothing, banknotes, animal feed, toothpaste and film rolls. Cotton has always been traded more unfairly than most other products and its reputation as natural is nothing more than an illusion. It destroys entire regions due to excessive water needs, it uses more pesticides than other plants, threatening ecosystems. Plus, cotton stimulates the global industrialization of agriculture.
LANDRUSH (2011 – ongoing) analyzes the impact of large-scale agroinvestments 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 hydro society and human shaped landscapes of the American West, where rivers run in concrete beds, across mountains and desert, 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.
- Concept, writings & videos
Frauke Huber & Uwe H. Martin
Daniela Del Fabbro, in close collaboration with Marielle Kaufmann
- Light & audiovisual installation
Ralph Popov / LEMON Event Support
- Technical crew
Dirk Berghmans, Kurt Gelhausen, Alexandre Useldinger
- Photography / Documentation
Anne-Laure Letellier & Marielle Kaufmann
- Graphic design
In the framework of the European Month of Photography, Luxembourg.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue entitled “LandRush – Ventures into Global Agriculture” including written contributions by Dr. Wolfgang Brückle and Dennis Dimick.
Humanity’s Impact Sweeps the Planet
[excerpt from the catalogue essay]
The past year has been like no other in our lifetimes. Our days of freely moving and gathering have been replaced by months of isolation, our lives altered profoundly by a global pandemic.
For those who fortunately escape COVID-19, degrees of lockdown or quarantine remain. Vaccines arrive that can help restore routines, travel, and ways we earn our living. We now see that 21st century life will be measured as the time before coronavirus, and the time after.
As we feel our way in this new era, grasping footholds in an uncertain world, our constant need for food and water most certainly remains. We must eat, we must drink. And the people on the food front lines who grow, harvest, and move food from farm to table have been enduring mortal risk this year to their health to provide the nourishment we all need.
A wealth gap rises between those who serve and those who are served, between the haves and have-nots. This pandemic has laid bare inequality across the planet, as millions go hungry and lose their homes after jobs and businesses vanish, and money for rent and food runs out.
Unheralded, farmers and their workers must show up each day to till soil, sow seeds, tend crops, and reap the harvest. Transit and grocery workers must sort and grade, transport and distribute, unpack boxes, and stock shelves and cases.
Many pieces make up the food puzzle: good soil, viable seeds, plant nutrients, enough water from rain or irrigation, sufficient labor, just right temperatures, and sun. Combine these essentials with adequate finance, energy for machines, precision planning and planting, cultivation, pest control, harvest, storage, refrigeration, and transportation. All ingredients play a timely and measured role in this complex recipe, or crops fail, food can spoil before market.
Social inequality and environmental damage inherent in agriculture underpin the revelatory investigations and stories here by Frauke Huber and Uwe H. Martin, enterprising and patient documentarians who for years have traveled five continents to observe, meet people, ask questions, and listen. Their multi-faceted reports combine words, sounds, pictures, and cinema to document the ways we exploit land, water, seeds, and people to grow the food and fiber we need to survive. This is not necessarily a pretty sight.
Agriculture uses about 40 percent of arable land and 70 percent of freshwater worldwide. As world population grows towards 10 billion over the next 30 years, we will cut down and burn more forests and plow more grasslands to graze livestock and grow crops.
Economists say we must grow twice as much food by mid-century to keep up with rising population and our growing taste for more high-quality protein like meat and dairy. Not only is agriculture a major contributor of greenhouse gases that heat the planet, but crop yields are threatened by droughts, heatwaves, storms, and floods caused by those same emissions.
In an epic-scale documentary project reminiscent of the famous 1930s work of Depression-era Farm Security Administration photographers, Huber and Martin use soil, water, and seeds as a framework. These elements provide the bedrock foundation for agriculture and for the work presented here in three sections: Land Rush (soil), Dry West (water), and White Gold (seeds).
Agriculture is nothing without soil, and Land Rush analyzes the race to secure land in the Amazon, Ethiopia, and Germany. In the U.S., Huber and Martin look at Iowa crops grown for energy, this while vital topsoil washes downstream after decades of industrial monoculture.
In Dry West, Huber and Martin live in the arid American southwest to examine the vital role imported water plays in propping up agriculture and society in a dry region historically prone to devastating drought. As snowpacks and aquifers decline, farming’s future is vulnerable here.
White Gold documents global cotton production in Texas, Africa, Central Asia, and India, probes its financial and environmental impact, and looks at damage to impoverished farmers and rural economies from overhyped genetically engineered cotton seeds. The poor get poorer.
Epic and eloquent, these in-depth reports testify to Huber and Martin’s persistence, curiosity, and passion in revealing agriculture’s huge and growing impact on people and planet.
Their reports are sweeping, yet personal. While agriculture has domesticated more of earth’s land than any other activity, our food supplies and fate rely on unyielding efforts of people they met who plant, weed, and pick. We owe thanks to Huber and Martin for reminding us of the sacrifices by those who sow and reap for our benefit.
Frauke Huber and Uwe H. Martin are independent visual storytellers, researchers and educators. Their long-term investigations, which combine photography with documentary film, text and sound, focus on the great environmental issues of the Anthropocene.
They are members of the storytelling collective Bombay Flying Club and have been part of the collaborative art and research project World of Matter, which Uwe cofounded in 2010.
Frauke studied economics and holds a degree in photography. Uwe studied documentary photography and journalism and is teaching at universities and in workshops around the world. Uwe also cofounded the RiffReporter cooperative, a crossover between a collaborative publishing platform and a business incubator for entrepreneurial freelance journalism.
Frauke and Uwe mentor young storytellers and are often invited as speakers and experts on topics such as trans-media storytelling, slow journalism, fragmented narratives, water policy and agriculture. Over the years they have received numerous recognitions and awards for their work, including the German Reporter Award, the Greenpeace Award, the Development Media Award and the German Short Film Award.
Their new initiative – the „Earth Vision Lab“ – brings together diverse expert teams envisaging solutions to the Water-Land-Energy-Food-Climate-Nexus.