I blog about environmental and social justice issues because I am very concerned about the health of the interdependent web of life of which we are a part.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Problems with Agriculture

I recently posted - muttering to myself- about the lack of discussion on climate change in the media.  As I stated earlier, Al Jazeera ia an exception.  Dahr Jamal wrote an aricle on July 4, 2011 entitled The Decline of Agriculture?  You can find it at http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/features/2011/07/201173114451998370.html
Ze starts with a warning from the Food and Agriculture Organisation about the delterious effects climate change will have on agriculture and hence, on human eating. The FAO warned that climate change will reduce food production, and therefore, cause millions of people to go hungry - or starve.  (The author also quotes the US National Climate Data Center as saying that April 2011's weather extremes were unprecedented.  Don't worry , the relevance of this point will be apparent later on.)
Ze then moved into a discussion of current agricultural practices.  Our industrail agribusiness methods are apparently quite disastrous.  Dahr Jamal quotes Dr. Bomford, a plant and soil scientist, as saying
Clearing land for farming releases carbon into the atmosphere and that contributes to climate change.  Then by farming it, using cultivation causes soil to be lost in wind and erosion, and that topsoil took thousands of years to from.  One extreme weather event can cause us to lose thousands of years of soil.
Please see the comment above on April's weather extremes and picture such extremes becoming the new normal as predicted by climate change models. Goodbye soil.  Goodbye cheap plentiful food.
Cultivation istn't the only problem with our agriculture. Our use of fertilizers derived from petroleum is also problematic. Dr Ryerson is quoted as follows:
The world's agricultural systems rely substantially on increasing use of fertilizers.  But now, the world's farmers are witnessing signs of a declining response curve, where the use of additional fertilizer yields little additional food product. At the same time, fertilizers and intensive cropping lower the quality of soil. These factors will more and more limit the possibilities of raising food production substantially and will, at a minimum, boost relative food prices and resulting hunger for many.
Looks like starvation is on the menu for many of us as food isn't going to be!   Weirdly, our penchant for large agribusiness - huge industrial farms - isn't a logical choice when one considers productivity. The bigger the farm , the less productive it is. Astonishing fact, isn't it?  "Vandana Shiva....points to reams of studies by universities, the UN and FAO showing that the most productive form of agriculture is not our modern, tractor-serviced, big field monocultures, but multilple crop..., manual labour intensive smallholdings."  (page 170, Good News For A Change, Suzuki and Dressel.) In  fact, the UN came out with another report called Agroecology and the Right to Food which urged that we shift towards agro-ecology in order to deal with the problems of hunger, climate change, and poverty.
As defined by the UN, agroecology "applies ecological science to the design of agricultureal systems taht can help put an end to food crises and address climate change and poverty challenges.  It enhances soils productivity and protects crops agaisnt pests by relying on the natural environment such as benefical trees, palnts, animals, and insects."   Sounds like organic gardening to me.  But whatever agroecology sounds like, it is a multiple crop system that relies on manual labour - and it is incredibly productive. 
Even more weirdly, governments have ignored the facts and chosen to subsidize agribiz instead of small family farms. Even worse, in Canada the federal government has had a settled and considered policy of squeezing small holders out of existence.  "During the late 1960s, the federal government instigated a major study into the future of Canadian agriculture. The study concluded that there were too many farmers in Canada (emphasis mine) and recommended that approximately two-thirds of them be eventually eliminated (page 94, Writing Off The Rural West, editors Roger Epp and Dave Epson..)

So the Canadian government chose to encourage large farms that require massive inputs of chemical fertilizers and pesticides; that destroy the soil; increase greenhouse gas emissions; and are actually less productive than small holdings.   These existing  problems with agribusines are now exacerbated by the effects of climate change.

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