Sunday, March 13, 2011

Agroecology: Welcome To The 1800's.

Paula Crossfield from Civil Eater posted a story in the Huffington Post which references a UN study that claims to solve the challenges of hunger in an organic manner.

I suggest you all read the HuffPo article, then read the study.  What follows is an analysis of that study.

Allow me to decode this report for everyone:

*Eliminate animal feed and use those inputs to make more human food. - This is entirely unrealistic, especially since it advocates feeding animals the scraps of food we don't want.  Basically, there won't be enough food for the animals, so there will be less of them.  Meat will be a delicacy reserved for the wealthy.

*Revert back to farm labor of the 1800's when people had to work all day to barely produce enough food for their families and caloric intakes were between 1,000 and 1,500 kcal/day.

*Sell all the food locally... meaning that everyone has to be a farmer.   -  The few that aren't farmers will pay huge premiums for the labor intense, niche market food.  This also means you have to eat the food that is grown where you live.  That could be rice or that could be cassava.  Don't like either?  Move... I guess.

*Spend more money and research on plant breeding, but singles out 'industrial ag'.  -  This is a thinly veiled knock on fertilizers, pesticides, and biotech.  Replacing all that will be the way we used to breed crop varieties... when we were all starving.  Breeding desired traits into crops using conventional methods does yield the same results as biotech... except it takes much longer.  Years longer.

*In place of fertilizers, which add nitrogen to the soil, they advocate natural means... of adding nitrogen to the soil.  -  Of course, the natural methods will work(it's nitrogen too) but not as efficiently.

This whole report reads like a fantasy wish list written by a few activists without any regard for reality.

To sum up the plan...
Everyone grow organic since organic costs more money and farmers will make more.
More people will then be needed to farm this way and we'll need much more farms.
Unfortunately, we'll still be short of food so the only animal production that can be tolerated is animals fed the scraps of food we don't eat.
The rest depends on magic, apparently.

This couldn't have been written by agronomists and crop science experts.

There are some good things in here.  For instance, they advocate the use of ponds and nitrogen fixing trees.  They do allow for some fertilizer use where organic methods are unavailable.

The worst of what this plan does, however, is tie poor countries to subsistence level farming so that they may never develop and grow wealth.