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Organic Agriculture Is Better Than Industrial Agriculture

Aaron Newton’s and Sharon Astyk, The Oil Drum
Industrial Agriculture: Stealing from the Future

Whenever people say, “We mustn’t be sentimental,” you can take it they are about to do something cruel. And if they add, “We must be realistic,” they mean they are going to make money out of it. —Brigid Brophy

The price of industrial agriculture is uncalculated quantities of food that future generations will not have to eat. How is this so? Well, for example, though cities grew up in good spots for trade, they also by necessity grew in areas surrounded by fertile, productive agricultural land that could support large populations. The displacement of large populations of agrarian people into cities has meant that all over the world, more and more land is transformed into city and suburb, paved over and no longer producing.

As the ability of soils to hold water decreases because of erosion and climate change, arable land becomes desert. As soils are depleted of nutrients and the price of natural-gas-based nitrogen fertilizers rises, untold people will find the cost of growing their own food in their depleted environment prohibitive. We are seeing this already.

As artificial fertilizers produce nitrous oxide and feedlot meat production warms the planet with methane, millions risk losing the sources of water that allow them to grow food. As we deplete aquifers by growing inappropriate crops in regions that cannot sustain them over the long term, we risk future hunger.

That said, however, we should not underestimate the resilience and power of local, indigenous, sustainable agriculture.
(16 October 2008)
TOD editor Gail Tverberg writes:
Today is World Food Day. To celebrate the day, we are publishing an excerpt from Aaron Newton’s and Sharon Astyk’s forthcoming book, A Nation of Farmers. We are publishing two sections from this book:
• Industrial Agriculture: Stealing from the Future
• Organic Agriculture Can Feed the World Better

A longer excerpt from the book is available on Hen and Harvest. A Nation of Farmers is being published by New Society Publishers, and is expected to appear in the Spring of 2009.

Food: does diversity matter?
Paul Barclay and Liza Holman, Australia Talks, ABC
Seventy-five per cent of the world’s agricultural diversity has been lost in the past century. The global food trade means people all over the world are eating the same varieties of apples and tomatoes and drinking milk from the same breed of cow. Are we sacrificing variety and taste for uniformity and efficiency? Have you decided to grow your own food using rare seeds and breeds in response?

Helena Norberg-Hodge, Director, International Society for Ecology and Culture
Alan Bell, Chief, CSIRO Livestock Industries
Ian Parmenter, Food writer, Festival Director of Tasting Australia
William Marshall, rare breeds farmer, Kangaroo Island
Michael Daly, National Chairman of IGA
(16 October 2008)
EB contributor Michael Lardelli writes:
This was a very interesting hour of national radio conversation in Australia about food production and included experts and callers. There was much talk of locally-sourced versus industrially-produced and -distributed food. Helena Norberg-Hodge made some very interesting comments including how industrial agriculture has the lowest labour costs but is not necessarily the most productive method of food production. There was lots more to think about in this programme including considerable enthusiasm for permaculture.

Iceland can avoid shortages, needs funds-importers

Patrick Lannin, Reuters
Iceland has food stocks for about 3 to 5 weeks, but needs quickly to restore a proper foreign exchange market so importers can get back to normal business and avoid shortages, importers said on Wednesday.

… Though the central bank has said it has foreign reserves for eight to nine months of food, importers said a cash injection from abroad was the only solution to avoid shortages.

They said Iceland imported about a half of its food products, but produced its own dairy products and meat.
(15 October 2008)

Food crisis billions failing to arrive, warn reports

John Vidal, Guardian
Groups contrast the speedy global response to the financial crisis with the ‘shocking’ delay in responding to food shortages in the developing world

Five months after countries pledged to give more than $12bn to address the global food emergency, less than $1bn has been delivered, says Oxfam. In a report to coincide with World Food day, the international agency berates rich countries for failing to respond speedily or adequately to soaring food and fuel prices.

“Rich countries are directing their attention to high fuel prices and turmoil in the financial sector but the number of malnourished people in the world rose by 44 million people in 2008. Nearly one billion people are now going hungry. When you consider the speed of the world’s response to the credit crisis, the delay in acting is shocking”, said an Oxfam spokesman.

In a separate report, Care International said that at least 6.4 million people in Ethiopia now need emergency food aid and that Somalia is facing a food crisis “unseen since the famine of the early 1990s”.
(16 October 2008)

A food crisis is heading our way

Tim Lang, Guardian
We need to take action by changing our shopping and eating habits – and pushing politicians to make food policy a priority

World Food Day gives us all a chance to think about the state of Britain’s food system and how our eating fits into the world of food. The outlook is sobering.

World figures on malnutrition show a rise after decades of fall. Yet we here in the UK are overeating our way to ill-health. We think of food problems such as crop failures, droughts and floods happening far away, but give less attention to how our food supply chain has a large ecological footprint. Calculations vary but if everyone ate like us, we’d need three or four planets.

The harsh reality is, that if we don’t make changes to the food system soon, a major food crisis will hit. This isn’t a problem for others. It’s our problem. UK politicians need to push food policy up their priority list fast.

World food systems must address what colleagues and I call the New Food Fundamentals. These are: less oil; climate change; water (floods, stress and shortages); biodiversity reduction; massive urbanisation; labour shortage on the land; population rising to 9 billion by 2050; the impact of changed diets (from affluence) on health; and excessive production of meat and dairy (both heavy uses of water and grain).
(16 October 2008)