Posted on March 9, 2011 - by

Not a Hippie Pipe Dream: UN Says Eco-Farming Can Feed the World

Whenever I talk about how damaging conventional farming is to our society and planet, eventually some naysayer raises his hand and asks, “Yeah but, how do you know that reverting to traditional and organic farming methods is going to produce enough food? Aren’t we regressing backwards from the technological progress we’ve made? It’s just not practical to go back to the old days—stop being a Luddite.”

At that point, I reiterate that modern industrialized agriculture may appear to generate greater yields, but this comes at a high cost, requiring far more fertilizer and pesticide inputs than traditional forms of agriculture that respect the diversity and balance of nature. Still, not everyone is swayed by these arguments. And well, frankly, I’m not out to convince everyone.

The thing is, not nearly enough research has been done on this question, at least not with studies that haven’t been sponsored by interest groups. There is room to argue that corporate partnerships at our nation’s universities have not only stymied research on eco-friendly farming practices, but have in fact encouraged the development of corporate-friendly genetically-engineered organisms and proprietary agricultural products.

The good news: yesterday, the United Nations released a report on small-scale and agroecological farming, written by Olivier De Schutter, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food appointed by the UN Human Rights Council. He is an investigator who is independent from any government or organization.

In no uncertain terms, De Schutter states, “Today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production where the hungry live—especially in unfavorable environments…Conventional farming relies on expensive inputs, fuels climate change and is not resilient to climatic shocks. It simply is not the best choice anymore today.” (UN News Release)

This change in focus is crucial for feeding the estimated 9 billion people that will populate the planet by 2050. Rather than relying on distant industrial inputs, agroecological farming relies on local resources, additional labor, and traditional knowledge for crop rotation and pest control techniques. In addition, De Schutter takes a nuanced approach to crop breeding techniques, noting that genetically-modified seeds concentrate power in the hands of seed companies, but marker-assisted selection and participatory plant breeding “use the strength of modern science, while at the same time putting farmers in the driver’s seat.” (AlterNet)

How do we get our governments and farmers to make the switch to sustainable forms of agriculture? It will certainly be difficult to achieve, particularly when our current model diverts nearly 90% of the corn crop to animal feed or ethanol (Bittman). We need to have Congressional consensus that this issue must be addressed right now. And that will only happen if voices are demanding change, insisting that we break away from a path that leads to self-destruction.

So, did you talk about sustainable farming today?

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    March 9, 2011


    Kate Jaeckel said:

    Thank you for spreading the word about sustainable farming practices!