No, We Don’t Need Industrial Agriculture to Feed the World
It won’t be easy to make the case that industrial agriculture is not what we need to feed the world, as well-oiled, deep-pocketed agribusinesses have been working for some time to convince the public that it is. But the Real Food Media Project, a project led by Anna Lappe of the Small Planet Institute, has set out to dismantle that myth.
In the first of a three-part video series called Food MythBusters, Lappe aims to prove that we can produce enough food for everyone in the world without genetic engineering, chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers and that we’d be better off for it in many more ways than one. Watch the video here and read the script for it here.
Lappe and her team define industrial agriculture as “a food production system that replaces natural cycles and ecological processes with synthetic inputs and fossil fuels.” Once farmers decide to go industrial and rely on these costly inputs, they quickly find themselves trapped on the hamster wheel of industrial food production: “pests become resistant so you’ve got to use more chemicals; livestock become sicker so you’ve got to use more drugs; soil loses its natural fertility so you’ve got to use more chemical fertilizer.”
The alternative is to grow food by employing sustainable practices. As Lappe explains in the video,
Sustainable farmers build healthy soil by planting a variety of crops and rotating them. They raise their animals on the farm, not in cramped factories. They fertilize using compost and livestock or planting soil-nourishing crops. Healthier plants with good crop rotation also help keep pests in check without hurting the bugs we need — like those all-important pollinators.
And yes, sustainable farming can feed the world. Small farmers already grow 70 percent of the world’s food, according to estimates by several studies, and there are already 3,000 calories available for every man, woman and child, which is more than enough to sustain us. The problem, however, is getting these calories — in the form of wholesome, nutritious food — to those who really need them.
In the end, it’s not just that sustainable farming is the preferred way to feed the world. In time, Lappe reminds us, industrial agriculture just won’t be an option anymore: “The industrial farm requires more fossil fuels, water, and mined minerals — all stuff that will only get more expensive as it runs out. So down the line, the chemical path not only can’t work for farmers; it won’t be a choice at all.”
As far as agribusinesses are concerned, however, the only name of the game is short-term profit, and they’ve managed to secure themselves an abundance of it. Who cares what’s in store for the future, as long as they can pocket the money they make today? Who cares what their actions may bring tomorrow? Who cares that people are going hungry because the industrial food system dictates that a third of the world’s grain goes to livestock? No, industrial agriculture won’t feed the world, and in fact it’s exacerbating the problem.
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