Across the globe, a remorseless pressure to produce food on an ever-larger, impersonal scale threatens the culture of food. For this reason I am an advocate of artisan food production. It represents the ancient tapestry of rural life: the dedicated animal husbandry, the love of the landscape, the knowledge and wisdom learned from parents and grandparents, and the intimate understanding of local climate and conditions. This is what we should strive to protect before completely losing our traditional ways of farming to corporate mega-farms.
Climate change is going to increase the need for us all to operate at a more local level. This is not something to be feared, but welcomed. Instead of primarily trying to compete in the global commodity markets, we can focus first on producing food for ourselves. In this uncertain world there is much to be said for nations recovering control over its own food supplies. Perhaps we need a new sustainable model of development whereby farmers and growers of all sorts collaborate not just in the production of food, but also in the production of energy to supply their local community.
UN scientists from the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development published a report that condemned industrialized agriculture, challenging the claims that genetic modification is necessary to feed the world and determined that if we continue as we are there will be growing food shortages and worse. The report claims: “We have to make food more affordable and nutritious without degrading the land.”
In 2008, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization published a report that challenged the oft-reported claim that organic farming cannot feed the world. The strongest benefit of organic agriculture is its reliance on fossil-fuel independent, locally-available resources that incur minimal agro-ecological stresses while being cost effective. Any farmer knows this.
Many believe that industrialized food is the only way to produce cheap food. But it isn’t cheap if you take into account the huge social and environmental costs that are excluded from the calculations. The real costs include the rise in food-borne illnesses, the advent of pathogens such as E-Coli 0157, antibiotic resistance from the overuse of drugs in animal feed, extensive water pollution from intensive agricultural systems and many other factors. These are some of the costs that society is paying, even if it isn’t reflected in the price of food.
If we are serious about feeding the world and serious about our long-term future on this planet, we have to find a way to respect nature’s limits. We have to actively promote the health of crops and livestock, rather than merely suppressing disease. Organic farming does all of this.
Sioga Geoghegan is a writer and gardener living in Ireland, a country invested in agriculture; in support of family farmers who are vital to the whole remaining delicate fabric of the countryside; to what is left of culture, and communities and to the continuation of Ireland’s great island story. Let me know what you think at: firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2008, Sioga Geoghegan