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Discuss: State of the World 2013 > Chapter 17 Agriculture: Growing Food - and Solutions

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message 1: by Ted (new)

Ted | 348 comments Mod
For Agriculture: Growing Food - and Solutions.

message 2: by Ted (new)

Ted | 348 comments Mod
“Over the last three decades the western food system has been built to promote overconsumption of a few consolidated commodities – including rice, wheat and maize – and has neglected nutrient-rich indigenous foods that tend to resist heat, drought , and disease. One result is that 1.5 billion people in the world are obese or overweight” … while another 1 billion remain hungry. (191)

“Moreover, vast amounts of food are wasted in both rich and poor countries, agriculture accounts for one third of global greenhouse gas emissions, food-related diseases are on the rise, and the environmental impacts of agriculture – including deforestation, water scarcity, and GHG emissions – are increasing.”

So - industrial agriculture, depending on cultivation of single crops over vast areas, pushing out any sort of ecologically sustainable system. And the single crops replacing dozens if not hundreds of local species of similar crops, particularly suited to local conditions and ecosystems. Not only this, but this small set of crops, grown in more and more countries, depending on ever-larger quantities of industrial fertilizers to keep them growing, and not even all that healthy for us humans. Leading those who have their share of the world’s wealth to eat unhealthy diets making them overweight and leading to cardiovascular illnesses, while those not having the resources go hungry, not able to afford in many cases the local crops that have sustained them, because those crops no longer grown in favor of these industrial commodities.

Environmental concerns, including GHG emissions, are particularly serious regarding the increasing amount of meat eaten globally. Growing a given amount of nourishment, as meat (vs. grain, fruit, or vegetable) requires a much larger amount of water to produce first the feed for the cattle/sheep/swine, then the water needed for the animals themselves, etc. (This highlighting of the environmental and sustainability problems involved in meat eating is not emphasized at all in the chapter, perhaps just a little hint.)

The problem of food waste: “In 1974, the first World Food Conference called for a 50 per cent reduction in post-harvest losses over the following decade. Nearly 40 years later that goal is still not met.” In wealthy countries, the waste comes from “throwing away cosmetically imperfect produce … overordering stock at grocery and “big box” stores” and other areas. In poorer countries the waste is connected to inadequate crop storage systems, resulting in spoilage, infestation, and other issues which cause food to be thrown away before it can ever to brought to a consumer.

The “Green Revolution” of the 1960s and 1970s, which was effective in raising yields in many poorer countries, especially in South Asia, tended to focus very narrowly on “yields” – simply growing more food of a given staple per acre than previously. A worthy goal certainly, but one which neglected issues of biological interaction. The large-scale agricultural practices (and monoculture crops) associated with the Green Revolution have produced “significant land degradation” for 2.6 billion people. (193)

Even the undeniable benefits produced by the GR are very unevenly spread, both geographically and economically. “Many of the poorest of the poor ‘have gained little or nothing’, according to the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development; and while these types of gains have been made in South Asia, very little has changed in many parts of Africa.

“Focusing on agricultural yield and caloric intake has interfered with the actual delivery of vital nutrients, especially in fetuses and children under age three, yet this is what funding agencies, donors, and governments still tend to do. Over the last 20 years, food output in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia has become more concentrated in raw commodities, including maize, wheat, and rice, and less focused on nutritious indigenous foods, like millet, sorghum, and vegetables.”

Much of the chapter talks about ways of getting around these problems, and the likelihood that if the proper steps start to be taken, it is possible that agriculture can be turned from a worldwide problem, into a solution to many of the other intractable issues facing humanity today.

“The projects highlighted in this chapter are exciting because they exemplify how agriculture is emerging as a solution to global problems by reducing public health costs, making communities everywhere more livable, decreasing poverty, creating jobs for young people, and even reducing climate change.” (200)

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