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Feed the world (permaculture vs. conventional)  RSS feed

 
                          
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One of the main arguments Big Ag people have against ecoagriculture/permaculture is that it isn't productive enough, never mind the fact that a third of the corn produced is used for ethonal and we have 6.8 billion people and enough food for 9 billion, never mind that a large amount of grain is fed to animals who don't convert, weight-wise, as much matter as what they eat. (CAFOs) So, do you think we can make permaculture almost as productive, volume wise, as conventional?
 
jacque greenleaf
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My personal opinion is that this depends on how you define productivity. Conventional ag counts only tonnage of the desired food product per acre - and maybe the tonnage of crop waste if they are selling that.

It seems to me that building/maintaining soil, air, and watersheds are also ag products, and should be included in the equation. And shouldn't human health be part of the production figure? Corn and soy have their places, but a future where all people chow is made from corn and/or soy may not be a productivity we want.

No, no data, just musings...
 
Tyler Ludens
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You can't win the Food Race.

Speech by Daniel Quinn about the Food Race:  http://www.ishmael.org/Education/Writings/kentstate.cfm


In my own opinion, there's no evidence permaculture can't feed our present population.  However, that population would need to be distributed differently on the land (no megacities) and of course permaculture would have to be actually implemented and not just talked about. 

On the other hand, is such a large population desirable?  If we decide we have to feed a population of 7-9 billion, we must have decided we want to keep a very large population instead of reducing the population.

"Reducing the population" doesn't mean killing anyone, by the way, it just means having a lot fewer babies.

A smaller population would be easier to feed with permaculture and would also correspond to the ethic of returning land to wild nature (sharing with the non-human world).


 
                    
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jacqueg wrote:
It seems to me that building/maintaining soil, air, and watersheds are also ag products, and should be included in the equation. And shouldn't human health be part of the production figure? Corn and soy have their places, but a future where all people chow is made from corn and/or soy may not be a productivity we want.


Those are key points. Most people who are geared to financial thinking would be aghast if they heard of a family member who was spending their way through a trust fund instead of living off the interest. Yet when it comes to oil and soil, financial thinkers pretend that depleting capital is not important.

Olive oil costs more than corn oil, so corn is generally preferred; the health costs are discounted or ignored. Not sure if generic motor oil costs less than corn oil, but if it is, I suspect that some miserly financial types may be frying their potatoes in it to save a few pennies if it is cheaper.   

Yes, permaculture needs a different pattern of habitation. I think peak oil will lead to that. When the US was founded, most people lived in the country. We moved into towns and cities when we industrialized both factories and farms, and then moved to the suburbs when energy was most abundant. A major migration to be closer to the land is the logical consequences of assuming that oil will be more expensive, and that organic/permaculture methods are more efficient in some respects.   

I also think that suburbs may be more viable than many critics believe. If a person can telecommute and they don't need to use their car very often, then sub-urban densities offer a way to deliver services like high speed internet, ambulance, fire, water, electricity, etc and put people closer to businesses that cannot be supported in the rural areas. And suburban densities provide a way for the unemployed or underemployed to garden and provide partial self-sufficiency in foods... couples that have a partial loss in income are in a better position if they can use a garden for 'import substitution' ... the land can be used to provide some food, income, recreation, etc. 
 
                          
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On ethanol, it takes as much energy (or almost as much) to MAKE ethonal as is produced by burning ethanol.
 
                                          
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HeritageFarm wrote:
On ethanol, it takes as much energy (or almost as much) to MAKE ethonal as is produced by burning ethanol.


http://www.motherearthnews.com/renewable-energy/net-energy-zm0z10zrog.aspx

this article discusses the differences between various energy sources.  the chart lists ethanol as the lowest commonly used energy source in terms of energy return on investment.
 
Josh T-Hansen
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I think with unlimited fossil fuels big ag could produce almost limitless volumes of grain, until we run out of topsoil/livable planet.  The conventional ag people have a point, they feed most of the world right now and we would be screwed if disease etc. wiped it out completely next year. Besides, for the time being food production is at least a worthwhile thing to do with our precious fossil fuels. Furthermore I think the conventional people are referring to productivity per human, which volume wise is much more than permaculture can do. Conventional ag meets our needs today, but permaculture could meet our needs today and in the future.

Take away the subsidies of all forms, and permaculture is more productive and permanent. I would wager that on an acre to acre comparison permaculture has the potential to be more productive (even in volume if that was the desired yield, and with more human input of course).  Today, we only need a relatively small number of people doing conventional ag to drive the machines etc.  A healthy future requires mass amounts of people learning about better ways than conventional.  Therefore of people studying food production, we currently need about 1% studying conventional and 99% studying permaculture style, which makes studying permaculture way more important.  I wish I could communicate this with my peers
 
                  
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EROEI


Energy Returned on Energy Invested

Once it takes more than a barrel of oil to get a barrel of oil , it is over.

A lot of oil , coal, and nat. gas will be left in the ground.
 
                          
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JoshTH wrote:
I think with unlimited fossil fuels big ag could produce almost limitless volumes of grain, until we run out of topsoil/livable planet.  The conventional ag people have a point, they feed most of the world right now and we would be screwed if disease etc. wiped it out completely next year. Besides, for the time being food production is at least a worthwhile thing to do with our precious fossil fuels. Furthermore I think the conventional people are referring to productivity per human, which volume wise is much more than permaculture can do. Conventional ag meets our needs today, but permaculture could meet our needs today and in the future.

Take away the subsidies of all forms, and permaculture is more productive and permanent. I would wager that on an acre to acre comparison permaculture has the potential to be more productive (even in volume if that was the desired yield, and with more human input of course).  Today, we only need a relatively small number of people doing conventional ag to drive the machines etc.  A healthy future requires mass amounts of people learning about better ways than conventional.  Therefore of people studying food production, we currently need about 1% studying conventional and 99% studying permaculture style, which makes studying permaculture way more important.  I wish I could communicate this with my peers


Well, unfortunately oil is not going to last forever, we've also got the issue of climate change. Furthermore, conventional agriculture degrades soil, pollutes water, air, soil, and the end consumer.
 
Josh T-Hansen
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HeritageFarm wrote:
Well, unfortunately oil is not going to last forever, we've also got the issue of climate change. Furthermore, conventional agriculture degrades soil, pollutes water, air, soil, and the end consumer.


I agree . All those things you mentioned are some of the subsidies conventional ag receives which I was referring to.  I merely wanted to give conventional farmers some credit for being efficient and providing billions with food.  After all, its not us against the conventional farmers(maybe the corporations though :evil  Hopefully with the help of people like us the world will be able to transition away from it quickly!
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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In a world with increasing numbers of people unemployed, I don't think it's a disadvantage that permaculture would require more human labor.  I do think it is strongly preferable that the labor be that of owners rather than hired or even slaves (as has often been the case in past eras).  Most of us would rather be at least somewhat independent, rather than dependent on the good will of an employer (or slave-master).

Kathleen
 
Joshua Msika
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I wrote an essay (attached) on exactly this topic which you may like to read. I included a large amount of references since it will be read (and marked) by someone who has probably not heard of permaculture before...
Filename: Essay-Final-Draft.pdf
File size: 57 Kbytes
 
Tyler Ludens
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Kathleen Sanderson wrote:
In a world with increasing numbers of people unemployed, I don't think it's a disadvantage that permaculture would require more human labor.  I do think it is strongly preferable that the labor be that of owners rather than hired or even slaves (as has often been the case in past eras).  Most of us would rather be at least somewhat independent, rather than dependent on the good will of an employer (or slave-master).

Kathleen


I'm not sure how we're going to manage to get that many land owners when  land is too expensive for most people.    It's hard for me to imagine some kind of peaceful land redistribution. I don't think large-scale land-owners are going to volunteer to give their land away just because people need it. 
 
                    
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joshthewhistler wrote:
I wrote an essay (attached) on exactly this topic which you may like to read. I included a large amount of references since it will be read (and marked) by someone who has probably not heard of permaculture before...


Thank you, Josh !!  That is a well written paper - scholarship on a very important issue.
 
Joshua Msika
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Thank you rather, Jonathan! It makes the hours spent on the essay worthwhile when people read and appreciate it. 
 
                                          
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joshthewhistler wrote:
I wrote an essay (attached) on exactly this topic which you may like to read. I included a large amount of references since it will be read (and marked) by someone who has probably not heard of permaculture before...


very interesting read...
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Ludi wrote:
I'm not sure how we're going to manage to get that many land owners when  land is too expensive for most people.    It's hard for me to imagine some kind of peaceful land redistribution. I don't think large-scale land-owners are going to volunteer to give their land away just because people need it. 


It *is* a huge problem.  I definitely don't support the forcible redistribution of land, either.  However, I do think (hope?) that eventually the change will be made.  It may be forced by economic pressures -- if conventional modern farming becomes impossible because of the lack of fuel, then the huge tracts of farm land should drop in price and become more affordable.  I imagine that small farms that are already optimally sized for hand-labor and animal labor will probably maintain their value better. 

Of course, there's always the possibility that between big government and big corporations, people will be forced into the kind of relationship that the peons in South and Central America have always had with the big landowners.  I'd hate to see that happen, but it's entirely possible and may even be probable.

Kathleen
 
                          
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joshthewhistler wrote:
I wrote an essay (attached) on exactly this topic which you may like to read. I included a large amount of references since it will be read (and marked) by someone who has probably not heard of permaculture before...


Looks interesting, will read later!
 
paul wheaton
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IMOO ....

I think that with permaculture techniques you can take the existing ag land and triple the current food output.

Leave the city folk in the cities. 

There would need to be about one farm worker per 10 acres year round, plus two more during the warmer season. 

I think the food will be better, the farmers will earn more money and the world can continue on its overpopulation path.

 
Tyler Ludens
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I mainly see the difficulty of transporting sufficient food into the megacities.  I just don't see how the megacities are sustainable  Back before the fossil fuel era the largest cities were about 1 million people and were surrounded by intensive farms, not by suburbia.  I'm not sure our giant cities of several million people can be supported by permaculture.
 
Matt Ferrall
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IMO the question  is phrased wrong.Agriculture can feed the world.With permaculture the world feeds itself.ie:people living decentralised and intergated into their landscape providing their own needs.
 
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