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An attempt to disprove that Industrialisation=Feed more people  RSS feed

 
Suzy Bean
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Here, Salatin is sounding like a permaculture guy.

In his article, “Ecological Agriculture: Can We Feed the World?” (from Acres, Sept 2010, Vol 40, No 9) Joel Salatin wishes to disprove the idea that we need chemical farming in order to be able to feed the world. I know I have several family members and friends that believe this. Salatin reports that this perception has been fueled by oversimplified studies that have supported chemical agriculture’s expansion, including ones in which formerly abused soil is used as the basis for comparing production of chemically-aided crops versus “organic” plots (which received nothing), and GMO rice paddys are shown to be more productive (in growing rice) than the more ecologically balanced ones, (which yield tilapia, ducks for meat and eggs, bok choi and arugula with the rice). Salatin also points out the facts that “the urbanization and industrialization of culture preceded hygiene, antibiotics, sanitation, stainless steel, rural electrification, efficient rural concrete pouring, and refrigeration,” and “cities have expanded faster than their supporting agricultural knowledge and infrastructure.” He reminds us that the dust bowl was not incredibly “productive,” and of the difference that composting makes.

I think he sums it up well in this paragraph: “We don’t worry about avian influenza because our chickens are on pasture in uncrowded conditions. We don’t worry about erosion because we’re building soil. And we don’t worry about feeding the world because as we heal our farms and landscape, we see everything get better. Vibrant plants. Gurgling springs. Slick, sleek animals. Healthy, happy customers.” This certainly works in the communities where these systems are supported.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I guess it depends on what one means by "productive."  Very small farms and gardens seem to be more productive of calories and pounds of food per land unit than industrial farms, and they are also more productive of calories output versus calories input.  Where industrial agriculture really shines is in the reduction of human labor hours, because that labor has been taken over by machines/oil, with many calories of fossil fuel energy input per calorie of food output.

Ecology Action has done years of study on the productivity of small farms and gardens.

'One study of 15 countries, primarily in Asia and Africa, found that per-acre output on small farms can be as much as four to five times higher than on large ones. Russia, over the years, has often produced 30% to 50% of its food on household plots representing as little as 3% to 5% of all Russian farmland. The productivity of small-scale farms is also being widely recognized by agricultural economists who call it the “inverse relationship between farm size and productivity.”'

http://growbiointensive.org/grow_main.html
 
Emerson White
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It's worth noting that the people who have died from Avian influenza weren't very concerned with it either. Unfortunately a lack of concern does not take the place of an honest evaluation of rick. What protects Salatin is not the fact that his birds are walking about in nature, indeed chicken hell houses are seldom plagued by avian flu. What protects Salatin is the face that he does not do a great deal of work with the birds, like mucking houses and the like. The less exposure you have to the animals the better for not catching things from them. Wild birds that are never ever ever caged together closely or otherwise catch flu regularly.

Other than that I think that Ludi has summed it up nicely. It's all a matter of what inputs you contribute.
 
Suzy Bean
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H Ludi Tyler wrote:
Ecology Action has done years of study on the productivity of small farms and gardens.

'One study of 15 countries, primarily in Asia and Africa, found that per-acre output on small farms can be as much as four to five times higher than on large ones. Russia, over the years, has often produced 30% to 50% of its food on household plots representing as little as 3% to 5% of all Russian farmland. The productivity of small-scale farms is also being widely recognized by agricultural economists who call it the “inverse relationship between farm size and productivity.”'

http://growbiointensive.org/grow_main.html


This is a really awesome quote, thanks. And that's good to know about the avian flu, Emerson.
 
                                
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I wonder if or how those numbers are going to change once more forest gardens are "established".  Every purveyor of forest gardening is always talking about how they work even less than the traditional farmer with all of their inorganic and industrialized inputs.
 
Emerson White
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Here is the article I found it less than convincing. For one thing he explained von Liebig in a manner that I thought was downright slanderous, we wouldn't know nearly as much about the mineral needs of plants and animal or the proper production of compost or the rich soup of microbial life in healthy soil with out von Liebig's groundbreaking work (indeed when I took microbial ecology half of the first class period was dedicated to Liebig's law of the minimum). Joel Salatin said "Innovation never develops consistently across all the disciplines necessary to metabolize the discover" in support of compost, but apparently that courtesy does not extend to people that he does not like; Our understanding hasn't surpassed Liebigs work, indeed we are only just catching up to it. If I described Newton like Salatin seems to described von Liebig I would say that "Newton thought that things moved because cannon balls fell from the sky and moved them".

Now on to Salatin's argument, or at least I would like to move on to his argument, except that I can't seem to find it. His article consists of saying 'of course we can feed the world, just look at all the things that they messed up!' he never discussed the remaining soil and water resources, he never discussed yields and population growth, he never discussed how scarce his own inputs are, he only seems to have pointed to the ecological damage from conventional agriculture. It appears to be an argument from final consequences, and then some pretty formatting.
 
Alison Thomas
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H Ludi Tyler wrote:
Where industrial agriculture really shines is in the reduction of human labor hours, because that labor has been taken over by machines/oil, with many calories of fossil fuel energy input per calorie of food output.



This is very true.  Interestingly (at least I thought so) was a discussion that a farmer and a scything friend of mine had.  The farmer said that it was now costing him 250 euros in fuel to cut his hay. He was wondering how long my friend thought it would take to cut by scythe.  When she told him he reckoned that he'd be cheaper to hire in scythe-cutters! 

Then there's the other bit that industrial agriculture likes to ignore - that fortunate humans have arms and legs that could be used but instead they choose to use only one part of their body - their bum - and that the developed world is now paying the price in obesity terms.  I realise that that's a broad and sweeping generalisation but a little bit of hard work would do us all good.

At a recent conference around the subject of environmental impact and France's future, one speaker (a farmer) said that France needed 1 million more folk back working the land in more traditional ways and then many of France's problems would evaporate. But it's the 'hard work' bit that puts folk off - sigh.
 
Karl Teceno
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Not to be an idiot... but when did the word "biointensive" become a register trademark?

http://growbiointensive.org/grow_main.html

Karl
 
                                
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Karl wrote:
Not to be an idiot... but when did the word "biointensive" become a register trademark?
http://growbiointensive.org/grow_main.html
Karl


Weird site.  When you click on  memberships/contributers you get at 404 error on a squatter's page.  Jon Jeavons is all over that, including pictures of his mini-farm.  I wonder if he's going the way of the Dervaes and attempting to own that phrase.
 
Tyler Ludens
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As far as I can tell only the name "GrowBiointensive" is trademarked, the word "Biointensive" is not.  I think Jeavons is trying to distinguish his method that he's been studying and promoting for 40 years from the French Biointensive method which inspired it.



 
Salkeela Bee
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Alison Freeth-Thomas wrote:

At a recent conference around the subject of environmental impact and France's future, one speaker (a farmer) said that France needed 1 million more folk back working the land in more traditional ways and then many of France's problems would evaporate.


This is interesting.... do you have a link or more details?
 
Alison Thomas
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No sadly I don't have a link.  It was my friend that attended the conference and she was VERY impressed with this guy who did the entire presentation without overheads and Powerpoints but had the audience on its feet with applause.  I'm guessing that if he ignored modern technology for the presentation then he also is ignoring it in terms of 'writing it up' for the internet.  However, I will ask my friend if she has more info.
 
Salkeela Bee
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Thanks...  Interesting times.
 
Alison Thomas
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I've now had a chance to rootle about a bit on this site and was shocked to read this "As little as 40 years of farmable soil remain globally".  Is that really the case?
 
Tyler Ludens
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Alison Freeth-Thomas wrote:
I've now had a chance to rootle about a bit on this site and was shocked to read this "As little as 40 years of farmable soil remain globally".  Is that really the case?


I think it's very likely true, given the massive destruction of soils in the past 50 - 100 years. 

Some articles:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/feb/14/science.environment

http://archive.wri.org/news.cfm?id=76

http://www.sustainablelivingmagazine.org/planet-watch/environment/rich-earth/45-soil-depletion-and-global-warming
 
John Polk
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Emerson White
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The best place to farm has always been on flood planes. Vast flat areas next to powerful rivers that deposit silt when they flood. Unfortunately flat places next to rivers are also the best place to build cities. For thousands of years we have been building cities on top of our best farm lands.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Emerson White wrote:
The best place to farm has always been on flood planes. Vast flat areas next to powerful rivers that deposit silt when they flood. Unfortunately flat places next to rivers are also the best place to build cities. For thousands of years we have been building cities on top of our best farm lands.


Folks are still doing this in my county, which has relatively little really good farmland.  The best farmland in the county seat is being paved over for strip malls in just a past few years.    The prettiest little fields next to a creek, with deep rich soil, scraped and paved over. 
 
Emerson White
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They are doing it everywhere. Ever hear of a little town called Wasilla Alaska? Yup it's becoming a bedroom community for Anchorage AK instead of being mixed wild and agricultural land. Who doesn't like a 120 mile a day commute?
 
                                
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Emerson White wrote:
. . . . Unfortunately flat places next to rivers are also the best place to build cities. For thousands of years we have been building cities on top of our best farm lands.

Depends on where you're at in the world.  A lot of people attribute the malaria issue in Africa to European settlers coming in and building cities right next to bodies of water.  Before that, folks lived well away from the water and only came around to water cattle or collect water for the household, and so didn't suffer from malaria as much.  Kinda makes me wonder if the earth hasn't built in systems to control human beings as well.  Sometimes I feel like we're a half a step behind the planet and we don't have enough perspective to see it.
 
Emerson White
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Nerdmom wrote:
Depends on where you're at in the world.  A lot of people attribute the malaria issue in Africa to European settlers coming in and building cities right next to bodies of water.  Before that, folks lived well away from the water and only came around to water cattle or collect water for the household, and so didn't suffer from malaria as much.  Kinda makes me wonder if the earth hasn't built in systems to control human beings as well.  Sometimes I feel like we're a half a step behind the planet and we don't have enough perspective to see it.

I'm quite sure that what I think of as African history tells a different story. I tend to think of flood planes as being very low in standing water, and not mosquito filled places, and that the European rearrangement of Africa had a lot more to do with accessing resources other than flood planes. There were ancient African civilizations that depended on agriculture as we know it and they tended to build their cities on the rivers, Egypt shows that pattern of development. The pastoral civilizations and hunter gatherer civilizations did not show this pattern of development because they weren't farming, doubtlessly they built their houses on top of the types of land that were most productive for their own ends. The fact that Africa was largely devoid of beasts of burden made large scale agriculture less appealing, and they did not have the phenomenally productive maize of the American civilizations. It's not so much that they were avoiding the water as they didn't have the means to build a large population by it.
 
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