Can Organic Food Feed the World?

by Sean Sluys, Saha Astitva volunteer…

Sean and the farm boys...

Sean writes…This is a touchy subject.  It is difficult to discuss world population without sounding somewhat heartless, treating people off-handedly–as nothing but numbers.  But the truth is, if we continue to increase the number of humans to feed and clothe and house on this planet, Mother Earth’s scarce resources will become only scarcer.

And the over-abundance provided by the current industrial-agricultural systems in place are causing what’s known as an autocatalytic feedback cycle, whereby the ever-larger populace will require food on a scale only available from such a system simply to maintain itself, and thus one phenomenon will continuously reinforce the other.

If we seek to feed the world through organic, sustainable methods, we will require nothing short of a full paradigm overhaul.  My home country of the USA in particular.  Our culture of convenience and consumption (which is gaining more global popularity every day) must make a transition toward a larger degree of self-sufficiency and sustainability.

The demands of fast, cheap and easily-packaged food from so many millions of people require startling economies of scale in production.  On such scales, use of chemicals and mechanised labor becomes a necessity of time and efficiency.  The intricate and laborious chores involved with organic agriculture are not feasible onsuch immense farms.  It would be a logistical nightmare to turn enough compost, save enough seed or even just cut weeds for thousands of acres in a season.  But if operations were scaled down, management subdivided, and food networks became more localized, an organic world would easily be within reach.

The tens of billions of dollars in subsidies given to support industrialized agriculture also lend daunting inertia to the systems in place.  Along with the shifting of cultural support, these funds would have to be reallocated to more sustainable enterprises, gradually institutionalizing a new paradigm of holistic wellness.

Obviously, these are some pretty enormous “ifs.”  The scale and power of forces involved pose  seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  But the change is possible.  And not only that, but it is necessary, because the methods cannot be maintained in the long run.  Conventional agriculture is heavily input intensive.  That is to say, it requires many off-farm products like fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.  Many of the chemicals used for these are derived from fossil fuels.  Furthermore, there are centralized plants to process industrial foodstuffs that require produce to be shipped overland and overseas, requiring even more fossil fuel use.  Oil will not always be as cheap as it is now.

Regardless of the environmental consequences of conventional methods, even large-scale ag will not be able to maintain a profit once their inputs become more expensive.  Even now, most family farmers worldwide are at the mercy of chemical companies and government subsidies just to scrape by.  Mother Nature, under proper stewardship, provides everything we need to maintain a closed-loop model of food production.

And no part of this loop need be derived from petroleum.  We must only take advantage and guide natural processes to enjoy a self-sustaining food network.

Not to sound apocalyptic or anything–though that’s all the rage these days (happy End of the Era of Corn!)–but if trends of population and consumption continue, we will soon be facing ecological breakdown.

The density of urban populations will outpace the cultivable land and infrastructure in place, and many will struggle with hunger or even die of starvation.  This will only be exacerbated by the economic turbulence that will accompany the increasing scarcity of fossilfuels.  It is nature’s tendency to establish an equilibrium, and try as we might, this is a fact we will not be able to outsmart or overcome.  A balance will be reached, whether we work toward softening the blow or not.

And the difference starts with you!  The surest way toward making a change is leading a life exemplifying what you seek to change.  A thriving organic, more localized market cannot become manifest unless the demand grows.  So buy happy produce!  Support your local growers!

If you are so inclined, you can even start a backyard garden.  It is surprisingly easy to grow a few tomato plants or even keep a few laying hens.  The march toward sustainable self-sufficiency will only arise from the grassroots level.  Every individual contribution will help us to build a brighter future.

Join the debate…leave a comment…

Link to Durga’s Co-Creation through our Choices

Link to 10 steps to start becoming conscious of our food choices

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