The struggle to feed the world has created frustration with its failure for the ones who are hungry and especially because we live in a time where food production is at its highest. Government and big-industries have been trying to make factory farming and GMOs the answer to world hunger. But as time goes on, the futility and damage from their efforts is painfully clear. According to the Worldwatch Institute’s “2011 State of the World” report, it’s time for “big” farms and engineered foods to step aside and give way to small-scale farming.
Instead of depending on large crop there could be a focus on diversity of seeds, growing food in smaller spaces, and encouraging native food production. It would put the power for these communities to feed themselves into their own hands. Recently, there has been a successful, steady incline in non-profit organizations that create sustainable farming practices in under-developed areas. With hope, this report, assistance, technology, and science will direct more attention to providing people the tools they need to survive instead of pushing the profiteering agenda of big-industry and patented seeds. By furthering education and working with the local environment, communities and countries would be able to achieve their own food production instead of relying on continued assistance.
An old adage rings uncannily true; “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” America likes to give and help, but usually in a way that breeds reliance instead of fostering independence and sustainability. The most precious resource we should export to feed the world is knowledge, not just food.
The Worldwatch Institute’s “2011 State of the World” report identifies small-scale farming as the primary solution for world hunger. The report finds fault with the one-size-fits-all approach that has been used to address food shortages. A primary concern is the focus on seeds, à la Monsanto, and the limited crop varieties that result, instead of rebuilding and enriching soils and aquifers. It describes Agribusiness seeds as representing the focus on short-term payoffs. Nourishing the soils and waters that feed the seeds are long-term investments with genuinely big returns.
Though the Worldwatch Institute studiously avoids the term “factory farming”, there can be little doubt that it’s condemned by the report. Here is how they see the basis of the hunger problem:
The context, and the basis of Worldwatch’s Nourishing the Planet project, was this: Agriculture has come to a crossroads. Nearly a half-century after the Green Revolution, a major share of the human family is still chronically hungry. In addition, much of that revolution’s gains have been achieved through highly intensive agriculture that depends heavily on fossil fuels for inputs and energy—and the question of whether the world’s croplands can yield more food is being trumped by the question of whether they can do so without compromise to the soils, fresh water, and crop diversity the world depends on.
The methods currently being used by Agribusiness are destructive and inefficient. They have resulted in dramatic loss of diversity, destruction and loss of soil and water, and more hungry people than ever. The industrialization of agriculture, the so-called Green Revolution, has failed. Worse, it is leading us into an environmentally devastated landscape that is unable to support adequate food production.
Because Africa is home to the largest percentage of malnourished people, the study’s authors went to 25 sub-Saharan nations to investigate for two years. They found that “the continent is becoming a rich and diverse breeding ground for innovations in agriculture that support farmer income and nourishment for people at the same time.” Unstated, but clearly implied, is their inability to fully utilize their methods because of the misfocus on Agribusiness methods.
The concept of scale, so dear to Agribusiness, is turned on its ear in the report. The huge array of creative means for increasing output, improving soil and water conservation, and solving problems that small farmers were using in Africa could be “…scaled up to bring food to the tables of not one farmer but 100 million or more, as well as to the consumers who depend on them, [and that] could change the entire global food system.”
It is the “one-size-fits-all” approach that is so crippling to food production. The report is quite clear. “There is no single solution.”
…because attention has been focused relatively narrowly—on a few types of crops, on a few technologies—entire regions and ecosystems, not to mention myriad varieties of crops and rural ways of life, have been ignored.
They offer three basic suggestions to deal with hunger:
- Go beyond seeds: Focusing on only a few crops, like corn, wheat, and soy, and developing new seeds of those few species, needs to be left behind as a means of resolving hunger. The primary beneficiaries of this approach are companies like Monsanto, which reap enormous short-term profits at the expense of soils, water, production, and diversity.
- Go beyond farms: A great deal of the problem in bringing food to people is loss after harvest. Losses from pests, mold, and waste are immense. Growing foods inside cities, such as on rooftops, can ease hunger. In some areas, only indigenous and wild crops are viable. Rather than ignoring them, they should be preserved and encouraged.
- Go beyond Africa: The food distribution system as a whole needs to be examined. Relief to poor countries is often provided by Agribusiness in the United States, leaving local producers unable to compete with the low prices. The short-term benefit in bellies filled is overturned by the long-term harm to local food production by making people dependent on external sources of nutrition. Relief work should focus on providing food through local production, rather than shipping from areas where Agribusiness is entrenched.Europe has started to address this issue with the World Food Programme. They are buying locally and providing training that can help farmers compete globally.
The negative effects of Agribusiness are felt in the countries of origin, not only in the hunger of poor nations. Dead zones are found in the oceans where rivers surrounded by factory farms drain. Obesity results from the poor quality of foods produced by the system. Pollution of aquifers and huge areas around massive food production sites are destroying the environment and causing severe illnesses. The reality is that the for-profit food system harms everyone, no matter what their locations. Whether it’s by starvation from lack of food, or chronic disease from poor quality food, or poisoning from pollution, almost everyone suffers.
The Worldwatch report concludes with the relatively mild statement:
Given the limited ability of scientists to find solutions, the finite generosity of donors to support agricultural research, and the overstretched patience of struggling farmers and hungry families, shifting funds and attention in new directions is long overdue.
Ultimately the entire earth suffers as the soils deteriorate and disappear, as pollution and poisons destroy wildlife and diversity, and as clean water is destroyed. The Green Revolution has resulted in an unsustainable system of agriculture that benefits only a few as it rapes and destroys the earth.
By: Heidi Stevenson