Can industrial agriculture feed the world?

A recent article on (What Would the World Look Like If We Relied on Industrial Agriculture to Feed Everyone?) explores what the world might look like if industrial agriculture is chosen as the worldwide solution to feeding the hungry. Popular belief holds that industrial agriculture is the only viable solution for keeping people fed as the global population explodes; but that doesn’t take into account the significant drawbacks, including contribution to global warming, soil nutrient depletion, water over-consumption, and the loss of small family farms.

An example is cited: Punjab, India, which saw a big increase in wheat production in the 1970s from the use of industrial agriculture:

But according to a 2007 report put out by the Punjab State Council for Science & Technology, “Over-intensification of agriculture over the years has led to water depletion, reduced soil fertility and micronutrient deficiency, non-judicious use of farm chemicals and problems of pesticide residue, reduced genetic diversity, soil erosion, atmospheric and water pollution and overall degradation of the rather fragile agro ecosystem of the state.”

Indian farmers who fell into debt while trying to compete with the industrial agriculture companies sometimes saw suicide as the only way out: “Since 1997, over 200,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide.”

Conversely, local farms practicing sustainable agriculture would be kinder to the environment and a boon to their communities. This sums up the argument nicely:

Agroecology is not a return to some traditional past, it is the cutting edge of farming. It mimics nature in the field, and uses resource-saving techniques that can be of greatest benefit to cash-strapped farmers and to women, for whom access to credit is most difficult, and who cannot afford to run high levels of debt.”

The bold is ours–what an important concept! That and other points raised here were covered in a talk we recently attended by Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms. Stay tuned for a post about that!

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