Tuesday, February 5, 2008

An OrganicWave Worldwide Part 1

"Humans merely share the earth. We can only protect the land, not own it."


Why should we be concerned about what is happening around the world? Don't we have enough problems at home without worrying about Africa or India or China? Unfortunately, as corporate globalization stretches its grasp ever further across the face of the earth, we find that the demands of the urban elite seriously and negatively impact the poor in developing countries. As when the Brazilian rain forest is destroyed in order that cheap hamburgers can be sold on the American market. Or when large areas of traditional farmland in Africa are sold to foreign companies to grow coffee or tea, the sale of which is unlikely to benefit those who live in the area.

Looked at from another perspective, the government subsidies for farmers growing corn in America, which result in flooding the U.S. market and lowering prices to the extent that small-scale farmers are going out of business, also means that cheap grain is available for famine relief overseas. And while this may be of the utmost importance—inmany cases saving thousands of lives—there can also be a downside in that local farmers in famine-stricken areas will be unable to sell their crops. Which may be devastating.

Diet Start

Finally, the amount of food shipped between countries has quadrupled since the 1960s, but this hasn't been a boon for the small local farmers in either the exporting or importing countries. Instead, it's perpetuated a situation where people in wealthier nations are consuming more and ever more of the food resources of poorer nations. We now have a global corporate structure where less developed nations are struggling with overpopulation, poverty, and hunger while they deplete their land and natural resources to feed people in other, wealthier parts of the world, and to put foreign exchange into the often corrupt pockets of government officials. And the small family farmers in the importing countries cannot compete with cheaper imported produce. Moreover, while the children in poorer parts of the world are often starving, even dying of hunger, the children of the developed world face an epidemic of obesity. Clearly something must be done.


All around the world we find hopeful examples of successful sustainable farming operations in poor, rural communities. And when we say sustainable, we mean, of course, the deep organic farming we've discussed, where the soil is nurtured through composting, biological pest control, and rotation of crops and livestock without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers. One such project linked farmers from the impoverished Makuyu community in Kenya with the Kenya Institute of Organic Farming. Before this partnership was established, the Makuyu farmers were using agrochemicals on depleted soil, and were struggling to grow enough food to feed their families. After learning sustainable, organic methods—similar to their old, traditional way of farming—they found that vegetable crop yields not only increased by 60 percent, they actually had a surplus of food.

But the good news didn't end there. The farmers decided to start a local food co-op, so they could sell surplus food and put the profits back into the community. As a result, the Makuyu co-op was able to buy dairy goats, beehives, rabbits, and poultry for community members as well as plant 20,000 trees, including 2,000 mangoes, to help revitalize areas that had been deforested. Meanwhile, the mood of the community shifted from despair to optimism. The Makuyu organic farmers have since gone on to teach other farmers in the region how to farm sustainably.

This is not an isolated example. Jules Pretty, director of the Centre for Environment and Society at the University of Essex and author of The Living Land: Agriculture, Food and Community Regeneration in Rural Europe, researched communities all over the world where farmers are replacing synthetic farm chemicals with sustainable, organic methods. He found that those who are no longer dependent on expensive imported farm chemicals can increase their yields while lowering their production costs. And because sustainable farming is often labor-intensive, it provides more employment for local and regional communities.

Pretty writes about projects that affect some 45,000 farmers in Guatemala and Honduras who now use organic farming and have tripled their corn yields. By also diversifying their upland farms, they created more local business and wealth, which helped spur a remigration back from the cities. He also reports that a million wetland rice farmers in Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam changed their farming methods to nonchemical sustainable agriculture, and increased their yields by about 10 percent.

But there is danger here. Increased food yield must be balanced by an optimization of the population in a givenarea. However carefully farmed, no land can produce enough food, by any method whatsoever, to keep pace with human population growth as it exists today in many parts of the world. When the number of people living in a given area is too great for the carrying capacity of that area they will try to move to new places. In many cases this is already impossible—there are simply too many people. If they are wealthy and can buy food from elsewhere, then they are depleting the natural resources in other areas. If we do not impose limits on our population growth, life as we know it, on this planet, will no longer be possible. Even if we could, theoretically, feed many more times the number of people than those on the planet today, how many of us would like to live on a planet where villages, towns, and cities meet and merge in one great urban sprawl across the face of the globe?

... andjoyohoxing