U.N. claims the only way to “feed the world” is through… small-scale organic farming

Large agri-business corporations like Monsanto claim that their genetically modified seeds and monocultural, intensive farming practices are necessary to “feed the world.” Such practices, however, destroy biodiversity (the variety of species in a given area), cause massive pollution (through the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizer), and give large corporations control over what gets grown, where, and by whom.

In light of agri-business’ claim that their practices are justified by a need to feed the world, it is significant that scientists working for the U.N. have come to the opposite conclusion: the only way to feed the world’s population is to break up the large scale farming operations and develop many different, small scale farms.

Here is a summary of the findings: http://www.iatp.org/blog/201309/new-un-report-calls-for-transformation-in-agriculture

Often issues of “justice” turn on the question of people’s gaining access to their basic needs like food, water, shelter, political participation, education, safety… and perhaps more. But it is less often the case that we focus on how those basic needs are produced or distributed to those in need of them. For example, if we agree that the people of West Virginia are entitled to clean and safe drinking water (which they have recently been denied due to a massive chemical spill), does it matter that this water is coming in bottles shipped from somewhere else in the country, using plastics made still somewhere else and shipped with fossil fuels extracted from somewhere else in the world?

Typically, “progress” today is thought in terms of growing interpenetration of world economies. It is thought in terms of newer, faster gadgets. It is thought in terms of “growth” of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and spreading industrial production. In these terms, it can look like the growth of the bottled water industry is “progress” over a well or spring that provides local people with the water they need for free (i.e., without money-exchange, but only through their own labor of maintaining it).

But if these forms of “growth” are actually destroying the ecologies that life (human and otherwise) depends on, can that be called “progress”? How does this idea of the necessity of small scale agriculture for human survival change the way we think about “progress”?

Here’s another, more blunt, set of question: if you came to believe that the lives we are living were actually destructive or unsustainable, what would you do?

Would you suppress that knowledge?

Would you despair?

Would you fight?

If you would “fight,” what on earth would that look like?

…. does this line of questioning seem like something the class should take up?




4 thoughts on “U.N. claims the only way to “feed the world” is through… small-scale organic farming

  1. Sarah Baumgarten

    This would be a great topic to discuss in our class, the subject goes beyond ecology. It would breed meaningful work that requires real “skill.” People always question how to “solve” world hunger in America. Yet, the United States wastes 80% of its water use on agriculture, and then dumps 40% of the production. That means more forest, soils, and water are being degraded for virtually nothing, except our own blindness. Most of the production from large agribusiness goes towards the production of un-ethical meat. It would be great if we could speak about local farmers, local economies, and the positivity that would arise from such practices. Conventional food forests or small scale local organic farms would solve a portion of several ecological issues we face today; including issues that involve soil, water, waste, and the values humans have overall.

    1. nicksmaligo Post author

      I agree. I think the first book we’ll look at will be The Subsistence Perspective: Beyond the Global Economy. This book articulates a view of “economics” oriented toward local production, and argues that this is a condition for real justice.


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