Industrial Agriculture Cannot Feed The World

You’ve heard it many time: “Organic farming is a nice luxury, not a solution to world hunger.” Despite the many rebuttals offered time and time again, this conversation is not going anywhere. Scaremongers are not letting go, and for good reason: the survival of the current food system is at stake, i.e. the survival of a gigantic, powerful industry with deep pockets and a far-reaching influence into all the corners of the world.

This being said, I’ll gladly take on this argument here. The “hook”? This commentary about a recent Dutch study that concluded that organic farming produces 80 percent of the yield of conventional agriculture.

Unfortunately, the article spins the usual web of deception. Experts stress that the 20 percent gap makes conventional agriculture the obvious winner. I’ll argue that considering the costs (and R&D investments) of all the technology used in conventional agriculture, a 20 percent yield differential is a rather disappointing outcome.

Most importantly, yield is actually a reductive and misleading variable when comparing the respective outputs of conventional and organic agricultures. For one, it strictly addresses food volume but says nothing about quality (as it turns out, the rise in industrial agriculture since the Second World War has been inversely proportional to the decline in nutritional value of cultivated plants; genetically-modified seeds (GMO) germinated in dead soil packed with chemicals only support that trend).

Yield is also a very narrow focus to establish the superiority of conventional agriculture at a time when energy waste, topsoil erosion, water pollution, biodiversity loss and climate change (all phenomenons caused by, or heavily linked to, industrial farming) are increasingly threatening food security. In fact, these issues raise the one true pertinent question: “Can CONVENTIONAL agriculture keep feeding the world?”

Simultaneously, “organic agriculture” is a narrow approach that reduces alternatives to industrial farming to the set of criteria chosen by government label certification agencies. Rather, the conversation ought to be about sustainable agriculture, agroecology even, as defined by the World Agricultural Report (IAASTD).

Champions of “innovation in agriculture” such as Bill Gates typically brandish GMO as the answer. Yet, on top of preserving and even regenerating natural resources, conserving energy, reducing toxic emissions, and capturing carbon, sustainable farming is also a lot cheaper for the farmer than buying patented GM seeds EVERY year and the necessary chemical inputs that accompany them. The fact that 90 percent of GM crops producers are smallholders (as the article stresses) exposes the scary reality that the Monsanto strategy to enslave small poor farmers the world over is working. With an added worrisome consequence: the destruction of local cultivated biodiversity, as GM crops take over heirloom varieties developed over thousands of years to adapt to weather and pests.

Finally, the scare tactics used to convince us of the need for GM seeds are not founded in reality: the world actually produces enough food to supply more than 2700 calories per day to every living person on Earth, according to the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO). In other words, production is not the issue. Distribution is. Time has come to get out of the current global food system that promotes waste (as new FAO chief Jose Graziano da Silva publicly deplores), and prevents food from being grown and/or accessible everywhere it is needed. It has become urgent to foster LOCAL food systems that nourish local communities while offering local farmers fair rewards for producing nutritious food, and preserving natural resources.

Farmers and consumers everywhere have been leading the way in increasing numbers. Political will is all that’s missing for our current food system to be significantly transformed despite the many push-backs from the food industry. Time has come to take action not only as consumers but also as citizens. Our food rights are at stake. Take the first step and sign this petition.

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