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Approach any serious-looking college student in the Boston area, where I teach, and ask them what kind of food and farming system they would like to see. Most will say they don't want food from factory farms with a large carbon footprint. They want foods locally grown on small family farms. They don't want crops grown using synthetic chemical fertilizers or pesticides; they want crops grown "organically." They want farm animals to be able to range freely. They want "slow" food rather than fast food. And they don't want "Frankenfoods" - crops developed through genetically engineering.
What might such an idealized food system actually look like? Take a trip to Africa. The small farmers who populate the continent's impoverished countryside are living out something close to this post-materialist fantasy. Two-thirds of all Africans depend on farming or animal grazing for their food and income, and nearly all of their operations are small-scale.
Eighty percent of the labor on these farms is done by women and children, in part because it provides so little income for working-age men. There is no power machinery (only two tractors for every thousand agricultural workers) and only 4 percent of crops are irrigated. More than two thirds of all cropland is still planted with traditional crop varieties rather than with scientifically improved varieties. The animals - mostly cattle and goats - forage for their own food.
Agribusiness firms are nowhere to be seen, and chemical fertilizer applications per hectare are less than one-tenth the industrial world average. Insecticides and herbicides are not affordable, so crops suffer pest damage, and the weeding is done by children who would be better off in school. Nobody grows genetically engineered crops because governments in Africa - following Europe's lead - have not approved such crops for use.
Nearly all of Africa's farms are thus de facto "organic." Poor and non-productive, but organic.
Originally posted by starwarsisreal
Hey but at least it's better than eating cancer infested foods brought you by Monsanto
Cuba’s organic revolution
The US trade embargo of Cuba, plus the collapse of the island’s Soviet market, has meant that the country has found it virtually impossible to import the chemicals and machinery necessary to practise modern, intensive agriculture. Instead, it has turned to farming much of its land organically - with results that overturn the myths about the ‘inefficiency’ of organic farming.
Originally posted by Sly1one
reply to post by SirMike
seriously you can't see past the propaganda?? Honestly this guy tries AFRICA as an example of failed small farm organic food?
My family has had a personal garden for years growing low maintence and highly desireable items such as squash, zuchini, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, etc...
now why isn't he deciding to discuss organically grown small farms on a more fertile land? Probably because it doesn't illistrate his agenda very well...
this article implies nonsense all throughout...implying that without crap like "machinery" your wife and child will be out slaving away because you can't make a $$??? How about in REALITY most people who grow their own organic small farm/garden arent trying to make $$ they are feeding their family...
Because Africa is failing is absolutely NOT by any streatch of the imagination an indication of how organic small farms are doomed for failure...
I hope everyone here can see through this garbage being posted and realize that empires such as Egypt, Rome...etc with achievements we still cant comprehend did so on predominantly ORGANIC foods with low tech non-mechanical industrial means...
whoever wrote that crap must have significant investements in pestacides, GMO, industrial farming or John Deer while working for Monsanto....
Originally posted by SirMike
reply to post by Sly1one
You seem to believe that our present track is entirely unsustainable, I disagree. As long as energy inputs continue, and there is no technical reason they cannot, our present track is entirely sustainable.
As complex as the chemistry of life may be, the conditions for the vigorous growth of plants often boil down to three numbers, say, 19-12-5. Those are the percentages of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, prominently displayed on every package of fertilizer. In the 20th century the three nutrients enabled agriculture to increase its productivity and the world’s population to grow more than sixfold. But what is their source? We obtain nitrogen from the air, but we must mine phosphorus and potassium. The world has enough potassium to last several centuries. But phosphorus is a different story. Readily available global supplies may start running out by the end of this century. By then our population may have reached a peak that some say is beyond what the planet can sustainably feed.
Moreover, trouble may surface much sooner. As last year’s oil price swings have shown, markets can tighten long before a given resource is anywhere near its end. And reserves of phosphorus are even less evenly distributed than oil’s, raising additional supply concerns. The U.S. is the world’s second-largest producer of phosphorus (after China), at 19 percent of the total, but 65 percent of that amount comes from a single source: pit mines near Tampa, Fla., which may not last more than a few decades. Meanwhile nearly 40 percent of global reserves are controlled by a single country, Morocco, sometimes referred to as the “Saudi Arabia of phosphorus.” Although Morocco is a stable, friendly nation, the imbalance makes phosphorus a geostrategic ticking time bomb.
Small Farm Productivity
How many times have we heard that large farms are more productive than small farms, and that we need to consolidate land holdings to take advantage of that greater productivity and efficiency? The actual data shows the opposite -- small farms produce far more per acre or hectare than large farms.
One reason for the low levels of production on large farms is that they tend to be monocultures. The highest yield of a single crop is often obtained by planting it alone on a field. But while that may produce a lot of one crop, it generates nothing else of use to the farmer. In fact, the bare ground between crop rows invites weed infestation. The weeds then invest labor in weeding or money in herbicide.
Large farmers tend to plant monocultures because they are the simplest to manage with heavy machinery. Small farmers, especially in the Third World, are much more likely to plant crop mixtures -- intercropping -- where the empty space between the rows is occupied by other crops. They usually combine or rotate crops and livestock, with manure serving to replenish soil fertility.
Such integrated farming systems produce far more per unit area than do monocultures. Though the yield per unit area of one crop -- corn, for example -- may be lower on a small farm than on a large monoculture farm, the total production per unit area, often composed of more than a dozen crops and various animal products, can be far higher.
This holds true whether we are talking about an industrial country like the United States, or any country in the Third World. Figure 1 shows the relationship between farm size and total production for fifteen countries in the Third World. In all cases, relatively smaller farm sizes are much more productive per unit area -- 200 to 1,000 percent more productive -- than are larger ones. In the United States the smallest farms, those of 27 acres or less, have more than ten times greater dollar output per acre than larger farms.....