The industrialization of agriculture did massive damage to rural America, turning most of that beautiful land into medieval plantations. Instead of millions of small family farmers, we now have a few thousand large corporate farmers in charge of rural America and the growing of most food. Democracy and human and environmental health suffered a severe blow. Money and power triumphed.
Like many countries, China is trying to catch up with the agricultural superpower illusion of America. Yes, America produces huge amounts of food, but at unsustainable and catastrophic costs and consequences.
There are non-toxic alternatives to coaxing more from an acre of land.
In the United States, the alternative to chemical farming has the name of “organic” agriculture. In the European Union, the alternative is “biological” agriculture. These alternatives are sophisticated modifications of traditional agriculture. They produce and sell food without using pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, genetic engineering, sludge, and radiation. But like industrialized farming, the organic-biological alternatives ignore the size of farms, the plight of farm workers, the kind and size of farm machinery, the use of petroleum and petroleum products like plastics.
Petroleum fuels industrialized societies. Their agriculture, transportation, energy and defense industries are largely depended on petroleum. However, petroleum is a major global warming fuel.
Agribusiness and peasants in China
China has a growing sector of industrialized agriculture. China has also more than 200 million peasants practicing traditional farming.
Caught between these two gigantic forces, The Chinese government is campaigning on behalf of environmental protection primarily as an antidote to the ecocidal and destabilizing effects of environmental pollution.
I have had the opportunity of visiting China twice. The Institute for Postmodern Development of China made that possible. Since 2005, this non-profit organization based in Claremont, California, has been the ecological link between China and America.
What is ecological civilization?
Indeed, the first time I heard the term “ecological civilization” was in Claremont where I have been living since 2008. I immediately smiled and connected ecological civilization to fantasy.
The idea, of course, is not entirely utopian. First of all, it is beautiful. It brings to mind heaven on Earth: flourishing villages and towns, peasants working the land without outsiders oppressing them or oppressing each other or polluting the natural world; flowers, monarch butterflies, honeybees, singing birds, sheep and lambs, fig trees, flowering lemon and almond trees, creeks and rivers running through the land, olive groves, grapevines and god Dionysos and his maenad followers indulging in a frenzy of dance and music.
However, Zhihe Wang and Meijun Fan, who direct the Institute for Postmodern Development of China, probably have other dreams for ecological civilization. They grew up in the China of Mao Zedong. They experienced hunger and witnessed the destruction of traditional Chinese culture. They are both trained in academic philosophy. They know China and the West.
They may see ecological civilization as an emerging new global philosophy. Either humans will learn how to live in harmony with the natural world or they will become extinct. Perhaps ecological civilization is a convenient expression for the end of war and a beginning of something better for themselves and China. It may be no more than a slogan or deep belief in a better world.
I joined the discussion about ecological civilization during some of the conferences they sponsored in Claremont. That gave me a chance to talk to Chinese scholars.
Such theoretical perspectives enriched my limited observations in rural China. Chinese peasants told me they love the land they rent from the state. And Chinese agronomists who study peasant farming told me they would love to see a better future for peasant farming.
Americanizing Chinese farming
Nevertheless, China is striving to “modernize” its peasant agriculture. Chinese scientists have been training in America for decades. The Chinese government is funding these scientists to expand the scope of industrialized farming in China. Both the government and the American-trained scientists overlook the fact that peasants are raising most of China’s food.
Industrialized farmers in China are converting peasant land to large factory farms. Such a policy is bound to spark clashes between peasants and large industrialized farmers supported by the government. This looming tragedy is a telling example of how difficult it is to maintain ancient ecological traditions in an age of worldwide ecocide and rapacious ambitions and governance.
The peasant factor
In contrast to the hegemonic American agribusiness and the equally hegemonic if misguided developing Chinese agribusiness, Chinese peasant farming opens an exciting vista of ecological and political insights for a strategy of an agriculture that is largely benign to the natural world, just to those working the land, and healthy to all eating the food peasants grow.
Industrialized agribusiness, be that of the American or Chinese variety, is against ecological civilization. Organic / biological farming and peasant agriculture open the doors to ecological civilization – just a little. They give us but a glimpse of what the future could become.
The first system – agribusiness — is a grab for power; the second is a spark from millennial traditions of wisdom and practice in the raising of food without wounding the land.
There’s also the best of modern science coming under the name of agroecology: the latest findings in agricultural ecology, that could and would complement and enrich peasant practices.
China would do its culture a favor if it turns all its efforts in repairing and strengthening its peasant farming, abandoning its agribusiness as an error. Such a policy shift would tell the world China is serious about ecological civilization – and fighting global warming. At that moment, China might become a model for saving the Earth.
The early 2008 food price crisis has often been wrongly associated with the 2008-2009 global financial crisis. The number of hungry in the world was said to have risen to over a billion, feeding a resurgence of neo-Malthusianism.
Agribusiness advocates fed such fears, insisting that food production must double by 2050, and high-yielding industrial agriculture, under the auspices of agribusiness, is the only solution. In fact, the world is mainly fed by hundreds of millions of small-scale, often called family farmers who produce over two-thirds of developing countries’ food.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, neither food scarcity nor poor physical access are the main causes of food insecurity and hunger. Instead, Reuters has observed a “global grain glut,” with surplus cereal stocks piling up.
Meanwhile, poor production, processing and storage facilities cause food losses of an average of about a third of developing countries’ output. A similar share is believed lost in rich countries due to wasteful food storage, marketing and consumption behavior.
Nevertheless, despite grain abundance, the 2018 “State of Food Security and Nutrition” report — by the Rome-based United Nations food agencies led by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) — reported rising chronic and severe hunger or undernourishment involving more than 800 million.
Political, philanthropic and corporate leaders have promised to help struggling African and other countries grow more food, by offering to improve farming practices. New seed and other technologies would modernize those left behind.
But producing more food, by itself, does not enable the hungry to eat. Thus, agribusiness and its philanthropic promoters are often the problem, not the solution, in feeding the world.
“Eating Tomorrow” addresses related questions such as: Why doesn’t rising global food production feed the hungry? How can we “feed the world” amid rising populations and unsustainable pressure on land, water and other natural resources that farmers need to grow food?
Family Farmers Lack Power
Drawing on five years of extensive fieldwork in Southern Africa, Mexico, India and the U.S. Midwest, Wise concludes that the problem is essentially one of power. He shows how powerful business interests influence government food and agricultural policies to favor large farms.
This is typically at the expense of “family” farmers, who grow most of the world’s food, but also puts consumers and others at risk, e.g., due to agrochemical use. His many examples not only detail and explain the many problems small-scale farmers, but also their typically constructive responses despite lack of support, if not worse, from most governments:
In Mexico, trade liberalization following the 1993 North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) agreement swamped the country with cheap, subsidized U.S. maize and pork, accelerating migration from the countryside. Apparently, this was actively encouraged by transnational pork producers employing “undocumented” and non-unionized Mexican workers willing to accept low wages and poor working conditions.
In Malawi, large government subsidies encouraged farmers to buy commercial fertilizers and seeds from U.S. agribusinesses such as now Bayer-owned Monsanto, but to little effect, as their productivity and food security stagnated or even deteriorated. Meanwhile, Monsanto took over the government seed company, favoring its own patented seeds at the expense of productive local varieties. A former senior Monsanto official co-authored the national seed policy that threatens to criminalize farmers who save, exchange and sell seeds instead.
In Zambia, greater use of seeds and fertilizers from agribusiness tripled maize production without reducing the country’s very high rates of poverty and malnutrition. Meanwhile, as the government provides 250,000-acre “farm blocks” to foreign investors, family farmers struggle for title to farm land.
In Mozambique too, the government gives away vast tracts of farm land to foreign investors. Meanwhile, women-led cooperatives successfully run their own native maize seed banks.
Iowa promotes vast monocultures of maize and soybean to feed hogs and produce bioethanol rather than “feed the world.”
A large Mexican farmer cooperative launched an “agro-ecological revolution,” while the old government kept trying to legalize Monsanto’s controversial genetically modified maize. Farmers have thus far halted the Monsanto plan, arguing that GM corn threatens the rich diversity of native Mexican varieties.
Much of the research for the book was done in 2014-15, when Barack Obama was U.S. president, although the narrative begins with developments and policies following the 2008 food price crisis, during the last year of former President George W. Bush. The book tells a story of U.S. big business’ influence on policies enabling more aggressive transnational expansion.
Yet, Wise remains optimistic, emphasizing that the world can feed the hungry, many of whom are family farmers. Despite the challenges they face, many family farmers are finding innovative and effective ways to grow more and better food. He advocates support for farmers’ efforts to improve their soil, output and wellbeing.
Hungry farmers are nourishing their life-giving soils using more ecologically sound practices to plant a diversity of native crops, instead of using costly chemicals for export-oriented monocultures. According to Wise, they are growing more and better food, and are capable of feeding the hungry.
Unfortunately, most national governments and international institutions still favor large-scale, high-input, industrial agriculture. This neglects more sustainable solutions offered by family farmers, and the need to improve the wellbeing of poor farmers.
Undoubtedly, many new agricultural techniques offer the prospect of improving the welfare of farmers, not only by increasing productivity and output, but also by limiting costs, using scarce resources more effectively, and reducing the drudgery of farm work.
But the world must recognize that farming may no longer be viable for many who face land, water and other resource constraints, unless they get better access to such resources. Meanwhile, malnutrition of various types affects well over 2 billion people in the world, and industrial agriculture contributes about 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.
Going forward, it will be important to ensure affordable, healthy and nutritious food supplies for all, mindful not only of food and water safety, but also of various pollution threats. A related challenge will be to enhance dietary diversity affordably to overcome micronutrient deficiencies and diet-related non-communicable diseases for all.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations assistant secretary-general for economic development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.
True Activist – November 18, 2013 – By: Marco Torres
Artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, emulsifiers, sweeteners have saturated the food supply for more than four decades. We are on the precipice of discovering what our toxic food industry has done to our bodies and our environment. There is a heightened awareness and a sense of caution on the minds of most grocery shoppers, so let’s make it easier for them. Here are 25 of the most common toxic ingredients you must avoid in foods. The discovery of even one of these ingredients on a food label means “stay away.”
Posted Jan 16, 2019 – Save Institute by ByVivian Goldschmidt
Would you eat your favorite breakfast cereal if you knew that it contained Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT), a product also used in jet fuel and embalming fluid? Can you imagine grilling your low fat veggie burger if you found out that its main ingredient is Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)?
Watch out, because foods that are considered “healthy” and labeled as “natural” contain many harmful chemicals used as food preservatives and flavor enhancers – and these chemicals are often disguised under unrecognizable names.
Today, I’ll expose the hidden dangerous food additives that are lurking in so-called “healthy” foods, how you can easily spot them and the simple and delicious alternatives that won’t sabotage your bone and overall health.
In the last 100 years the food industry has advanced by leaps and bounds. Today, more than three quarters of supermarket shelves are stocked with packaged and processed foods. These boxed, canned, and frozen concoctions in most cases only require boiling or microwaving to become edible.
In total, there are more than 3,000 food chemicals purposely added to our food supply, yet avoiding them is a lot easier and more economical than you might think.
You probably already know this, but the rule of thumb is that the best foods to conquer osteoporosis and to stay healthy are unprocessed natural foods. That’s because man-made chemicals acidify your body pH which in turn accelerates bone loss.
Every day, one in nine people around the world go hungry. That’s more than 820 million people who do not have enough food to support a healthy, productive lifestyle – despite the fact that the world produces enough food to feed every single one of us.
On October 16, 1945, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) was established. The organisation’s logo is a blade of wheat and its Latin motto, “fiat panis”, translates to “let there be bread”; an apt representation of the work the FAO has undertaken since its inception, with the lead focus of eliminating world hunger.
For almost four decades, October 16 has been celebrated to raise awareness of the FAO’s main working areas, including building sustainable agriculture and fishery industries, eliminating poverty, implementing inclusive agriculture foundations and the aforementioned goal of reducing, and eventually abolishing malnutrition, food insecurity and hunger.
To mark World Food Day, Al Jazeera looks back at some of our most memorable food-related documentaries, from the celebration of the intrinsically-linked relationship between food and culture to the problems with inflation on the most basic of foodstuffs and the politics of food in the heart of conflict zones.
A Taste of Conflict: The Politics of Food in Jerusalem
South Korea: Kimchi Crazy
Hungry for Change: New York’s Food Insecurity Crisis