Can X Feed the World? Wrong Question.


Can we feed the world in the future? Can sustainable Agriculture feed the world? Can peasant agriculture feed the world? Can industrial agriculture feed the world? Can GMO’s feed the world?

It’s easy to want to compete on these questions when small farms produce more per acre, (as Andrew Kimbell argued in Fresh) and organic farms produce more bushels (as the Rodale Institute has found in their long term studies).

Surely though, this is the wrong question.

I’m posting this as a separate diary, (rather than on Jill Richardson’s diary at La Vida Locavore; and it’s temporarily down now anyway,) since it is fundamental, a change of paradigm, and longer than most comments. I make other specific comments over there on Jill’s article.

Can X End Poverty in Least Developed Countries? Correct Question!

The basic realities are that people have long been hungry, malnourished and starving, and yet we’ve always been able to feed the world. Simply producing more bushels per acre was never the answer in the past.

The real problem is poverty. Can solution X end poverty in Least Developed Countries, in rural areas? Least Developed Countries are 70% rural on average. Their needs have always been for farm income, for decent farm prices like those the family farm movement has fought for for 50 years. That’s why international peasant groups like La Via Campesina (200 million strong) are closely aligned with the National Family Farm Coalition. (Sustainable Agriculture and food groups in the US tend not to take a policy positions on matters outside of the US these days.)

The Food Crisis: A Misnomer

The so called “food crisis” has added to the confusion. For one thing, people suddenly started suggesting that because we had a price spike, we were therefore likely to run out of food in the future. This then led to an Earl Butz style call for planting fence row to fence row, getting rid of ethanol, eating less meat, feeding soy to the world, and other similar measures. All of this fed into Agribusiness’ perennial call for low market prices and overproduction, the primary causes of LDC poverty and therefore of hunger, malnutrition, and starvation. In this way we end up with support from hunger organizations and others for the worst abuses of the agribusiness output complex and input complex (such as opposition to supply management http://www.lavidalocavore.org/…

Long time farm activists, however, are familiar with price spikes. (Read Daryl E. Ray’s short columns for a corrective perspective: here:









And see this slide show:  http://www.agpolicy.org/blueprint/PresentationAPACReport.pdf.

We know they don’t happen very often due the the lack of “price responsiveness on both supply and demand sides for the main farm commodities as a group. We have long advocated for real solutions to spikes and speculation (price ceilings with grain reserves), along with the real solutions to rural poverty (price floors and supply management).

Farm Income, the Great Economic and Jobs Multiplier

Obviously LDCs, as 70% rural countries, need farm income. In the United States the family farm movement knows our history, that farming is a great economic stimulus for the economy as a whole. A traditional estimate was that a diversified family farm generates seven dollars for every one dollar invested (ie here http://www.commondreams.org/views/2008/09/24/its-about-america) Today to get an accurate estimate you have to look at sustainable (diversified, family sized) farms as opposed to large corporate sized/structured farms and animal factories). John Ikerd estimates that, in terms of economic development, for every hog factory job created three independent farmers are lost (here). Daryll Ray with NFFC asked for research investment into studying these economic and jobs multipliers at the Senate Agriculture Committee and elsewhere last winter. Ray says the 7 to 1 ratio is probably too high. But see this APAC/IATP powerpoint for more info. As the ppt states: Increase in GDP from Ag is twice more efficient for poverty reduction than any sector” (slide 3) (http://www.csa-be.org/IMG/pdf_de_la_Torre_FS_env_cl_cg.pdf). See other info under “Food Crisis 101 Primer” here (http://zcomm.org/zblogs/farm-justice-primer-a-farm-bill-primer/) .

All of this is related to the Steagall Amendment of 1941 where farm parity was passed through the banking committees as an economic stimulus to help the war effort. That’s what we need now, as we (NFFC) told Obama’s staff last winter. Some international groups also have supportive research along these lines (try IFPRI).

For further discussion see:  Brad Wilson, “The ‘Feed the World’ Debate: 2 Reviews,” Family Farm Justice, 10/26/16, https://familyfarmjustice.me/2016/10/26/the-feed-the-world-debate-2-reviews/

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