Thursday, July 7, 2011

Agricultural mania

The UN is at it again! "A solid shift to green technologies in world farming is vital if endemic food crises are to be overcome and production boosted to support the global population." "Food security must now be attained through green technology so as to reduce the use of chemical inputs – fertilizers and pesticides – and to make more efficient use of energy, water and natural resources." "A sharp move away from large-scale, intensive systems of agriculture is essential if growing environmental and land degradation is to be halted." "The main policy focus should be promotion and development of sustainable agriculture, with an emphasis on small farm holders in developing countries." Quotes from a report just released from the U.N's Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

230 years ago, Ned Ludd broke a spinning jenny which, he believed, was impoverishing the rural workers. He gave his name to the Luddites, who, in the early 1800's were bent on smashing every new-fangled machine they could find. What they failed to realize was that the whole nature of work was changing. The invention of the steam engine had put power into the hands of Man. Suddenly, productivity was not a matter of brawn but of brains. The machine had set people free of drudgery.

Since then, life expectancy has soared, hunger has been essentially banished, and we can take human rights almost for granted. The difference in the opportunities for men and, in particular, for women, are incalculable. It is only the small farm holder in developing countries that can experience anything like the horrors of much of 19th century life.

Yet this is the grail the New Luddites are holding up, as if it were something sacred. Keep the folk on the lands, let them grind away, toil to feed themselves and, if anything is left over, let them sell the surplus. What a recipe for a stultifying life! The day ruled by the weather and the seasons, the night by the absolute need to rest the muscles to be ready for the fight which starts at dawn.

The evidence of the Green Revolution is clear. Let us have fertilizers, insecticides, improved seed, machinery to prepare the soil and to harvest the crop. Then, a few workers can feed a hundred, so freeing the hundred for more productive work.

For the past 30 years, the developing nations have been growing their food output faster than their population, by creating large, efficient farms that are able to afford the capital needed to grow food without excessive toil. It is only in lands where this development has not taken place that starvation is a continual threat. Sadly, Africa has too many countries still reliant on peasant farmers. The UN would condemn them to ongoing starvation.

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