Episode 27: Factory Farms, Agroforestry & Sustainable Ecosystems

This is the World Organic News Podcast for the week ending 8th of August 2016.

Jon Moore reporting!

The blog green peeps issues a call for action with their post: “Why We Need to Eradicate Factory Farming”  The advantage of factory farming is the pow price of meat to the consumer. This price though is not what it seems. In the US in particular, the basic feed for all factory farms is maize. This is subsidised to a frightening degree. Which means, of course, consumers are paying for their cheap meat meat through taxation. It doesn’t appear so obviously at the supermarket nor the butchers but it is being paid. 

We also touched on one of the other drawbacks of the system last week when we discussed “waste” in inverted commas. Poo accumulates wherever animals are confined. This seems so obvious that it shouldn’t be necessary to even state it but there you are. Poo accumulates, accumulated poo, left untreated in slug pits is a breeding ground for pathogens. Pathogens that affect not just the confined stock but humans too. Still the medical costs are not born by the food producers so nothing to worry about there.

Then we come to the greatest argument against factory farming: It is cruel. There is no other way to put it. Jamming animals into small spaces, not allowing them to exercise, to often stand in their own poo, think cattle feedlots, and reducing the individual animal to an industrial component is cruel, is degrading to the animal and to the humans who work at the facilities. It has its parallels with any factory work. The difference between a widget and an animal is the ability to feel pain, physical and psychological. 

If we toss in the carbon consequences of this form of, I can’t call it farming, this form of meat production we have more than enough reasons to close these vile facilities down, now.

They represent a path we should never have travelled. We can reverse our course, we can do the right thing. 

Factory farms are but one example of wrong paths taken. The Green Revolution is another.

The blog AGRA Watch posted a piece on Zimbabwean agriculture entitled: Smallholder support at the Crossroads: Diminishing returns from Green Revolution Seed and Fertilizer Subsidies and the Agro-Ecological Alternative. From my understanding, The Green Revolution of the 1960s and 70s introduced higher yielding varieties. These though required larger levels of fertiliser and pesticides. It seems this revolution did feed many would otherwise have gone hungry but the system was based on a trade off: Food for soil and debt. As we have discussed in other episodes, the Indian situation of smaller holder debt based farming is directly correlated to increases in smallholder farming suicide rates. This particular post focuses on the southern African situation. The same pressures, debt, the need for fertiliser and seed subsidies to buy into the Green Revolution, are reaching a point of collapse. Especially when we toss climate variability into the mix. The seeds replaced by the Green Revolution wonder varieties were, generally, better suited to local conditions, having been selected for their locale over a long time frame.

The post argues for, not just a return to these older varieties, many of which are now lost to humanity but for the introduction of an agro-ecology approach to food production. This entails more reliance of tree based foods and a tree based matrix for sustainability. Not surprising given our discussions of the fungal colonies underpinning forest ecologies, this system, whilst time consuming to implement has longer term stability.

This stability is discussed by the blog DESERTIFICATION in their post: 

Agroforestry benefits both farmers and the environment. Clearly the fungal communities benefit but too do the the trees. The inherent inertia of an established forest ecosystem acts a buffer to variability in climatic conditions. This has its limits, of course but it does provide time for adaptation to new conditions. The travails of annual ploughing, weeding and harvesting are all reduced in an agroforestry system. 

This is way of growing not widely understood, well outside those who have been experimenting and establishing these systems. More on that a little later.

The blog Tropical Bounty posted on: Producing an agroforest manual for rural people and NGOs. This post is what’s written on the tin. A manual is oft times related to locale and in this case it focuses upon the tropics. Agroforestry is applicable in most environments from the tropics to the desert, think of the date palms in and around the oases. It does tend to fall in areas like the tundra but there are other perennial systems we can use there. The point of agroforestry can best be understood through the lense of the Circular Economy.

This idea is developing in scope and power. The blog Organeco has a post on understanding this notion. 

I quote from the post:

A circular economy is one that is restorative and regenerative by design, and which aims to keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times, distinguishing between technical and biological cycles.

End quote.

Now this may seem familiar to many listeners, especially if they have had any contact with Permaculture. The circular economy idea seems to have come out of the economics discipline. Permaculture comes from a direct observation of Nature by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, the founders of the philosophy.

The  blog fiddle farms has a great post entitled: Why Permaculture? To quote from this blog:

Permaculture: the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be

sustainable and self-sufficient.

End quote. So you can see the similarities with the circular economy people. This post argues that even fully organic systems can be unsustainable. It calls for a world wide adoption of the Permaculture philosophy and practices. I’m looking to run a supplemental series on Permaculture. As you can imagine this has the potential to be separate podcast in its own right so getting the balance right is taking some time. Meanwhile I will continue to report on the work and experiences of others from the field to give a sense of the movement.

To that end we will finish up this week with a post from the blog: Raw Biology. The author discusses both their journey to the need for sustainability in food production and then the steps they have taken to convert their small piece of land to a productive, sustainable system. The post is entitled My Future in an Edible, Sustainable Ecosystem so you get the idea.

Links to all the posts referred to in this episode are in the show notes.

And that brings us to the end of this week’s podcast.

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Any suggestions, feedback or criticisms of the podcast or blog are most welcome. email me at podcast@worldorganicnews.com.

Thank you for listening and I’ll be back in a week.

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