Episode 34: Vale Bill Mollison

This is the World Organic News Podcast for the week ending 26th of September 2016.

Jon Moore reporting!

It is with a heavy heart I must report this week on the passing of Bill Molison. Bill, with his graduate student, David Holmgren, developed Permaculture. Bill is rightly called the father of Permaculture. His vision of a permanent culture, truly sustainable, abundant and resilient is based as much upon an understanding of the natural world as it is upon re-training the human mind. I will be producing an obituary supplemental episode for later this week.

Food production in a world of growing population is the constant excuse for the use of chemical based monocultural agriculture. The blog Eco Snippets published a piece on how to double production: Want To Double World Food Production? Return The Land To Small Farmers… 

The nature of the problem is neatly summarised:

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Agriculture may be feeding us, but it can also be described as the most destructive industry on our planet. 90% of the world’s 1.5 billion hectares under agriculture is dominated by industrial monocultures that are highly dependent upon external inputs and energy (TWN, 2015). These monocultures are extremely vulnerable to pests, disease and climate change and have resulted in nearly all the greatest famines in history.

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Now this system also dislocates farmers from their land as the get big or get out philosophy of industrialisation forces amalgamations of production units to justify the expense of machinery. There’s not much point spending a huge chunk of cash on a large tractor if your block of land is too small for the thing to even turn around on it. As the article explains, the Green Revolution did feed people in the  1960s but the cost, in social, ecological and health was and still is, excessive. Neither the article nor I am suggesting we should have let those who were fed, die of starvation. What is being proposed is a different way of doing things now that we are fully aware of the costs incurred in the past.

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Agro-farming, or Agroecology, uses techniques that work alongside nature rather than oppressing them. It has the potential to reduce agriculture’s impact on climate change by working with natural systems. It will generate food systems that are more diverse and resilient to changes in climate, and additionally, will improve independent farmer’s ability to respond to climate change. It focuses on conservation of soil and water through several of its developed practices such as terracing, intercropping, and agroforestry. Studies have highlighted how it also has the potential to double, even triple yield from farming. Moreover, it’s practices’ aim to create wildlife habitats, maintain natural predator-prey relations and will help to increase biodiversity.

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The key to these environmentally rich production systems is smaller land units, more people involved in the process and food produced near where it is consumed. 

The website Journey to Forever, which I highly recommend you peruse has a page on Small farms and the historical plight of the smallholder.

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Small family farms are the backbone of a community, a nation, and of society as a whole. A landscape of family farms is settled, balanced and stable, and generally sustainable. It’s the natural shape of society on the land. Such communities aggregate into strong and secure nations.

But it’s difficult to find a government that thinks that way, now or ever: the history of small farms presents a fantastic picture of neglect and abuse. 

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Yet small farms are more productive:

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In Thailand, farms of two to four acres produce 60% more rice per acre than bigger farms. In Taiwan net income per acre of farms of less than 1.25 acres is nearly double that of farms over five acres. In Latin America, small farms are three to 14 times more productive per acre than the large farms. Across the Third World, small farms are 2-10 times more productive per acre than larger farms.

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We can add other benefits to these small organic farms. The blog A New Green World  has a post entitled Organic agriculture combats the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The excessive use of antibiotics as routine in factory farming is a result of one paper published in the 1960s which claimed greater output through the use of antibiotics. That outcome has never been replicated in any other study. Yet the routine dosing of our food is leading through clearly obvious evolutionary processes to increased antibiotic resistance in both stock and humans. We don’t know what life was like before antibiotics or the vast majority of us don’t. My grandparents did, it led to the their almost religious worship of doctors. They had seen, first hand, to take but one example, friends and relatives die of tuberculosis. We have been spared this horror but we are, through our food system, preparing the way for the return of this and other scourges humanity thought were gone for good. 

So we know the costs of the current paradigm, we have a way forward, what are to do? Price signals would be good start. Include the social costs, the health costs, the greenhouse gas costs in the price of food but sudden increases in food costs may and we have seen this millennium, do lead to food riots.

So again, how do we move from centralised, monocultural industrial agriculture? It takes not just price signals, it’s going to take political will, driven by demand from a populace sick to death, literally, from their food of the system forced upon them. We can kick start the process by choosing where we spend our cash. Shop the edges of the supermarket, the fresh fruit and veggies, meat and dairy. Buy organic, cook ourselves, get our kids cooking. Once the centre of the supermarket becomes a ghost town, we will see change so fast we’ll wonder why we waited so long. 

Remember and never forget, we hold far more power than we realise. 

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

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

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