Is Small-Scale Farming the Answer with Close to One Billion People Malnourished and Food Prices Rising?

David Suzuki, David Suzuki Foundation (Huffington Post) – We often assume the only way to feed the world’s rapidly growing human population is with large-scale industrial agriculture. There is also the argument that genetically altering food crops is also necessary to produce large enough quantities on smaller areas to feed the world’s people. Close to one billion people are malnourished and many more are finding it difficult to feed their families as food prices increase. But is large-scale industrial farming the answer?

Large-scale agriculture uses a lot of water, contributes to soil erosion and degradation, and causes oxygen-starved ocean “dead zones” as nitrogen-rich wastes wash into creeks and rivers and flow into the oceans. Agriculture also affects the variety of plant and animal species in the world. Yet despite the incredible expansion of industrial farming practices, the number of hungry people continues to grow.

Author and organic farmer Eliot Coleman points out in an article for Grist.org, in the 19th century when farming was shifting from small scale to large, some agriculturists argued “that the thinking behind industrial agriculture was based upon the mistaken premise that nature is inadequate and needs to be replaced with human systems. They contended that by virtue of that mistake, industrial agriculture has to continually devise new crutches to solve the problems it creates (increasing the quantities of chemicals, stronger pesticides, fungicides, miticides, nematicides, soil sterilization, etc.).”

Volumes of research clearly show that small-scale farming, especially using “organic” methods, is much better in terms of environmental and biodiversity impact. But is it a practical way to feed seven billion people? Michael Jahi Chappell and Liliana Lavalle published in the journal Agriculture and Human Values, point to research showing “that small farms using alternative agricultural techniques may be two to four times more energy efficient than large conventional farms.” They also found studies demonstrating “that small farms almost always produce higher output levels per unit area than larger farms.” Another study looked at concluded that “alternative methods could produce enough food on a global basis to sustain the current human population, and potentially an even larger population, without increasing the agricultural land base.”

The global food shortage is a myth. The fact that we live in a world where hunger and obesity are both epidemic shows that the problem is more one of equity and distribution than shortage. With globalized food markets and large-scale farming, those with the most money get the most food.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation editorial and communications specialist Ian Hanington

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