25.What About Cows on Grass?

I hope my previous posts have explained in adequate detail why factory-farming of livestock is a disaster for the environment, for the animals, for human health in regard to both healthy eating and preserving the usefulness of antibiotics, and last but not least for the prospects of ending hunger (since it takes many pounds of human-edible crops to produce just a few pounds of animal food).  But what about raising animals on pasture?

Many arguments have been made in favor of pasturing livestock.  It is much more humane, because it enables the animals to live comfortably and behave naturally (until they’re slaughtered).  Where row-cropping is not possible due to inadequate rainfall/ irrigation or steep slopes, pasturing is a way of turning grass that people cannot eat into meat, dairy, and eggs that we can.  Arguments have been made, and in some cases apparently borne out, that grazing animals on pasture can sequester carbon and restore degraded land.

On the other hand, when animals trample stream beds it causes serious ecological damage and water pollution.  In many parts of the world, overgrazing is rapidly turning grassland and scrubland into desert — or has already done so.  And in a world in which water scarcity is growing, livestock need to drink a lot more water than is needed to grow plant crops.

I recently read a couple of contributions to the controversy.  The March/April 2017 Sierra magazine (a Sierra Club publication) examined the claims of Allan Savory, whose observations of African conditions led him to believe that cattle improve soil by stirring it up, and that carbon-sequestering bacteria thrive in their hoof prints, so that the more cattle are on the land the better the land becomes — whether in well-watered regions, or in arid and semi-arid ones.  The writer’s report of his interview with Savory makes clear that the man believes in his thesis passionately and sincerely.  Yet the article also shows that scientific examination of the facts do not quite support Savory’s beliefs.  For Savory insists that any number of cattle can be grazed on land as long as they’re moved about enough to avoid degrading it — but he ignores the facts that a great deal of just such degradation has been well documented, and that at least in arid and semi-arid areas, where ruminant herds were not present until people introduced them, it’s not really possible to move them far enough and fast enough to avoid very serious degradation and desertification.  Bison only worked well as part of the prairie ecosystem because grass grows well there and they had the whole one million square miles of the Great Plains to move about on.

I have read of The Nature Conservancy working with ranchers to use controlled grazing as part of the ecological restoration of their spread.  I’ve read of people like eccentric farmer Joel Salatin (especially as reported by Michael Pollan in The Omnivore’s Dilemma) who have successfully used pasturing of livestock to restore degraded land.  And I read this week (March 5) in the New York Times Sunday Review section (p.4) an essay by Englishman James Rebanks who herds sheep in England’s Lake District in accordance with traditions that date back over 4000 years.  He works within a local and ancient communal grazing system in that very hilly region which must, in order to have lasted this long, have worked out a set of practices that match flock size to the land’s long-term carrying capacity.

It would therefore seem that raising livestock on pasture can in certain circumstances be sustainable and appropriate.  But it must be made very clear that it only works when animals are kept away from stream banks, and moved about very frequently, and maintained in numbers that are limited enough to avoid degrading the land.  Arid lands probably cannot sustain grazing;  and semi-arid regions can probably only be grazed sustainably through nomadic practices that move constantly over very large distances.  Even where grass grows lushly, regenerative pasturing requires limiting the number of animals and moving them constantly from one part of the pasture to another.

There are indeed places where grazing livestock makes sense as part of ending hunger.  Where the land is so damaged that only grass will grow, or so steep that row-cropping is not feasible, or in the future on the Great Plains after the Oglalla Aquifer is depleted, grazing may be the best (or only) good agricultural use of those lands.  But the constraint of limiting the numbers of animals to what the land can sustainably support means that such grazing will never supply the huge amounts of cheap meat that are currently in demand.  For cheap abundant meat the way factory farms now produce it is simply neither sustainable nor compatible with enabling all seven-point-something billion of us to be fed.  And Earth has not got enough pasture land for grazing to match the numbers of animals now raised in factory farms.

Conclusion:  pasturing livestock can be part of feeding the world over the long term — but only in sustainable numbers and in particular places.  This would indeed provide some meat, dairy, and eggs for human consumption — but a lot less than we are currently used to, and they would cost significantly more.  Learning to enjoy low-meat diets is really the only way to go if we truly want to end human hunger.

Louise “Gentle Bee” Quigley

24. Problems of Factory-Farming Livestock, Revisited

I just read a truly alarming book:  Ellen K. Silbergeld’s 2016 Chickenizing Farms and Food:  how industrialized meat production endangers workers, animals, and consumers.

As the title promises, the book reports on how raising livestock changed from small farmers’ pastures to industrial-type “factory farm” schemes where animals are packed tight into huge buildings and raised to slaughter-weight as fast as possible.  It apparently began with broiler chickens in the area where Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia meet, but has now spread all over the world and involves pigs and cattle as well as poultry (both for meat and eggs).

This model has spread fast and widely because it does produce lots of cheap meat, for which there is a huge global demand.  But as Silbergeld discusses at length, it does so with serious downsides.  These include the massive (and as it turns out, superfluous) use of antibiotics, which are rapidly breeding antibiotic-resistant strains of disease-causing organisms and threatening to cause epidemics of dangerous illnesses that could not be treated.  They also include horrendous pollution from the animals’ manure, which is not treated as the contaminant it is.  The reason for that has to do with the way in which the  big corporations that control the industry contract with farmers to actually raise the animals, but on terms that are so strict and pay so little as to leave these contractors no resources for effectively treating the waste yet absolve the corporations from responsibility for it.  This abuse of the contractors carries over to the vile conditions of employment for workers involved in  raising and slaughtering the animals.  And these workers are not only at risk themselves of terrible injuries and of contracting antibiotic-resistant disease, but they could also infect anyone they come in contact with when they go home.  The now-almost-complete erosion of regulations to protect either the workers or consumers is part of this picture that Silbergeld paints.

Silbergeld asks readers to respect the food choices of people who want to eat the meat that these factory farms produce, and so she insists that industrialized livestock raising is here to stay.  Her solution to the problems she describes is therefore that we should openly acknowledge that livestock raising is now an industry rather than anything that can be called farming and must be regulated as an industry, not treated as agriculture at all.  She proposes tough standards for worker safety, pollution control, and contractor and consumer protection, and posits that government should be held accountable for holding this industry to passable standards.

If this could be accomplished, it might very well solve the abuses Silbergeld describes.  I believe there are only two catches (besides the difficulty of getting governments to buck the interests of large corporations).  One catch is that in Silbergeld’s proposal to control and regulate factory farms, such huge portions of the corn and soybean crops would still be inefficiently feeding livestock as to continue to challenge our farmland to feed us all.  The other is that if the livestock industry really had to pay its workers and contractors a living wage and really had to control and treat the manure adequately, it would surely raise the cost of meat and other animal foods by a considerable margin.  And then the huge amounts of cheap animal foods that are the whole purpose of the factory farms would no longer be cheap.  This would unravel the whole scheme:  the economies of scale provided by industrial-agriculture livestock raising require a massive market, but if the necessary regulation raises the cost of meat significantly then that mass market is no longer massive enough to support the industrial-agriculture scale.

I do accept Silbergeld’s belief that we have no right to disrespect people’s desire for meat.  But I do not see any way for the industrial-model production of animal foods to feed the world.  It co-opts too much of our crop production and, if properly regulated, would probably not permit heavy meat-eating for most people for economic reasons.  This does not mean that people who want meat can’t have it.  But it does mean that meat would mostly be a minor ingredient in foods on most days, and a feast-food just occasionally, if we really want a healthy and well-fed world.

Louise “Gentle Bee” Quigley

23. Eating Crickets

Also locusts, mealy bugs, and mopane worms (the larvae of a southern African moth) — among many others.  Humans have probably eaten bugs for as long as our species has existed — or even longer, since modern apes and other primates eat them with gusto, and primates may be descended from early insectivores.  The Bible names locusts as kosher for the ancient Israelites.  And in many parts of Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania various insects are eagerly enjoyed to this day.

From the point of view of ending hunger, the eating of insects could be enormously important.  For one thing, there are an awful lot of them, and they breed fast and easily and copiously.  Also, they’re small, so they can be grown in relatively small spaces, making them great for urban agriculture as well as rural farms and hunting wild ones.  Nor is such confinement cruel to them as it is for larger creatures like fish, poultry, and mammals.  Furthermore, insects’ efficiency in turning feed into food is excellent:  as high as that of chickens and greater than fish.  They can be raised with very little water, far less than any other food animal.  And there are hundreds of insect species that are listed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization as edible — some for every part of the world.

Insects are also highly nutritious.  They are high enough in protein to serve as a substitute for other kinds of meat, including being high in lysine which makes them a good complement for grains.  They are also a good source of useful carbohydrate, unsaturated fats including valuable omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins including B-12, and many minerals including iron and calcium.

And as suggested above, people who do eat various kinds of insects find them delicious.

So what’s not to love? — Besides the ick factor for those of use who were not introduced to these delicacies as children…

Europeans and non-indigenous people of North America have no cultural history of eating insects, and unfortunately most of us (including this writer, sorry) are therefore grossed out by the idea.  Several start-up enterprises here are therefore planning to grind crickets into flour which can be used as an ingredient in, for example, energy bars:  you could then eat them without thinking about what’s in the food.  You also may or may not want to reflect on the fact that the USDA permits a certain amount of insect parts in canned and processed foods, which means that pretty much all of us have already eaten insect bits without knowing it — and it hasn’t hurt us a bit.

Still, for many of us there’s a pretty big ick factor.

This should not discourage us from trying to get over it, or at least to consider overlooking the advent of insect flour as a non-obvious ingredient in processed foods.  And it certainly should not stop efforts to encourage the scaling up of the growing and eating of insects in parts of the world where this is enjoyed, and where hunger is a real problem.  For though until now most insect-eating has involved catching them in the wild or very small-scale endeavors, the farming of many kinds of insects is looking to be very feasible indeed.  So as the world’s population becomes increasingly urban, it would be easy enough for urban insect-growers to do much towards feeding people a locally-grown nutritious meat-like food that they already like and would choose as a preference.

If one is already a vegetarian, one can point out that insects are animals, and that one does not eat them for that reason (it’s too much to hope that people will become vegetarian solely in order to avoid eating bugs).  For everyone else, edible insects can be a real part of the solution to world hunger, and should not be overlooked.

Louise “Gentle Bee” Quigley

22. What Should US Corn Cropland Do?

A chart I found on the internet showed US “Corn Usage by Segment” for 2015.  If I’m reading it right, only 30.3% of US corn for that year because fuel ethanol;  12.5% was exported (some of this for animal feed);  3.5% became high fructose corn syrup and another 2.2% became other “sweeteners;”  1.5% was listed as “cereal/ other” i.e. corn eaten by people as corn;  and a whopping 47.1% (plus some of the exports) was fed to livestock.

This is not how to feed the world.

I discussed the problem of corn ethanol in my last post.  There is a great deal of data these days to indicate that sugar of any kind is neither healthful nor nutritious.  And while I addressed the concerns with using human-edible crops for animal feed in posts 6 and 7, a few of these points bear a quick revisit.

For one thing — and most to the point when discussing world hunger — livestock is incredibly inefficient in turning feed into food.  After all, some of what any animal eats is simply excreted (a dairy cow that produces 11 gallons of milk per day, for example, also produces some 80 pounds of manure).  Some food is burned for energy;  some becomes fur, feathers,  bones,  teeth/beaks, hoofs, hide, and discarded internal organs.  Crickets,  chickens, and fish turn a full 25% of what they’re fed into food humans can eat, but they are the most efficient.  For pigs, sheep, and cows it takes about 8 to 20 pounds of feed for the animal to produce one pound of food for people.  From the perspective of ending hunger, feeding animals many pounds of grain and soybeans to produce each pound of human food instead of feeding all those many pounds of grains and beans directly to the hungry is simply not excusable.

If that is not enough, there are other problems with the Confined Animal Feeding Operations/CAFOs, i.e., factory farms that use all that feed.  When animals are treated as production units and crowded by the thousands into buildings, they are so stressed and miserable that they are prone to mass die-offs from disease, so continual antibiotics are needed to keep them alive (and putting on weight as fast as possible) — creating antibiotic-resistant disease organisms.  In such conditions the amount of manure they produce can equal that of a small city per CAFO, but inadequate regulation leads chronically to water and air pollution.  That many animals drink vast quantities of water, which removes water from streams and groundwater and can cause environmental damage and shortages of water for other uses (like drinking, bathing, laundry, and irrigating crops for human consumption).  And the industrial-agriculture model that produces the feed has serious environmental problems (as noted in post 19).

Beyond question, factory farms based on subsidies for growing the feed are the pre-eminent way to produce lots of cheap meat, eggs, and dairy.  And cheap animal foods are in high demand.  But producing cheap animal foods in this way directly and seriously impedes ending hunger.

So what should US corn cropland be doing?  How about growing corn and other grains and beans and vegetables for people to eat?

There are two interlocking keys to transforming the current situation into this better one.  One is for people to switch their dietary expectations from high to low consumption of animal foods.  (Vegans and low-dairy vegetarians  are exemplary, but moving to plant-based diets which just use small amounts of animal food would do for most.)  A serious drop in demand for animal foods would leave room for sustainable and appropriate pasturing of livestock but could eliminate CAFOs.  The other key is to adjust farm policies and subsidies so that farmers who now grow commodity corn for feed and ethanol could instead make a living growing corn for eating as corn, while adding the growing of other grains and vegetables that people would eat.  Farmers basically want to make a living growing food.  If government policies provide different ways of doing this — as long as the making-a-living thing is guaranteed — it should not be unacceptable, even if it does mean making some changes.

This brings us to the realm of national politics and policies.  The first step in working towards policies that are better at ending hunger than what we’re doing now is to start the discussion of their necessity.

Louise “Gentle Bee” Quigley

21. The Problems With Corn Ethanol

Approximately 1% (one percent!) of the corn grown in the US becomes food for people.  The rest becomes cattle feed, “food supplements” (which I’m guessing means high fructose corn syrup — not what I exactly think of as a “supplement”), and a full 40%  of it becomes corn ethanol which is added to gasoline and burned in our automobiles.

If corn ethanol actually fought pollution and gave us energy independence while still allowing all to be fed, this would arguably be justifiable.  But in fact, none of these conditions prevail.

It is indeed established that ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline, so auto exhaust from gas blended with ethanol produces significantly less greenhouse-gas tailpipe emissions than pure gasoline.  However, when one looks at the fossil-fuel energy used to refine the corn into ethanol, the complete “lifecycle” pollution caused by having this fuel makes ethanol’s total GHG pollution as close to even with pure gasoline as makes no significant difference.

There are also other ecological problems associated with commodity corn-growing.  Congress passed the ethanol mandate in 2005 and strengthened it in 2007.  A Scientific American article in Feb. 2013 noted that between 2006 and 2011, this resulted in 530,000 acres of marginal, highly-erosive land being converted from edge-of-field prairie into growing corn for ethanol.  This greatly increased soil erosion, and erosion-caused run-off of poisonous farm chemicals into surface water, contaminating waterways all the way downstream until it ultimately increased the Gulf of Mexico dead zone.  It also greatly reduced habitat for butterflies and pollinators:  genetically modified ethanol corn is a major contributor to the current precipitous decline of monarch butterflies and indispensable bees as well as other beneficial insects, songbirds, and so on.

Growing corn for ethanol, in short, is not good for climate control while being really bad for the environment in various other ways.

Nor does corn ethanol contribute to energy independence.  The amount of fuel needed for the US fleet of internal-combustion-engine cars is so great that even 40% of our corn farmland contributes only a few percent of it, and this is effectively negated by the additional fossil fuel we import to refine the corn into ethanol plus the fact that ethanol-blended gas gets lower mileage than gasoline alone.

It must be noted that the problem here is corn ethanol, not ethanol per se.  In tropical Brazil, for example, ethanol is produced from sugar cane stalks, which have a higher sugar content than corn kernels, and whose sugar is easier to extract — and the bagasse that remains is then burned to produce electricity;  this is arguably a benign and useful scheme.  Also, there are efforts to derive ethanol from the cellulose of the native perennial prairie plant switchgrass, the growing of which would conserve water and sequester carbon and minimize pollution, or to get it from the cellulose of corn stalks instead of corn kernels as is done now.  But despite considerable efforts, no researchers have yet developed a technology to economically extract ethanol from cellulose.  Our corn ethanol comes from the kernels, and represents land that could have fed people instead.

In a world in which about one-eighth of humanity is occasionally or chronically hungry, it is simply unacceptable to divert farmland that could feed people into growing fuel that neither decreases pollution nor decreases the use of fossil fuel, but in fact, due to the economics of farm subsidies, actually increases the price of the corn that is available for the poor to eat.  I did note one ethanol-subsidy-apologist essay which opined that since so small a percentage of our corn crop becomes food, its price can’t make much difference — but this  completely misses the point that a much bigger percentage of our corn crop ought to become food.

I would not have a problem with mixing gasoline with ethanol derived from cellulose, so long as doing so did not take over cropland that could grow food (using corn stalk cellulose after the kernels fed people would be great).  But for feeding the world, the US corn ethanol mandate which uses corn kernels has got to go.  Iowa farmers need and deserve ways to make a living without the ethanol mandate — but this should spur politicians to correct what the government subsidizes, not blindly reinforce a problematic status quo.

Louise “Gentle Bee” Quigley

20. Food Waste Again

Before I go on to consider ethanol and other field agriculture issues, I take the occasion to revisit the problem of food waste, since two different publications I read brought it up in the last couple of weeks: tasteforlife, a health food store freebie magazine;  and Green American, the publication of a group, Green America, that I belong to.

Both articles reminded readers of the scope of the problem of food waste, calculated as about 30-40% of the food we grow.  The Green American article pointed out that, in addition to the hunger this could alleviate, “the greenhouse gas effects of growing, transporting, cooling, cooking, and letting that food go to landfill and rot are equivalent to 39-million cars’ worth annually.”  The tasteforlife article similarly noted that 95% of wasted food goes to landfills where it rots and releases the powerful greenhouse gas methane.  Both articles gave tips for things people can do to reduce the amount of food waste each of us is responsible for.

General strategies start with planning one’s meals and weekly menu, beginning with checking on what ingredients one already has on hand that need to be eaten soon, and including planning for how and when to use up leftovers.  Then make a shopping list based on the plan, and stick to it.  (It helps to shop when you’re not hungry.)  Another general strategy is to store food properly, so that it lasts long enough for you to get to it.  (Graphics for where in the fridge to put different items can found at ivaluefood.com/resources/food storage/  The Green American article also added many tips from Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook, a new book by Dana Gunders (Chronicle Books, 2016) involving using produce that’s starting to look less than fresh.  For example, vegetables like carrots, celery, broccoli, and greens that are starting to look wilty can often be revived and made crisp again just by soaking in ice water for little while.  Another tip is to realize that sprouting onions and garlic are still perfectly good.  If tomatoes have a crack or soft spot, just cut out the bad spot and eat the rest (but do it as soon as the problem starts or the bad spot will spread and ruin the tomato in a couple of days).  A brown spot in an avocado or gaucamole can similarly be cut away and the rest is still good to eat;  the same holds for citrus fruits with a soft spot on the peel.  Soft/ spotty/ brown bananas are of course great for baking.  If a few berries or grapes or salad greens in a bag start getting fuzzy, be quick to remove just the bad ones and eat up the rest.  And Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook also has tips for reviving and/or using pantry items that go past their prime.

A different strategy mentioned in both articles involves seeking, buying, and eating so-called “ugly produce” — that is, fruits and vegetables that are oddly shaped, dented, even spotted.  I saw a report in Prevention magazine last year which suggested that produce that looks imperfect because the plant was fighting off a pest or disease may actually be more nutritious than better-looking items.  A campaign to convince groceries to sell ugly produce is being led by Jordan Figuereido;  his website is uglyfruitandveg.org  Figuereido’s efforts have already persuaded Whole Foods and Walmart to start testing the selling of some “ugly” produce:  if you shop at such a store, buy that stuff!  You can also sign his campaign’s petition to Target at change.org/TargetGetUgly

On a different level, the Green American article mentioned efforts to rescue food that is nearing the freshness/ “sell by” date after which grocery stores won’t well it even though it is still perfectly edible.  And these efforts are popping up all over.  The Seattle Times reported that 150 such groups are currently operating in the US, and include groups like Project Angel Foods in Chittendon, VT and Dare to Care Food Bank in Louisville, KY as well as stores like Boston’s Daily Table and Kentucky’s B and E Salvage Grocery.  A Dec. 28 FoodTank listing of food-issue groups to watch included such food rescuers as Amp Your Good  and Ample Harvest in New Jersey, Food Rescue in Indiana, 412 Food Rescue in Allegheny County, PA, Cupia in San Francisco, Food Cowboy in Bethesda, MD, LA Kitchen, and Moisson Montreal. Anyone interested in this effort can support or volunteer with whichever of these groups is in your neighborhood.

And Chellie Pingrie, originator of the US Congress’ Food Recovery Act (HR4184) is still in Congress.  Ask your Congresscritters to co-sponsor this bill.

Such a huge amount of food is lost before being eaten that if we could even cut food waste in half, it would be a huge step towards solving hunger.  This is something everyone can work on.  And every one of us really should.

 

Louise “Gentle Bee” Quigley

19. Models For Field Agriculture

For ending hunger, field agriculture must not be neglected — regarding which there are two vastly different models.  The pluses and minuses of each must be considered.

In the developed world/ global north, the Enlightenment’s scientific method and the Industrial Revolution combined to produce a form of agriculture that relies on machinery for plowing, sowing, reaping, and irrigation, on manufactured fertilizers and hybrid seeds, and since about 1950 on chemical pesticides and herbicides.  The push for genetically modified seeds and the use of such innovations as self-driving tractors, condition-monitoring drones, and smartphone-c0ntrolled irrigation are all just logical next steps for this model.  These techniques were adopted enthusiastically in the global north not least because they were a very good fit with the economic philosophies of capitalism and mercantilism  that dominate these geographical areas.  And without question, industrial agriculture has vastly increased yields (at least in the short term).  Indeed, the shunting of much of U.S. corn production to ethanol and high fructose corn syrup arose when U.S. corn harvests at one point in time were too great to profitably sell for food.

So industrial agriculture’s big plus is its high yields — and that is not negligible.  Nonetheless, it also has a few big problems.  The high cost of the machinery, hybrid seeds, and chemicals is one.  Another is the way the chemicals pollute water, which kills fish and frogs and creates ocean dead zones, while they also kill pollinators and beneficial insects and the birds that depend on the insects:  the threat of mass extinction in the biosphere we ultimately depend on is also not negligible on general principles, besides that destroying pollinators will surely decrease food production.  Industrial agriculture is also highly erosive, further undermining its sustainability.  And in many areas it is dependent on unsustainable levels of irrigation, drawing on groundwater and surface water faster than it can be replenished.  The huge wheat harvests on North America’s High Plains, for example, depend on persistent overuse of the Oglalla Aquifer, which keeps drawing it down further — and once it’s gone, there won’t be any wheat harvests there.  California, Russia’s Aral Sea, and India’s Punjab region are a few other places where this last phenomenon is occurring.

The Punjab situation brings up yet another problem with industrial agriculture:  it has not transferred  well to the global south.  We know this because that transfer is exactly what the Green Revolution tried to do, and while the Green Revolution boosted yields wildly in the beginning, it then foundered badly.  Free seeds and fertilizer were offered for the first few years to get developing world farmers started, but once these incentives were withdrawn most peasants farmers could not afford expensive hybrid seeds and chemicals, yet they had by then lost their locally-adapted heirloom seed varieties and been taught to plant pest-attracting monocultures.  The hybrid seeds did not perform well without the chemicals and irrigation that were simply unaffordable to many in the developing world, leaving them mired in debt and with farms that were often less productive than before the Green Revolution started.  Nor had the temporarily increased yields actually relieved hunger, since the population had grown in lockstep with the temporarily higher harvests.  The promise of industrial agriculture’s Green Revolution has thus fizzled thoroughly in the global south.

Industrial agriculture’s unsustainability  in the north and inapplicability to the south make it worth looking at the other agricultural model, which has come to be called agroecology.  First, it is important to state that agroecology is not a step backward to preindustrial subsistence.  What it does do is look at the productivity, stability, sustainability, and equitability of an agricultural system, considering these four properties as interconnected and all integral to each other and to a successful form of agriculture.  Agroecology is not averse to technology;  for example, I read this week of an initiative to bring drip irrigation to peasant farmers in Guatemala’s highlands who are suffering from a climate-change-induced decrease in rainfall.  But it does use technology selectively and includes organic practices.  It seeks to work in harmony with each ecosystem, and to grow food in ways that are both ecologically sustainable and enable locally indigenous people to hold and farm their traditional lands by combining useful modern technologies with the sophisticated practices that their ancestors had developed over centuries to grow enough food in accord with each area’s own climate and soil and biotic community.  Agroecology thus supports food sovereignty and justice as well as food production.  Its apparent drawback is that it does not get nearly as high a yield per acre of any particular crop as industrial agriculture does.  But it is crucial to note that because it uses companion planting and succession cropping, it often gets more tons of food per acre than industrial agriculture’s mono-crops.   And it does so in ways that conserve and enhance the soil, sequester huge amounts of carbon, preserve local cultures and communities, and can continue to do so indefinitely.

Agroecology is especially well suited to the global south where the capital needed for industrial agriculture is hard to come by.  But it is just as useful in the global north, where small farmers use organic and biodynamic and IPM practices and raise livestock on pasture and sell through farmers’ markets and community supported agriculture  and local co-ops and local restaurants.

Industrial agriculture’s high yields can be useful in solving the problem of world hunger, especially if they can be turned from growing commodities and livestock feed to growing food directly for people.  There is even such a thing as “industrial organic” production.  But for producing good food that people can grow themselves or otherwise access and afford, in ways that mitigate climate change and preserve pollinators and the rest of the biosphere, agroecology needs to become a whole lot more dominant — everywhere.

Louise “Gentle Bee” Quigley