Eating is an agricultural act - Wendell Berry

Monday, May 18, 2015

can organic farming feed the world?

at a recent meeting, bernard (auroville) part replied to the titular question with: "as if current farming practices are doing that."
in addition to being a clever quip, it exposes the illegitimacy at the question's and the questioner's core.

but here is a full fledged response, by the erudite colin tudge.

in it he answers another recurring question we face - "how will you scale your work?"
Farming designed truly to feed people must be rooted in sound biology. The form, the structure of farms must reflect that of nature. Lots of plants, not many animals. Tremendous intricacy and attention to detail. Such variety and attention to detail requires a great deal of labour. Farming that really works needs to be labour intensive. (emphasis mine)


Capton said...

Thanks for the Colin Tudge link. Nice read.

So how can we realistically find a substitute? I find some of the arguments spurious. Before the invention of N Fertilizers, of course all societies were trying and willing to increase the population - N fertilizer is not an aphrodisiac! it merely enabled the population growth by removing a natural population control mechanism (availability of food); it is not as if the farmers of the early 20th century didn't know how to 'grow more acacias, beans, or alfalfa" to fix more nitrogen or know how to compost but they simply didn't/couldn't succeed/scale up. Only the invention of the N fixing process changed the game. So the legitimate question is, are these organic methods a realistic substitute of artificial N fixation? Thoughts?

csm said...

yes, it can happen. but as tudge suggests clearly, it will have to be 'labour-intensive'.

adding N into the soil was made very easy by haber and co. what is not calculated in this process, is the amount of energy used to create this fertliser which is ultimately used to grow food which gets converted to energy. this energy balance is unfavourable because of cheap fossil fuel.

so the real answer will be 'it is possible, but not probable'.

Capton said...

Yes, I couldn't agree more.

There are approx 4 billion extra people on earth today because someone figured out how to pump out fossil fuels and use it in a combustion engine and someone else figured out how to efficiently convert N from atmosphere to nitrates that can be applied as fertilizers! wow Arguably two of the most consequential technological achievements in human history.

Go organic basically says, lets abandon these to technologies and find a natural way. Labor-intensive is putting it very mildly.

meigancam01 said...

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Preeti Aghalayam aka kbpm said...

Nice read there, csm!

Unknown said...

well its like we will substitute the beef industry with
dairy farming industry...
either ways its a catch 22 situation.... Organic farming takes more work than normal farming does.... but that is not a issue here... the major problem, Is organic farming cost efficient than in-organic farming??? What are the economical risk that a farmer has to take while opting to organic farming?