Food and agriculture PDF Print E-mail
Utopia - Food and agriculture

Introduction

Food is one of the absolute basics of life. Without it there is no life. Food = energy. Without energy to sustain life's processes there is no life. But food can also harm when that food is contaminated with pollutants. And a lack of food variety and quality is also detrimental to a healthy and productive life.

 

But what do we need to do in order to change the bad habits of food production and consumption?


Food evolution

From hunters and gatherers to massive agricultural enterprises, genetic modification of crops and livestock, food production has come a long way.

Food is inextricably connected to human society and evolution. When we lived in small humanoid groups it was sufficient to hunt animals and collect plants and vegetables in order to stay healthy and obtain enough sustenance to keep us going.

But as we made our ascent in the food chain so did our food production habits adapt. Instead of wandering around looking for food, we began to grow and manage it ourselves. In order to feed a growing and stationary population you need a reliable food source. Farming became a part of society, changing animals, plants, the environment and our organizational structure in the process.

City life

City life demands larger quantities of food readily available. Farmers and city dwellers became two separate societies. Human society diversified in functionality. Survival and growth meant possession of the best farming land. As primitive groups already fought over the best food and water resources, cities fought each other to control the land's resources and each other.

Food and war

But where war and strive exist as a continuous condition, as we see in modern day Africa and other places, farming becomes impossible, starvation becomes reality and society fails. Peace and stability is obviously very good for your health.

 

Food definition

Material consisting essentially of protein, carbohydrate and fat, used in the body of an organism to sustain growth, repair, and vital processes and to furnish energy.
Source: Encyclopedia Britannica.

Agriculture definition

The practice, science or art of cultivating the soil, harvesting crops, and raising livestock.
Source: Encyclopedia Britannica.

 

Modern life

Today, the earth sees a variety of human cultures and civilizations. There are still primitive tribes of hunters and gatherers that depend on their direct environment to exist, and there are city dwellers who could never live off the land. They would not know how.

Because of population pressures many areas previously untouched by modern life and inhabited by poor or primitive peoples are now being 'developed' by national and international corporations in order to obtain more arable land. These areas are also under pressure from illegal logging and mining. While turning them into more farmland will help feed a growing world population we also need to consider what we lose by destroying these areas. And is destruction of natural forest and habitat really the most efficient method for food production?

 

Food management

Plants need sunshine, water, good soil, and protection in order to grow. When left alone, plants will thrive in conditions best suited for them and refuse to grow in places they do not like. When we force plants to grow where and how we want them we either need to take care of their needs for them or alter them so that they will thrive.

In small populations it is not a problem to use local land for food production and livestock. Communities are built where conditions are favorable to farming and/or food gathering. A small part of the land that is best suited for farming is used and the remaining land is left untouched. This is utopia as far as local supply meets local demand is concerned and consists of a sustainable land management program. Slash and burn practices on poor soil is not part of Utopia as they leave the soil unusable after a few years.

But we have gone far beyond this basic principle of checks and balances. Because of our ever growing demand for more food production we have blatantly ignored these basic principles. We force food to grow where it would not, we destroy areas that other life besides humans need, and we manipulate our food supply in order to produce ever more and specific products. We also overproduce.

Because of materialism and uncontrolled population growth we have become the single most destructive force on the planet with total disregard of the consequences of our actions on ourselves and the world around us. We seem to be eating up the planet.

But any self respecting parasite manages to evolve into a state of symbiosis with its host rather than its consumption and subsequent destruction. Surely there is a better way to manage our food supply and ourselves and keep the planet beautiful?

Proper education about land and farming principles make it possible to use the land without destroying it. Unfortunately, this education is lacking in many areas of the world, especially in those where conservation is most needed.

Return to basics

After a number of food scandals during the 1960's and 70's there has been a return to organic and more environmentally friendly farming over the past decades.

But it hasn't been enough. Too few areas of the world are adapting to friendly food management practices and too many, particularly the Third World and their Developing Countries, have become a target of food multinationals, overturning and ignoring everything we have learnt about proper food management in the quest for ever increasing profits.

These food multinationals, despite their commercials claiming the opposite, are using destructive agricultural practices that the more affluent nations have long banned. This includes the use of dangerous chemicals in pesticides, monoculture and destruction of local wildlife preserve and traditions.

 

In the interest of economic growth and personal financial wealth many local and national governments in the developing world have turned a blind eye to the practices of these food growers and manufacturers and the detrimental effect these practices are having on the local environment and population.

Global is local

Globalism is a favorite word of big companies that like to expand their base of operations across the globe. But this expansion is seldom in the interest of sustainable development or the local community.

Different needs apply to different areas and "globalizing" everyone into a fast food eating, jeans wearing, television advertising watching consumer is not beneficial to a properly functioning local economy. Besides, it does very little to keep people happy. If anything, it promotes dissatisfaction with what could otherwise be a great lifestyle.

What is more important to a small farming community in a remote region; receiving MTV or information about local farming conditions and an educational channel? At the least have both. Showing poor people all the riches other people have as if they should have them too can only lead to resentment and dissatisfaction.

Where the happiness of the people is foremost in the objectives of government, satisfaction levels about life, the universe and everything are much higher. Happiness isn't solely achieved by the amount of possessions you have but more by how you feel about yourself and your surroundings.

Gross National Happiness

Gross National Happiness (GNH) is a term used by the Government of Bhutan - a Himalayan mountain kingdom between India and Tibet - to measure the happiness of the Bhutanese people. This largely rural country considers it important to find out whether the population is happy. Not surprising then that many people are not interested in moving to the city in order to pursue a life of material greed. With improved health, education and communication services to the rural areas, most prefer to live the country life.

Government accountability

In a paper written after a local workshop seminar on Gross National Happiness and what it means one of many statements stands out clearly.

Quote:
"The paper initially presented at a seminar on Internal Control Systems argues that accountability is an indispensable criterion for good and effective governance and that the quest for happiness requires a minimum standard of accountability in public institutions."
(Bhutan_GNH_editorial.pdf)

Governmental accountability is a key word here. When governments fail to protect us from ruthless corporations it becomes very difficult to maintain proper food production practices.

In a truly open and bureaucratic government system accountability should not be a problem. (See also Utopian Government.)

Food production technology

Food production technology ranges from the hoe and spade to giant combines and genetic manipulation. As one of mankind's oldest industries it has been under constant use and revision since the earliest days of our civilization.

Improving the quality and usefulness of those plants and animals we depend on for survival is one of the oldest practices in agriculture.

But does that mean that the beef or chicken I eat has to come from an animal that has been abused its whole life? Born of machines, living in a cage, fed with barely organic substances, only to die in the grip of another machine? No.

Livestock needs to have a life

Meat tastes better when its original owner has had a better life. Beef quality is better when the cattle has been allowed to range, same with chickens and pigs.

It would also prevents diseases such as Mad Cow Disease when livestock isn't fed on the processed remains of their own.

With current agricultural technology and practices it is certainly possible to raise livestock in a more respected and useful manner. Better use and understanding of the land makes it possible and commercially viable.

Farming problems and solutions

What are the main problems of agriculture? Lack of water, pests, climate?

How about corporations, governments and war? And what about lack of money, lack of arable land?

And what about lack of markets to sell your products?

Proper information and education could alleviate many of these problems.

Sustainable development

The rainforests are not only the lungs of our world but contain the greatest diversity of life on the planet.

Many of our products and a large part of our medicines and pharmaceuticals come from substances found in rainforest plants. How then can we even consider destroying such a fantastic resource that nature has put at our disposal?

One of the problems lies in the attitude we have towards the forests. Many people simply consider them wasted or unused land. Or land too difficult to use as is. So we cut them down and plant crops instead. At best this results in a temporary profit. We can feed our family and perhaps have something left over to sell.

We consider this minimum use of what is really a maximum opportunity situation.

 

Without the need of extensive education local people can be taught to search out specific products and plants the forest produces without destroying the entire forest. We do not mean the so called selective logging that is currently using this as an excuse but if we see the forest as a potential provider, a giant research station, we can reap the benefits and enjoy nature at its best simultaneously.

Collecting specimens and information is a worthwhile pastime as well as a significant provider. For example, the butterfly farming project in Papua New Guinea or Farming the Flying Flowers from Costa Rica.

Here, instead of emptying the forest of one of its most beautiful inhabitants, local people have been taught to farm the butterfly. This provides them with a cash crop for the long term as well as preserving their natural world.

There is no reason why this principal cannot be applied for other products, including food production, in other areas of the world.

Monoculture

When you grow a single crop on a plot of land you are limiting the potential of that land severely. A forest is not just a storehouse of mahogany or popular zoo animals. It is a giant warehouse of thousands, even millions of diverse products. Instead of seeding and then harvesting a single crop and then waiting for another growing season, the land can be continuously used year round by growing and harvesting a multitude of products as they come into season. And where it concerns trees, a growing season can mean a century.

Especially in the developing world where labor is cheap and education and ecological awareness low, is this a much better way of managing the local natural resources.

 

The good guys and the bad guys

The good guys are people, companies and organizations who care about what they produce, who consumes it and how it is produced.

 

The bad guys are those people and companies that produce food and related products for the sole purpose of financial gains, irrespective of any impact this may have on the environment, the natural world or the people involved in the production processes.

Whereas before central government controlled food supplies it is now in the hands of multinationals, vying each other to buy up and monopolize the basics of life: water and food.

 

The good guys

The World Food Program - The World Food Program, a division of the United Nations has as its mission to eradicate global hunger and poverty by meeting emergency needs and to support economic and social development.
The World Conservation Union - The World Conservation Union is the world’s largest and most important conservation network. The Union’s mission is to influence, encourage and assist societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable.
CITES - CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between Governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
Greenpeace - Greenpeace is an non-profit organisation, not funded by governments or corporations, which aims to stop climate change, protect ancient forests, save the oceans, stop whaling, say no to engineering, stop the nuclear threat, eliminate toxic chemicals and encourage sustainable trade.

 

References:

The history of agriculture - an excellent overview of agricultural history by Advanced BioTech, covering the agricultural aspects of human society from agriculture in prehistory to modern day high tech agricultural practices.
Crystalinks - Agricultural history - an overview of agricultural history during early civilizations.
University of Reading, UK - Agriculture, Policy and Development - History of agriculture.
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