The sustainable change of our food supply!
Hundreds and thousands of years ago, when humans were nomadic creatures on this planet, they ate anything they found edible. As the human population grew, we saw human settlements in different parts of the world.
As population increased people started extending agriculture to more land, for centuries environmental impacts were negligible because natural resources were abundant.
But, today we are in 21st century, and as Wendell Berry quotes – “How we eat determines to a considerable extent how the world is used.”
Yesterday I attended a lecture by Dr. Vandana Shiva, an Indian Scholar, environmental activist and scientist at Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Georgia.
She advocated organic farming and gave scientific reasons, facts and figures to justify sustainable agricultural practices. Being a Sustainable designer, her talk inspired me and helped me understand how just a simple act of growing food to fuel our bodies is interconnected to several bigger issues of the world.
The industrial agriculture claims to grow crop at faster rate, hence more food in a short span of time. But, as Dr.
Shiva said – “ The problem is not just feeding people, it is about providing fuel to body with nutritious food.”
Fast Food next to healthy organic food
So what happens in Industrial Agriculture? At the core it is a practice of monoculture – growing single type of crops on a large scale.
As a kid I was taught that plants provide us with oxygen in exchange of carbon dioxide, they are our friend and a healthy soil is necessary for plants to survive. Looking at this revolution of mono-culture, I wonder if I was taught something incorrect in school.
Dead Soil – (Mono culture) / Healthy Permaculture Farm
Did you ever notice, with the help of technology and chemical farming we are able to produce more food but ironically we don’t need more farmers hence industrial farming has social consequences apart from its environmental impacts.
Sustainability is defined as people, planet and profit. In today’s complex world, no issue is isolated, hence we need to look at solutions as a set of interconnected elements of a large system.
The United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals helps us look at this large system. Industrial farming has several ramifications – the entire concept of chemical farming is based on energy-intensive methods of farming.
The use of pests and chemicals affects the health of the farmers. As the same crop is planted over and over again, the ecological balance of the soil gets disrupted which in extreme cases leads to droughts leading to hunger which leads to malnutrition and the chain never ends.
The green revolution was launched based on the assumption that abundant water and energy from fossil fuels will always be available to us. None of this is valid today. Another consequence of industrial farming is run-offs of nitrates and phosphates which depletes the amount of oxygen in the water and affects marine life.
Soil Erosion globally
Have you ever wondered how much energy is used to make the food you are consuming?
Well, the food you eat has traveled thousands of miles to reach your plate due to industrial agricultural methods. However, there is another place from where we can buy our food – local farmers market.
Last week, in my class i was given an assignment to calculate my ecological footprint, i was expecting a lower footprint as i recycle the garbage in my house, i use my bike to travel around and prefer public transport , i avoid use of dryers and dry my clothes out in the sun etc.
-But to my surprise i still had a larger carbon footprint.
After listening to Dr. Shiva’s lecture it struck me how the food i am buying from the supermarket is enlarging my carbon footprint by traveling several miles before reaching my refrigerator.
Fortunately, there is a viable alternative to industrial farming – permaculture.
Permaculture is a type of farming which is inspired from natural ecosystems. A key principle of this is inter-cropping. Growing diverse varieties of crop so that waste from one is food for the other crop.
The success of Permaculture is determined by measuring nutrition per acre rather than yield per acre. Hence this system creates socio-economic and environmental resilience.
Today we are facing extreme climate disasters, my first experience as a sustainability student in United States was Hurricane Matthew in Fall 2016.
I never imagined how the food that is produced can abate the impacts of natural disasters like hurricane and droughts. Several surveys after Hurricane Ike in Cuba (2008) have shown – organic farms survived more than their neighboring mono-cultures, hence are more resilient.
The earth consists of plants and animals and we forget that humans are also animals, not creators of the planet.
Do you think patenting a crop makes sense?
As sarcastic as it may seem but we really need to start behaving like “animals” and be a part of earth’s eco-system. Hence we need to understand that nature is not out there, we are part of it and the good news is each of us can be the change to the way our food is grown.
A teaspoon of soil has so much value – one billion bacteria, all which can be profitable to us. Industrial agriculture affects our rivers, soils and biodiversity.
Do we really want to “eat” our natural resources? Probably a good thought to ponder over today.
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