Article: Healthy soil is the real key to feeding the world
One of the most important articles I’ve read in a long time.
The author, David R. Montgomery (Professor of Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington) will soon publish his next work, which is already on our to-read list: “Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life”. For anyone interested, we recommend his previous book “The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Health and Life”
Everyone who happens to know the works of Daniel Quinn will be familiar with the critique of agriculture.
He starts with dispelling the myth that organic agriculture is inherently sustainable.
[In fact, we think that even the term ‘sustainable agriculture’ is an oxymoron: If you want to grow food without chemicals, you can’t just stop using them, you need to change the method of planting, too. Considering this, the only sustainable way of farming is permaculture. “Agri” comes from the Latin “ager”, meaning “field/acre”. Anything grown in quantities like that requires a lot of work and destroys the natural balance of the landbase, therefore requiring pest, disease and weed control (mostly by chemical means).]
One by one, he addresses common misbeliefs about conventional industrial agriculture:
Myth 1: Large-scale agriculture feeds the world today
Myth 2: Large farms are more efficient
Myth 3: Conventional farming is necessary to feed the world
Viewed globally, small farms (like ours) play an important role in feeding the world:
“According to a recent U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, family farms produce over three-quarters of the world’s food. The FAO also estimates that almost three-quarters of all farms worldwide are smaller than one hectare”.
We cannot stress enough how important his conclusion is:
“No matter how one looks at it, we can be certain that agriculture will soon face another revolution. For agriculture today runs on abundant, cheap oil for fuel and to make fertilizer – and our supply of cheap oil will not last forever. There are already enough people on the planet that we have less than a year’s supply of food for the global population on hand at any one time. This simple fact has critical implications for society.
So how do we speed the adoption of a more resilient agriculture? Creating demonstration farms would help, as would carrying out system-scale research to evaluate what works best to adapt specific practices to general principles in different settings.
We also need to reframe our agricultural policies and subsidies. It makes no sense to continue incentivizing conventional practices that degrade soil fertility. We must begin supporting and rewarding farmers who adopt regenerative practices.
Once we see through myths of modern agriculture, practices that build soil health become the lens through which to assess strategies for feeding us all over the long haul. Why am I so confident that regenerative farming practices can prove both productive and economical? The farmers I met showed me they already are.”
It is more than obvious at this point that vast parts of the world population have to switch to a small-scale organic permacultural lifestyle that creates topsoil to avoid the worst.