The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Intelligence Squared Headshot

Enlightened Farming is the Key to the Future

Posted: Updated:

By: Colin Tudge

If we are truly to 'solve' global warming then we need to re-think just about everything from first principles: how we live; the nature of our economy and governance; science policy and control; and our moral and metaphysical base - what we think it is right to do in this world, and why. We also need to extend the bounds of our concern - to include all humanity and our fellow creatures.

All this may sound too radical to contemplate, yet it needn't be. We don't need revolution, Marxist or otherwise. Instead we need Renaissance: people who give a damn using existing mechanisms, as far as is possible, to create a new system in situ. As the new system develops, more and more people can join in, leaving the status quo to wither on the vine.

We can and should begin the Renaissance - relatively painlessly - with agriculture. Above all, now and forever, we need farming that can supply everyone in the world with food of the highest standards, without wrecking the rest of the world - what the Campaign for Real Farming calls Enlightened Agriculture.

Right now, this is precisely what we don't have. The present food chain, driven by the dogma of the neoliberal, corporate-run though allegedly competitive global market, is based on high-tech, high-capital, high input, minimum-labour, monocultural, 'industrial' agriculture, practiced on the largest possible scale. It leaves one in seven of the world's people chronically undernourished and condemns one in seven to a life in the slums, with collateral damage that includes the destruction of just about every kind of ecosystem plus a massive contribution to global warming.

Yet it should be almost easy, technically, to provide everyone with good food without wrecking the rest. We first need to establish the moral point - that this is really what we want to do. Then we must get the biology straight. Then we can adjust the technology and the husbandry accordingly.

Clearly we need agriculture that is productive (able to feed 9.5 billion people by 2050); and is sustainable (human numbers should stabilize at 9.5 billion - but could well stay high for centuries); and resilient (able to change direction as conditions change - notably climate). Basic biology tells us that to achieve all this we need maximum diversity (polyculture = mixed farming, rather than monoculture); tight integration (each farm conceived as an ecosystem - no farm "factories"); and low inputs (which means that organic becomes the default position). Such farming is complex and so needs plenty of skilled husbandry. So there is no advantage in scale-up so we need farms that are small to medium-sized. We know such farms can do the job. Even as things are, when small mixed farms are being systematically sidelined, they still produce 70% of the world's food. With proper support they could readily double present output. For good measure, farming that is truly designed to feed people is the greatest of all employers.

So that's it. Start the massive overhaul that is needed of just about everything by re-creating small-to-medium sized, mixed, quasi-organic farms - not precisely as they were in the past but with all the aids of modern (appropriate) technology. Governments could help in this but even if they choose to get in the way, as they are now, mechanisms exist of many kinds to enable people at large to create what is needed. Details are on our Campaign website, www.campaignforrealfarming.org.

Colin Tudge will be joining four brilliant technical innovators for Intelligence Squared's Energy Game Changers at the Royal Institute of British Architects, London on 28 March. The event is in partnership with Shell and the International Herald Tribune as part of the 'Switched On' live events series.

Colin Tudge is a biologist, author and co-founder of the Campaign for Real Farming.

Around the Web

Supermarkets have been blighting our land and lives for too long