Low input farming as a means to global stability / by Simmon Li

A better world through organic, low-input farming.

Using organic farming as leverage, the possibility to address both world hunger, sustainable development in developing countries, global environment crisis, and the developed countries' struggle with ballooning health care costs, one can envision a world in which organic, local farming can promote a healthier, stronger citizenship, both at home, and abroad.

Low input farming could solve three of the main problems in the world today.

  • Environmental issues, including less reliance on petrol products contributing to a cleaner world. While farming would still produce farm waste, much of that waste is typically re-invested into the next cycle of growth.
  • Health issues - related to environmental issues. Switch from industrial to low-input farming will not necessarily mean healthier eating. Assuming less meat production, a general shift in social eating habits away from meat every day may contribute to healthier diets. (This is your weakest point)
  • Tackle the issue of hunger in developing nations. Low-input farming liberates poor farmers from relying on expensive, subsidized petrol products, and enables them to produce food without reliance on petrol products.
  • Sustainable development, tied to organic farming in developing countries. With an emphasis on local production and consumption, low-input farming would give farmers a way onto the economic ladder

Challenges on the way.

  • Legislation in developed and developing countries. Current agricultural policy is geared heavily towards industrial, large-scale farm operations. Removing some of the obstacles to low-input farming at a policy level would encourage more farms. Alternatively, if government subsidized more low-input farms they would grow even faster.
  • Education in farming methodology. Understanding how to best work and use land can lead to production gains. Letting animals and their products sustain the growth cycle will help a farmer make the enterprise more sustainable (again without relying on petrol chemical inputs)
  • Subsidies. Many subsidies in agriculture today target large, industrial farms. Shifting some of these subsidies to encourage low-input farming can be a boon to encourage conversion. As well, initial subsidies to support and encourage the shift to sustainable agriculture. Economic incentives can be leveraged by government to encourage the move to low-input farming. Such subsidies could be rolled back once a farm establishes itself, as low-input farming (so far) has proved to be a profitable enterprise, able to sustain itself into the future.

Practical limitations of organic farming.

  • Food production levels (or, the economics of it). Using current production methodology, low-input farming can not provide foodstuffs at the scale that traditional, industrial farming can. Current estimations have production levels at 20% less than traditional industrial production. I believe this can be addressed by better leveraging innovation. Without large-scale drive to innovate in this area of agriculture, there will not be the needed capital to realize the full potential of improvement and innovation. Related to production levels: social will to consume less meat will help to make this a reality, but the political consequences of such an idea would be overwhelming. The limitations of a low-input farming system fundamentally lie in its lack of production levels that we enjoy with current industrial agriculture.
  • Transferability. Low-input farming operations are much less mobile than traditional industrial agricultural farming operations. Many such operations are highly adapted to the location and environment in which they are built. While methodology can be transfered, direct insight can only be gained once acreage has been worked. Strong methodology can provide certain shortcuts through observed causality, but much of the knowledge is intimate.
  • Time concerns. Holistic management that comes part and parcel with low-input farming is a full-time job. Many farmers may not be willing to produce foodstuffs in this way, especially if there is a lack of economic incentive (subsidies, profit boosting), also meat and other foodstuffs may not be profitable quite as quickly, thus making diversified farm holdings a necessity.

[Added August 26th, 2010]

These are the kinds of things I think about. I'm not sure how to articulate this, but in a way, everything is connected to everything else, and I think that introducing and incentivizing low-input farming, we can build a cycle that continuously improves the environment, humanity, and those that we share the world with.

Systems Issues

  • World population and poverty reduction. With prosperity, citizens of the developing world will have to rely less on their children as social/old-age insurance, thus lowering the fertility rate, which in turn means less mouths to feed and less lives to power. In order to generate the wealth needed to sustain growth in these nations, organic farming can help to provide sustainable income that will enable the reduction of poverty which will lead to lower fertility rates. Low-input farming can be the way into the cycle for many in poverty.
  • Responsible resource use and geopolitical stability. By introducing organic farming at scale, the world would likely reduce the carbon input into industrial farming, and with improved land use legislation and education, CO2 emissions from forest and habitat destruction could be reduced as well, not only preserving more CO2 sinks, but also preserving bio-diversity. With responsible resource consumption, reliance on politically sensitive oil sources would decline, thus enabling the forces of the market to work as intended, reducing poverty and population. Conservation, and an increase in efficiency on the demand side will drive efficiency innovation on both sides of the coin. Both production efficiency and consumption efficiency will be in demand. This leads to a more responsible use of resources at all levels: responsible consumption breeds responsible production, which will breed responsible management. From there, the cycle continues, much like the Japanese efficiency standards. By shaping the market to demand this kind of innovation, we can alleviate many of the demands on the earth that we all share.
  • Climate change, holistically. There is much more going on than CO2 emissions to be sure. Methane, water vapour, etc, etc. We should not discount all the factors, but we should also know that the industrial revolution has caused physical change to the environment that is outside of the normal Milakovic cycles. It is important to evaluate the problem of climate change in relation to the main areas of human activity: production and consumption.

[Added Sept 6th]

I think this is nice, but my other post about big ideas is better at addressing the overarching issue.