Monday, February 25, 2013

Readers write - UN calls for Fundamental Shift in Farming - Bee SAFE

Privatizing Profits and Socializing Deficits.

People who grow food are the most needed people in the world. While professionals, artisans and artists make our lives easier, farmers are needed daily to keep us alive. However, since corporations have persuaded governments to turn farming into an industry that benefits multinational corporations, farming has also become a health hazard.

As multinationals profit from the sale of machines and fossil fuel, seeds, chemicals and pharmaceuticals needed to raise animals in factories, the environment, the animals and all of us suffer negative consequences. While the profits are privatized, the deficits are socialized. Every part of nature suffers from the air, soil and water pollution caused by industrial farming and its chemicals, as well as from the lack of nutrients industrial crops produce.

Emotional impacts of farming.

However, the industrial farmers themselves may be the most harmed, for they suffer huge emotional deficits. While farmers develop bonds with their animals, factory farm workers learn to think of their animals as “production units” that must be replaced as soon as productivity drops. While farmers can enjoy the sight of a mother hen outside with her chicks, the industrialist cannot stand to be among the stench produced by thousands of hens crowded in a windowless building.

While farmers enjoy the yearly rituals of sowing seeds in and reaping crops from soil enriched with cover crops, compost and manure, industrial farmers must cover themselves from the toxic chemicals they spray on ever increasingly arid land. They must learn to raise crops or/and animals for profit, in an environment they know to be toxic and one they eventually hate.

Farmers profit from learning how to collaborate with an integrated natural system whereas industrial farmers are made to profit from fighting the natural system every step of the way. How tiring. It is easy to imagine how the former feels at the end of the day compared to the latter. Perhaps the shift in farming called for by the United Nations will change this.

Agro-Ecological Farming.

A few months ago I wrote about Olivier de Schutter, United Nations right-to-food envoy, blasting Canada for its “self-righteous” attitude about how great a country it is, saying that instead Canada should start dealing with its widespread problem of food insecurity.  Prime Minister Harper declined to set up any meetings between cabinet ministers and De Schutter, something highly unusual for UN special rapporteur missions.

Now Monsieur de Schutter has gone much farther in his statements about what every country has to do if we are to avoid mass starvation. In an eloquent presentation to the United Nations, Mr. de Schutter called for a fundamental shift in farming methods, saying that “conventional farming simply is not the best choice anymore” and that agro-ecological farming aka Eco Farming, must replace industrial farming. “We won't solve hunger and stop climate change with industrial farming on large plantations. The solution lies in supporting small-scale farmers' knowledge and experimentation ...”

Eco-farming means growing food using no or very few imported resources, water and fuel, reducing GhG emissions by using few mechanized tools and having diversified crops enrich the soil. It can be used for millennia on the same lands without undermining the resources on which it depends.

Creating local jobs and developing skills.

It is more work and thought intensive than conventional farming, which means it creates more local jobs. “In the UK, farms under 100 acres provide five times more jobs per acre than those over 500 acres. Moreover, wages paid to farm workers benefit local economies and communities far more than money paid for heavy equipment and the fuel to run it.” (Bringing the Food Economy Home). And wouldn't you agree that growing food in a healthy environment with people one learns from, is a lot more pleasurable than working on an assembly line or with toxic chemicals?

Farmers gain in wisdom since they are constantly learning about the land and nature around it. To transition to eco farming means embarking on a captivating and enriching learning experience. It means learning the skills necessary to grow food without depending on corporations. It means experimenting and failing at times, but because crops are diversified, each failure is not drastic but increases understanding of the whole system. The very opposite occurs with monocultures.

Can Industrial farmers transition to Eco-Farming?

There can be many stages to transitioning from conventional farming to eco farming and although each of them requires thought, knowledge and work, the most important component is the willingness to learn how nature works and to want to work with it instead of against it.

The burgeoning soil sciences taught by permaculture and soil experts are proving to save money for industrial farmers. As the price of GMO seeds and their necessary chemicals increase, many industrial farmers are transitioning to more natural crop growing techniques and finding that their work satisfaction increases along with their profits.

Developing a plan to help industrial farmers transition to Eco-farming seems a  perfect opportunity for the newly formed RDNO Agricultural Advisory Committee to help make agriculture profitable for everyone.


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I have been a resident of Coldstream since 1976. I have had 15 years of experience on Council, 3 years as Mayor. As a current Councillor I am working to achieve fair water and sewer rates and to ensure that taxpayers get fair treatment. The current direction regarding water supply is unsustainable and I am doing all I can to get the most cost effective water supply possible.