Memorandum submitted by LandShare CIC (SFS 04)
ENLIGHTENED AGRICULTURE AND THE NEW AGRARIANISM:
COMMON SENSE, SOUND HUSBANDRY, AND SCIENCE-ASSISTED CRAFT
contribution to the deliberations of the Select Committee on Environment, Food
and Rural Affairs on "Securing Food Supplies up to 2050: The Challenges for the
Simple biological calculation shows that it should be possible to feed everyone who is ever likely to be born on to this Earth to the highest standards of nutrition and gastronomy. To achieve this we need to design farming specifically to feed people - and to do this without wrecking the rest of the world, which is what "sustainability" implies. Such farming must be founded in sound principles both of common morality and of biology (ecology) and in this paper is called ENLIGHTENED AGRICULTURE, or EA. EA perforce is labour-intensive, meaning that all countries worldwide need a strong agrarian base. Thus this paper also envisages THE NEW AGRARIANISM, achieved via a process of Renaissance. The New Agrarianism is not an exercise in nostalgia, a simple return to the past, but a concerted attempt to make good farming possible and agrarian living attractive. Good science and some high technologies are needed for this - but designed to abet good husbandry and not, as now, to replace it. This leads us to the essential principle of SCIENCE-ASSISTED CRAFT.
Since EA is labour-intensive
and labour is the most expensive input in labour-intensive farming, EA and the
New Agrarianism cannot be realized within the present economy, based on the
maximization of wealth in the form of money, with focus on productivity, comparative
advantage, and cash efficiency. Although farms should be conceived as
traditional businesses, with rivalry between them, the overall economy of
agriculture must be primarily cooperative, and it must be sequestered from the fluctuations
of the global market. We cannot, as in
I: THE GOAL AND THE BEDROCK PRINCIPLES
I.1: The moral and practical task before all humanity is to provide everyone with good food, forever, without wrecking the rest of the planet. "Good Food" implies sound nutrition and excellent gastronomy. "Sound nutrition" is as defined by nutritionists. Excellent gastronomy should be as defined by each individual culture in accord with its own landscape and history.
I.2: In addition, all societies worldwide should have control over their own food supply - i.e. should not depend for sustenance on the capability or good will of third parties over which they have no firm control.
I.3: The economy - indeed all human activity - needs to be rooted in morality and biological reality. In the present world we have lost sight of this. Capitalism per se has often been blamed but in truth the fault lies with the peculiar, abstracted version of capitalism developed since the 1960s. This model treats the economy almost entirely as an exercise in money, and elevates the market to the role of universal arbiter. Morality has become a matter of market forces: apart from a few taboos, whatever people are prepared to pay for is considered acceptable. Biological realities are all-but abandoned, in the apparent and sadly mistaken belief that science and high-technology allow us to shape the world in any way we please.
II: THE STATUS QUO
II.1: The vogue
in agriculture is for more and more industrialization. Human labour is replaced
as far as possible by machinery, industrial chemistry, and biotechnology. Industrialization
requires simplification ("one size fits all") and hence encourages and requires
monoculture. Hyper-industrialized, low-labour, monocultural agriculture is
still not the norm worldwide but is nonetheless called "conventional". Its emphasis is on productivity,
value-adding, cutting costs, cash efficiency, and overall profitability. The
whole exercise, with some notable anomalies, is framed by the global economy
which is intended, at least in principle but only sometimes in practice, to be
ultra-competitive, with the least profitable going to the wall. Ricardo's principle
of comparative advantage applies: countries that can grow high-value commodity
crops are encouraged to focus on export.
II.2: Yet the
"conventional" model is clearly failing. The UN calculates that out of a
present world population of 6.5 billion more than 800 million are chronically
undernourished while around one billion eat too much, largely of the wrong
things - prompting the
II.3: At the same time, essential inputs to the present industrialized systems are under threat, including fossil fuel, fresh water, and phosphate. Global warming poses many threats. The loss of some of the world's most fertile, coastal strips is the most obvious danger, but we should not underestimate the effects of novel climate on the physiology of existing crops. (Will it even be possible to grow existing varieties of wheat in the Canadian wheat belt? Would it be possible to provide replacements in time? The apparent belief that GM technology can provide new crops instantly is sadly misguided).
II.4: UN demographers estimate that the world population will reach 9 billion-plus by 2050. Since the present system fails to cater even for 6.5 billion it seems that the problems can only grow more acute. Numbers are predicted to stabilise by 2050, however - so this is the most we should ever have to cater for. So long as world agriculture is shaped by the global market that seems impossible, however much high technology we throw at the problems. With EA, that seems eminently manageable. Structure is all - and there can be no excuse for failure.
III: OPTIONS AND POSSIBILITIES
III.1: Three possibilities seem to be on the agenda:
III.11: Continue with the present policy of agricultural industrialization. Common sense and the most sober statistics suggest that this is not an option if we seriously want to avoid disaster in the long term.
III.12: A "sustainable industrialized" model.
III.13: The third possibility is the one mooted here: To develop "Enlightened Agriculture" within the context of national economies worldwide that each have a strong agrarian base. This is "The New Agrarianism".
IV: ENLIGHTENED AGRICULTURE
IV.1: Enlightened Agriculture is agriculture that is designed expressly to feed people, now and in the long term, without wrecking the rest of the planet and destroying our fellow creatures. If agriculture was so designed, then it should easily be possible to provide everyone with good food at least until the next mega-volcano or asteroid, or runaway global warming, change the rules absolutely. Biologically speaking, given reasonable luck, a good life for all for the next million years is a reasonable target. In this context, a century should be seen as a standard if rather small unit of political time.
IV.2: In essence, Enlightened Agriculture is straightforward. To maintain long-term productivity, farming must be founded in principles of sound biology - as, of course, is nature itself. The farmer must play to the strengths of crops, livestock, landscape and climate - not seeking to re-design these essential components in line with some economic or political ideal.
IV.3: In practice, the focus must be on stable crops which provide most of humanity's energy and protein; notably cereals, grown on the arable scale. Vital too is horticulture - vegetables and fruit. Livestock should then be fitted in as and when: ruminants (mainly cattle and sheep) kept on land that does not lend itself to arable (hills or saltmarsh - or in the world as a whole in semi-desert); omnivores (pigs and poultry) fed on leftovers and crop surpluses. This is commonsensical, and is the traditional pattern. In addition, all agriculture should be conceived as an exercise in agro-forestry: crops and livestock integrated in many different ways with trees. Thus Enlightened Agriculture is an advanced exercise in "polyculture"; a complex interplay of mutually supportive crops and livestock. The overall effect is to achieve what might be called "biological efficiency": hard to define precisely (as biological concepts always are) but easy to envisage intuitively.
IV.4: Here we encounter two wondrous serendipities. For farming thus conceived produces plenty of plants (both arable and horticulture), not much meat (the animals take second place to arable and horticulture) and maximum variety (since biological efficiency is achieved by the interplay of many different species and varieties of crops and animals in an infinity of different topographies and microclimates). "Plenty of plants, not much meat, and maximum variety" - these nine words summarize the best of nutritional theory over the past 40 years. They also summarize the general balance of ingredients in all the world's greatest cuisines - Italy, Provence, Turkey, India, China, all of which use meat only for garnish, stock, and occasional feasts. Hence "Enlightened Agriculture" - designed to get the most out of the landscape - is also the basis of sound nutrition and the world's finest cooking.
IV.5: In short, we don't even need to be austere to thrive in the long term. Indeed, "The future belongs to the gourmet". But the principle works only if people take food seriously, as the Italians and Turks still do. Thus it is extremely important to encourage food culture.
IV.6: As a
further bonus - although critical studies remain to be done -simple calculation
suggests that if every country practiced Enlightened Agriculture then most (including most of those of Africa
that are commonly seen to be disastrous) could achieve agricultural
self-reliance. In other words, they could produce all the food they need to
provide themselves with a good (in all senses) basic diet. The world trade in
food would still be important, but would be restricted to crops that exporters
can sell for serious profit, in accord with the principles of fair trade, without
huge ecological side-effects (such as felling rainforest). For example it would
be sensible for self-reliant
IV.7: In general, since most farms will be mixed, any one area would produce a wide range of foods. Hence this implies an immediate shift towards local production and consumption, which in principle have many advantages of a nutritional, social, and environmental kind.
Enlightened Agriculture is not synonymous with organic agriculture but since
organic farming uses minimal material inputs and in general contrives to
imitate nature it is innately sustainable and should be regarded as the default
approach. Initial calculations suggest that
IV.9. Yet there are often times when "non-organic" techniques and approaches can be extremely helpful, and we certainly should not close the door on novel technologies as a matter of principle. Indeed we can envisage many more. For instance, it would surely be worthwhile to explore ways of producing artificial nitrogen fertiliser using solar energy. In a similar, pragmatic vein we should not write off GMOs a priori. Though present uses are for the most part of very dubious value, it is still possible to envisage ways in which they could be helpful - for example to provide super-drought-resistant sorghum for the Sahel: a proposal mooted in the 1980s but not so far brought anywhere near to fruition.
IV.10. But we
cannot allow agriculture (or any human endeavour) to be technology-led -- buoyed
along by the rhetoric of "progress" and the promise of profit. In all
endeavours - and very obviously in agriculture - the first requirements are for
sound motivation and sound structure. We should heed for example the comments
of Professor E R (Bob) Orskov of the Macaulay Institute,
IV.11: However, because Enlightened Agriculture depends on the interplay of many species and varieties it is necessarily complex. Therefore it needs a great deal of expert husbandry. That is: it must be labour intensive. In addition, because EA is polycultural, there are no great advantages in scale-up. Hence the standard farm unit should be small to medium-sized. In structure, then, Enlightened Agriculture looks very like traditional agriculture, with its labour-intensive, small (ish) mixed farms. Structurally, EA would be the complete antithesis of the present-day, vast, monocultural units that operate with minimal labour (and are entirely dependent on big machines and industrial chemistry which in turn require vast inputs of oil). In detail, as already intimated, EA is not necessarily traditional: in many respects it could be far more high-tech than the present. Nonetheless, EA implies a change of mindset. In EA, farming is regarded primarily as a craft, as again was traditionally the case. In EA the role of science is to abet that craft. Science would not be deployed, as now, as a means to industrialize the craft out of existence in the interests of big business.
IV.12: The shift from high-tech, industrialized monoculture to high-tech but labour-intensive polyculture obviously requires a complete shift not simply in technology but in the economy and social structure. It calls, indeed, for an Agrarian Renaissance, leading to the New Agrarianism.
V: THE NEW AGRARIANISM
V.1: Some thinkers - notably Lord Krebs - acknowledge that the present, industrialised, "conventional" model is unsustainable, but argue that what the world really needs is sustainable industrial models. On the face of things this looks very sensible, being closer to the status quo and therefore (it seems) easier to achieve. But it is not clear what such a model would look like, and it is not obvious why it should a priori be preferred to the agrarian model, which in most of its essential elements has been tried, tested, and refined over the past 10,000 years. In general there seems to be a prejudice against agrarian living and towards urbanization that has not been properly questioned.
V.2: If the
norms of the cash market are allowed to prevail then the high labour
requirement of traditional (and enlightened) agriculture is perceived as a
disadvantage, because it is costly. If we ask, sensibly, how the vast
proportion of the nine billion people who will be with us by 2050 are to earn a
living in an age when rapid expansion of oil-dependent industry is no longer an
option, and acknowledge that unemployment is the royal road to poverty, then
the labour-intensiveness of EA emerges as a distinct bonus. Humanity needs to
ask, "What proportion of the labour force in any one country should be working on the land?" The
proportion in the present world ranges from less than one per cent, in
V.3: But if
V.4: It is also clear that Enlightened Agriculture cannot come into being within the present economic climate. The present-day, largely laissez-faire market requires traders of all kinds to maximize output, maximize value-adding, and (above all) to minimize costs and hence is as antipathetic as can be conceived towards the principles of Enlightened Agriculture. Agriculture worldwide has been thrown to the market wolves. In practice, if we are serious about feeding the world and the long-term future, we need to do the complete opposite: to create a sequestered economic environment in which EA can flourish. To be sure, the EU and US subsidies of the past few decades have worked badly, and reinforced the view that the free market must be preferred to market control. But these subsidies failed because they have been almost unbelievably crude. Properly controlled markets are far more complex.
V.5: In short, the world needs agriculture that is designed according to the bedrock principles of biology and is designed expressly to feed people; to achieve this, we need an agrarian renaissance; and for all this to work we need a new, sequestered, economic structure. There seems to be work here for governments. So what in practice should the British government be doing?
V. ACTION FOR THE FUTURE AND THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT
V.1: Clearly the task is twofold: to develop the concept of Enlightened Agriculture, with all the necessary research - biological, social, economic; and to bring about the Agrarian Renaissance, to enable EA to happen. Government has key roles to play in this - both negative (not inhibiting existing, helpful initiatives) and positive (encouraging new initiatives).
V.2: A key issue of a positive kind is to re-establish science as the servant of humanity at large, and not simply as the domain of big business. As far as is now possible, the network of government-run agricultural research stations and experimental husbandry farms that Britain possessed in the early 1970s (and were indeed the envy of the world) should be restored.
V.3. In particular,
V.4: It is the case, however, that most of the initiatives of the past three decades that are truly helpful, and could bring benefits in the future, have been carried out by non-profit organizations and by individuals. Examples include the Soil Association and the Organic Research Centre; Compassion in World Farming; the Food Animal Initiative, based in Oxford; the simple and universally applicable system of agro-forestry developed by Martin Wolfe in Suffolk; the studies of traditional agriculture and its possibilities by Professor Orskov; and - encouraging the essential food culture, without which good farming cannot flourish - the Slow Food Movement (which is based in Italy but is becoming established in Britain).
V.5: There have been many initiatives, too, of a kind that could help to create the new and much expanded cadre of farmers who are now so urgently required. In the UK these include Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) as developed for example by Martin Large and Greg Pilley of Stroud Commonwealth; the conception of the farm as a multi-faceted centre of the community, for example by Tim Waygood in Hertfordshire; and LandShare, established in 2008 as a means to identify and encourage such initiatives in general.
V.6: In general, many of the non-government initiatives are attempts to overcome restrictions on good farming and on agrarian living that have been imposed by the political and economic climate of the past 30 years. Few individuals can now afford to buy worthwhile parcels of land, and hence the renewed interest in CSAs and co-operatives. Part-time farming is potentially of huge importance and so should be researched and encouraged (since Enlightened Agriculture is not intended primarily to generate wealth and personal fortunes). For those seeking to work afresh on the land accommodation has become a huge issue. The government needs to revise or remove many of the restrictions on building the necessary, eco-friendly, generally small buildings required. Similarly, health and safety restrictions are often designed primarily for large-scale industrial units and are not appropriate to more labour-intensive systems - and must be reviewed.
most challenging, intellectually and politically, is to create the sequestered,
economic structure needed to enable EA to be practiced. But again there are
pointers, which the government could encourage. These include the initiatives
in complementary currency, for example by Margrit Kennedy in
It really should
be possible to feed everyone who is ever likely to be born on to this Earth to
the very highest standards of nutrition and gastronomy, forever. Since this is
possible, common morality demands that the attempt should be made. The key is
to conform to the principles of sound biology, that underpin the Earth as a
whole, and to respect the Earth's physical limitations. The attempt to impose a
new set of principles based on the cash market and in the belief that the Earth
and its creatures can be fashioned at will and ad infinitum, is a disaster.
There are clear and obvious ways in which the