Just as it has become crystal clear (as confirmed by a new United Nations report) that the world made a terrible mistake when it entrusted its future to industrial agriculture; and that the only hope for a sustainable global food supply rests on small, diverse, family farms; now Big Money is weighing in on the side of Big Agriculture and is in the process of snuffing out the last best hope for food.
There are two parts to this problem. The ravages of industrial agriculture — the ruined land, poisoned water, sick animals and rampaging, mutant weeds and diseases — are becoming well known. We were told not to mind these things because it was the only way to keep up with a growing, hungry population. Turns out it wasn’t even one of the ways.
The other part is the existence of huge pools of unearned money in the hands of the one-percenters who are given or inherit sums far beyond their ability to spend. They turn these mountains of cash over to private equity firms, or hedge funds or Bernie Madoff or whomever, and demand a return on investment that is many times the fraction-of-a-percent for which the little people must settle. The inevitable result of this demand for get-richer-quicker schemes is a series of stampedes by cash cows into and out of the next, or last, big thing.
A few years ago the wizards reasoned thusly: everybody needs food; food seems to be getting scarcer; that drives prices up; let us invest in food production. And the cry went out, “Put your cash in dirt.” They unleashed the tsunamis of money to roll out over raw farmland from Iowa to Brazil to the Congo, driving land prices up and families out of farming. Of course they turned the acreage over to industrial farmers growing commodity crops; it’s the only way to make big money farming.
Maybe so: but while corporations are raking in lavish subsidies, generous tax write-offs, easy insurance and speculative profits, they are not feeding the world. For all their economies of scale, efficiencies of machinery and wonders of technology and chemistry, they are producing only 30 per cent of the world’s food on 75 per cent of the world’s farmland.
According to a recent United Nations study, small family farms, now restricted to 25 per cent of the available farmland, provide 70 per cent of the world’s food. They also provided more employment, preserved more diversity than “large-scale, industrial, energy intensive, earth-warming, water wasting, unsustainable forms of agricultural production.”
It’s interesting to note that China long fed its billion people with farms whose average size was about four acres. Egypt once fed its people from small farms. But like everyone else they are rushing headlong into large scale, petro-chemical agriculture and thus are gravely endangering their people.
The report concludes that the expansion of Big Agriculture, now aided and abetted by Big Money operating at full throttle on all of the world’s continents, is a rising threat to the food security of the world.