2020s >> 2021 >> no-1403-july-2021

We can feed the world

Jack Kloppenburg, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, noted that hi-tech agriculture is frequently justified by the rationalisation that it will feed the world. Kloppenburg says that is the wrong approach.

‘People need to feed themselves — they need to be allowed to feed themselves’ (bit.ly/3bdxk28).

We should concentrate attention upon the economics which drives agriculture and the food industry rather than disproportionately focus upon specific technologies and techniques.

The farming industry rarely asks ‘What do we grow that is best for the land?’ or ‘What can we grow that will benefit our community the most?’ or ‘What crop will be most nutritious and damage the land the least?’ Those are not questions that the food corporations ask. Instead they usually have just one question, ‘How much money can be made out of the land?’

The Malthusian overpopulationists gained popularity with the publication of Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb (propped up by Garret Hardin’s later ‘Tragedy of the Commons’) which claimed that the world population was exploding and food production would fail to keep up with the numbers of people.

It led to what is known as the Green Revolution, and it is a policy still being emulated in modern times by the Bill Gates Foundation. What it did was basically to take fertilisers and pesticides, an integral part of intensified industrial farming methods, and transfer the practices elsewhere to increase production. Today Gates and the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa have joined various corporations such as Monsanto, manufacturers of the Round-Up herbicide, to introduce genetically modified crops with the same end of increasing harvest yields.

However, such pessimistic predictions did not materialise because the rate of population growth dropped. The world population no longer is expected to reach the earlier projection of 12 billion. Now the estimate is 9 billion or even 8 billion and the world already is well able to supply sufficient food if wastage is reduced.

Sweet-sounding statements from government ministries are frequently rendered meaningless by businesses bent on maintaining their expansion and growth. Capitalist accumulation is limitless. The purpose of capitalism is endless expansion of production for profits and an ecological nightmare has arisen from irrational, unplanned, undemocratic production, rather than a rational, democratically planned economy. Capitalism will poison and pollute the planet beyond recovery if it is not replaced.

Spurred by UN population projections and its calculation of the degree that food production has to increase, ie that the world must produce 70 percent more food by the year 2050 through yield growth to feed the expected rise in population, many commentators determined that the world needed to upgrade its farming methods with innovations such as genetically modified seeds and foods. We are told that the agribusiness corporations manufacturing fertilisers and pesticides, and the food processing companies, are the only sector capable of feeding the planet’s population and that family-owned, small farms are not equipped to do so. The food industry has no motivation other than to derive more profits from the food chain. Corporations expend a huge budget on public relations in defence of their business plans.

Yet there is no global or regional shortage of food other than some localised supply deficiencies caused by armed conflicts or temporary pest problems like, for example, a locust plague. Many countries are net food exporters. Wherever we look, farmers are already producing a surplus. There is no food scarcity. Food security could be provided for all people, all the time. Currently substantial crop harvests go to bio-fuels to drive vehicles. Crops that could fill the empty bellies of the hungry are diverted to fill fuel tanks or to fatten up cows and pigs. A 2013 estimate is that 4 billion additional people could be fed if animals were absent from the global feed chain, and that figure excludes nomadic pastoral livestock rearing, which often takes place on marginal land less suitable to arable farming and could easily continue to be practised.

Then there are plantations growing cash crops such as palm oil, coffee and tea. Cut flowers are a major export of Kenya’s horticulture. These may bring in valuable foreign currency for local elites but has very limited ability to feed the local people. World agriculture possesses the possibility to substitute non-edible crops for nutritious sustenance but Big Ag chases the stock market as well as the food market and states assist by providing generous financial and tax subsidies to it.

We cannot lay out any detailed alternative but we can broadly predict that in socialism the people would likely adopt a more flexitarian diet, supplied by the use of mixed cropping, agro-ecological production systems, and conservation agriculture, using more appropriate soil and watering procedures and requiring much less chemical input. A method called the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) has the potential to feed a further seven billion if universally applied.

The World Socialist Movement long ago determined that increasing production does not solve hunger as it is not a technological issue but a political and economic problem.

An editorial in Journal of Sustainable Agriculture agrees:

‘Hunger is caused by poverty and inequality, not scarcity…the world produces more than 1 1/2 times enough food to feed everyone on the planet. That’s already enough to feed 10 billion people, the world’s 2050 projected population peak. But the people… cannot afford to buy this food…The call to double food production by 2050 only applies if we continue to prioritize the growing population of livestock and automobiles over hungry people’ (bit.ly/3o64l5C).

In anticipation of more people living on the planet, we already have the knowledge and skills to feed those extra mouths. Socialism will exercise these to provide sufficient nourishment and end scarcity whereas it is in capitalism’s interest to maintain malnutrition and food shortages to keep prices up.


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