Volatility

November 9, 2010

The Corporatism of Food and the Sustainable Solution

 

The so-called Green Revolution was one of the great myths of our time. The Big Lie is that there was great famine around the world, caused, as Malthus would say, by the depraved profligacy of the poor. According to this lie the Green Revolution, i.e. monocropping with massive fossil fuel and chemical poison inputs, all of it under the auspices of multinational corporations, brought food to these benighted, helpless masses.
 
The truth is that for thousands of years the growers of the world always produced enough food for themselves and their communities. This has remained true in modern times. Natural famines are practically unrecorded in history. On the contrary, almost all mass famines have occurred in modern times, and they have all been the purely artificial result of food being stolen by non-productive classes from the productive class, under those same corporate and globalized-government distribution structures which the GR now claimed would save its own victims. But the GR was really intended to further impress this corporate global control upon them. It was really a vast example of disaster capitalism.
 
Much like with “consumerism” in general, the GR was never deployed the way it could have been, to provide enough goods in an equitably distributed way, so that all of us could have reduced our chore time (labor we would not choose to perform) and increased our time for truly chosen productive labor and creative leisure. Instead it produced a huge glut of mostly inferior and even destructive luxury items, to be rationed by wealth, while an ever-growing mass struggles to maintain even its original, pre-“consumer” level of consumption. The result of the GR, and probably its intent, has been to string along ever greater numbers, by now the larger part of 7 billion people, at close to a subsistence level, with billions knowing chronic food insecurity, and millions at any time experiencing acute hunger. These chronic shortages and acute famines occur amid the tremendous fossil-fueled plenty of industrial food production. This is sort of a second kind of reserve army of capitalism, but its a surplus of starvers. They first started appearing in great numbers in the 1970s. That right there proves the Green Revolution was never intended to feed the world but only the corporate profit maw. The hunger and starvation is therefore always artificially and intentionally produced by the corporate agriculture system. The most recent manifestations of this were the 2008-10 famines produced by commodity speculation and the diversion of production from food to agrofuels for Western personal cars. These examples were typical of the historical practice going back to 19th century colonialism. Elite-dominated global “trade”, really a command economy of plunder, was simply set up to replicate on a global basis the oldest systematic theft know to history, that of non-producing elites stealing food from those who produce it. This is a permanent, indelible feature of it.
 
I’ll add that this is a quality universal to elitist ideology, whether it’s the kind called “right” or “left” (or “center”): The farmer is a born slave whose only purpose on Earth is to be subjugated and exploited toward some better goal of the better class of people.
 
This all complemented the general neoliberal onslaught. The basic ideology: Food is not food, but a “commodity”. This commodity fundamentalism was forced upon the world’s people at every level possible, from globalization “development” programs to Earl Butz with his “fencerow to fencerow”, “Get Big or Get Out”, and regime of direct payments to commodity crop producers. Corporatism is the only right, while all that’s human is disenfranchised.
 
The full development of this logic is the financialization of food. Food is now a bankster shooting gallery, the playpen of speculators, and world food production and distribution is a casino for the bailed-out insolvent banks. Picture a hungry child neglected and kicked around on the casino floor while his drunken father, who has completely forgotten about him, gambles around the clock with the family’s life savings. (Except that this child really shouldn’t be a child at all, but a fully capable productive adult. It’s only his having been dragged into the casino in the first place which infantilized him and rendered him helpless. The gambler isn’t really his father, but an abusive stranger who kidnapped him. Neither the gambler nor the casino should exist at all, and the child’s liberation and feast shall come on the day he burns them down.)
 
That’s why there’s still such widespread hunger. It’s all artificial, just another manifestation of the profitable scarcity amid plenty hardwired into “capitalism”. And today the Fed’s QE2 is set to drive another round.  
 
This sure puts in perspective the accusations of corporate hacks and system conformists, that sustainable food advocates wouldn’t be able to feed the world if our ideas were put into practice. To begin with, unlike the corporations and their flunkey governments, we sure would try to feed everyone. Our way wouldn’t doom vast numbers to insufficient food by design.
 
Let’s look at the record of corporate oil-driven agriculture and its “green revolution”.
 
First, the Green Revolution was always based on ecological and resource deficit spending. Allegedly higher yields were the result of oil and natural gas inputs, and based on the complete depletion all the soil’s natural nutrients. The zombie soil was then to be jolted along with gas-based synthetic fertilizer and oil-based pesticides and herbicides. So the short-term production surge was at the expense of dismantling all resilient production and distribution structures, dooming all pre-oil practices to neglect and oblivion, and the soil itself to increasing sterility and erosion (since monocropped zombie soil has no resistance at all to water and wind). Once the cheap oil stops flowing, the whole thing is doomed to catastrophically collapse.
 
Second, has this alleged higher production actually benefited the people the way the propaganda says? Not according to this excerpt from Sharon Astyk and Aaron Newton’s A Nation of Farmers.
 

To discover whether we can feed the world, first we need to ask whether increased yields have actually meant more available food and nutrition. In fact, this question has been answered—even the World Bank admitted in 1986 that more food does not mean less hunger. Access to food is the primary issue—if it were not, the US would have no hungry people instead of 35 million food-insecure people. Food access is the most important issue in feeding the world, as economist Amartya Sen, among other people, has discussed at length. In Donald Freebairn’s analysis of more than 300 research reports on Green Revolution results, he found that 80 percent of them showed that inequity increased with the adoption of Green Revolution techniques.3

 
Or I should say, authorities starting with the corporatists’ own World Bank admit it’s a lie.
 
The system of destroying indigenous farming cultures based mostly on diverse crops, subsistence farming, and regional trade, and replacing it with commodity crop monoculture for globalized export, and all of it under the thumb of a bankster-dominated “market”, is clearly a campaign of class war plunder. It’s hard to imagine how anyone was ever daft enough to actually believe that the world’s non-rich would be better off this way. But then, ideology often plays the same role as religion in psychologically lubricating criminality.
 
Third, did the GR actually increase yields the way it claimed? This may be the result of a statistical manipulation:
 

Dissecting figures about hunger in World Hunger: 12 Myths, Lappé, Collins, et al. note that though figures at first seem to suggest that the Green Revolution made real gains in hunger reduction because total food available between 1970 and 1990 rose by 11 percent and the estimated number of hungry people fell from 942 million to 786 million, this is not really true. If you take China out of this discussion, the figures look very different. Removing China from the equation, the number of hungry people in the developing world rose from 536 to 597 million. And,

In South America, while food supplies rose almost 8 percent, the number of hungry people also went up, by 19 percent.… In South Asia there was 9 percent more food per person by 1990, but there were also 9 percent more hungry people. The remarkable difference in China, where the number of hungry dropped from 406 million to 189 million almost begs the question: which has been more effective at reducing hunger, the Green Revolution or the Chinese Revolution?4

This suggests that first of all, though absolute food availability is relevant, it is not as relevant as distribution and economic justice. And because China was a comparatively late adopter of Green Revolution seeds and techniques, it also suggests that the Green Revolution itself may be less important than improved agricultural techniques that apply just as much to organic agriculture as to chemical agriculture.

 
So perhaps the booster figures are primarily the result of gains in China. China was not improving from a normal baseline, but was recovering from the self-imposed disaster of the Great Leap Forward (another ideological campaign, much like neoliberalism, but the communist variety).
 
So if we remove the low-hanging fruit of rapidly recovering Chinese production in the 70s, which may have had little to do with GR methods anyway, we see that even in its heyday the Green Revolution was quickly running up against diminishing returns, which were meager and even negative.
 
Finally, the basic scam of industrial agriculture’s propaganda is that it outproduces traditional agriculture at all. This is based on the simple lie of measuring production according to some industrial metric which elides total productivity and debases human labor to the level of a pestiferous “input”.
 

It is commonplace to assume that organic agriculture yields less than conventional agriculture and that we would have to endure enormous losses in yield were we to give up chemical inputs. The yield increases of the Green Revolution are commonly articulated in isolation, without discussion of comparisons with organic yields. To determine how important the Green Revolution was, then, we need to go through the outputs of the Green Revolution and ask whether increased agricultural yields depend upon Green Revolution techniques. If, for example, agricultural yields depended on mechanization, we would expect mechanized agriculture to consistently out-yield hand labor. If they depend upon chemical inputs, we would expect organic agriculture to be heavily out-yielded by conventional industrial agriculture. And if they depend on plant breeding, we would expect older varieties to be out-yielded by newer ones.

Are these things true? Well, not in absolute terms. That is, small farms, which generally speaking use much less mechanization, fewer inputs and are more likely to use older plant varieties and save seed than large ones, actually are more productive per acre in total output than large farms. At the extreme ends of this, we can see this disparity in Ecology Action’s biointensive gardening methods, which offer yields per acre much, much higher than industrial agriculture can achieve—without fossil fuel inputs, using open-pollinated seeds.

But on a larger scale this is true as well. In Deep Economy, Bill McKibben argues that the 2002 Agricultural Census confirms this greater productivity of small farms using more hand labor—small farms produce more food per acre by every measure, whether calories, tons or dollars.5 What mechanization does do is reduce the amount of human labor required. However, in a world with 6.6 billion humans and growing, human labor is a widely available resource.

 
So corporate agriculture is more productive only from the point of view of maximizing corporate profit. Kind of a self-serving, circular reasoning, isn’t it?
 
The fact is that when we look at total yield, small, less fossil fuel-intensive, less mechanized farms outyield big industrial farms.
 

It is also true that organic agriculture as a whole can consistently match yields with conventional agriculture, suggesting that we do not depend on artificial fertilizers or pesticides. In a 2007 paper, “Organic Agriculture and the Global Food Supply,” the authors demonstrated that organic methods would offer a substantial net increase in yields in the Global South, while continuing comparable yields in the Global North. In a world-wide organic only policy “farms could produce between 2,641 and 4,381 calories per person per day compared to the current world equivalent of 2,786 calories per person per day.”

In other studies, agronomist Jules Pretty studied 200 sustainable agricultural projects in 52 countries and observed that, per hectare, sustainable practices led to a 93 percent average increase in food production. Grain yields, as discussed in his volume Agri-Culture, had average yield increase of 73 percent over studies including 4.5 million farmers.6

The Rodale Institute has been running test plots of conventionally farmed corn and soybean rotations (the practice of most Midwestern farms) against organically grown plots, where soil is maintained wholly by cover crops, and another where a fodder crop is grown and fed to cows whose manures are returned to the soil. The difference in total yields between the three plots is less than 1 percent. And during drought years, the organic plots dramatically out-yielded conventional ones because of higher organic matter in the soil. The cover-crop-fed plots produced twice as many soybeans as the conventionally farmed ones.7

 
As for small farms being more labor-intensive, we should see this as a feature. Once farm work is actually paid its proper living wage, and from there becomes the autonomous, self-sustaining way of life it must eventually become if we’re to overcome the challenge of the end of cheap oil and oil-fueled agriculture, it shall be the foundation of the truly democratic and broadly prosperous economies and polities humanity must finally attain.
 
But industrial ag’s proclaimed mission to feed the world has never been anything more than corporate propaganda. Most countries can not only feed themselves but double their production, using organic practices. But they can’t do it under bankster and corporate domination.
 
With Land Reform and a democratic food producer Renaissance, we can finally produce and distribute enough food for all. We the people shall grow it ourselves, manage it ourselves, and keep it all for ourselves.
Advertisements

6 Comments

  1. Russ,

    At the risk of becoming a pest, I must again mention biochar.

    Microbial activity that increases fertility without fertilizer at depths up to 10 times that of other methods. Carbon sequestration is thereby at depths below soil disruptions regardless of land use requirements. Biochar also allows marginal soils to be used in tropical regions and this solves water availability issues.

    And there is a powder-post beetle blight that is killing trees from Lake Tahoe to Central British Columbia.

    Think of all of the paper that is wasted on junk-mail. In the logging industry, ‘pulp wood’ is that which is below standards for lumber, and when pulp-wood prices are low, it is routinely left to rot in the forest. I have worked in the woods and I can assure that there are vast amounts being wasted.

    Biochar can also be made from various waste. The charring process can also create energy. In India, subsistence farmers are learning to utilize charred waste that is left from cooking and heating fires etc. It is simple and very effective. Here is a little something I found on the net:

    “BREAKING NEWS!”

    “Biochar, the carbon-negative soil-improving energy biproduct, has made an incredible series of breakthroughs at the UN Climate Change Conference in Poznan, Poland.”

    “The International Biochar Initiative, http://www.biochar-international.org, announced today that Biochar is now being examined by the UNFCCC (United Nations Council on Climate Change) for status as part of the CDM (Clean Development Mechanism.)”

    “It’s verifiable, it produces clean energy, it improves soils, it reverses desertification, it improves water quality, it could drive millions out of poverty, and it may be one of humanity’s single greatest tools for mitigating and adapting to climate change.”

    “A copy of the proposal is posted on the IBI website at
    http://www.biochar-international.org…sforpress.html.”

    Comment by rayllove — November 9, 2010 @ 8:42 pm

    • Thanks, Ray.

      Biochar is one of many things that, if done in a locally owned and controlled, sustainable mode, can be part of the solution.

      But I gotta tell ya, when I see a term like the World Bank’s “Clean Develoment Mechanism”, I reach for my revolver.

      Globalization is crime, and under it even the best ideas are only meant to be hijacked and weaponized against the people.

      (BTW, according to the CDM, the “cleanest” mechanisms are massive new coal-fired generation plants, as long as they embrace the “CCS-Ready” scam.

      That’s the kind of energy project the World Bank prefers to fund.)

      Comment by Russ — November 10, 2010 @ 4:15 am

      • Russ, check out this piece at P2P in which the World Bank gets a mention:

        http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/the-capitalist-commons-as-plan-b-to-save-the-system-from-fundamentalist-neoliberalism/2010/11/13

        Comment by Karl — November 14, 2010 @ 6:39 am

      • Thanks, Karl. I bookmarked it to read more closely later on.

        Based on quick skim, it looks like the same old scam. Neoliberalism was supposed to be capitalism with a human face, and now neoliberalism itself needs the human face of a “capitalist commons”? LOL.

        But that’s just a quick first impression.

        Comment by Russ — November 14, 2010 @ 7:39 am

      • I just read the piece, and it was describing the kind of scam I suspected. “Capitalist commons” – it sounded on its face like a contradiction in terms, like “anarcho-capitalism”.

        The use of the concept of the commons as a means to save capitalism from itself – that sounds typical. I was interested to see it accuse Bono of being not merely a useful idiot but actively malevolent.

        The one clinker was where it posited Obama as filling that role. But Obama has shown zero interest in even pretending to protect a phony version of “the commons”. It’s really amazing, the extent of the fundamental delusions about Obama. Even his critics often think he does things that he just doesn’t do.

        This morning I read another piece along the same lines:

        http://leninology.blogspot.com/2010/11/historical-materialism-on-big-society.html

        Here it was the related scam of the “social entrepreneur.”

        Comment by Russ — November 16, 2010 @ 9:19 am

  2. […] Myth of the Green Revolution Jump to Comments From Russ’ post on “The Corporatism of Food and the Sustainable Solution” on his “Volatility” […]

    Pingback by The Myth of the Green Revolution « The Bovine — November 11, 2010 @ 9:03 pm


RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: