Agriculture and the degrowth movement
|Thursday, 18 February 2010|
|Agriculture and the degrowth movement
Bad labour conditions, unsustainable production processes, overconsumption and the conflict between need and greed are world wide seen as serious problems. One of the aspects of the degrowth movement is that it tries to work on alternative economic models and ways to organise society to solve some of those problems. Downscaling of production and consumption are presented as one of the solutions. This principle also applies to production and consumption of food and other agricultural products.
Many problems related to agriculture are a quantity problem:
The production of some crops is too high. There is too much land (and water) needed for the current production of maize, soy, cotton, oil palm and some other large crops. In many countries those export crops push away the products needed for a healthy diet. This is a trend driven by money and the financial power of countries and communities. There is money to produce the animal feed to produce meat for the rich consumers, there is no money in to use the same fields to produce grain, rice, beans and vegetables for the local people in the South.
Another very important aspect to look at, in relation to degrowth, is the energy use in modern agriculture. After the start of the industrial revolution labour had to be freed for the growing industrial production. Workers were replaced by machines. This also happened in the agricultural sector. This was only possible because of the use of cheap fossil fuel. Oil and gas for transport, for the machines and, even more important, for the production of artificial fertilisers. With the current food production in the West and for the Western market many more kilojoules are needed to produce one kilojoule of food, while agriculture was originally meant to gain energy. Even the production of the so called ‘biofuels’ or agrofuels often needs more energy as input than it produces.
Does the previous mean that we should start to eat less? No! But we should choose and produce our meals more efficiently and share our food and resources better. This will improve the situation of millions of people that don’t have access to enough healthy food yet.
The quality and the appreciation and respect for quality of food should increase. In general, and probably in line with most degrowth ideas, incomes of people in western countries don’t have to grow. But the position of small farmers has been very precarious in the past years. It is important that the people that produce food in a sustainable and responsible way can make a normal living out of this. Food and eating are important part of our live. Most people prefer to have a good meal three times a day. A bigger part of people’s income could be spend on this. At the moment the average is in the EU is about 19.5 percent (including alcohol), but in the Netherlands this is just 12.5 percent and in for example Germany, the UK and Sweden this is even lower. If you want to degrow and (still) have a nice and comfortable live, it should be easier to reduce the amount of new clothes, electronics and expensive holidays. Set your priorities and choose for quality instead of quantity, especially when it is about food.
In the Global South farmers and peasants have been struggling for food sovereignty for many years. But this is not only something for the south. Also in Europe we should aim to have more small scale sustainable agriculture producers producing for the local market. In many countries all kinds of alternative projects have been popping up in recent years: community supported agriculture, farmers markets, food teams. This is a promising development, as long as we make sure that producing food for the whole population and the the profession of farmer is taken serious and not seen as a hobby.
To improve and degrow the agricultural practice and the food chain it is important that the degrowth movement creates links with networks like La Via Campesina, the Transition Town movement (where food is one of the main issues) and existing progressive farmers, farmers- and/or organic markets, independent small grocery stores and food teams (local groups of alternative consumers).
Look at good initiatives that have been running for many years or sometimes even centuries . Don’t just copy everything, but see what can work when and where. Try to combine projects to prevent them from staying marginal. Maybe it doesn’t sound like degrowth, but is important that the alternative (social and sustainable) food production and distribution reaches a certain minimum size. There should be distribution points with enough choice. There should be enough of these, so they are accessible for everybody, also for those without cars. The transport of food should be done in big enough quantities to make it efficient and to limit the environmental impact of many small trips. Farmers should be able to produce and sell enough to make a decent living. In short: the agricultural and food alternatives should not stay too small and narrow minded, and should at the same time avoid falling back into the trap of economic growth and competition.
If we want to continue to respond to our needs for food, housing, heating, clothes, without using fossil energy and while regenerating our ecosystems, then we need many more people to do the farming. And when more of us are farming, a bigger part of our incomes should go to food production. This also implies that people should realise food and agriculture are important aspects of a healthy, comfortable way of living and that all the people who make that possible should be appreciated.
|Last Updated ( Thursday, 18 February 2010 )|