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Peasant Sovereignty?

China village

By Evaggelos Vallianatos

In May 2014, the Spain-based international agrarian organization, Grain, reported that small farmers not only “feed the world with less than a quarter of all farmland,” but they are also the most productive farmers on Earth. For example, small farmers and peasants in nine European countries outproduce large farmers. The “productivity of small farms [in Europe] is at least twice that of big farms.” This remarkable achievement is not limited to Europe. Grain says: “if all farms in Kenya had the current productivity of the country’s small [peasant] farms, Kenya’s agricultural production would double. In Central America and Ukraine, it would almost triple. In Russia, it would be increased by a factor of six.” … Continue Reading

Will Food Sovereignty Starve the Poor and Punish the Planet?

Weeding maize in Burkina Faso

by Gilles Billen, Luis Lassaletta and Josette Garnier

Globalisation is not only a matter of clothing and mobile phones. Long-distance worldwide shipping of food commodities has also increased tremendously over the last few decades. Lassaletta et al. (2014) estimate that one-third of all proteins (a proxy for the nutritive potential of foodstuffs) produced globally are redistributed through international trade. Thus a recent study in France shows that the total volume of long distance commercial exchanges of food commodities, mostly originating from far away, account for over twice the national agricultural production (Le Noé et al., submitted).

However, the positive value of a globalised food supply is being actively questioned. In industrialised countries, a citizens’ movement has arisen, sometimes supported by local public authorities, seeking to promote a local food supply. This movement aims to reclaim control of nutrition, re-create social links often destroyed by the extent of mass distribution, and develop the local economy. … Continue Reading

How the Great Food War Will Be Won

Dustbowl and soil erosion USA, 1935's

By Jonathan Latham, PhD

By conventional wisdom it is excellent news. Researchers from Iowa have shown that organic farming methods can yield almost as highly as pesticide-intensive methods. Other researchers, from Berkeley, California, have reached a similar conclusion. Indeed, both findings met with a very enthusiastic reception. The enthusiasm is appropriate, but only if one misses a deep and fundamental point: that even to participate in such a conversation is to fall into a carefully laid trap. … Continue Reading

Seeds of Truth: Vandana Shiva and the New Yorker

Dr. Vandana Shiva

by Dr Vandana Shiva

(A response to the article ‘Seeds of Doubt’ by Michael Specter in The New Yorker)

I am glad that the future of food is being discussed, and thought about, on farms, in homes, on TV, online and in magazines, especially of The New Yorker’s caliber. The New Yorker has held its content and readership in high regard for so long. The challenge of feeding a growing population with the added obstacle of climate change is an important issue. Specter’s piece, however, is poor journalism. I wonder why a journalist who has been Bureau Chief in Moscow for The New York Times and Bureau Chief in New York for the Washington Post, and clearly is an experienced reporter, would submit such a misleading piece. Or why The New Yorker would allow it to be published as honest reporting, with so many fraudulent assertions and deliberate attempts to skew reality. … Continue Reading

What Will the World Inherit From GE Salmon?

Salmon Farming

By Dr. Gerry Goeden

It’s true; about 50 percent of the fish we eat are farmed. There is good reason for this as, one by one, the world’s commercial fisheries collapse through overfishing. According to FAO (2010), 70% of the world’s large commercial fisheries have either failed or are not far from it.

When things started to go wrong with world fisheries, fish farming was hailed as the ultimate solution. Fish could be produced cheaply and pressure removed from wild stocks. It seemed like the perfect solution to a very big problem. … Continue Reading

The Founding Fables of Industrialised Agriculture

Farming in Italy

by Colin Tudge

Governments these days are not content with agriculture that merely provides good food. In line with the dogma of neoliberalism they want it to contribute as much wealth as any other industry towards the grand goal of “economic growth”. High tech offers to reconcile the two ambitions – producing allegedly fabulous yields, which seems to be what’s needed, and becoming highly profitable. The high-tech flavour of the decade is genetic engineering, supplying custom-built crops and livestock as GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). … Continue Reading

Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics

WorldMap

by Morten Jerven Associate Professor, Simon Fraser University, Canada

On 5 November 2010, Ghana Statistical Services announced that it was revising national GDP estimates upwards by over 60 percent. After the revision a range of new activities, worth about US$13 billion, were accounted for, and Ghana was thus upgraded from a low-income country to a lower-middle-income country. In the fall of 2011 its near-neighbor Nigeria also announced a forthcoming revision of its GDP. This revision is not yet complete, but it has been suggested that the GDP revision in Nigeria will cause a similarly large jump in GDP. If GDP doubles in Nigeria following the revision it will mean that the GDP for the whole region increases by more than 15 percent. The value of the increase amounts to as much as 40 economies roughly the size of Malawi’s.
… Continue Reading

How Millions of Farmers are Advancing Agriculture For Themselves

SRI-grown Rice in China

by Jonathan Latham

The world record yield for paddy rice production is not held by an agricultural research station or by a large-scale farmer from the United States, but by Sumant Kumar who has a farm of just two hectares in Darveshpura village in the state of Bihar in Northern India. His record yield of 22.4 tons per hectare, from a one-acre plot, was achieved with what is known as the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). To put his achievement in perspective, the average paddy yield worldwide is about 4 tons per hectare. Even with the use of fertilizer, average yields are usually not more than 8 tons.

Sumant Kumar’s success was not a fluke. Four of his neighbors, using SRI methods, and all for the first time, matched or exceeded the previous world record from China, 19 tons per hectare. Moreover, they used only modest amounts of inorganic fertilizer and did not need chemical crop protection. … Continue Reading

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Commentaries

Peasant Sovereignty?

China village

By Evaggelos Vallianatos In May 2014, the Spain-based international agrarian organization, Grain, reported that small farmers not only “feed the world with less than a quarter of all farmland,” but they are also the most productive farmers on Earth. For example, small farmers and peasants in nine European countries outproduce …

Will Food Sovereignty Starve the Poor and Punish the Planet?

Weeding maize in Burkina Faso

by Gilles Billen, Luis Lassaletta and Josette Garnier Globalisation is not only a matter of clothing and mobile phones. Long-distance worldwide shipping of food commodities has also increased tremendously over the last few decades. Lassaletta et al. (2014) estimate that one-third of all proteins (a proxy for the nutritive potential …

How the Great Food War Will Be Won

Dustbowl and soil erosion USA, 1935's

By Jonathan Latham, PhD By conventional wisdom it is excellent news. Researchers from Iowa have shown that organic farming methods can yield almost as highly as pesticide-intensive methods. Other researchers, from Berkeley, California, have reached a similar conclusion. Indeed, both findings met with a very enthusiastic reception. The enthusiasm is appropriate, but …

Seeds of Truth: Vandana Shiva and the New Yorker

Dr. Vandana Shiva

by Dr Vandana Shiva (A response to the article ‘Seeds of Doubt’ by Michael Specter in The New Yorker) I am glad that the future of food is being discussed, and thought about, on farms, in homes, on TV, online and in magazines, especially of The New Yorker’s caliber. The …

More Commentaries...

Reviews

Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA

Poison Spring Evaggelos Valllianatos

Book Author: Evaggelos Vallianatos with McKay Jenkins Reviewed by: Carol Van Strum “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts,” Richard Feynman famously declared in 1966. Ever quick to challenge accepted wisdom, he distinguished the laudable ignorance of science, forever seeking unattainable certainties, from the dangerous ignorance of experts …

The Real Cost of Fracking: How America’s Shale Gas Boom Is Threatening Our Families, Pets, and Food

The Real Cost of Fracking book cover

Book Authors: Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald Reviewed by Allison Wilson (The Bioscience Resource Project) The first researchers to systematically document ill health in livestock, pets, and people living near fracking drill sites were Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald. Bamberger, a veterinarian, and Oswald, a professor of molecular medicine at …

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