Friday, January 2, 2009

The original green revolution

For many of us raised in the last few decades, the words "green revolution" are more likely to thoughts of organic farming and vegan diets than John Deere and Monsanto, but roughly half a century ago, the industrialization of agriculture vastly improved yields and threatened to end large scale hunger.

In the 21st century, the label "Green revolution" is beginning to look poorly named. It did produce huge crop yields, but only with heavy dependence on petroleum to create fertilizer. Industrial agriculture takes a heavy toll on the environment in many ways. First, monoculture directly reduces biodiversity on farms. Heavy pesticide and antibiotic use selects for more virulent pests and destroys the diversity of beneficial bugs (both invertebrates and microbes). Heavy fertilization (along with antibiotics and pesticides and herbicides) wash out into the environment causing blooms of opportunist organisms (algae in lake eutrophication) who drive out other species and upset ecosystems. Corporate farming places a bureaucratic wedge between decision makers and the land causing the deterioration of the environment to go unheeded.

Michelle over at Garden Rants wondered recently if there isn't a better way. I'm inclined to agree with her. I also wanted to point out that one of the lessons I see in the green revolution is that creating more food won't make hunger go away. Hunger seems to be largely a political and economic problem.

By attempting to modernize the third world in the image of the developed world, we have laid bare our shortcomings. Our current model is unsustainable, and the currently developing areas of the world need to change tack and look for new models of sustainable development. We can, I believe, best help that by looking inward to try and address our own failing first, whether as an individual, a community, or a nation.

Of course we can't stop trying to help those around the world who are in desperate need, but we need to stop pretending that our way is the best and only way. We all know the old saying about giving a man a fish. But instead of merely teaching him how we fish, we should helping him find the best way to fish his pond. It will probably work much better than our methods, and we may learn something in the process.

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