Food intensification and world food shortages: World Food Day 2015

Constantly politicians, NGOs, agrichemical and agriequipment companies are urging farmers in England to sustainably intensify food production by investing into new technologies. The reason for food intensifications, they claim, is to meet growing demands caused by increasing future global populations. All eyes are set on 2030/50 as goalposts. Good reasons but what about the world today?

Ironically, while El Niño has been credited for good weather in the UK there are growing fears that the same weather fluxes could lead to famine in ‘developing’ countries.

This summer whilst research precision agriculture in rural England all the farmers I spoke to reported phenomenal, ‘bumper harvests’ but devastatingly poor market prices. There was one particular dairy farmer who had to close down his family’s 100-year-old milk business since prices had hit rock bottom. The same is also true for wheat, sugar and barley. These commodities are being sold by farmers in the UK under the cost of production. But the farmers are still being told to intensify production.

If the grain stores of the UK and Europe are becoming clogged up with surplus food then  redistribute the excess to the people in countries that need more food. Emptying the agri-food industries of excess stock would keep the system of production and consumption in circulation and commodity prices bubbling. Furthermore there would be more money in circulation for farmers to invest in agri-tech equipment such as precision farming technologies.

If our global goals and challenges are to feed global populations then why must they be future generations? What does it say about the global order we are living in, if millions of people are going hungry while the grain stores of wealthier nations are literally bursting at the seems. It says one thing, that sustainable intensification of agriculture will be unsustainable while food surpluses drive commodity prices down and farmers out of business. The redistribution of food surpluses is one means of getting the circulation of capital moving again. Lets get charitable, globally.

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England’s Depressing Agricultural Downturn

In a meeting with leading sociologist Manuel Castells last year, I explained the topic of my research to him. His immediate response was: “you are studying a very depressing subject!”

Today in a small discussion between local farmers and a Conservative politician, an elderly farmer whose family had been in the dairy business for 100 years announced the terrible news that they had been forced to close the dairy business. The younger farmer next to him welled up with emotions and spouted: “I’ve got to intervene here; this farmer is the admiration of our district. He is by far the most efficient farmer we know and we all look up to him”. The elderly farmer expressed his thanks to the younger. He continued on to detail his fears about large-scale, indoor, robot-automated dairy parlours dominating the industry, consequently ridding the English landscape from herds of cows grazing in the sunshine.
The politician expressed his deepest sympathy. Within the next half an hour the politician made his political position very clear. He believed in the idea of “free markets” and fully supported the idea that “efficiency should lead the way forwards”.

I thought to myself: “…Castells was right”.