Saturday, May 17, 2008

Diet of Pickles, Rice and Potatoes: What the Crop?

Industrial Farming's Link to the Food Crisis

The recent issues with food scarcity around the world highlight the weaknesses that has been introduced by industrial farming. Always looking for ways to make the operation more profitable leads towards engineering diversity out of the food network. International corporations with loyalty only to their own interests invest capital where land and labor is cheapest but sell the produce where it will garner the highest return, taking food out of countries that can least afford to lose this sustenance. From the loss of local farms to the loss of variety on our dinner tables and even the loss of natural habitats and animal species industrial farming seem a soulless entity with no concern to the land resources it is ravishing and leaving wasted.

What happens in times of natural disaster or economic crisis when the diversity of our food network has been compromised? Read on for some current examples.

Food Riots Speak Loudly

Food riots around the world over the soaring costs of basic foods have brought the issue of poverty to a boiling point. World Bank President Robert Zoellick has said the surging costs could mean "seven lost years" in the fight against worldwide poverty.

"While many are worrying about filling their gas tanks, many others around the world are struggling to fill their stomachs, and it is getting more and more difficult every day," Zoellick said late last week in a speech opening meetings with finance ministers. (Read more...)

When Importing Goes Bad TOKYO, May 16 (Reuters) - Japan could find itself dining on rice, pickles and potatoes if global food supplies keep tightening and imports are cut off, the government warned on Friday.

Just 39 percent of food in Japan is produced at home, the lowest percentage among the major industrialised countries, raising alarm among officials over food security as supplies fall and prices soar. (Read more...)

Sustainable Agriculture Depends on Diversity

(SciDevNet) A variety of factors work against maintaining agricultural biodiversity. But among the most important is a lack of knowledge and awareness of agricultural diversity's intrinsic value to society, and its potential for development. Sustainable agricultural systems depend on a diversity of species to withstand attacks — from present and future diseases, pests, climate and other environmental changes — as well as unpredictable social, economic and market demands. (Read more...)

Monoagriculture and monocrops have other side effects. Reducing diversity in plant life also affects the wildlife that lives in the farming regions. Many native bird species are being driven to extinction because of loss of diverse food sources. (Read more...)

Vanishing Food Resources

(Green Living Tips) In the USA, only 5% of the apple varieties that existed 200 years ago still remain. In the UK, 90% of vegetable varieties have disappeared over the last century.

We are basically driving many of our food resources to extinction on purpose. Market control, aesthetics and shelf life reign over diversity and taste these days. Hybrid varieties are developed by companies for pest resistance, fast growth and uniformity; then marketed to a such a degree that traditional varieties lose popularity and disappear. They are also bred for qualities related to easy machine harvesting, long distance transport and refrigeration.

The seeds you buy at your nursery, even the fruit and vegetables you purchase from organic farms are likely to be these hybrid varieties. Another disturbing issue is just a handful of companies control the majority of the world's seed production and as a result, farmers and home gardeners are basically held to ransom. (Read more...)

Making a difference

There are people working to preserve biodiversity and also the heritage that plants hold. One for example is Seed Savers Exchange. Seed Savers Exchange was founded in 1975 by Diane Ott Whealy and Kent Whealy, after her terminally-ill grandfather gave them the seeds of two garden plants, Grandpa Ott's Morning Glory and German Pink Tomato, that his parents brought from Bavaria when they immigrated to St. Lucas, Iowa in the 1870s.

SSE organization is saving the world’s diverse, but endangered, garden heritage for future generations by building a network of people committed to collecting, conserving and sharing heirloom seeds and plants, while educating people about the value of genetic and cultural diversity. Few gardeners comprehend the true scope of their garden heritage or how much is in immediate danger of being lost forever.

Another very interesting organization Kokopelli Seed Foundation promotes charitable donations of organic, heirloom seeds and seed-saving education to fight hunger in Third World poor countries. For an excellent and extensive article on the importance of biodiversity and dangers of monoagriculture, please read A Short History of Plant Breeding, from the early Beginnings up to modern Biotechnology by Jean Pierre Berlan, translation by Bernard Declercq featured on the Kokopelli site.

What you can do:

As a consumer: Look at labels and buy local. Local markets selling locally grown food strengthens the community. Shop farmers markets, buy and enjoy unique varieties and encourage the farmers you buy from to grow diverse crops. Consider a closer relationship with your food grower by joining a CSA - consumer supported agriculture coop. (CSA started in Japan and was called Teikei meaning "putting the farmer's face on food.") Encourage your local green grocer to shop locally to stock his or her market by letting them know you would prefer locally grown food.

Help the third world by donating to organizations like Action Against Hunger, Kokopelli Seed Foundation, OxFam, and Heifer International. Check Charity Navigator to find a charity that ranks highly in responsible use of funds.

Plant a Garden of Heirlooms and share the bounty of food and seeds with others: The Heirloom Vegetable Gardener's Assistant

Write and/or call the office of the President, your congresspersons and senators and encourage them to support a farm bill that builds stronger farm communites and builds a healthier environment.

Read more about what you can do about food security at Also read EDF, Grist and Center for Rural Affairs. Watch the show and read the site: World in Peril.

Gristmill: No Country for Poor (Wo)Men

Heifer International: Causes and Remedies for the Food Crisis - Dr. Jim DeVries, Heifer’s Vice President of Programs says, "it is becoming apparent that the industrial farming system is not sustainable. In the West, decentralizing production, with an increase in the number of family-sized farms or large family-operated farms that use methods that recycle agricultural byproducts would help improve the negative impacts of industrial agricultural production."

OFE articles: Biodiversity: why should you care?; The Big Story is Food; It May be Corny, but it ain't that Green

As a small farm farmer: Get more involved in connections between farmers and consumers by considering a Consumer Supported Agriculture (CSA) business model for your farm. Work with local green grocers to develop markets for unique crops. Also develop new markets with the growing number of organically inclined restaurants that could become regular customers for unique food crops. Contact an heirloom seed organization and explore growing a wider variety of crops.

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