Prior to the Industrial Revolution, most humans were engaged in agriculture. Our relationship with nature was immediate. Within just a few generations, however, for many people across the world, their link with the land has been severed.
Food now arrives pre-packaged (often precooked), preserved with chemicals and contains harmful pesticides, micro-plastics, hormones and/or various other contaminants. We are also being served a narrower menu of high-calorie food with lower nutrient content.
It is clear that there is something fundamentally wrong with how modern food is produced.
Although, there are various stages between farm and fork, not least modern food processing practices, which is a story in itself, a key part of the problem lies with agriculture.
Today, many farmers are trapped on chemical and biotech treadmills. They have been encouraged and coerced into using a range of costly off-farm inputs, from synthetic fertilisers and corporate-manufactured seeds to a wide array of weedicides and pesticides.
With the industrialisation of agriculture, many poor, smallholder farmers have been deskilled and placed into vulnerable positions. Traditional knowledge has been undermined, overwhelmed or has survived only in fragments.
Writing in the Journal of South Asian Studies in 2017, Marika Vicziany and Jagjit Plahein state that farmers have for millennia taken measures to manage drought, grow cereals with long stalks that can be used as fodder, engage in cropping practices that promote biodiversity, ethno-engineer soil and water conservation and make use of collective sharing systems.
Farmers knew their micro-environment, so they could plant crops that mature at different times, thereby facilitating more rapid crop rotation without exhausting the soil.
Experimentation and innovation were key. Two terms modern agritech/agribusiness corporations lay claim to, but something farmers have been doing for generations.
Many farmers also used ‘insect equilibrium’ and their knowledge of which insects kill crop-predator pests. Food and policy analyst Devinder Sharma says he has met women in India who can identify 110 non-vegetarian and 60 vegetarian insects.
Complex, highly beneficial traditional knowledge systems and on-farm ecological practices are being eroded as farmers lose control over their productive means and become dependent on proprietary products, including commodified corporate knowledge.
Farmers in places like the Netherlands are now being blamed for harming the environment due to carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions. Although Dutch farmers are taking flak, what we are also seeing is an attack on large feed and meat producers. There are not many small farms left in the Netherlands and most animal farms are concentrated feeding operations.
The Netherlands’ farming sector is highly livestock intensive and there seems to be a policy to reduce the size of the meat industry in that country. Farmers have been told to get out of farming or shift to growing crops.
Instead of the authorities facilitating a gradual shift towards organic, agroecological agriculture and attract a new generation to the sector, farmers are in danger of being displaced.
But Dutch farmers are not the only ones in the firing line. Farmers in other European nations are also protesting because various policies make it increasingly difficult for them to make a living.
There seems to be a concerted effort to make farming financially non-viable for many farmers and remove them from their land. The farmer protests in Europe follow in the wake of massive resistance by Indian farmers against corporate-backed legislation that would have seen an accelerated drive to push many already financially distressed farmers out of farming.
The biggest owner of private farmland in the US – Bill Gates – has a vision for farming: a chemical-dependent, corporate-dependent, one-world agriculture (Ag One initiative) to facilitate the global supply chains of conglomerates. This initiative is side-lining indigenous knowledge and practices in favour of corporate knowledge and a further colonisation of global agriculture….