Tuesday, May 21, 2013
How are we going to feed a world population of 9 billion by the year 2050?
Monsanto thinks it knows the answer: more corn and soy production through "improved" bioengineered seed and "no till" cropping.
"No till" is a euphemism for using Monsanto-produced Roundup to kill the weeds in your corn and soy fields so you can then plant your Roundup- resistant seeds, also made by Monsanto.
Take a look at Monsanto's website, particularly the link to www.improveagriculture.com, which gives you a heavy dose of PR without too many facts about how genetically modified farming will dramatically raise yields to feed the world in 40 years.
Monsanto poses the question, "How can agriculture help feed 9 billion people?" Here's the answer:
"In the hands of farmers, better seeds are helping the world grow more, while using less. Researchers around the world, in both the public and private sectors, are working to improve seeds through the use of advanced breeding and biotechnology together with better farming techniques, these advanced seeds can help farmers meet the world's demand for food, clothing and fuel, while also helping to reduce the need for water, land, pesticides and fossil fuels," the web page reads.
Problem solved. Monsanto's got it all figured out.
Monsanto misunderstands a basic fact about corn and soy: They are not food. They are ingredients in processed foods that most of the world is not eating yet. We are, however, and we as a nation are getting fat and sick.
If the rest of the world ate like we do -- heavy on fats, sugars and salt and light on nutrition and whole foods -- we might never make it to 9 billion. It would be a very sluggish 9 billion if we did.
In July 2010, in this column, I issued my first Monsanto Challenge: Raise enough food on two acres of land to feed 80 families for 20 weeks. That's what we do at Long Meadow Farm, without heavy machinery, pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers.
As far as I know, Monsanto did not rise to the challenge, probably because it couldn't figure out how to get 80 families to eat all that corn and soy.
So, it is time to issue a second Monsanto Challenge to present an alternative vision of how to feed 9 billion people. Let's do the math:
* If two acres of ground can feed 80 families for 20 weeks, then five acres should be able to feed 80 families for a full year.
* In the U.S., we have 900 million acres of farmland, of which 170 million are currently growing corn and soy, almost all of it genetically engineered.
* If we divided the 170 million acres of corn and soy land into five-acre farms, we would have 34 million farms, which could feed 2.72 billion families. At an average of 2.5 people per family, that's a total of 6.8 billion people -- a pretty good start on the whole 9 billion.
What's more, these farms would employ an average of four people per farm, year-round, which works out to 136 million farmers and farm workers. So, we've just about solved both our world food problem and world unemployment problem in one fell swoop, as they say.
While it would be nice to appropriate 170 million acres of corn-soy land to feed all those people and put America back to work, it's not practical.
So, let's think about all of our local land uses that could be converted to food production -- hay land, lawns and yards, newly forested former farmland -- and let's work to reclaim them for the production of real food, not Monsanto's idea of food.
Besides, it's going to take a huge effort to rebuild soil that has been degraded and contaminated by 70 years of chemical treatment, and most recently widespread use of herbicides in "no till" farming, if it ever can be reclaimed.
It takes good healthy soil to grow real food -- spinach, green beans, beets, onions, carrots, tomatoes, peas, kale, squash, potatoes, cabbages, broccoli, celery -- such as we grow on this farm. We even grow sweet corn, but not a lot because it takes up so much space in the garden.
We are looking at local economies and local food production to feed ourselves and the rest of the world, using practices that build soil health and create fresh, local food.
And for the non-vegetarians, like me, we could devote another chunk of the 900 million acres of U.S. farmland to produce millions of free-range chickens for eggs and meat, millions of grass-fed beef, and millions of pigs on pasture.
Sorry Monsanto, I don't think you want to be a part of this picture, but let me know if you do.
Denis Thoet owns and manages Long Meadow Farm in West Gardiner. www.longmeadowfarmmaine.com.