Today, due to rapidly rising food prices and shortage of supplies, humanity is facing the worst hunger crisis the world has seen in decades. These are unprecedented times, the UN warns. To make matters worse, a recession seems to be just around the corner. Why, then, are farmers being prevented from doing their job? Without farmers, the world would collapse. Agriculture is arguably the most important profession in the world. Right now, however, he is under attack.
On June 28, according to Bloomberg, hundreds of furious Dutch farmers rallied “to protest the government’s nitrogen reduction targets.” However, as investigative journalist Kit Knightly recently pointed out, the idea that Dutch farmers were protesting emissions targets was a “massive lie of omission”. He is right. The Netherlands is home to thousands of dairy farmers and over 1.5 million dairy cows and calves. In addition, the Netherlands is the EU’s largest meat exporter. Reducing emissions, as Mr. Knightly so aptly pointed out, actually means “reducing the number of pigs, chickens and cows by about thirty percent”.
The author believes that we are now witnessing a “deliberate shrinkage of the agricultural sector”. It’s hard to disagree. After the United States, the Netherlands is the world’s largest agricultural producer, exporting vegetables, meat and dairy products to millions of people. The livelihood of thousands of Dutch farmers is at stake. With the world in the midst of a food crisis, which is expected to worsen over the next 12 months, now is not the time to prevent farmers to do their job. But try to tell the Dutch government. And while you’re at it, try to deliver the same message to the Biden administration.
Meanwhile, in the United States, farmers, we are told, are the backbone of America; however, the current administration clearly thinks otherwise. Last year, the administration added farmland to the conservation reserve program. Under this controversial scheme, farmers are now encouraged to leave land fallow. On closer inspection, the program is part of a larger government campaign to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Interestingly, the Biden administration’s goal is very similar. to that of the Dutch government.
In California, where 124,000 farmers live, people are being paid not to farm. A peculiar decision, given that the Golden State is responsible for a quarter of the country’s crops (and two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts). As Modern Farmer’s Shea Swanson noted, this year, due to the new scheme, “35,000 acres of rice paddies in the northern Central Valley” will remain unused.
Across the pond, in the UK, the government remains fully committed to helping farmers exit the industry. In a rather interesting statement released earlier this year, the UK government assured any farmers wishing to exit the industry that they would be rewarded with a one-off lump sum payment. “In exchange for their payment,” the statement reads, “farmers will relinquish their rights and will be required to either rent, sell their land, or relinquish their lease,” to create “real opportunities for new farmers (more on the word ‘new’ in a minute). Again, when one recognizes the fact that we are in the midst of a food crisis and that the UK is a key player in the global food sector, now seems a very strange time to introduce such a scheme. The UK exports thousands of tonnes of lamb, beef and chicken every year. UK beef exports to Japan, for example, are worth £1.78 million (over $2 million).
Which begs the question: as governments destroy the traditional agricultural sector, what will they replace it with? This brings us back to the word “new”. Traditional agriculture is replaced by organic farming, characteristic of the green revolution.
However, it is important to remember that many revolutions do not succeed. For many commentators, organic farming sounds fantastic. On closer inspection, however, this “holistic” approach to farming seems to lack substance. As Dr. Henry Miller, a well-respected public policy researcher, previously noted, organic farming might work well for small communities, but on a macro level, “its farms produce far less food per unit of land and water than conventional ones. Organic farming, he warned, produces “typically 20-50% less than conventional farming”.
Additionally, as an extensive meta-analysis (published in the Journal of Environmental Management) pointed out in relation to conventional farming methods, “ammonia emissions, nitrogen leaching, and nitrous oxide emissions per unit of product were higher in biological systems”.
In short, organic farming leads to lower crop yields and increased land use. A winning formula for whom exactly? Certainly not humanity. Oh, and there’s one more thing. Organic farming is bad for the environment. In fact, it appears to be considerably worse for the environment than traditional agriculture, producing significantly more greenhouse gas emissions. Although we hear so much about a demographic crisis and the sharp drop in fertility rates around the world, the fact is that the current world population stands at around 7.6 billion. By 2030, it will rise to 8.6 billion, according to a recent UN report. In 2050, 9.8 billion people and in 2100, 11.2 billion. If traditional agriculture is consigned to the dustbin of history and organic agriculture is simply not sustainable, how are we going to feed the people of tomorrow as we struggle to feed the people of today?
• John Mac Ghlionn is a psychosocial researcher and essayist.