Some of the issues around modern food production

Some of the issues around modern food production

By Mitote | Fungal focus | 7 Oct 2019


Looking at the fundamental resources that provide the context terrestrial life (spoiler its soil); how do the dominant societal values negatively affect the prosperity of said resource and what shifts in values could stimulate growth/connection for that fundamental aspect of all terrestrial life.

 

MODERN AGRICULTURE 

 

For anyone living in the west here is the familial common logic: maximize efficiencies in production which incur monetary profit in the sale of goods and services. Cut expenses, be thrifty in materials, all the while producing the highest  “quality” product to attract customers. This view dictates human ingenuity towards innovation around processes and theoretically a better situation that costs consumers less while growing the elegance of the industry.

The majority of food production has little difference than other industrial sectors when it comes to that view. The goals include increases in yield per land unit and ensuring quality in their product. This leads to a variety of pursuits relating to both the organisms being tended and the processes that tend them.

 Breeding programs that maximize the following: crop growth speed (to maximize potential harvests within a year), size of sellable product, and fitness (outgrow competitor/resilience to environment). Biotechnology promises to defeat unsavory things such as pests, drought/frost intolerance, and nutrition. That subject certainly deserves its own paper and I am going to broadly ignore it, for now looping it in with the general dogma of efficiency/profit.

Beyond the characteristics of the plants that farmers seed, the equipment and labor considerations also push farmers towards mechanized tools to increase labour input/ productive output ratios. This means tractors, stuff with engines, and the infrastructure to accommodate necessary repairs and housing of this material. Mechanization also requires streamlined organization of crops. Machines aren't dynamic enough to effectively harvest distinct crops growing next to each other. Known colloquially as monoculture the outcome of these considerations is perfectly clear to another living in the middle or the united states. Miles and miles of endless fields of corn or soy. Capital is sunk into farms to create these “efficiencies” and expectations of continuous profit as machines become more refined, reliable and cheap. Beyond the united states loans often will not be given unless farmers ascribe to this industrial doctrine.

So besides the plants themselves and the processes to process them it turns out plants grow in something known as soil. It also turns out that's where plants source the necessary nutrients/water to grow and mature. Carbohydrates come from photosynthesis, which power the metabolic actions of plants, but all of the necessary chemical building blocks for growth comes from the soil. Naturally farmers must focus on the soil to ensure their crop grows big and healthy. However since “efficiency” and “profit” are the main incentives efforts are directed towards figuring out the cheapest ways to make soil do what they want (grow big plants fast). Their logical conclusion is to extract essential elements and compounds from elsewhere and apply them to the soil to ensure enough nutrients for growth. Constant harvesting from the land without regeneration required application of exogenous mineral nutrients. NPK stands for Nitrogen Phosphorus and Potassium, three of the key some elements needed in excess for growth. The extraction process of these fertilizers destroys macro ecosystems while the application of fertilizer destroys micro ecosystems in soil. I use “destroy” dramatically. While “altered” would be a more accurate descriptor, the speed and thoughtlessness we alter the chemical balance of the world will have dramatic unanticipated consequences. We simply do not understand enough of the symphony of complex chemical/organic reactions that have led to the world we know now (knew). 

Okay for now let's save a deeper look at the complexities of soil ecosystems for the future. Broadly however I will leave you with this: Soil ecosystems are not a given on earth, life created soil, thus life must sustain soil. This goes from the smallest microorganisms to largest herbivorous and everything in between. All terrestrial life ends up back in the earth. We need to be critical of how food is produced and not resort to the ideological chants around “innovation” and “competition”. The question of alternatives to the industrial mindset must be approached with deep understandings of life. Writing takes time.


Mitote
Mitote

Integrative ideas, decentralized governance participation, ecological understandings.

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