The Terran Federation Needs YOU! (To Work As A Farmhand In A Chinese Rice Paddy)

Food, Irksome

Something tells me that all of the Chinamen who've been struggling to get out of the rice paddies aren't going to be too happy to hear what the United Nations, and the New York Times, have in store for their future…

The oldest and most common dig against organic agriculture is that it cannot feed the world’s citizens; this, however, is a supposition, not a fact.

Do you see the reversal here?

The Times is advocating for a return to "organic" agriculture, meaning no pesticides, no chemicals, no fertilizers, and no machines. That would be a pretty radical change from what the green revolution has wrought, but the Times puts the burden of proof on those who believe that a complete worldwide upheaval, and rejection of a century's technological progress, on those who don't see the need to upend world agriculture just yet.

A more accurate statement would be:

"Advocates for non-technological farming, or as they put it, "sustainable agriculture," state that the world population of six billion can feed itself using no pesticides, chemicals, fertilizers, or machines; this, however, is a supposition, not a fact."

In fact it's science fiction. Or perhaps fantasy:

Yet there is good news: increasing numbers of scientists, policy panels and experts (not hippies!) are suggesting that agricultural practices pretty close to organic — perhaps best called “sustainable” — can feed more poor people sooner, begin to repair the damage caused by industrial production and, in the long term, become the norm.

How?

Olivier de Schutter, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the Right to Food, presented a report entitled “Agro-ecology and the Right to Food.” (Agro-ecology, he said in a telephone interview last Friday, has “lots” in common with both “sustainable” and “organic.”) Chief among de Schutter’s recommendations is this: “Agriculture should be fundamentally redirected towards modes of production that are more environmentally sustainable and socially just.”

Sustainable means no pesticides, fertilizers, chemicals, or machines. We get that. Socially just means…

What?

And how? Oh, here's how:

Agro-ecology and related methods are going to require resources too, but they’re more in the form of labor, both intellectual — much research remains to be done — and physical: the world will need more farmers, and quite possibly less mechanization.

In other words, it's going to require science fiction. Scientists are going to have to invent a way for agriculture to feed six billion people, without technology. Without the pesticides, fertilizers, chemicals, and machines that they've used so far to enable people to feed themselves. And without genetic modification of crops, because that's wrong too.

The United Nations, and the Times, are essentially advocating the methods demonstrated by Monty Python forty years ago in "How To Do It":

Just invent a way to feed six billion people without pesticides, fertilizers, chemicals, machines, and genetic modification of crops, and you're all set. This rather remarkably resembles my plan to make the world energy independent by inventing a means of magnetically contained hydrogen fusion, which I'll unveil any day now. I'm just waiting until after the United Nations, and the Times, reveal their method for revolutionizing world agriculture without technology.

Oh wait. They have. In the here and now, there's brute labor and price controls.

Forty percent of the world's population is in India and China. To farm sustainably, and without technology, the Indians and the Chinese are going to have to leave the cities, where for some reason they prefer to be, to go back to the rice paddies they've spent the past two decades trying to escape.

Has the United Nations told them? Has the Times?

Do they know what the United Nations of the far future has planned for them? And what would they think of it, if they knew?

Last 5 posts by Patrick Non-White

26 Comments

25 Comments

  1. BCP  •  Mar 9, 2011 @8:38 am

    It's called imagineering, Patrick, and it's what made Disney the successful operation it is today. Are you saying you hate Mickey Mouse?! And also, Dude, "Chinamen" is not the preferred nomenclature.

  2. supagold  •  Mar 9, 2011 @8:40 am

    Sounds great. Of course, I live in Chicago so I guess I better say goodbye to much of that delicious fruit I enjoyed. Also, most vegetables for most of the year. Of course, I'll probably be in a reeducation collective learning the joys of peasant life, so it'll be (organic) gruel for me anyway…

  3. Andrew  •  Mar 9, 2011 @9:08 am

    Note that this commentary appears on the Times' opinion blog; it's a bit disingenuous to attribute the opinions expressed to the Times overall. The newspaper's editorial board endorsed GM crops for developing countries years ago.

  4. Patrick  •  Mar 9, 2011 @9:13 am

    This is the standard line whenever the Times publishes hogwash. It's not the Times: It's Paul Krugman, David Brooks, or whomever.

    Yet the Times continues to publish hogwash. They actually paid someone to write this melange of science fantasy and veiled pining for the days of collective and peasant farming.

  5. Brooks  •  Mar 9, 2011 @10:23 am

    If Olivier de Schutter thinks sending the Indians and Chinese back to the rice paddies would be socially just, then I'm all for it. He's a special rapporteur after all.

  6. Andrew  •  Mar 9, 2011 @11:48 am

    This is ten years old, but still a relevant perspective on advocates of "traditional" agriculture. Actually, the fact that it's still relevant ten years later is kind of depressing.

    "A recurrent refrain was that we have managed without GM for many centuries, so why change? The answer, of course, is that throughout those many centuries the vast majority of people lived at the edge of starvation; only very recently has a decent life become available to more than a tiny elite. And that decent life is made possible by applied science and technology — including modern agriculture, which relies crucially on chemicals that developing countries cannot afford. Now, finally, genetic modification — which can substitute for some of the expensive chemicals used in the West — offers a hope of escape. And what is the response of the supposed friends of the poor? The same as their response to the new opportunities for job- and income-creating exports offered by growing global trade: horror at the thought of change, romantic rhapsodizing about the virtues of the traditional life."

  7. crunchback  •  Mar 9, 2011 @12:34 pm

    What could be more sustainable than soylent green? The ultimate in recycling!

  8. bluntobject  •  Mar 9, 2011 @1:24 pm

    This arrant nonsense was penned by Mark Bittman, the peculiar individual who recently lost his shit over the fact that a half-cup of McDonald's oatmeal with cream contains about as many calories as a half-cup of premium steel-cut oatmeal with organic free-range cream — that is, slightly more than a McDonald's hamburger. I suppose it's comforting to see that he hasn't changed his standards.

  9. Patrick  •  Mar 9, 2011 @2:24 pm

    A friend was lamenting Bittman's transition from an apparently good writer on food to a bad writer on politics recently. I didn't realize it was the same person until I read your comment Blunt.

    Bittman ignores (or hopes that we'll ignore) that human history is the transition from farms to cities. The only large scale movements from city to farm that I know of were caused by man-made disasters: the fall of the Roman Empire, Tamerlane's invasion of the Middle East, the Mongol conquests, the Black Death, the Spanish invasion of Mexico, the Cultural Revolution, and the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia. I hope even Bittman would concede that these are not events to be emulated.

    How are you going to keep them on the farm once they've seen Shanghai?

  10. Transplanted Lawyer  •  Mar 9, 2011 @2:33 pm

    I'm reminded of an exchange in first-year property class during law school concerning rent control. The issue on the floor was whether rent control would improve or diminish conditions given the fact that typically at the time rent control is instituted in a municipality, there isn't enough adequate housing at reasonable prices for people to live with dignity and within their economic means. A student (not me) complained that it shouldn't be the case that there wasn't enough adequate housing at reasonable prices for people to live with dignity and within their economic means. This guy simply didn't understand that there simply wasn't enough adequate housing at reasonable prices for people to live with dignity and within their economic means and his solution to that dilemma was that there really, really ought to be enough adequate housing at reasonable prices for people to live with dignity and within their economic means.

    That sort of reasoning fits well with the editorial you describe here. There really, really ought to be sufficient, ecologically sustainable and locally-sourced agriculture to provide adequate nutrition for everyone and eliminate starvation. But there isn't. No matter how much there ought to be, there isn't.

  11. Corporal Lint  •  Mar 9, 2011 @2:50 pm

    The Times is advocating for a return to “organic” agriculture, meaning no pesticides, no chemicals, no fertilizers, and no machines.

    FWIW, machines are very common in organic farming. Almost all commercial organic farms are mechanized to one degree or another, and a few years back I spent some time driving a micro-tractor on a subsistence organic farm. Bittman says "quite possibly less mechanization," which I took as mostly aimed at the American corn and soy agribusiness model — the farm as industrial operation. There's a lot wrong with what Bittman writes, but let's not go overboard with it.

  12. Mannie  •  Mar 9, 2011 @3:19 pm

    Mao tried fiddling with agriculture, knowing nothing about it. It was The Great Leap Forward. He killed between 45 and 100 million Chinese doing so.

  13. Linus  •  Mar 9, 2011 @5:23 pm

    I don't understand where he gained such hatred for the poor. He wants them to work harder, and stupider, for less. And they'll be hungry and exhausted, but at least they'll have the warm glow that comes from smug self-righteousness. Ass.

  14. Grandy  •  Mar 10, 2011 @8:25 am

    Luke left the farm and saved the universe. Kirk left the Montana ranch and saved the universe. Picard left his family vinyard and saved the universe.

    I rest my case.

  15. Dave King  •  Mar 10, 2011 @11:41 am

    Didnt the Khmer Rouge try this very thing?

  16. Don Keefhardt  •  Mar 10, 2011 @2:15 pm

    Yeah…Pol Pot was a big advocate…worked out OK for him…not so good for the Cambodian people, though.

  17. Mannie  •  Mar 10, 2011 @3:27 pm

    People don't matter to these people, not even people by the millions. Ideology matters.

    Shut up and eat your cake.

  18. delurking  •  Mar 10, 2011 @8:27 pm

    Patrick wrote:
    "This rather remarkably resembles my plan to make the world energy independent by inventing a means of magnetically contained hydrogen fusion, which I’ll unveil any day now."

    Look, I've been looking forward to this for about 50 years. Can you put posting that higher on your priority list, please?

  19. SPQR  •  Mar 10, 2011 @9:54 pm

    The NYT has always thought that the Kulaks had it coming.

  20. Andrew  •  Mar 11, 2011 @6:27 am

    They only way to do this would be if everyone took their power back, grew up and started sustaining themselves . . . grow your own food and stop looking to bid daddy to feed you, big daddy is having problems with food supply so if big daddy only has enough food for himself then unfortunately his children will die, unless you become your own daddy and grow up. :) Love & Courage.

  21. SPQR  •  Mar 11, 2011 @2:33 pm

    Andrew, you don't understand that even in your scenario, people would fail to grow enough foodstuffs to sustain our population. And not by a small amount either.

    Massive starvation.

  22. Xmas  •  Mar 14, 2011 @2:00 am

    You should be able to do it with genetically modified grains. Perhaps some boundary plants that are pest repellents would help too.

    That said, rice planting is pretty labor intensive as it is, and it's mostly grown on small farms in Asian countries.

  23. perlhaqr  •  Mar 16, 2011 @5:30 pm

    Mao tried fiddling with agriculture, knowing nothing about it. It was The Great Leap Forward. He killed between 45 and 100 million Chinese doing so.

    Oh, and let's not forget Stalin's efforts in the Ukraine!

  24. Graeme  •  Mar 20, 2011 @4:45 am

    My personal teleporation device will be invented any day now and will solve all manner of transporation problems – like daily commutes on trains, using taxis, etc.

  25. Patriot Henry  •  Mar 20, 2011 @9:57 am

    "Sustainable means no pesticides, fertilizers, chemicals, or machines. We get that."

    No, sustainable means infinitely repeatable (assuming that certain fundamentals such as the sun remain a constant).

    The science fiction food system is the fascist one we have here in America, in which technology allegedly can replace nature. It hasn't ever worked, it doesn't work now, and it can't ever work.

    "The Times is advocating for a return to “organic” agriculture, meaning no pesticides, no chemicals, no fertilizers, and no machines. "

    Um, no. Even the article you linked to doesn't suggest that. "Many adherents rule out nothing, including in their recommendations even GMOs and chemical fertilizers where justifiable."

1 Trackback