How to Feed the World: Using Traditional Agriculture to Solve the World Hunger Crisis

by Nicholas Thomson on March 27, 2014

Many people assume that to feed the world we have to rely on industrial agriculture. An article by Mark Bittman in the New York Times suggests that we can feed the world and become healthier by turning away from industrial agriculture and focusing on what he calls the “peasant system”. Furthermore, he states one of the main problems with industrial agriculture is that it is unsustainable and is not feeding the world as is often believed. Rather than a relying on large-scale, industrialized crops, “the peasant system” refers to small, local farmers providing the food to the local area. In agreement with Bittman, I found that there are numerous problems with industrial agriculture and change is necessary. However, Bittman fails to provide an approach for change because the implementation of a  “peasant system” does not work in reality.

Mark Bittman proposes the idea of the “peasant system” as an alternative to industrial agriculture. Industrial agriculture is large-scale production of crops using plentiful fertilizers, pesticides and technology.  On the other hand, the “peasant system” relies on using traditional methods of farming, like crop rotation, to feed the local community. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the per capita0522_mz_farming2 food supply for the world is 2790 kcal/person/day. This is enough calories per person to feed everyone in the world. So, why are there still nearly 1 billion people starving? This evidence shows that the industrial system produces a lot of food but is inefficient. Too much of the food produced on farms in the US goes to feeding cattle, producing energy or is wasted. For example, only 1 percent of the total production of corn on industrial farms in the US is actually consumed as food. Producing more food does not mean everyone will be able to get the food they need, just as producing more cars does not guarantee that everyone will drive. Instead, implementing “the peasant system,” with local traditional farmers who provide food for the surrounding community, is more likely to ensure that all people are fed in that area by making the food produced more accessible. 

Another issue raised by Bittman is that industrial agriculture requires a lot of land and functions unsustainably. Industrial agriculture causes and will continue to cause problems for soil fertility, water supplies and the environment. For example, monoculture farming (producing 1 crop on a large-scale) is reducing the nutrients in the soil making it harder to grow more plants. So industrial agriculture is forced to use more fertilizers and pesticides, which is then damaging the soil even more. If crops cannot be grown in the soil then no food can be produced and eventually even more people will be without food. On the other hand, using traditional agriculture that focuses on crop rotation, maintains the health of the soil without the use of fertilizers. Yet, developments in traditional agriculture methods would also be beneficial to future food production. Ideas such as pseudo-organic crops that use some artificial fertilizers could be a future traditional agriculture method. Clearly, traditional agriculture is more sustainable and produces healthier foods for the community it serves.

But Bittman doesn’t address how to make the change from industrial agriculture to traditional agriculture. I believe that a change must come from the government. They need to stop pushing money into an inefficient industrial system that will ruin itself. Instead, the government should invest inlocal farmers to provide the financial support they need. This will allow the small traditional farms to increase in numbers and begin to function efficiently again. Also, the government should provide subsidies to people who struggle to buy food from the local farms. This would ensure that people are being fed and the traditional farmers are getting the money they need to function. Ultimately, money needs to go back to local farmers who were unable to compete with industrial farms. But the US government will not shift to a reliance on traditional agriculture to solve the hunger issues because profits and demand for industrial agriculture is too large. Bittman’s argument that traditional agriculture can feed the world is correct in theory but in reality this method will not work because there will always be a demand and a need for industrial agriculture. Without the complete support of the government “the peasant system” cannot be implemented; therefore Bittman’s argument is flawed.

Right now, as a society, we are too focused on the quantity of food: producing the maximum amount we can with the space we have. But we should be looking at the quality of food and making sure people have access to food. We must try to develop and improve traditional agriculture through new technologies to meet the modern demand for food. To change the way we farm is going to take a global initiative and it starts in the US.  The US is a world leader and must begin to lead the way to more sustainable and efficient food production methods. To feed the world with traditional agriculture requires a huge change. Unfortunately, this change is not coming anytime soon.







{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: