>The usual reason is financial. The rub, of course, is that an
>unprofitable >farm (almost by definition) isn't sustainable.
Connie Falk wrote:
>Are you saying that sustainable farms are not financially feasible?
I have been doing substantial research on this problem. I am finding that
the economic imperatives (as defined by our current economic system) of
agriculture tend to contradict the ecological or biophysical imperatives of
Before giving examples, I wish to point out that the evidence of my work
suggests that our current economic system promotes behaviour that is
ecologically unsustainable. If you accept the premise that ecological
sustainability, (i.e. maintaining life-support systems: maintaining the
ecological basis of our existence; living within the carrying capacity of
our planet) is a prerequisite for the existence of society or economy, then
the implication is that our social and economic systems must adapt to
ecological reality and the biophysical constraints of ecological
sustainability. Only in that context is a truly sustainable agriculture
Competition and the need to survive economically pushes farmers onto an
intensification of production/productivity treadmill and a chemical
Minimising costs is an imperative. Sustaining the resource base and
surrounding ecosystems is a cost. If you pay this cost you cannot compete
unless everyone pays it. If government forces everyone to pay, you cannot
compete in the GATT/WTO environment.
Discounting makes it economically irrational to invest now in
sustainability measures where the benefits tend to accrue slowly over time
and well into the future. Economic rationality is not ecologically
Agricultural economists define a viable farm as one that can grow its
assets faster than the rate of inflation. This means that the farms assets
must grow exponentially as they must grow over time at the inflation
percentage. Farm debt has the same effect. Since the resource base of the
farm is fixed at best and in the majority of cases degrades over time under
the pressures of competitive industrial agriculture, attempts to grow the
assets at an exponential rate can only be achieved at the expense of
liquidating the resource base - which is what we have done and is why most
agriculture is unsustainable in the long run.
The exception to these examples is where farmers can carefully husband and
sustain the resource base and be profitable through meeting a niche market
where supernormal profits can be achieved. Cut flowers, herbs, medicinal
plants, organic produce are some examples. However, as more players enter
a given niche, competition emerges, this cuts the supernormal profits, and
competitive treadmills and cost cutting come into play and we are back to
where we started.
The implication is that the survival imperative is to redesign our
societies in ways that make our social, economic, and technical systems,
ecologically rational. This means giving ecological imperatives priority
over economic imperatives.
I would welcome support and criticism of these findings.
Yours for a sustainable future,
Nathan QLD 4111
Tel: 617 3875 7683
Fax: 617 3875 7459