Of course we need high yields to feed people. But we have high yields now
and don't feed people, not because there isn't enough food but rather
because the people who are hungry have no money to buy anything, and they
probably have no land on which to grow anything. We can only analyze this
situation with a systems or structural approach, and economics has to be
part of the analysis. We have to ask questions about the ownership and
control of resources including land, the ownership and control of the
entire processing and marketing infrastructure, and a lot else. The
problem with most academics under the sway of neo-classical economics is
that current economic arrangements are assumed to be more or less
immutable. Cargill will always be Cargill. Oh really? Aren't we getting
to the essence of sustainability here, when we ask questions about Cargill?
If the right wingers can ask these questions intelligently, more power to
Hal Hamilton, responding to:
>> Hudson Institute and from some of their past reports, I think it safe to say
>> that this institute is a think-tank run and funded by people operating with
>> a set of right-of-center political and economic presuppositions. Some of
>> this is apparent in their press release on the paper. I plan to read the
>> report when it becomes available, but will do so with this in mind.
>[the following comments are inspired by, rather than a response to
>the above remarks...]
>Are right-of-center political and economic presuppositions necessarily
>a problem ? Do they in any way diminish the quality of the work or the
>logic of the interpretation ?
>Certainly left-of-center political and economic presuppositions are more
>than amply represented amongst current proponents of 'sustainable'
>agriculture. Unfortunately, there seems to be a tendency to present
>materials coming from the 'left' as neutral and somehow free of bias,
>while that coming from the 'right' is held suspect in many circles.
>Neither the 'left' nor the 'right' has a monopoly on Revealed Truth, and
>the agricultural/ecological/population challenges we face are of
>such great magnitude that we would all do very well to keep our minds
>open and have a good rousing debate to flesh out our differences. A debate
>not to determine who are 'winners' and who are 'losers,' but to figure
>out honestly and with sincere hearts just what we are collectively and
>individually going to do about the challenges. A simple (and largely
>intellectual) conviction that things *ought* to be one way or the other
>is a luxury we can no longer afford.
>To often, as I have worked in Latin America, have I come across regions
>where virtually every wild thing bigger than a hamster has long since
>gone into one stewpot or another, and where forest is being cut down in
>order to grow maize on a 40-degree slope.
>Whatever the bias, the reality of much of the world is such that
>Dennis Avery's conclusions cannot be ignored in the short to medium
>term. As an agronomist and long-time proponent of organic agriculture,
>I wish it were otherwise, but our options have been severely limited
>by population pressure.
>And if world population pressure (60% of the population of Ecuador,
>for example, is under age 20!) is not resolved, then even Mr. Avery's
>vision will be for nought. The population problem will be resolved,
>one way or another -- most of the options, however, are rather messy and
>My belief is that Avery-style high-yield agriculture might actually
>be able to buy the world some time to deal with population pressure,
>but it certainly doesn't seem sustainable over the long term, and
>if the population problem isn't resolved, then Avery's suggestions
>are probably pointless in any case.
>I am quite cognizant of the weaknesses in Avery's arguments (high-
>yield agriculture has been generally quite devastating to wildlife of
>various sorts; debatable assumptions about productivity and yield in
>organic / sustainable sysstems; etc. etc.) but his overall point
>must be taken both seriously and in context.
>Agricultural sustainability will not arrive overnight. If high-yield
>agriculture can achieve true sustainability -- wonderful, it's worth
>trying. If it can be practised in ways that still move the farms in
>the general direction of greater sustainability -- that's not too bad.
>If it can merely avoid further damage and manage to co-exist with
>sustainable-systems-under-development -- that's at least tolerable.
>But the only justification I can see for going down that road at all
>is to gain some extra time during which an effective system of world
>population control can succeed. If Mr. Avery and his colleagues at
>Hudson can propose a program of population control with considerable
>probability of success -- and link it in a well-reasoned way with
>high-yield farming -- then it certainly merits serious consideration
>regardless of the political leanings of its proponents.