This part of me began one Sunday in church. There was no Sunday school for the kids during the sermon so we sat through the whole thing. Usually I concentrated on making the votive candles blur into stars by squinting. But on this day my ears perked up when farms were mentioned. I don't remember the exact context of the sermon, but the image of a poor farmer using poisons so his crop would flourish then having to eat them, despite the risks didn't just stick in my mind, it influenced my beliefs profoundly.
This was in the early 1980's and the green revolution was in full swing, proclaiming an imminent end to world hunger.
Why was there a perceived need for a new way of doing things?
In the Punjab regions of India and Pakistan increases in yield were historically associated with increases in the amount of land under cultivation (Murgai et al 2001).. Naturally this pattern of continued growth is unsustainable and undesirable. In order to increase yields there are 3 other areas which can be turned to, irrigation, new plant varieties and irrigation projects.
And that is just what was done in these regions, irrigation schemes were established, fertilisers were applied and "improved" or higher yielding varieties of crops were planted.
The result unsurprisingly was an increase in the yield from these regions.
But that is not the end of the story at all.
The situation can be summarised as follows.....
In 2001 In the Indian sate of Haryana
- 82% of the geographic area already under cultivation
- Fertiliser requirements have increased
- 60% of the geographical area faces soil degradation
- Since 1985, the water table has risen more than 1m annually, and patches of salinity have started to appear at the farm level.
To increase yields most of the land that could be farmed was being farmed, fertility, soil structure and water quality have all being negatively impacted and in order to keep yields high or to increase them further investment has being required. The marginal return has diminished reducing the resilience of the system.
And that is when you start needing to run to stay in the same spot, constantly coming up with new farming methods, plant varieties and finding ways of reducing costs.
What is more the situation must be reversed if yields are not to decrease and that, takes money.
Australia has had similar experience with salinity and water quality in the wheat belts and in cropping areas such as the Lockyer valley. Salinity resulting from irrigation practises in Australia affects about 16% of the agricultural area, and up tot 67% of the agricultural area has a potential for ‘transient salinity’ which involves temporary build ups of salts within soils.(Rengasamy 2006)
Essentially our current methods of farming are not sustainable and ultimately reduce the ability of agricultural land to produce sufficient food to feed the world.
Currently I'm reading up on this and sometime soon will write up a post about this. Be warned this post is also likely to be edited a lot.
- Murgai R, Ali M,Byerlee 2001 Productivity Growth and sustainability in post Green Revolution Agriculture: The case of the Indian and Pakistani Punjabs, The world Bank research observer vol 16 no 2 pp199-218.
- Singh R B 2000 Environmental consequences of agricultural development: a case study from the Green Revolution state of Haryana, India,Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 82 (2000) 97–103
- Rengasamy P 2006 World salinization with emphasis on Australia Journal of Experimental Botany Volume 57, Issue 5 Pp. 1017-1023.