Appendix D: annotated research paper.
Professors Zraly and Storm
Food and Wine Seminar
10 October 2005
An In-Depth Analysis of a Life Lived in the Dirt My mother used to be a farmer. She didn't grow tomatoes or corn or soybeans, but she had a small arid plot of land just outside of town where she would slave on her hands and knees bringing up delicate flowers and herbs from the dusty soil. Before dawn every Saturday, the flowers that were open and the herbs that were mature would be snipped or dug up and transplanted into small pots, loaded into our family station wagon/and chauffeured to the weekly farmers' market held on the capital square of our little town. There they were put on display and sold to the local townspeople for either home planting or consumption. This farmers' market, like most local farmers' markets, was open from spring to early winter, or as long as there was anything to grow and sell in the area.
I have very vivid memories of these early Saturday mornings because I would participate in them with my mother. I remember anxious car trips in the pre-dawn light, hoping that the plants wouldn't tip over during the ride to the square and that once we arrived, the plants would be sold. I remember eating the herbs that weren't sold, along with vegetables that my mother traded for the plants that weren't sold. I remember eating items that had been submerged in the very unappetizing dirt of my mom's field just a few hours prior. I remember wondering if everybody else in America ate as well as I did.
I wondered this same idea last month at the University of California at Santa Cruz while eating a lunch that, once again, consisted of foods that had been submerged in dirt just a few hours prior. The apprentices who worked the fields agreed with me about the superior quality of the organic food they had grown. As I saw the way that the apprentices relied on organic foods and how they supported organic farming and eating, a new question arose. "If this is the way that food should be produced in America, is it possible to produce enough for everybody?" For the rest of my time at UCSC, this was the thought in my mind and the question on my lips. If organics is best for the soil and the body, can it be utilized at a level that will feed everybody?
After many questions and much research I have come to the conclusion that there are parts of the world that benefit environmentally and socially from environmentally friendly (EFA) systems. America is not currently in a place where large-scale EFA systems can be supported economically, but with the proper growth and advancement in knowledge and technology, combined with the ultimate futility of conventional agricultural practices, organic and sustainable agriculture can and should be the nation's predominant agricultural system.
Let it be said that an EFA system, such as organics, sustainable and biodynamic farming, is defined generally as one that "relies on ecosystem management rather than external agricultural inputs" for the growth, protection, and overall success of the crops (Organic Agriculture). An example would be instead of using a pesticide to kill a natural insect predator of a crop, a different crop is grown near the primary crop, attracting a different insect that feeds off of the predator insect. All of the plants are indigenous, as well as the insects they bring, and the ecosystem is not affected negatively. In contrast, a conventional agricultural system is one that relies on "off-farm inputs" such as pesticides, herbicides, and other agro-chemicals for the success of the crop, with the main focus being on the success of the crop and not the ecosystem as a whole. In the earlier example, the farmers would spray pesticides on the crops in order to kill the insect pest (Organic Agriculture)
In general, the areas of the world that are currently best suited for EFA systems are underdeveloped or poor regions, or small self-sustained communities. This is because EFA systems tend to rely on the natural resources that are currently available, as opposed to expensive inputs such as chemicals and machinery.
Burkina Faso is in an area of sub-Saharan Africa where desertification and soil erosion is a major problem, stealing millions of hectares of arable land every year. Desertification is the spread of desert-like conditions to areas that were once arable, caused by overgrazing of livestock, improper irrigation, and planting too many crops in one area (WorldFactbook). A traditional method of sustainable farming was rediscovered in the area, and now the traditional method of "Zai" is being applied to these damaged lands. According to Nicholas Parrott and Terry Marsden of Cardiff University, since this process was started in 1990, the food supply has become less vulnerable as the process of desertification is in reverse and the land is producing more (38). Zai "involves making seed holes 20-30 cm wide and deep and using the earth to make a raised 'demi-lune' barrier on the downslope side. Compost and/or natural phosphate is placed in each hole and sorghum or millet seeds planted when it rains" (Parrott and Marsden 39). The process allows the seeds to grow in a reservoir of fertilized water in what would otherwise be barren land. As a result of using the Zai' method, more water seeps into and is retained in the earth because of its enhanced composition and proliferating insect population. To prevent the earth from wearing away, rocks are saved to build retaining walls around the fields (Parrott and Marsden 39).
This form of EFA has had innumerable positive effects on the environment of Burkina Faso. Since the early 1990s, the return of over 100,000 hectares to arable condition has improved crop production by 35%. Further, production has stabilized between dry and wet years (Parrott and Marsden 39).
There have also been many social benefits in Burkina Faso because of Zai'. Like other organic farming methods, it requires manpower and thus has increased employment for men who might otherwise have moved from these rural areas to find jobs in the larger cities. This combined with the greater yield on crops and the increased return on sales has strengthened the food security for the people; they now have more reliable food sources year-round. Neighboring nations such as Niger, which was once known for abuse of agrochemicals, have adopted this traditional farming method and met with the same success, restoring 5,800 hectares of degraded land in recent years (Parrott and Marsden 39).
Zai' has strong cultural importance as well. As the soil continues to improve through this ancient, environmentally friendly method, both crop production and jobs have expanded while the movement of the population away from the countryside and toward the cities has decelerated (Parrott and Madsen 39). The use of Zai' has helped to validate the importance of local knowledge and culture. Knowing that they relied on traditional practices and "indigenous knowledge" to succeed where technology was failing, the citizens of Burkina Faso now have the self-confidence to address other environmental and social issues; as a nation they can be more self-reliant. Because of these events Burkino Faso was the first African country to host the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) International Scientific Conference, where it was stated that "organic agriculture in developing countries is not a luxury but a precondition for attaining food security" (qtd. in Parrott and Marsden 38).
Another account of a beneficial agricultural transfer from conventional farming to EFA comes from The Maikaal Bio-Cotton Project, in Madhya Pradesh, India. Cotton is a crop that is especially prone to insect infestation, and the typical method of defense is the application of bountiful amounts of pesticides and insecticides. This was how farmers in Madhya Pradesh dealt with the whitefly pest, despite the evident health damage it was causing the ecosystem and the workers. Despite repeated applications of pesticides, the whitefly problem did not relent, as the fly had developed pesticide resistance to the specific pesticide used on the plants. The solution for most farmers was either to switch to a new pesticide or to a new cash crop. Many chose the latter due to "declining returns and toxicity problems" (Parrott and Marsden 24).
Rather than completely shut down, in 1992 several cotton farmers joined together with their local spinning mill to start India's first certified organic agriculture project. One technique used was to determine a natural insect predator of the whitefly, and then to grow plants that attracted this natural predator to close proximity to the cotton. The natural predators consume the whitefly, reducing the insect problem. Other techniques such as crop-rotation with wheat, soybeans and chili, mating pattern disruption of the whitefly, and organic compost-spreading have been implemented. In seven years, the project has grown from several farms' worth of land to almost 1,000 farmers and over 15,000 acres of land. The project now uses many other biodynamic techniques that have been developed by organic chemists that work for the project (Parrott and Marsden 24-5).
As a whole, the farms involved in the project report a 20% higher yield of organic cotton, soybeans, wheat, and chili than other farms in the area that are not participating. The higher yield means higher income as well due to the crops' certified organic status. Composting has resulted in soil that retains moisture more efficiently and has cut down the amount of weeds that grow around the crops. In addition, "labour requirements are substantially reduced and production costs for organic cotton are 30-40% of those for conventional production" (Parrott and Marsden 25).
One final benefit of the Maikaal Bio-Cotton Project was that it opened India up to the relatively new organic cotton export market, where the majority of the demand came from industrialized nations like the USA. Since the cotton was certified organic, it carried a much higher price tag than conventional cotton and the farmers received a larger payment (Parrott and Marsden 25).
By these two accounts I have strived to show that an organic or sustainable agriculture system can have manifold benefits on ecosystems that are unbalanced or altogether destroyed, and on the economy and culture of the region in which they are grown. Obviously different growing regions present different environmental and social challenges, but the essence of EFA is that it strengthens the relationship between the ecosystem and the economy. The economy of a region that practices EFA inherently relies on the overall stability and health of the ecosystem, and as the ecosystem detoxifies itself and returns to a more balanced state, it naturally produces a higher yield of more resilient crops, which then catch a higher market price (Posey).
What about America and other industrialized nations that already have a strong conventional farming system built on efficiency and maximum output? In the short run, there is very little chance that organic agriculture can sustain the demand needed to feed everybody. The problem does not lie in whether or not an EFA system can produce the needed volume of food on the same amount of land that is currently being farmed conventionally, but in that the logistics of distribution make it economically unfeasible (Organic Agriculture).
The reason the price of organic food is often so much higher in stores is because EFA farms operate on much smaller scales of output, but they still pay the same price for storage and transportation that conventional farmers do. In some cases distribution costs are higher for organics, since by law they must still be segregated from conventional foods during transportation and holding. This increases the price of the food substantially, but since organic foods are still relatively limited in terms of supply, the demand raises the price even higher. Large farming organizations in America offset the incredibly high price of storing and shipping crops with the large volumes of crops that they handle. This is called economies of scale (Organic Agriculture).
Currently the most economically successful organic systems in America are small self-sustained communities, similar to the one I grew up in. This is because labor and transportation costs are virtually nonexistent due to the incredible small volume of production. The costs for labor, handling, and distribution stay within the economy, and they achieve efficiency because oftentimes the transportation costs are no more than paying for gas in the family station wagon (Posey). Also, entities that sell less than $5,000 a year or less in organic food do not have to be certified "Organic" by the USDA. This "flying beneath the radar" allows these local farmers to dramatically reduce their initial overheads (Massiello).
Although it is not economically feasible currently, a sustainable system of agriculture very well may be necessary for the continual production of food in this country. As the population of the nation and world grow, more stress is put on conventional forms for higher yields of crops. This stress often comes in the form of chemical fertilizers and other agrochemicals. According to Biotechnology giant Monsanto CEO Robert Shapiro, the end result of these stressors along with conventional farming methods is "loss of topsoil, of salinity of soil as a result of irrigation, and ultimate reliance on petrochemicals" (qtd. in Vasilikiotis). Shapiro has also stated that "the commercial industrial technologies that are used in agriculture today to feed the world ... are not inherently sustainable. They have not worked well to promote either selfsufficiency or food security in developing countries." Feeding the world with a continual reliable food source "is out of the question with current agricultural practice" (qtd. in Vasilikiotis). In the long run, conventional agricultural systems that are reliant on agrochemicals produce weak soil, weak plants, and the need for more agrochemicals to sustain yields.
One last research project worth mentioning comes from the University of California-Davis, called the Sustainable Agriculture Farming Systems Project (SAFS). This eight-year project was conducted during the 1990s to compare "conventional farming systems with alternative production systems that promote sustainable agriculture" (Vasilikiotis). It measured the yields of two-year and four-year conventional farming systems, organic systems, and low-input systems. The crops grown were tomatoes, corn, safflower, and beans (SAFS).
At the end of eight years, the conventional, organic, and low-input systems all had generally comparable yields. The yields of the organic system were lower for the first three years, but once the soil was detoxified of the agrochemicals used in previous years, the yields increased to the same level as those of the conventional system, and then ultimately surpassed the conventional system by the last years of the reports (the study is still active). All throughout this test period the nitrogen, organic carbon, and nutrient content levels of the organic and low-input systems increased, while the nutrient content levels in the conventional system decreased (Vasilikiotis).
What this study shows is that although the costs to raise the organic crops were higher, they returned a higher yield than the conventional two- and four-year systems. There was also a visible increase in the soil quality as compared to the conventional system, and when the organic crops were sold at a premium price, there was a significantly higher gross return over the conventional system (SAFS). For the future of our nation's food source, we should be looking towards organics, sustainable agriculture, and other EFA systems. Despite the initial cost of production, they offer what appears to be the only viable option for reliably feeding all the people in the nation. In the event that society realizes its need for a self-sustainable agriculture system, organics could fill the total production level that would be left by conventional farming. If the nation were dedicated enough to invest in large-scale EFA production systems, economies of scale could be reached in terms of the volume of crops that would be transported at one time. In volume, shipping and distribution could be cost-effective. This would dramatically reduce the market price for organic foods, making them a practical option.
The current place in our world for organic, sustainable, and biodynamic agriculture is very uncertain. It has been proven that they are successful in areas of the world that suffer from environmental pollution or degradation, and where conventional farming practices are no longer an option due to pests developing immunities to agrochemicals. EFA systems restore life to the land, and can increase the economical stability of poor regions by creating new jobs, increasing income levels, and helping to assure food security. Unfortunately, due to the prices of production and distribution compared to the volume being distributed, EFA systems are too expensive for American farmers and consumers to support on a large scale. Thus, the maximum benefit of many organic systems goes to the local community. Organics and other EFA systems must be taken seriously when it comes to long-term food production. They have proven to produce high yields and long-term stability.
It is often said that "United we stand, divided we fall." I believe that this old adage holds true for humanity's relationship with the environment. It was Kate Posey, the wistful tour guide at Santa Cruz, who said, "We see things so neatly arranged in grocery stores, sometimes we forget what the plant looks like." She was speaking of the disconnect between human beings and their food, how we as a society often forget that food comes not from a grocery store, but from being submerged in very unappetizing dirt. It is the connection with the dirt that makes us appreciate the taste of the food, and understand our place in the ecosystem. Organics brings society, economy, and ecology back into a state of interdependence and strength. But just as with soil quality, it will take a few years to detoxify the society and economy and to reach maximum yield.
Massiello, Geneva. "Organic Food and Global Sustainability." Term paper. Plaza at the University of Florida. U of Florida, 2002. Web. 7 Oct. 2005.
Organic Agriculture at FAO. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Web. 7 Oct. 2005.
Parrott, Nicholas, and Terry Madsen. The Real Green Revolution: Organic andAgroecological Farming in the South. London: Greenpeace Environmental Trust, 2002. Greenpeace. Web. 5 Oct. 2005.
Posey, Kate. "Organic Nature." Talk given at University of California Santa Cruz, Organic Garden, 14 Sept. 2005. Lecture.
Sustainable Agriculture Farming Systems Project (SAFS). "Economic Viability of Organic and Low-Input Farming Systems." Sustainable Agriculture Farming Systems Project Sept. 1997. U of California Davis. Web. 7 Oct. 2005.
Vasilikiotis, Christos, PhD. "Can Organic Farming 'Feed the World'?" November 2000. U of California, Berkeley. Web. 7 Oct. 2005 <http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/~christos/articles/cv_organic_ farming.html>.
The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency. 2005. Web. 7 Oct. 2005.
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|Title Annotation:||APPENDICES; Travis P. Becket's "An In-Depth Analysis of a Life Lived in the Dirt"|
|Author:||Cadbury, Vivian C.|
|Publication:||A Taste for Writing, Composition for Culinarians|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2015|
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