Jon Foley argues for the integration of industrial and organic agriculture to meet the challenge of rising demand for agriculture production in a turbulent world in Room for Debate Blog on Can Biotech Food Cure World Hunger?
… Currently, there are two paradigms of agriculture being widely promoted: local and organic systems versus globalized and industrialized agriculture. Each has fervent followers and critics. Genuine discourse has broken down: You’re either with Michael Pollan or you’re with Monsanto. But neither of these paradigms, standing alone, can fully meet our needs.
Organic agriculture teaches us important lessons about soils, nutrients and pest management. And local agriculture connects people back to their food system. Unfortunately, certified organic food provides less than 1 percent of the world’s calories, mostly to the wealthy. It is hard to imagine organic farming scaling up to feed 9 billion.
Globalized and industrialized agriculture have benefits of economic scalability, high output and low labor demands. Overall, the Green Revolution has been a huge success. Without it, billions of people would have starved. However, these successes have come with tremendous environmental and social costs, which cannot be sustained.
Rather than voting for just one solution, we need a third way to solve the crisis. Let’s take ideas from both sides, creating new, hybrid solutions that boost production, conserve resources and build a more sustainable and scalable agriculture.
There are many promising avenues to pursue: precision agriculture, mixed with high-output composting and organic soil remedies; drip irrigation, plus buffer strips to reduce erosion and pollution; and new crop varieties that reduce water and fertilizer demand. In this context, the careful use of genetically modified crops may be appropriate, after careful public review.
A new “third way” for agriculture is not only possible, it is necessary. Let’s start by ditching the rhetoric, and start bridging the old divides. Our problems are huge, and they will require everyone at the table, working together toward solutions.