Jon Foley argues for resilient integration of industrial and organic agriculture

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.

6 thoughts on “Jon Foley argues for resilient integration of industrial and organic agriculture”

  1. Monoculture has got to go. Biodiversity must be maintained. Heritage varieties may save our lives one day soon. Also, urban gardens need to be supported. Engage the children. Our public school properties are wastelands, while one in four kids in this province don’t get adequate nutrition. Dig up enough space on these properties to teach the children how to grow food. They can utilise it at school and be ready to make good choices into adulthood. Urban children are also poorly educated about where food comes from, never mind how to produce it. The major problem there is, to many of us are 2 generations from the farm. “Get back, get back, get back to where you want to go!”

  2. Also, considering Peak Oil and Global warming, we must realise that sweat equity is better than mechanisation. Sorry, think small, save big!

  3. I’m all for education, urban farming and victory gardens but the whole monoculture topic is a little more complex than is commonly assumed. Heritage and landrace varieties hold a lot of diversity in quality and abiotic stress tolerance traits, but generally are more homogenous in pest and disease resistance than modern industrial varieties.

    I don’t agree that manual labor is better than mechanization. Gardening is relaxing and fulfilling, but weeding and picking large-scale operations is seriously grueling.

    At any rate, this post is absolutely correct – we need to integrate heavily-engineered, modern genotypes in an intensive form of ag that looks holistically at soil health and the impacts on native ecosystems that exist along the margins and downstream. Industrial and organic ag are complementary despite the black and white rhetoric.

  4. Thanks for this thought provoking article. I fully agree that everybody is on board, and by integrating all, new forms will emerge.
    The Earth is such a complex system that solutions will be valid in certain ” contexts ” and in others not. So that means being resilient at the local level by engaging more in self-reliance, but without falling into the trap of selfishness. We are all connected in spite of the apparent distance that keep us away from each other. Today, we see a convergence of different sciences, lines of thought and technologies that were separated before, this is leading us to an emergence of a new ways of becoming rather than a new way of doing.

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