It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Global View on Food Security

A pretty rushed article on WIRED points to an address to AAAS by Per Pinstrup-Andersen of Cornell. It's hard to get the gist of the talk from the report, but P-A himself looks like a good source.

According to the report he does not believe organic agriculture suffices.

3 comments:

Dano said...

His research showed that organic ag was labor-intensive, which it is. As humans have forgotten about crop rotation and...um...colocation of plants and animals (hence my bringing up Polyface Farms before), we cannot eliminate this labor-intensity (out of ignorance, not capacity). Anyway,

His team concluded that in sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS and globalization made organic a poor choice.

The issue here is, to me, lack of imagination and urbanzation. We can fix the problem, we know how, but will we?

"Mother earth: we could have saved it but we were too damn cheap and lazy."

Caveat: I live on the Colo Front Range, and I'm starting cool-season seeds next weekend to plant out starting March 15th.

Ask me how, as I'm working on my methods so I can semi-retire in ~10 years to teach people how to grow food cheaply in their subdivision. Gas oughta be expensive enough to keep me busy enough by then.

Best,

D

Michael Tobis said...

Labor intensive is not a showstopper by any means. Animal intensive though... hmmm....

Exactly how much biomass in animals does it take to support a unit of biomass in humans? It seems to me like you have *more* mouths to feed that way. Um, so how does that work?

Again, I'm not arguing that you shouldn't do this. My tentative belief is that it's a luxury, not a scalable model. I have nothing against luxuries.

If I'm wrong, show me global biogeochemical arguments, not local economic ones.

Admittedly I haven;t seen anything convincing recently from either side. I'm basing my beliefs on an article in Scientific American from a long time ago. Maybe I'm wrong but I need to see somebody do numbers.

It seems to me that, stipulating clean energy, agriculture based on animals has more impact than agriculture based on machines. Machines don't compete with humans for nutrients and fresh water.

Dano said...

I wrote a paper some years ago in AgEcon where I calculated the EROEI on five daily food items (before it was called EROEI). I'll see if I still have it somewhere after many moves. The conclusion was that organic was way cheaper big picture-wise than industrial ag., as the organic caloric inputs were far less per caloric output.

That is: the chief virtue of organic is the inputs are solar and not petrochemical. Now, I'm not arguing whether we can feed 6.5B souls on organic, especially if wealth continues to increase and we increase our meat consumption, as meat (beef) needs 10K litres of water for 1kg of output.

I'm arguing that organic is "sustainable", and when the Oil Drum folks are crowing about being right and society has to decide from which sector to eliminate petrochemicals (food, material, transportation), shifting to organic will be a great place for a soft landing (IOW: will we eliminate fertilizer or nylon or easy automobility).

I'm not convinced industrial ag can feed 9B people with our impending water problems, so there's no way I'm convinced organic can do it. But as society bumbles away from cheap petrochemical energy, we will have a way to feed the slowly dwindling number of humans - a way that worked for the 9000 years prior to the 1960s.

Best,

D