WTO suggests abolishing agri-biz subsidies
|July 11, 2008||Posted by Jeffery J. Smith under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
WTO suggests abolishing agri-biz subsidies
Turning your lawn into a victory garden won’t save you, but justice will
We trim, blend, and append two 2008 articles, the first posted June 23 at AlterNet. The writer is a plant breeder in Salina, Kansas and author of Sick Planet: Corporate Food and Medicine.
By Stan Cox
To save the agricultural landscapes of the nation or world, some homeowners plant their yards with fruits and vegetables. However, most of what we eat are grains and oilseeds. Its the big-commodity market that must be dethroned.
Don’t get me wrong. Other than that tending a garden takes a lot of time, I can think of no downside to edible landscaping, if it’s done without soil erosion or toxic chemicals. It:
- * can look good;
* saves money on groceries;
* is a direct provocation to the toxic lawn culture; gardening is quieter and less polluting than running a power mower or other contraption; and
* the harvest provides a substitute for industrially grown produce raised and picked by underpaid, oversprayed workers.
As the edible-landscaping trend is catching on across the country, suppose that half of the land on every one-acre-or-smaller urban/suburban home lot in the entire nation were devoted to food-growing.
* That area would not cover the country’s produce needs, much less displace our huge volume of fresh-food imports.
* Anyway, vegetables and fruits occupy only about 4% of global agricultural land (and a smaller percentage in this country), compared with 75% of world cropland devoted to grains and oilseeds.
* A greater number of healthy acres of native grasses and other plants are slated to be plowed up to make way for yet more corn, wheat, soybeans, and other grains under the newly passed federal Farm Bill.
* We could plant every yard to wheat, corn, or soybeans, which would account only for a little over 2% of the US land sown to those crops.
* Other policies, like dispensing with grain-fed meat and fuel ethanol, would free up far more grain-belt land than that.
America, Argentina, and a handful of other countries raise cattle that are totally grass-fed instead of grain-fed and thereby consuming less corn and soybean meal. But most of the world is utterly dependent on grains. With a world population now approaching seven billion people and most good cropland already in use, only rice, wheat, corn, beans, and other grain crops are productive and durable enough to provide the dietary foundation of calories and protein.
We’ve been stuck with grains for 10,000 years. Because grains hold calories and nutrients in a dense package that can be stored for long periods and transported, ancient societies could accumulate surpluses. Grains made up about the same portion of the ancient Greek diet as they do of ours.
Managing agriculture fomented an elite and state. Another problem with grains — which are short-lived annual plants, grown largely in monoculture — is that they supplanted the diverse, perennial plant ecosystems that covered the earth before the dawn of agriculture. We’ve been living with the resulting soil erosion and water pollution ever since.
The past century has seen relentless efforts to mold agriculture into the factory model. Use of farm machinery, fertilizers, and chemicals dovetails with food processing, packaging, advertising, and the restaurant industry. In the US, the dollar outputs of those dependent industries are growing at two to four times the rate of agriculture’s own dollar output, putting ever-greater demands on the soil.
With a wholesale shift toward mechanization of US agriculture, 75% of economic output now comes from fewer than 7% of farms; furthermore, there has been a steep rise in the proportion of farms owned by investors living in distant cities (some of them perhaps avid urban gardeners).
With land and wealth being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands (and with more prisoners than farmers in America) we have reached a point at which land reform is as necessary here as it is in any nation of Latin America or Asia.
Americans must step out of the garden and into the public arena to abolish subsidies to agri-business.
AP (July 3): The World Trade Organization chief, Pascal Lamy, said poor nations that still have large areas of land that could be farmed have been hurt by a lack of investment, as well as farm subsidies in rich nations that allow the EU and US to export food cheaply to developing countries. This helped restrict the production capacity of developing countries and are partly responsible for high food prices and hunger.
JJS: Instead of subsidizing agri-business, itd help for government to collect the rent of land. That would spur owners of huge estates to sell off their excess acreage, usually to former tenants. Then pay the citizenry, including farmers, a dividend. Enjoying that cushion would give farmers the leverage they now lack in dealing with buyers of harvests. Farmers could negotiate a better deal for themselves, while working a smaller farm is an easier size to cultivate organically.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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