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Tudge writes: "The greed for profit is ruining agriculture - and the world - but the trend for local shops and farmers' markets offers real hope."

Jack and Garrett help their dad feed calves. (photo: Dairy Mom)
Jack and Garrett help their dad feed calves. (photo: Dairy Mom)

Why the World Needs a Renaissance of Small Farming

By Colin Tudge, Guardian UK

21 September 12


The greed for profit is ruining agriculture - and the world - but the trend for local shops and farmers' markets offers real hope

ritish farmers can't produce pigs as cheaply as the Poles, or cattle feed as cheaply as the Brazilians, or milk as cheaply as the Americans, or fruit as cheaply as the Spanish, and if they can't pull their socks up, the market dictates, they will just have to go. According to a recent survey by the National Pig Association, about 100 small- to medium-sized pig farmers are likely to quit this year - which is 10% of them. We are losing dairy farmers by the score every month. Horticulture has long since gone by the board (whatever happened to "the garden of England", aka Kent?). Only about 1% of people in Britain now work on the land.

But it's the same everywhere. The traditional farmers of Africa and Asia are urged to give up growing food for their own people and raise commodity crops for us, in exchange for our money, which we make by banking. Of course farms should be as big as possible to achieve economies of scale, and labour must be reduced to cut costs, so most of the existing small farmers, men and women, must go. Hundreds of thousands have committed suicide in India, but most flee to the cities to join the estimated billion rural exiles who now live in urban slums (almost a third of the urban population of the country).

Objective data, of the kind that the scientists and economists who advise the powers-that-be claim to base their ideas upon, suggests that the new ways aren't working - not, at least, if we feel that the job of agriculture is to produce good food. Worldwide, 1 billion people of the present 7 billion are chronically undernourished, while another billion are chronically overnourished - such that according to an article in Nature in May the world population of diabetics now exceeds the combined population of the US and Canada, and almost all because of diet. Damage to the world at large is huge. Mainly because of industrial farming, half of all species on Earth could be extinct by the end of the century. Agriculture occupies 40% of the planet's land, but its pollution endangers creatures everywhere, including the seas, where farming run-off is destroying the coral reefs.

But the corporate-government complex that runs our lives is committed to the all-out financial competition of the neoliberal global market. So British farmers in British conditions in a British social context are head to head with peasant Africans and US mega-corporates and Ukrainian grain barons (or would be were it not for the EU subsidies) - while farming as a whole must compete for investment with cars, weapons, casinos and hair-dressing.

If British farmers can't produce more cash in the short term than the Poles or the Brazilians (or the corporates who are billeted in their countries) then they just have to go. Indeed, Tony Blair's government just a few years ago seriously mooted that British farming should go the way of its mining. It may seem hard, even vile, but, as Lady Thatcher assured us all those years ago, "there is no alternative" - and all British governments since, even those with "Labour" in the title, have taken this as gospel. The strangely-titled National Farmers Union is firmly committed to big business.

The deep trouble is the huge clash between morality, biological reality, and the present economy. Until and unless we bring the three into line, we are bound to be in trouble. More than that, we need to acknowledge that morality (what is good) and biological reality (what is necessary and possible) must lead, and the economy must be secondary. As John Maynard Keynes said many decades ago: economics must "take the back seat" and we should focus first on "our real problems, of life and human relations, of creation, and of behaviour and religion".

If we don't acknowledge the moral obligation to provide good food for everyone without wrecking the rest, then what does morality mean? There is no excuse for the present failure - for sound biological thinking shows that good food for everyone should be eminently possible. But report after report - the kind governments and big organisations choose to override - tells us that the best way to ensure that everyone is well fed, sustainably and securely, is through farms that are mixed, complex and low-input (quasi-organic). These must be labour-intensive (or there can be no complexity), so there is no advantage in them being large scale. Such farms are traditional in structure, but they need not be traditional in technology. They would benefit from good technologies and science.

But the small-to-medium mixed farms that could feed us well and provide good jobs are absolutely at odds with the modern perceived imperative to maximise wealth. To survive in the fight for profit, skilled labour must be replaced with big machines and agrochemistry; the husbandry must be simplified - monoculture rules - and all must be done on the largest possible scale. Although industrial farming doesn't feed everybody, has led to mass unemployment and the poverty and despair that go with it, and is wrecking the fabric of the world, it must prevail because it produces piles of short-term cash for the people who are calling the shots.

We need to turn things round and fast. And we means us, all of us - ordinary Joes, because the governments and corporates who run the world, and their attendant experts and intellectuals, are not going to. The standard ways to bring about change are by reform or revolution - but reform is too slow and today's politicians and the big business they are beholden to cannot change course. Revolution is too chancy and too dangerous.

So we need the third route - renaissance: build something better in situ. In effect, a people's takeover. All over the world individuals and communities are starting small mixed farms of the kind the world really needs, while others are starting small shops and farmers' markets and delivery services to serve those new farms. Thousands of organisations worldwide are seeking to promote and co-ordinate these efforts. your social media marketing partner


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-7 # mdhome 2012-09-22 22:34
Nice idea, but how will the small farmers cover expenses?
+11 # jlg 2012-09-23 03:24
Thank you, Colin! You might have added that small, mixed farms can produce as much as 4x the food as large mono-cropping farms (though the latter will yield the cheapest corn or whatever), giving a further lie to Monsanto claims to 'feed the world'. You might have touched on the health benefits of 'quasi-organic' versus GM crops, which are now being shown for the poison they are, to both humans and wildlife. How about doing away with the pesticides that are ruining our countrysides?
Small farms and local markets will beget the localization we need to restore health and vitality, if not sanity, to our communities - whether in the UK, the US, Africa. Asia or Australasia.
Working on the land is an indispensable part of growing up with a balanced view of the world for all, not least decision-makers . Vive la Renaissance!
+1 # fernly2 2012-09-23 21:16
The renaissance will happen when projects like NAWAPA control our water and climate. We've progressed from tiny ears of corn to big ears with natural evolution and genetic engineering. Unfortunately, just getting started in genetic engineering we are making some mistakes. Just look at those dogs we've bred with almost no noses. When we get some regulation of genetic engineering other than those that the big transnational corporate predators want we can with the technology now available really provide nutrition to twice as many people than we have. We can make the deserts in North America, Africa, etc. bloom. Farm to market programs must include national high speed rail systems. Farmers must sit in front of computers and drive robotic tractors. Forget mono crops, we've learned to do better. And do not forget the farmer cannot succeed against Wall St manipulation of commodities. In a nut shell: pass HR 1489 and initiate NAWAPA.
0 # KittatinyHawk 2012-09-23 21:56
Actually they will produce better crops with more nutrients/ Already a proven fact that small gardener and farmer food is better...kind of like clothes, etc produced by robot or slave labor not the same as the Corporations we had and the people working in them.
We had the best now we all buy crap...Even designer names are worst in all regards but they are also cheesy.

We used to wear real cotton, real wool now we were plastic, fuzz that used to be liner for boots, and some shiny materials that were liner for wallets, shoes, and jackets. Yup love the Fashion Heads....Guess what you are wearing today...caching , caching
+10 # RMDC 2012-09-23 05:59
Yes, this is right. 1 billion people are malnourished because they lack the cash to buy food. If they had access to land, they would grow food as they have done for generations. Globally, food production is being consolidated into the control of huge global corporations. This will leave very many people out of the system because they have no access to cash and no access to land.

The British were the main advocates in the early 20th century of destroying peasant cultures by demanding cash economies. In all of their colonies, they destroyed local production and barter and demanded that people buy all they need with cash. That meant they had to work for a wage. Of course, this left 100s of million of people to starve to death.

The British and now the Americans are still at this game. Bill Gates and his multibillion dollar foundation is the leader here. It should be called what it really is -- genocide. As corporate farms take control of food production in Africa, people are left out and starve. That's Bill Gates' plan. He is just as much an engineer of genocide as any Nazi.

Small and local food producers are much better able to feed all people. And they provide work for far more people. Sometime the work is for barter, with no cash needed.

I totally agree -- this is a moral issue on a global scale. The US and UK are following policies of genocide.
+13 # RMDC 2012-09-23 06:28
Another point here. Corporations are gobbling of the food production industry because the logic of corporation is growth. They cannot help what they do. It the US 3 or 4 pig producers grow almost all the hogs. Soon, 3 or 4 pig producers will produce all the pigs in the world.

Only government regulation can stop this. It is the natural development for corporations. If you are a corporate pig producer, you cannot stop your self from buying out your competitors and taking a larger market share. That's what you do.

All of this is really horrible for the world and for pigs. Pigs raised by corporations are only industrial raw materials. They are handled in the same way iron ore is handled -- in bulk and by machinery. This is cruel and inhumane treatment for animals which are sentient being. It is illegal and the laws should be enforces.

Small farmers tend to treat their animals a lot better. They are almost pets. Children often tend the animals and children understand the mentality of farm animals. I know. I grew up on a small farm and I tended pigs, sheep, cows, and all manner of animals.

Can the people of the world stop the onward march of corporations toward total ownership of everything. It is not looking good. The corps are winning and we are losing. But corps are death cults. They will destroy themselves by their own logic.
+3 # maverita 2012-09-23 07:45
and when your country can no longer provide food for its own people it will be super vulnerable to any sort of disruption in the supply line, or God forbid, an embargo.
+1 # KittatinyHawk 2012-09-23 21:58
We have not been feeding our own since before the depression...
We paid farmers not to grow and still do, called farm subsidies... Many farmers are getting what they all comes around.

If everyone in every Country would trade seeds, we would all have food. Do not need farms to grow food...that is just another excuse to let everyone do it for us.
+8 # Eliza D 2012-09-23 12:10
Few people would think that JM Keynes was more concerned about "life and human relations" than profits for business. Maybe if we start buying our eggs from the guy down the road, and our milk from the lady across the street, we will start to feel connected to one another again, instead of isolated in this cold, ugly morass that American consumer culture has become. Bein healthy AND happy, what a concept!
+1 # KittatinyHawk 2012-09-23 21:59
LocalHarvest can show you organic and good farmers in your areas...
+2 # CarolynScarr 2012-09-23 16:02
Another factor to consider is that mega-farming is destructive of the land itself and the profits reaped by the few at the top are short term while the damage is long term, and permanent.
In Albany, California, a group of urban agriculturalist s occupied a piece of land deeded by a local farmer to the University of California with the intended purpose of researching small scale and sustainable agriculture.
UC is known for the development of the "square tomato" that tasteless object which can be picked by machine and is bought in our grocery stores by people who have forgotten what tomatoes are supposed to taste like. Occupy the Farm followed in the footsteps of a group of local city dwellers who had been trying for a couple of decades to use the land for its intended purpose.
UC and the city "fathers" of Albany are looking to turn some great alluvial land into a shopping mall and "market rate" condo complex where the misnames "Whole Food" store will attempt to drive out of business the local farmers market operating nearby. ps. Whole Foods is a known union buster.
Come to the EPI dinner, Oct 14 for more on this subject.
Visit for details.
+1 # KittatinyHawk 2012-09-23 22:01
It also is bad for water, animals, air...

In spoiled generation after generation who has to have I said above our food like our taste in bought goods is horrendous. We have less taste in either than a poor or homeless person.

We have allowed the manufacturing companies leave and the local farmer to go down Super Walmart Freaks .... knock offs now all supermarkets have no conscience esp poor areas.

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