So the UK’s chief scientist Sir John Beddington – and so many others – has declared that the world can no longer afford to block cultivation of genetically-modified food crops on moral or ethical grounds, since population growth cannot be supported by existing food production. Predictable sentiments.
My resistance to such declarations is not a denial of the the potential science has to contribute to feeding the world, even though I do retain serious doubts of the capacity of science or anybody else to accurately predict the consequences of their inventions. Where I protest is in the field of the blindness, or ignorance or arrogance that fails to address much more fundamental solutions that can contribute hugely to raising food production.
I refer to stopping and indeed reversing the loss of arable land which poses huge limits on farming, and which can and must be addressed on a vast scale. Science declares that we have lost by credible estimates up to 50% of topsoil in the last century, and the amount of land lost to desertification and urbanisation among other degradations is in excess of 7 million hectares per year. Surely we can’t ignore this. Control of soil loss is achievable on a vast scale if governments and organisations focus attention on water conservation and redistribution, soil stablilisation and revitalisation, massive increase in biomass production, reduction of some of the disastrous stategies of industrial agriculture (massive ploughing, chemical use, monoculture, destruction of soil structure, to name a few). Reaching for the test tubes on only one strategy to address the critical needs.
I am not speaking from academic fact denial, nor from populist naivity, but from active work I have done in successfully proving the ease and success of improving the environment (the base of our existence, lest we forget) spectacularly, while raising food production sustainably and significantly. Miracles? No, just simple common sense and observing the examples of sustainable human and non-human natural systems that have been maintained generations, and applying the wisdom gleaned. That’s what Permaculture is all about, though by no means limited to it.