Some new terms have been making their way into the increasingly intense debate about rising global food prices, their causes, and what on Earth to do about it. Yesterday, UNESCO released a report, four years in the making on food and agriculture, that called for the end of “status quo” farming. It’s a term I hadn’t heard used before, but which has a lot of resonance and relevance. It was used to describe the model of industrial agriculture that’s being spread around the world: heavy on fossil fuels, light on concern for the environment, and dismissive of organic or other more natural production methods (such as crop rotation). Click here for the full report. As prices of basic staples like grains rise and put their daily bread out of reach of millions of people, industrial agriculture is getting a much-needed closer look.
What’s being revealed isn’t pretty: increasing water deficits, “feed” for animals raised for milk or meat dominating markets for grains and fueling deforestation and desertification; and public health crises of obesity and malnutrition. The mirror is cracked, indeed.
Another new word I recently heard: “soyanization.” That’s as in a country’s agriculture becoming dominated by a monocrop, such as soy, which is produced primarily to feed farmed animals. In Argentina, soy became a major flash point between the government and farmers. Nearly three weeks of protests broke out over government plans to add raise the tax on soy exports. The protestors illuminated the downsides of the soy economy Argentina has created: low margins and high costs; deforestation (soy is also a key driver of deforestation and devegetation in Brazil); and polluted water. From this vantage point, the status quo doesn’t look very good, either.