Monday, October 15, 2012

Food Soverignity and reality

I have been taking a class in anthropology and the professor is an advocate of "Food Sovereignty".  Essentially this is a fancy way of saying people have control over their food supply.  One of the basic tenants of this idea is localized and sustainable small scale agriculture.

I like the idea but it runs into huge problems.

The first problem is that there is only so much land and population is constantly increasing.

The second is a little trickier.  It takes about 0.22 hectares of land or 0.6 acres of land to supply enough food for 1 person for 1 year.  The World Food Organization or World Food Programme is a subsidiary of the United Nations.   These guys create all kinds of statistics about food.  That sounds okay right, 0.6 acres.  Cool.

Not really.  There is a problem.  Japan has about 0.03 hectares of farm land per person.  India has about 0.13 hectares per person.

That creates some huge problems because there isn't enough farm land to supply every person in the country with food.

Wait, it is even better, livestock like cows eat food.  It takes about 2 acres of grazing land or about an acre of grain to feed a cow for a year. Other livestock can take less or more, depending.  Fortunately a lot of ranch land is not very good for farming.  Unfortunately leaving a field fallow and using it for grazing is good for the land and sustainable agriculture.

0.22 hectares is the minimum.  For real security we need to allow for a reduction in production which typically accompanies organic or sustainable farming techniques and we need to account for problems so real food security takes about  1.5 to 2 times the minimum amount of arable land per person or individual animal.

Okay, we can't do local food production everywhere.  Some places we have to transport food to.  It can't be helped.

If we have more smaller farms creating a consistent product becomes more difficult and the production costs actually increase so food prices go up.  Organic food prices compared to agribusiness food prices.

So now we have to pay people more money so they can buy food and that causes food prices to go up.

Somewhere along the line things will level out, but, I doubt if small scale agribusiness is economically feasible any more than local production is feasible.

It is a good idea, but, it would take a return to lower population levels or redistribution of populations and a primarily agricultural economy to work. Population density would have to based on arable land available.

Guys like me that have a black thumb and can't grow grass would have a problem in an agricultural economy.  We would be busy inventing things that increased production.

Big picture, the idea of food sovereignty can't work.   It is possible it could work in some smaller regions with acceptable population density and farm land ratios.