The signs are clear and the jury is in. The industrial, oil-dependent, chemical-based food production experiment has failed to meet its promise and is now clearly unsustainable.
The quality of its outputs is declining, it’s driving soil loss at an alarming rate and then there’s that issue of dependence on increasingly expensive fossil fuels.
While agri-business continues to blow its own trumpet claiming industrial agriculture is the only way to feed the worlds growing population, research is proving otherwise.
The United Nations Conference on Trade And Development (UNCTAD) report recommends that farming in rich and poor nations alike should shift from monoculture towards greater varieties of crops, reduced use of fertilizers and other inputs, greater support for small-scale farmers, and more locally focused production and consumption of food.
The UNCTAD Trade and Environment Report 2013 warns that continuing rural poverty, persistent hunger around the world, growing populations, and mounting environmental concerns must be treated as a collective crisis. It says that urgent and far-reaching action is needed before climate change begins to cause major disruptions to agriculture.
The good news is that we are finding that conventional farms or orchards, can transition relatively quickly to well highly productive organic systems
The Farming Systems Trial (FST) at the Rodale Institute in the US has been running an independent side-by-side comparison of organic and chemical agriculture for over 30 years to study what happens during the transition from chemical to organic agriculture. The FST surprised a food community that still scoffed at organic practices. After an initial decline in yields during the first few years of transition, the organic system soon rebounded to match or surpass the conventional system. The study has demonstrated that organic farming is better equipped to feed us now and well into the ever changing future.
Permaculture bypasses or reduces the need for ongoing external inputs (chemical or organically-approved) by working to create whole systems focussed less on annual cropping and more on perennial production. Permaculture has been around for about 40 years demonstrating that it’s possible to grow an abundance of healthy food while also regenerating the eco-systems in which it exists. It’s best known as a method of production on the small to medium scale, however there’s an increasing number of examples of multi-layered, multi-species systems within broad scale agriculture. They most often include birds and animals within an intensive diversity of plants, that are proving to be productive and profitable well beyond that of their neighbouring farms. While there’s no shortcut, the investment up front is proving to reward these farmers with less work, more yield and more fun.
Polyface Film trailer
Stefan Sobkowiak is one of the leaders in his particular field of applying permaculture to commercial orcharding. What he has learnt in the last 20 years applies to both large-scale horticulture or those few fruit trees in your backyard. Stefan bought a commercial Apple orchard outside Quebec and over the next few years converted it to organics. Seven years ago he re-designed the orchard using permaculture principles while maintaining a commercial focus.
Permaculture Orchard film trailer
The Beyond Organic NZ Tour with Stefan Sobkowiak is an opportunity to hear how these productive, profitable, permaculture-inspired practices work.