The Hypocritic Oath

RIP Norman Borlaug

Posted in Uncategorized by trinkwasser on September 13, 2009

Undoubtedly the guy was a genius, and equally undoubtedly unlike many who have followed him he had a visionary grasp including the potential downsides of his work.

Wikipedia may not be perfect but makes a good jumping off point, and their article on the Green Revolution is also worth a read.

He stated that his work has been “a change in the right direction, but it has not transformed the world into a Utopia”.

Spot on, unfortunately, when you tweak Gaia it tends to tweak you back. While there’s absolutely no doubt he did save millions if not billions from starvation he also made it possible for them to generate further billions, and thus push the starvation point forward in time without removing it. The basis of the modern crops is a high input of fertiliser and pesticides derived from oil, and high tech machines fuelled by diesel (at least you can use rapeseed oil almost unprocessed in a diesel engine, IMO the best use for it). So it’s based on solar energy from the distant past: when that runs out we’re in deep doodoo.

Have a look along the Journey Through Time in the Claas Museum for the bits where they point out how agricultural production has increased, it’s impressive stuff! When I were a lad a combine harvester could throughput about 3 tonnes/hour, now the modern beasts are up around 80 – 100 tonnes/hour. A big tractor meant about 60 hp and a three furrow plough, now we’re talking 400+ hp and nine or more furrows. Yield per hectare has more than doubled. One farmer can now feed 15 times as many people as 50 years ago. Unfortunately they are all Deputy Chief Assistant Undermanagers in the NHS holding meetings to deny you your test strips and tell you to eat more Healthy Whole Grains. 😦

In fact the Green Revolution has fed (pun intended) the high carb low fat culture/meme. That farmer may be able to feed 15 times as many people but this year he is actually PAYING the grain merchant £30 – £50/tonne to take his crop off his hands. The price difference is not showing up in the products of the Foodlike Substance Manufacturing Industry but in the pockets of their shareholders, who now have even more clout to direct Government policy in their favour and back pseudo-health organisations like the FSA, ADA, BHF et al in their dietary recommendations.

Meanwhile in a country not far away people are still starving.

Jenny has dug up some fairly convincing stuff implicating pesticides, plasticisers and soy as potential reasons for the “epidemics” of diseases of civilisation. I still have my suspicions that the breeding programme may have increased the toxicity of the wheat along with its yield (hint: disease resistance has been increased and to a degree wheat “sees” us as a disease, after all we eat it’s children). Stephan has dug up more implicating Omega 6s and fructose. In fact all the bloggers I list, and many others that *they* list, have discovered a metric shitload of research implicating many factors in causing the “diseases of civilisation”, yet they are all factors that Conventional Wisdom pushes at us from all sides as being beneficial. For which read “profitable”.

I would love to have seen a meeting between Norman Borlaug and Joel Salatin. Between them they could have thrashed out (pun intended) something healthier both for the environment and for us. Some of my local farmers could sit in, although there are many Big Arable guys around these parts many of them still have Principles, they look after their land and its wildlife and feed the soil rather than just the crop (the animal farmers sell the dung to the arable guys who sell the straw to the animal farmers) and increasingly they look for market niches which will be profitable (or less loss-making) than wheat, wheat and more wheat, and rape every third year. Even suitably processed human dung is used. Working to reduce inputs (or the cost of inputs) obviously also reduces the output but may actually improve profitability when you see how fertiliser prices have shot up while wheat prices have bottomed out. Minimal tillage not only saves on diesel (and labour) but preserves soil structure and organisms. Using more different crops in the rotations reduces pest and disease buildup. Only cutting a third of your hedges each year, not sowing or not spraying headlands can increase populations of predatory insects and birds, thus reducing pesticide bills.

Probably a combination of the best bits of the Green Revolution and tribal/ancient agricultural practices will come up with a way forward involving less environmental impact and a much healthier diet.

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