I remember as a child grocery shopping with my mother at the A&P, and being dazzled by the different fruits and vegetables from foreign and distant sources. I thought Japanese pears looked just like apples, that Californian grapes seemed to be a wonder fruit in the winter and that P.E.I. must be the best potatoes. I didn’t consider how or why they appeared in the bins.
The agricultural revolution, which grew independently in the Middle East, Americas and China, was fundamental to the world we know today. The complex system of farming on a large scale provided the food sources (in combination with domesticated animals and fisheries) that allowed our civilization(s) to flourish to what it is today. What was lost in the mix, however, was a balance between need, want and greed.
A specific example of how farming techniques have changed in the not too distant past, is the use of large scale monoculture growth in areas unable to support such crops. In the same way one rotten apple spoils the bunch, a singular problem (such as today’s Ug99) can spread throughout the fields unchecked without large scale herbicides and pesticides. In addition, these fields deplete the soils of nutrients due to the fall-out of crop rotation.
In the past, the use of techniques such as polyculture, took the place of the need for herbicides and pesticides. As the global exchange of not only ideas but crops began post European contact with North America, a major change occurred. Individuals began adapting the land to crops (other than ploughing) from other environments. This occurs even today where crops are grown in desert conditions where irrigation of water diverted from other sources allows for the growth of crops. Though irrigation is not a new concept, the large scale diversion of water into inhospitable environments is. This causes unanticipated issues such as the diversion of the Colorado River into California.
The extant of damage of industrial farming is currently immeasurable, as this damage follows not only time measured in years, but also in geologic time. It has been estimated that by 2025 Africa’s cultivated land will have degraded to a point that it may only be able to sustain 25% of the continent’s population. Similar issues are compounding in areas such as India and China. As of 2005, the European Union has begun a system of decoupling to avoid farming subsidies that promote monocultures.
Today, as people continuously emigrate and immigrate into new areas, they expect to have the same availability of food products. While it is important to continue cultural ties to ones past, it may be this need for specific crop items (including a higher demand on animal products) that spells the end for our current agricultural complex.
The current locavore movement is often seen as a left wing movement, it may become an essential key to the continuation of the human and many other species. One might ask oneself if giving up tangerines at Christmas is better or worse than the certain path of agricultural collapse.