Argument for a New Agriculture
April 2010

It’s a fact, the world’s population is growing faster than agricultural production. Which poses the ultimate question: how are we going to be able to feed everyone?  The recent “hunger riots,” in 2007-2008, quickly reminded us that the worldwide food safety issue is far from be resolved. In fact, that’s why the most populous countries are in a hurry to play their cards. There are already reports that the Chinese are shopping for farm land in Saint-Hyacinthe. As far as I know, we don’t have any surplus farm land! Not in Quebec or anywhere else!

Truthfully, that’s the heart of the issue. To increase agricultural production, expanding farmable land has always represented considerable leverage. Pushed aside by urban sprawl, agriculture has been driven into the forests, which is far from good since deforestation has a significantly negative impact on climate changes, on the structure of requisitioned soils and on biodiversity.

We could try to increase agricultural production by boosting yield or by increasing the number of harvests each year, but these two options are just as restrictive - consider our Nordic agriculture, on the planetary scale, the lack of water and the heavy cost of using massive quantities of chemical products, and their financial and environmental impact.  .

When faced with a brick wall, it’s time to think turning back. That’s what the proponents of Intensive Eco-Agriculture (IEA) are all about. Based on maximizing ecological systems and the genetic improvement of cultivars, IEA seeks to increase agricultural production by taking the best from both worlds: make use of integral ecosystems, with recourse to chemical inputs when necessary.  

In the long term, for a supplier of inputs, this new agriculture transforms the process of supply based on the sale of products to supply driven by services. In fact, this type of agriculture has, first and foremost, created the need for added training and coaching for producers who, in turn, require less input. And this is what makes it a universal solution: it will be much more accessible to developing countries, where there is an urgent need to resurrect local agriculture.

However, the arrival of this new agriculture, in the North, should not rest exclusively on the shoulders of the agricultural class. Agriculture is not a secluded endeavour. It represents an essential service to all communities. This means that citizens, from all communities, will also have to do their part and that preserving the environment will need to become a common goal for all. Consumer habits need to change. We often hear that, in the future, we’ll have to eat less meat. First because it’s a question of individual health, and second, because the conversion of plant protein into animal protein is far from optimum in terms of energy efficiency, use of farm land as well as in terms of the environment. All well and good. Another line of thought is that we need to focus on purchasing locally. That’s obvious. However, beyond surveys and cries from the heart, citizens will have to send a strong signal and translate their dissatisfactions into informed choices. As for farmers, they’ll find a way to meet demand, as long as the latter is clear and consequential.

All in all, it is within a wide-ranging exercise of community dialogue that they will have to integrate social and environmental dimensions locally to secure the fundamentals of this new agriculture. The stakes are too high, and we can’t afford to not mobilize all the players in what will finally become a true project for our society. And this is what moves us forward, whether we want to or not, into an authentic practice of sustainable development!

 

Colette Lebel, agr.
Director Cooperative Affairs
and Board Secretary Assistant
La Coop fédérée
Email: colette.lebel@lacoop.coop
Fax: 514 850-2567
 



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