Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Was this ever our land?

As a novice gardener I have been reading up on organic gardening lately, and managed to grasp a basic tenet - don't nourish the plants - improve the soil. That will benefit an entire eco-system. Besides, it is the soil, not the plants that we pass on to future generations.

Once you manage your own garden soil depletion becomes emotional - and maybe it is first when you try to grow something you realize how dependent mankind is on fertile soils. Unfortunately there are as many ways to destroy soils as to improve them.

Huffington Post has posted a video from the Environmental Working Group, reporting that soil erosion in Iowa is much worse than official number say. There is no reason to believe that it looks otherwise elsewhere in the US the video says. Neither in Europe.

The video starts out with Woody Guthrie's classic words - “this land was made for you and me”. The video rethorically asks: If that is true, then how comes farmers are allow to poison and destroy it? By over-using land and demolishing traditional soil protections like bushes along rivers, industrial agriculture is destroying the land we thought was ours for quick and high profits.

The problem is obvious for everyone - even the European Commission. But agricultural policies on both sides of the Atlantic plays a pivotal part in keeping soil depletion profitable. How? Through subsidies to agriculture, based not on how the land is worked, but how much it yields. Which is an incentive to any farmer that is financially dependent on his land to over-use it.

It is easy to understand why states sould want to subsidise specific kinds of farming - be it traditional farms kept for the sake of the landscape (they sometimes get subsidies), experimental eco-farms (they never get subsidies) or other cases. It is harder to understand why commercial agriculture needs to be subsidied. We all need food, so in a working market economy it should be the easiest business to make money form.

Outside books, there is no such thing as a working market economy (even though it sounds nice). The 21th cenury world is designed by political influential people. Some are elected, some are not.

For various reasons, these people like to see us drive cars and go shopping in malls. To do that we need to be working 8-5 in industries and services and buy our food in stores. Whichis dull, so our loyalty to the system must be bought with cheap food. Which is why agriculture is subsidised. It is not about supporting farmers, it is about keeping the consumer society running. If you find it hard to imagine the political implication of high food prices, just take a look at Tunisia and Egypt.

This might sound radical and bitter. The real picture is more complicated, of course, but it is not any different. This is the how the world looks, and everybody knows.

But since we, also the environmentally aware of us, are the one's who eat this cheap subsidized food, we reap the profits of the system, and leave future generations to pay the bill. We have no incentives to change anything, and nothing changes.

Which is why soil depletion may be a good thing - if it gets serious enough to affect food prices, we will have to face the problem we have created, and ultimately save our selves with organic agriculture. There are plenty of ways to grow food without depleting the soil. We just don't have the incentives to use them yet.

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