I have shown a picture of this farm field before but I now have a further reasons to visit it again. The farm appears to have abandoned harvest and it appears that the crop yield would not justify the charges by the contractor brought in to combine the crop. The farmer claims to farm “organically”.
Now, according to the UN, over 100,000,000 people in central Africa are on the edge of starvation. Most will actually die and it would be kinder to actually shoot them – starvation is not a very nice way to leave this earth. The farm in the picture has, at the time of writing, over 100 ha apparently abandoned. How many people would that feed? Well, each ha of that land would yield 8, maybe 10 tonnes of wheat, let us say 8, year in, year out. So, 800 tonnes per annum. How many would that support? Well, it depends on the dietary level. To survive without getting fat but having enough calories to work, probably around 5 people for a full year on each tonne is a reasonable guide.
That means that if the farmer of the land in the picture had been employing current UK technology, he could be saving the lives of 4000 people, maybe more. So by farming badly, he has murdered 4000 people? Too harsh? Maybe but the observation does underline two things that are as relevant today as they have ever been;
- We who farm the land have a responsibility to the global human population to use its productive capacity for everyone’s benefit. Good, safe food is needed and a lot of it.
- The question about organic v. technology and chemicals is a real one but we need production. Acceptation of reduced production by any method of farming, really does condemn others to death. So, there is a question of the balance of risks. Certainly, there are risks in using pesticides and mineral fertilisers. The risk of starvation is very real to some. So, provided these risks are continually managed which option? Well, British farming probably does produce the safest food in the world. Technology in responsible hands is the only solution to reducing starvation.
Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, September 17