Watermelons in bedsheets

Patrick over at PopeHat tees off on sustainable farming advocacy in the New York Times:

The question is whether “sustainable agriculture” — here defined (and not by Patrick, whom you’d otherwise be tempted to accuse of building a straw man and setting it afire) as “non-technological farming” — can sustain a world population above six billion.  Patrick notes at the end of his rant, and I want to deal with this first because it’s germane to the post title, that most of the people affected by a switch to “non-technological farming” are, erm, not white:

Forty percent of the world’s population is in India and China. To farm sustainably, and without technology, the Indians and the Chinese are going to have to leave the cities, where for some reason they prefer to be, to go back to the rice paddies they’ve spent the past two decades trying to escape.

Has the United Nations told them? Has the Times?

Do they know what the United Nations of the far future has planned for them? And what would they think of it, if they knew?

Inconveniently, the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of India are both nuclear powers.  I’ll just leave that there.  (And as an aside, the cataclysmic rise in food prices you’d get if you switched the world to “non-technological farming” would probably be felt most severely in Africa.  I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that most Africans are, erm, not white.)

But that’s okay!  No, not the racism, the food-price thing.  See, a Very Clever Man from the United Nations has it all figured out:

Olivier de Schutter, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the Right to Food, presented a report entitled “Agro-ecology and the Right to Food.”


Agro-ecology and related methods are going to require resources too, but they’re more in the form of labor, both intellectual — much research remains to be done — and physical: the world will need more farmers, and quite possibly less mechanization.

The question of whether de Schutter and — oh hey it’s our good friend Mark Bittman — see themselves providing the extra intellectual labour or instead providing the extra physical labour is left as an exercise for the reader.


7 Responses to “Watermelons in bedsheets”

  1. 1 Petey
    March 9, 2011 at 12:23

    Turd for thought: According to a History Channel episode of Modern Marvels, before the invention of the harvester/combine it took 20 people 90 working hours to harvest one acre of corn/maize.

    I have no idea how this translates to flooded rice patties, but once you’ve sampled the delights of urban convenience the only way they are going back to the fields is chained to tractor dragging them.

    • March 9, 2011 at 12:33

      Pretty much. Feeding seven billion or so people with “non-technological farming” — which, it occurs to me, would probably require ten or twelve billion people — pretty much dictates a return to pre-industrial society. That simply isn’t going to happen, not even after the zombocalypse.

  2. 3 aczarnowski
    March 9, 2011 at 14:21

    Right to Food

    They keep using that word. I do not think it means what they think it means.

  3. March 9, 2011 at 21:38

    Okay. I’m old enough that I grew up surrounded by vivid stories about my grandparents – both of whom homesteaded in the Midwest in the early part of the last century. My maternal grandmother (who died 20 years ago at the age of 97) never learned to drive a car. But she knew how to drive a team of horses – and how to pull a plow. Herself. OMFG, she was So. Freaking. Evolved.

    My paternal grandmother, who died 20 years ago at the age of 98, was a veritable slave to her husband. I’m sure her native American heritage had nothing to do with that. Still, the romantic stories of losing infants to disease and cold, manually threshing tons of grain by hand and starving when crops failed inspired me to. Well. Fucking go to graduate school and become an elitist yuppie bitch.

    I loved my grandmothers possibly more than I loved my parents but when it comes to the idea of the Noble Savage – please pardon my meh…

  4. 6 williamthecoroner
    March 10, 2011 at 09:02

    Funny, isn’t it, how smart people have a tremendous facility in binding up terrible burdens and putting them on someone else’s back.

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