The Myth of the Efficiency of Industrialized Agriculture

In May 2014, the Spain-based international agrarian organization, Grain, reported that small farmers not only “feed the world with less than a quarter of all farmland,” but they are also the most productive farmers on Earth. For example, small farmers and peasants in nine European countries outproduce large farmers. The “productivity of small farms [in Europe] is at least twice that of big farms.” This remarkable achievement is not limited to Europe. Grain says: “if all farms in Kenya had the current productivity of the country’s small [peasant] farms, Kenya’s agricultural production would double. In Central America and Ukraine, it would almost triple. In Russia, it would be increased by a factor of six.”

The European invasion of the tropics in the fifteenth century, the industrialization of agriculture in the nineteenth century, and the triumph of communism in the twentieth century proved catastrophic for peasant societies.

These major events remade the world in the image of Europe. The European colonizers carried with them their mechanized agriculture and their distaste for things agrarian.

The British ruling class, for example, confiscated the land of British and Irish peasants, expelling many of them to Australia and to the Americas. This stealing of peasant land is what historians now call enclosure.

When the Europeans conquered the tropics, they put into practice enclosures. They confiscated the best land for themselves. They taxed and enslaved the native people by forcing them to grow cash crops for export.

The rise of communism had equally devastating effects on peasants in Russia, Eastern Europe, China and Southeast Asia. Communism lasted for most of the twentieth century.

This massive violence against peasant life and rural culture shaped our industrialized agriculture. Its failure today is therefore much more than the poisoning of our food and drinking water and the ecological devastation it sows. The blood of peasants and small family farmers is on the hands of industrialized agriculture. Its failure is thus moral and political as well.

Resistance and struggle
Despite the war against them, peasants continue to resist. Along with the organic or biological family farmers of the Western world, they offer the only hope for raising food without the deleterious consequences of industrialized agriculture.

In the mid-1970s, I tasted the bitter reality of the peasants. In 1976, I wrote my first book about them. I called it Fear in the Countryside because I sensed that fear in the country of Colombia where I did some of my research. Colombia in the 1970s, like almost everyone else, was enclosing land in a war against its peasants. America was on the side of landowners.

In the book I wrote that peasants are productive small family farmers feeding most of the world’s population. It is still true today. According to the February 2015 Berlin Memorandum on Sustainable Livelihoods for Smallholders, peasants “produce the bulk of all food in developing countries, including 70% of all the millets, tubers, fruits and vegetables.” Experts from Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Germany and India wrote the Berlin Memorandum.

The pro-peasant message of my book infuriated the Charles Kettering Foundation, which funded my research. Like the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, it was in the thick of private-public partnerships, funding and encouraging the industrialization of the tropics. …

What does this say about the current estimates of the carrying capacity of the planet?   Clearly, our economic and monetary systems are the most environmentally destructive creations in planetary history, especially when you factor in planned obsolescence, which itself was a response to the federal-reserve-imposed great depression .   Monetary reform should be job one for every kind of activist, whether environmental, human rights, peace or economic justice.

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