New Research Supports Many Benefits of Local Farming

by Jeffrey Green

Policy makers should value environmental, health benefits of small-scale local farming, researcher argues.

While the biotech industry continues to assert that modern-day farming must be driven by genetic modification in order to provide more consistent crop production in ever greater numbers, an increasing number of independent studies argue just the opposite.

When it comes to food production, it is one of the many myths of GMO; GMOs do not provide more food, but do offer Big Ag companies increased profits on the need for more pesticides, herbicides, and patented seeds.

Natural agriculture practices are the real answer, and another new study backs it up.

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We are often shown images of starving people in Third World countries who presumably need saving by corporate conglomerates. However, in just one example, poverty-stricken rice and potato farmers in India confirmed record-breaking yields after switching to truly organic food production. (Source)

This is a similar story as others reported in Africa, with incredible additional benefits to the economy and human rights (read the full report here).

Another study showed that biodiversity from polyculture outperforms industrial farming by reducing the chemicals required.

A study by the University of California, Berkeley, presented exhaustive alternatives to current practices. One section of the paper cited research pointing to the positive effects of biodiversity on the numbers of herbivore pests, finding that polycultural planting led to reduction of pest populations by up to 64%. Later, combined results of hundreds of comparisons also favored biologically diverse farms with a 54% increase in pest mortality and damage to crops dropping by almost 25%. The introduction of more diverse insects also promoted increased pollination and healthier crops.(source ecology and society)

And yet another:

A 9-year study conducted by researchers from the USDA, University of Minnesota and Iowa State University proved that in more complex systems, yield AND profits were both enhanced. When paired against the conventional corn/soy rotation, less fertilizer was used. This difference actually increased over the course of the study, indicating the quality of the soil was improving over time, instead of experiencing the depletion of common practices. (source Union of Concerned Scientists)

The switch to local farming methods protects and enhances this essential biodiversity that is now increasingly lacking around the world according to Timothy Johns, Professor of Human Nutrition at McGill University in Montreal.

Diets for most people around the world are becoming increasingly limited in biological and nutritional diversity. “Large-scale agriculture is characteristically simplified and less diverse than small-holder agriculture,” Prof. Johns cautions. “This is true in genetic, ecological and nutritional terms.”

The answer, according to Johns, is to use the intrinsic benefits of local farming; namely the “range of wild species of fruit, vegetables, condiments and medicines, as well as wild animal-sourced foods,” but then couple that with new technologies that can help local farmers meet the productivity levels needed for an increasing population.

Johns’ conclusions fly in the face of what we are consistently told by mega food corporations like Monsanto; that only they have the capacity to feed an exploding global population. On the contrary, local farming empowered with technology can surpass large-scale growing operations. Professor Johns explains:

Using family members in farming reduces labor and supervision costs, while a more intimate knowledge of the local soil, plants and animals enables smallholders to maximize output. In Brazil, for example, national data from the Censo Agropecuário shows that “family farms” produce 38 percent of national agricultural value from 24 percent of the agricultural land. An assessment of 286 projects in 57 countries, moreover, shows that low-cost, sustainable and diversity-enhancing technologies increased average crop yields on small farms by 79 percent since the early 1990s.

This research highlights the importance of local culture in offering inherent knowledge of which products grow best within a given region, while also preserving the health benefits that have been established through the same train of communicated knowledge.

“Products of biodiversity within culturally-based diets provide essential micronutrients and lower prevalence of diet-related chronic disease.”

Professor Johns specifically notes a developing malady in the First World – being obese, but lacking nutrients that provide true health. In other words, most of the First World is not calorie deficient, they are deficient in trace minerals and nutrients:

Carbohydrates — mainly cereals, sugars, potatoes and other tubers — and vegetable oils produced efficiently by large-scale agriculture and distributed through global trade are more affordable for many people than lower-calorie, more nutritious foods. In many cases, the result is a form of malnutrition defined by overconsumption of calories. This has helped fuel a growing global epidemic of obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Johns’ study urges policy makers to look more closely at the growing body of research indicating that the Monsantos of the world are not the be-all, end-all answer to starving populations and the undernourished; the answer lies in local family farming that supports the previous studies linked above. In all of these studies, it is not only bellies that get filled; it is the strengthening of entire communities economically, socially, and culturally, while still providing healthy nutritious food.

Johns offers one concrete example of how this functions:

Brazil’s National School Feeding Law and program since 2009 requires that at least 30 percent of food in the program must come from family agriculture. It also has explicit guidelines for the use of healthy food in school menus, including foods that respect the culture and traditions; and it provides incentives for the purchase of diversified foods, preferably from local family agriculture.

“Food-policy makers around the world should seek to develop novel compensation mechanisms that reflect the benefits of small-scale, biodiverse agriculture . . . This may involve direct subsidies to farmers, but it must also involve investment in extension services, infrastructure, supply-chain research and development, and progressive market regulation.”

In lieu of solutions being found in the compromised political institutions of the West, which are often populated by the revolving door of corporate farming, I would urge readers to investigate novel technologies that are showing great promise for both small- and large-scale farming that have the power to supercharge natural production anywhere in the world – found in the following article links:

For more information on the symposium being given by Prof. Timothy Johns please visit:


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