Looking Forward on World Food Day

Anyone know why October 16th is a date that should be marked on your calendar?  The only thing in my planner was my convocation ceremony so I obviously didn’t have any clue that on Saturday, people around the world were celebrating World Food Day (WFD).  Since I was on the University of Guelph campus I figured why not write a post that ties my alumnus, the Ontario Agricultural College, together with WFD.

In an article from Saturday’s Montreal Gazette about the UN WFD proceedings, it was reported that the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter gave a very pessimistic view of the current state of agriculture and our modern production practices saying, “Current agriculture developments are threatening our ability for our children’s children to feed themselves.”  He asserted that our reliance on chemicals and large scale mechanized farms was at the root of the problem and sustainability will only be achieved if our focus is placed on small scale farms.

While I share some of Mr. De Schutter’s concerns about sustainability, the answer for feeding 9 billion people by 2050 is not to revert back the farming methods of my grandfather.  He is taking the easy route by blaming chemicals and mechanized farming, often demonized by people who don’t understand the rigours of food production today.  People with an intimate knowledge of farming and agriculture know that the key to feeding the next generations on this planet lie in a renewed commitment to the responsible use of technologies that will allow us to produce food using fewer inputs while also finding methods to integrate health and wellness with our food.

Enter the OAC and the University of Guelph; last month they launched the BetterPlanet Project, an ambitious 200 million dollar campaign that focuses on integrated research that captures the connections between our food, our health, our environment, and our communities.  One OAC lab is already making strides to lower our fertilizer use by developing corn varieties that have lower fertilizer requirements then conventional hybrids.

When I read articles in which high ranking officials make generalized negative statements about agricultural sustainability I get a bit miffed; it is very easy to blame modern agriculture for environmental problems today but if you really know farming you will know that the way I’m farming today is drastically different then when even my father started 30 years ago.  In that short time span there has been widespread adoption of technologies that allow us to better preserve our soil and water (things like no-till cultivation, improved manure management, etc.) that are already having a positive impact on the environment around us.  While we have made positive steps to reverse the degradation of resources, our work is far from finished and I look to projects like the BetterPlanet campaign to provide farmers with new knowledge and new tools to improve the world around us.

I end with a quote directed at people like Mr. De Schutter who are quick to criticize modern agriculture but fail to provide any plausible direction for the future:

“Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

You can find the article at: http://www.montrealgazette.com/technology/expert+calls+farming+changes/3683043/story.html

To learn about the BetterPlanet Project visit:http://thebetterplanetproject.ca



One thought on “Looking Forward on World Food Day

  1. Aaron Massecar says:

    Thanks for the mention about the BetterPlanet Project. I am currently working on the BetterPlanet Project over in Alumni Affairs and it’s always nice to see some positive talk about it.

    It seems like there’s something right in what Olivier De Schutter had mentioned, although completely misguided and not an actionable item in and of itself. I remember reading something about the relative yields of small scale farms versus large scale farming (I think in a course on collectivization of agriculture), and about how smaller scale farms tend to produce more and with less of an environmental impact. The solution isn’t just to say, “well, alright then, let’s ditch our industrial farm equipment and head back to our agrarian roots”, because, for one, the number of people required to participate in small scale farming does not currently exist. But what can we take from the claim that small scale farming is more productive and use that knowledge on a larger scale? What is missing from factory farming that individuals are able to produce? It has to be more than attention to detail or simply a personal commitment to the crop. Any thoughts?

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