"Sustainable" Agriculture Ain't—Robert Paarlberg on Organic Ag Myths


hungry african kids

Wellesley political scientist Robert Paarlberg has a superb article over at Foreign Policy pointing out that  "organic, local, and slow—is not recipe for saving the world's hungry millions." Here's just a taste:

In Europe and the United States, a new line of thinking has emerged in elite circles that opposes bringing improved seeds and fertilizers to traditional farmers and opposes linking those farmers more closely to international markets. Influential food writers, advocates, and celebrity restaurant owners are repeating the mantra that "sustainable food" in the future must be organic, local, and slow. But guess what: Rural Africa already has such a system, and it doesn't work. Few smallholder farmers in Africa use any synthetic chemicals, so their food is de facto organic. High transportation costs force them to purchase and sell almost all of their food locally. And food preparation is painfully slow. The result is nothing to celebrate: average income levels of only $1 a day and a one-in-three chance of being malnourished.

If we are going to get serious about solving global hunger, we need to de-romanticize our view of preindustrial food and farming. And that means learning to appreciate the modern, science-intensive, and highly capitalized agricultural system we've developed in the West. Without it, our food would be more expensive and less safe. In other words, a lot like the hunger-plagued rest of the world.


Go here for Reason's 2008 interview with Paarlberg discussing his book, And here for his insightful Foreign Policy article, "Attention Whole Food Shoppers."