UN challenges conventional wisdom, says small farms can feed the world

Small-scale farms that practice agroecology – sustainable, indigenous techniques including animal husbandry – can double worldwide food production in ten years, experts say. A new report by the United Nations says world hunger and weather-related crop losses are issues which can only be addressed by scaling back industrial farms worldwide.

“Today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production,” states the report. This reaffirms the truism that reliance upon beneficial trees, plants, animals and insects (the way nature intended) is the safest bet for farmers.

The costly oil-dependent model of industrial farming has put agriculture at a crossroads says Olivier de Schutter, UN special reporter on the right to food and author of the study. As a consequence, rising food prices threaten to raise hunger rates. Speaking with the Wall Street Journal, De Schutter asserted that a future food crisis can only be curbed by a return to natural agricultural methods, adding that this revolution will have to first take hold in developing nations.

Agroecology projects in 57 countries showed crop yields increasing 80 percent when soil enhancements and pest protections are achieved through natural methods alone. Researchers point to successful projects in 20 African countries that proved yields could be doubled in three to 10 years. At the same time, farmers needed to spend less on inputs for their crops.

The key to agroecology is biodiversity where many plant species thrive together symbiotically. It also includes an understanding of and participation with local climates. The study indicates that smallholders who hold onto this locally cultivated wisdom create farms that are more resilient to extreme weather conditions.

Since the 1970’s, California has been a leader in ecologically-minded farm practices by way of some sound policy. From cities adopting local food buying policies to nonprofits helping newer generations of farmers find affordable land, the state has seen the establishment of successful local food economies. California’s potentially self-sufficient food system is a testament to the benefits of going small and diversifying.