Mar 082012
HAMILTON, ON - NOVEMBER 05:  Prince Charles, P...

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Small-scale, family-based farming systems were among the most productive systems in developing countries

The Prince of Wales, himself a long-time farmer, argues against the fallacy that truly sustainable farming isn’t feasible in “the real world.”

In a global ecosystem that is, to say the least, under stress, our apparently unbridled demands for energy, land, and water put overwhelming pressure on our food systems. I am not alone in thinking that the current model is simply not durable in the long term. It is not “keeping everything going continuously” and it is, therefore, not sustainable.

So what is a “sustainable food production” system? We should be very clear about it, or else we will end up with the same system that we have now, but dipped in “greenwash.” For me, it has to be a form of agriculture that does not exceed the carrying capacity of its local ecosystem and which recognizes that the soil is the planet’s most vital renewable resource. Topsoil is the cornerstone of the prosperity of nations. It acts as a buffer against drought and as a carbon sink, and it is the primary source of the health of all animals, plants, and people. If we degrade it, as we are doing, then Nature’s capital will lose its innate resilience and it won’t be very long before our human economic capital and economic systems also begin to lose their resilience.

Let’s look for a moment at what very probably is not a genuinely sustainable form of agriculture for the long term, and by that I mean generations as yet unborn. In my own view it is surely not dependent upon the use of chemical pesticides, fungicides, and insecticides; nor, for that matter, upon artificial fertilizers and growth-promoters or genetic modification. You would have perhaps thought a genuinely sustainable agriculture system would be unlikely to create vast monocultures and to treat animals like machines by using industrial rearing systems. Nor would you expect it to drink the Earth dry, deplete the soil, clog streams with nutrient-rich runoff, and create, out of sight and out of mind, enormous dead zones in the oceans. You would also think, wouldn’t you, that it might not lead to the destruction of whole cultures or the removal of many of the remaining small farmers around the world? Nor, presumably, would it destroy biodiversity at the same time as cultural and social diversity.

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