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Eighteen ways how ‘modern farming’ affects our world

Today’s chemical farms have little use for the skilled husbandry which was once the guiding principle of working the land. The emphasis today is solely on productivity – high input in exchange for high returns and productivity (mostly diminishing now however for farmers worldwide). Four important considerations – what happens to the land, the food it produces, the people who eat it and the communities which lose out – are overlooked.

1 Land exhaustion The constant use of artificial fertiliser, together with a lack of crop rotation, reduces the soil’s fertility year by year.
2 Fertilisers High yield levels are produced by applying large quantities of artificial fertilisers, instead of by maintaining the natural fertility of the soil.
3 Nitrate run-off About half of the nitrate in the artificial fertiliser used on crops is dissolved by rain. The dissolved nitrate runs off the fields to contaminate water courses.
4 Soil erosion Where repeated deep ploughing is used to turn over the ground, heavy rains can carry away the topsoil and leave the ground useless for cultivation.
5 Soil compaction Damage to the structure of soil by compression is a serious problem in areas that are intensively farmed. Conventional tillage may involve a tractor passing over the land six or seven times, and the wheelings can cover up to 90 per cent of a field. Even a single tractor pass can compress the surface enough to reduce the porosity of the soil by 70 per cent, increasing surface run-off and, therefore, water erosion. In the worst cases, the surface run-off may approach 100 percent – none of the water penetrates the surface.
6 Agricultural fuel As crop yields grow, so does the amount of fuel needed to produce them. European farmers now use an average of 12 tons of fuel to farm a square kilometre of land; American farmers use about 5 tons (1987 figures).
7 Biocide sprays The only controls used against weeds and pests are chemical ones. Most crops receive many doses of different chemicals before they are harvested.
8 Cruelty to animals On most “modern” farms, all animals are crowded together indoors. Complex systems of machinery are needed to feed them, while constant medication is needed to prevent disease. The cruelty involved in managing, breeding. growing and slaughtering farm animals today is unimaginably repulsive and horrifying.
9 Animal slurry With so many animals packed together in indoor pens, their manure accumulates at great speed. It is often poured into lagoons which leak into local watercourses, contaminating them with disease-causing organisms and contributing to algae-blooms.
10 Imported animal feed Many farms are not self-sufficient in animal feed; instead they rely on feed brought into the farm. This often comes from countries which can ill afford to part with it.
11 Stubble burning In countries where stubble is burned, large amounts of potentially useful organic matter disappear into the sky in clouds of polluting smoke.
12 Loss of cultivated biodiversity Large and other chemical farms tend to be monocultures growing the same crop and crop variety.
13 Threat to indigenous seeds and animal breeds and species Native cultivars and animal breeds lose out to exotic species and hybrids. Many native animal breeds are today threatened with extinction. The same holds true for many indigenous plant varieties which have disappeared within the space of one generation.
14 Habitat destruction Agribusiness farming demands that anything which stands in the way of crop production is uprooted and destroyed. The wild animals and plants which were once a common sight around farms are deprived of their natural habitat and die out.
15 Contaminated food Food, both plant and animal products, leaves the farm contaminated with the chemicals that were used to produce it.
16 Destruction of traditional knowledge systems and traditions Rural indigenous knowledge and traditions, both agricultural and non-agricultural, is invariably connected to agriculture and agricultural systems.
17 Control of agriculture inputs and food distribution channel The supply and trading in agricultural inputs and produce is in the hands of a few large corporations. This threatens food security, reducing the leverage and importance of the first and the last part of the supply chain – the farmer and the consumer.
18 Threat to individual farmers Chemical agriculture is a threat to their livelihoods and changes their lifestyles, unfortunately not for the better.

Source : Internal inputs and “Return to the Good Earth”, Third World Network