F.A. Farm

  (Ferndale, Washington)
Postmodern Agriculture - Food With Full Attention
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Shifting Cultivation vs. Intensive Cultivation

I got a new world atlas recently and I took a look at agricultural patterns around the world. I was especially struck by the shifting cultivation mode in the equatorial areas of South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. The complementary mode of production alongside shifting cultivation (or horticulture) was herding (or pastoralism). This is most clearly seen in Africa where the Sahara butts up against tropical forests. From an anthropological perspective, shifting cultivation is characterized by leaving some fields fallow and moving the cultivation around, oftentimes by slash and burn production methods. It is most effective in areas of low human population densities. Herding is also most effective for low human population densities, since it requires more land. However it can fit in alongside shifting cultivation, where it is useful in arid areas not suited to cultivation. In other words, most of Africa is doomed. The indigenous cultures are locked into a small population farming mode when their human populations are booming. The current border wars are exacerbating a problem that is already critical and the AIDS epidemic adds yet a third layer on top of the toxic mix of population pressure and ethnic violence.

Intensive cultivation requires more labor (especially if terracing and irrigation is used) and soil amendments to restore soil fertility, but it can feed larger rural populations. So . . . is the answer for Africa to transition into high labor, high fertilizer input intensive cultivation? Clearly, the American model of petrol-intensive industrial farming with tractors and chemical fertilizers has failed, all the hype about the Green Revolution notwithstanding. Can some of the methods that US sustainable farmers are using be applied to the equatorial belt and specifically to Africa? Are there actually NGO's on the ground in Africa that are concentrating on wise use of human labor to be more productive? The genus Homo arose in Africa around 2 million years ago and this was a real revolution, unlike the phony revolution based on petroleum, high capital costs and proprietary seeds. I suspect there are indigenous sustainable solutions that could be implemented right now in Africa and other parts of the world, some prompted by what sustainable farmers are doing in the US, but mostly prompted by indigenous people. Traditionally, anthropologists and aid workers have not listened very closely to what indigenous people have to say. Perhaps this is changing by the weight of necessity.

 
 

Do We Need to Raise Meat Animals?

The December 23rd Seattle PI had a picture of a Zimbabwean farmer who was living on a "meager diet of vegetables, wild fruit and insects." This farmer's plight was the result of Mugabe's dictatorship and seven years of hunger. The photo got me thinking about Paul Theroux's Dark Star Safari, which I read last year. During a trip to reconnect with the continent where he had worked in the Peace Corps and where he had found himself as a novelist, Theroux had a miserable time and spared no effort to inform the reader of how bad life in Africa had become since the 1960's. The book was subject to cruel reviews in the New York Times and elsewhere, but I found it to be an honest expression of how a whole continent is going down the toilet for a variety of reasons. What most intrigued me about Theroux's account was how people were returning to subsistence agriculture as a result of craven NGO's, the IMF demanding wholesale selloff of natural resources, and the bloodthirsty greed of former revolutionaries like Mugabe. We are all Africans, since modern humans came out of Africa between 200,000 - 160,000 years ago, and I see the downturn of the world economy hitting Africa the hardest. So . . . is Africa another bellwether in the return to subsistence agriculture? Let me go one step further. Maybe we should do a little pre-emption and actually question whether we need to be focusing so much on animals here in the US. On my farm, I seem to be doing all right with green manures and cover crops. I buy eggs from my neighbor and eat a little meat each week, mostly for flavoring. I was a vegetarian for 11 years over thirty years ago and I don't especially see the need to become one again. However, I also don't see the need to hype small-farm animal husbandry so much. A little goes a long way. Many sustainable agriculturists seem to take it as gospel that a small farm needs chickens, hogs, goats, etc. It ain't necessarily so.
 
 
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