Gary mentions Norman Borlaug in this post, which reminded me that I wanted to repost something from facebook.
The other day, Evan shared this link. My response was:
"Statements like this in the article worry me: "Of 57 impoverished countries surveyed, for example, yields had increased by an average of nearly 80 percent when farmers used methods such as placing weed-eating ducks in rice patties in Bangla...desh or planting desmodium, which repels insects, in Kenyan cornfields"
What practices were used in these fields before they introduced these (by all indications) intelligent practices? Were green-revolution techniques used before, or was this an 80 percent increase over mixed prior practices on small farms? Green revolution yield increases ranged from 100 to 1,000%, so this distinction makes an enormous difference. And how scalable are some of these practices? They can be done on "Kenyan cornfields"... can they feed a highly urbanized Nigeria? It's not clear to me precisely what scale this is.
If this is really more cost effective and more productive we should expect to see it spread rapidly. There is no good reason not to see it spread rapidly. After all - that's how the Green Revolution happened. It worked and it was profitable (i.e. - lower cost, more productive). If organic agriculture can do this, there is no obvious reason why it can't beat out Green Revolution technology. I have serious doubts about whether it can.
Unfortunately, I think the choices are tougher than this: and the big one is in preferences. We are demanding more meat and that is putting a big strain on our food system. That will require changing the way people live their lives, though,... and that's not going to be easy. That's about changing culture.
But if you're interested in providing ample low cost food, that's not hard. Monsanto will do that. If you have a strategy that is really going to be less expensive and more productive Monsanto has EVERY INCENTIVE IN THE WORLD to drop its GM crap in a heart-beat and start doing that. The fact that they are NOT dropping GM crops raises doubts for me that these sorts of practices can really deliver. But we'll see... perhaps it'll take a little longer for this to play out.
The point is, there is no real obstacle to adopting cost effective, productive technology. Profits provide more than enough incentive to do that if it can truly deliver. The obstacle is in changing people's eating habits (regarding eating meat, overfishing, too much corn, yadda yadda yadda). That's much harder."
And to anticipate some comments - no, just because I see an ecological problem associated with rising meat consumption, that does not mean I support the government restricting people's meat consumption. Just like George Akerlof never called for nationalizing the used car industry, I'm not calling for a government solution every time I talk about a problem.