Farmers’ response has been entirely rational, they’ve sought to do all they can to increase production; to intensify, to reduce unit costs and increase outputs with larger & larger machines and bigger & bigger farms, to use any and all inputs and tech to feed and protect their crops. It’s a process that has come at a significant cost to the environment and to human health, but a cost that society has mostly accepted as being part and parcel of feeding the world. Unsurprisingly when we ask farmers to consider agroecological approaches to production they’ll often say, ‘but what about my responsibility to feed the world?’
It’s a false premise.
In part because agroecological systems, with their complex yields, are more productive. But mostly because the responsibility for feeding the world does not rest on farmers’ shoulders alone. It’s on all of us. And it’s principally a matter of political will. At heart we know that farmers already do more than feed the world (they produce enough to feed an additional 2 billion people) yet waste and uneven distribution mean many starve or are malnourished.
Truth is, farmers are being asked to produce a surplus so we don’t have to think about or address structural issues and inequalities (or to buy us time while we do). Farmers have done an incredible job, never have more people been fed.
For politicians, pushing the responsibility to feed the world onto farmers is a neat abrogation. For machinery manufacturers, input salespeople and technologists it’s often a handy way to justify their work and sales...
The emphasis needs to change. Farmers already feed the world, let's now support and enable them to do so in a regenerative manner.
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Farmers are under huge pressure; growing food isn’t easy and comes with many risks and uncertainties. They’re also burdened with a moral obligation to feed the world – to produce ever more food as cheaply as possible. Massive job. It’s always been an expectation society has placed on them, but over the last 70 years as the global population has grown and become more connected it has driven policy and increasingly led conversations about the role of the farmer.