It seems that voices in the pastoral wilderness have been shouting contradictory messages at each other for decades. Since the beginning of the 21st century, we have been warned of an approaching ‘perfect storm’ of crop failures, droughts and overpopulation by doomsayers and alarmists.
John Beddington predicted that world population growth beyond 9 billion alone would be enough to create shortages of food, water and energy. Climate change alarmists had even more apocalyptic visions of famine and floods.
Equally vociferous have been the organic champions, claiming that we need a new covenant with the earth; and that industrialized mono-culture is not only producing an over-abundance of food, but ruining the environment and promoting an unhealthy lifestyle.
“The madness of feeding perfectly good grains and animal by-products to cows to feed an addiction to steak is crazy,” said Phil Lymbery. “We actually already produce enough food globally for 11 billion people, but we use most of it to produce factory meat!”
Caught between these two powerful camps lie the poor; the marginalized people at the bottom of the pyramid, who subsist on what they can afford, healthy or not, and often go hungry when other communities suffer from obesity. Farmageddon, the war between industrial and organic farming, creates food shortages and high prices for those who are most vulnerable. Staples like maize are in abundance, but more than half the crop is consumed by cattle, artificially inflating prices. Truly organic products suffer from low yields, putting them beyond the reach of even the middle classes.
The solution lies with hero farmers. Developing from a backyard food garden project in informal settlements in Cape Town, micro farming that treasures and protects the soil has become a global answer to the perfect storm of shortages, and also a counter to the wasteful conversion of good crops to prime steak. The concept spread to other parts of Africa, and was eagerly adopted in India.
Organic artisanal food is too expensive for the impoverished masses, who also suffer the excesses of intense industrialized farming. But hero farmers have so little soil, they are obliged to use affordable organic methods, and concentrate on vegetables and healthy edibles. They are saving the day, providing food security for their families and immediate communities, and reaping a better relationship with the earth and environment at the same time.