Farming needs Adam Smith’s invisible hand, not finance capitalism

 

Dr Colin Tudge trained as a biologist and is a 3-time winner of the Science Writer of the Year Award. His career includes serving as Features Editor at New Scientist. He’s the author of numerous works on food, agriculture, genetics, and species diversity.

 

*Even the establishment faces at the Oxford Farming Conference recognise all’s not well – the theme this year is ‘power’

All we need to feed everyone well and to stop the Earth being wrecked is farming that’s based on well-directed science and good old-fashioned capitalism, all rooted in what might be called common morality – a true desire to take care of each other and of our fellow creatures.

The people in power – big governments, the corporations, the banks, and their attendant battalions of intellectuals and experts – will claim that this is what they have provided. Yet 1 billion out of 7 billion are undernourished; half our fellow creatures are in danger of extinction; the Earth as a whole is falling apart before our eyes – and it’s due not to the fecklessness of humanity or the shortcomings of the Earth but to truly destructive strategies imposed from above. For present policy and all the science that goes with it are not designed to provide good food but to make as much money as possible in the shortest time so as to “compete” in the global market. That may sounds too childishly crude to be true, but alas it is the case.

READ MORE  source The Guardian

Farming designed to maximise wealth is diametrically opposite in structure and technique to farming that is intended to feed people. Properly directed science tells us that we need farms that are as diverse as possible, meaning maximally mixed – for diversity is the key to resilience and long-term yield. Common sense tells us that in a finite world, farming must be low-input, which means as organic as possible. Mixed, low-input farming is complex and must be skills-intensive; there is little advantage in scale-up so the default farm size is small to medium. All this needs excellent science and technology – but small scale, and focused on biology rather than industrial chemistry.

If economists were concerned with on-the-ground reality they’d see that Britain now needs a million more farmers – at least 10 times the number at present; closer to 10% of the workforce than today’s 1%. For a country with 2.5 million unemployed, including a million young people, many of them graduates, skills-intensive farming should be a godsend – not just a short-term expedient but the permanent base of the economy. Good disciples of Adam Smith would welcome small farms and small shops, too, because Smith’s “invisible hand”, which ensures fair play, works best if there’s a host of providers, and doesn’t work at all if there aren’t.

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