Study: Biodiversity from Polyculture Outperforms Industrial Farming Chemicals10/03/2013 10:57
With the increasing population recently breaching the 7 billion mark, and no sign of slowing, you may have heard some UN-supported scientists claim that certain foods will need to double production to keep up with rising demand.
This - along with massive support from Big Agri for GMOs and factory farming - seem to indicate that further industrialization of the food industry is all that can save the world from starvation. Not exactly.
While major food production and research companies are pouring millions into advancing their biotech methods, resistance in the forms of support for biodiversity, permaculture and other sustainable methods is growing.
Do we really need industrial agriculture to feed the world?
A study by the University of California, Berkeley, presented exhaustive alternatives to current practices. One section of the paper cited research pointing to the positive effects of biodiversity on the numbers of herbivore pests, finding that polycultural planting led to reduction of pest populations by up to 64%. Later, combined results of hundreds of comparisons also favored biologically diverse farms with a 54% increase in pest mortality and damage to crops dropping by almost 25%. The introduction of more diverse insects also promoted increased pollination and healthier crops.(source ecology and society)
A 9-year study conducted by researchers from the USDA, University of Minnesota and Iowa State University proved that in more complex systems, yield AND profits were both enhanced. When paired against the conventional corn/soy rotation, less fertilizer was used. This difference actually increased over the course of the study, indicating the quality of the soil was improving over time, instead of experiencing the depletion of common practices. (source Union of Concerned Scientists)
So the USDA knows this eye-opening evidence, yet it continues to give tens of billions in subsidies to keep current industry.
Soil management is a key long-term investment for farmers, many of whom are not presented with viable alternatives to the current practice by the tightly controlled agriculture landscape. Biodiverse practices have been shown repeatedly to not only balance soil nutrition, but lead to a healthier array of forage choices for livestock, more nutrition and a more long-term, sustainable balance with local ecosystems.
A diversified farming system has been defined as "A system of agricultural production that, through a range of practice, incorporates agrobiodiversity across multiple spatial and/or temporal scales." Basically, that breaks down to growing different things, in different areas, at different times.
Does that practice seem familiar? Maybe it's how nature was meant to be. Managed but not manipulated or modified. And only by returning to the concepts provided to us by nature, will we manage to recreate the same sustainable environs that we were responsible for destroying in the first place.
Marsden researchers said in their groundbreaking paper, that "there has been an interest in reintegrating crop and livestock systems as a strategy for reducing reliance on fossil fuels, minimizing the use of increasingly expensive fertilizers, and limiting water pollution by nutrients, pathogens, and antibiotics."
Karen Perry Stillerman of the Union of Concerned Scientists put it perfectly:
It's important to remember who has that interest....and who doesn't.
Other sources for this article include:
Image credit: Andrew Holder (Xerces Society)