Agriculture and Food Industry

Exploring the framework for a “Balanced Development” model

 

Ramses Rashidi

©2008 Center for Balanced Development  (www.cbdus.org)

 

In the last article we talked about fragmented development trends in urban planning and the housing industry. Here, we are going to further examine the fragmented nature of growth and development in the modern times. Specifically, we are going to focus on the agriculture and food industries.

 

From Agriculture to Agribusiness

In the evolutionary stages of the development of civilization, agriculture has played an important role. As early as 10,000 years ago, various cultures started developing their own unique methods of cultivating the land and raising animals for food and basic necessities of life. Depending on the geographical location, access to water and available resources, the development of agriculture has advanced as human beings have gained experience and knowledge. In fact, until the advent of the industrial age, agriculture was the foundation of development and most of the resources of the community were dedicated to its growth and maintenance. Agriculture, as the name implies, was a way of life and the backbone of society. Farmers not only served the communities in terms of sustenance, but also they were the pillars of agricultural economy. Even though peasants in some cultures were historically exploited by the ruling class, farming itself was generally considered a sacred and praiseworthy profession by the masses.

 

Today, we are experiencing a different picture of agriculture. Although, there are still some small farms and the old farming practices are common in many parts of the world, for the most part, agriculture and animal husbandry has become the domain of big business and mass production. In terms of efficiency, the agribusiness or industrial agriculture functions very much like any highly efficient production assembly line. The corporate farmer in order to increase crop yield and boost profits, resorts to various tactics including the use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, genetic modification (GMO), artificial growth environment and mechanization. In raising cattle, poultry and fish, the use of chemical feeds, antibiotics, hormones and animal confinement is considered normal, and is generally accepted. Modern agriculture is about economy of scales. As a result, major agricultural centers have become ecological disaster zones. With the quality of soils constantly being degraded due to the heavy usage of chemicals fertilizers and the air highly charged with pesticides, living in the agricultural areas is often a big challenge to the health of the locals. Meanwhile, the consumers of agricultural products in the big cities, are on the receiving end of a supply chain that requires long shelf life as well as ever-increasing costs due to sharp and largely unpredictable increases in the cost of energy and transportation. 

 

Social Implications of Modern Agricultural Practices

Modern agriculture practices are further contributing to the fragmentation and disparity of the global community. On one hand, we see highly saturated markets of the developed countries and the over-abundance of agricultural and animal products to the extent where a significant portion of food is thrown away. On the other hand, we observe the struggle of the masses in the underdeveloped and developing countries merely striving to produce enough food just for local consumption. It’s interesting that some of poorest countries are food exporters while the local population starves. The uneven distribution and the struggle to have access to food is a very real threat to global stability. The social implications of our modern agricultural practice could be compared to a human body where some of the cells are dying for lack of food while other cells are experiencing abnormal growth due to over-consumption. The difference in the way we use our agricultural resources, shows a lack of understanding of the concept of society. Therefore, we are experiencing hardships and difficulties that have become an integral part of life in the modern world. 

 

Global Trends in Food Industry

Like all other industries, the food industry is based on supply and demand. It’s about buying power and having the access to food sources. In this process, some do not have the means to provide food for themselves and their families. As a result, the malnourished and starving population in the world is increasing. Even though there are programs run by international humanitarian organizations to address this issue, but according to statistics from the United Nations, some 880 million people are severely hungry worldwide. Every day some 20,000 children die for lack of food. According to the World Bank, about one billion people in the world sustain themselves on less than $1 per day. Against this backdrop, there are 1.1 billion people in the world who are overweight. We throw away $90 million worth of food every day. In the US alone, we spend $83 million on weight loss products every day. In 2007, global sales of cat and dog food totaled US$ 45 billion.

 

These food consumption statistics suggest that we don’t see ourselves as a global community that is connected and works in a stable and harmonious way. The disparity is quiet obvious. Therefore, it’s not surprising to see some of the current chaotic global trends and growing conflicts. The way we treat food is an indication of a greater reality which has to do with the purpose of creation and the meaning of life. It also shows that our “self” is engulfed in the sea of unbridled individualism and rampant materialism. In this picture, everyone is busy looking after their own needs, and all are trying to improve their own condition. Here, food is something that makes you feel better, not only physically, but emotionally as well. Food is something you enjoy while working, driving, reading or talking. Food is a utility that is used to keep up with yourself.

 

Balanced Development Viewpoint

Obviously, when it comes to agriculture and food there is a global imbalance. As a starting point in addressing this imbalance, we need further explore the concept of micro development. Promoting local initiatives in establishment and support of small organic farms and co-ops could be a very practical first step that could easily be implemented throughout the planet. Here the human and material resources of the developed nations can be of great assistance to the people in the areas where conditions are not quite ideal. Food sources are a bounty that belong the entire world population and no segment of society should be deprived of it. The idea of sharing our global resources for the benefit of all must eventually become part of our mindset to avoid disparity and to foster greater balance. Furthermore, in a balanced development model, the pattern of food consumption should be in accordance with our needs and in moderation. Food is the source of life and therefore it’s sacred. It brings people together and so it’s to be shared. 

 

In the next articles we will examine the growth and development of the transportation industry.

 

Ramses Rashidi (ramses@cbdus.org) is the founder and director of Center for Balanced Development.

The center is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing resources and services to foster global balance in social, personal, ecological and economic development.