The Future of Agriculture

During the 20th century, the word 'Horsepower' has been adapted to describe the power output of the internal combustion engine. However, the early road hauling and agricultural steam engines were quite literally described as being three, four or five 'Horse power', thus one could equate the strength of the horses to that of the steam engines of this new era. These steel beasts lead the charge of the all-conquering industrial revolution, followed by the dominance of the internal combustion engine and the almost total dependence on oil for the great majority of agricultural and transport needs.

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Real food and real people

You know there's something different the minute the plane emerges beneath the clouds. There below, is a chess board of hedgeless, patchwork fields in various shades of green, amber and brown - with the occasional clump of trees reaching up amongst the spreadeagled farmland.

Then there are the houses, mostly rather small, dotted around here and there in characteristicly nonconformist groups - and the little roads further dissecting the landscape.

For anyone with half an eye for the agricultural lay of the land, one's curiosity is immediately aroused. For large swathes of Southern and Eastern Poland are still the domain of a peasant farming tradition which has changed little in the past three hundred years.

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The girl who silenced

he Girl Who Silenced The World At The United Nations For 6minutes.

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Natural and Cultural Biodiversity

Natural and Cultural Biodiversity, Quality of Food and Agriculture

It is becoming increasingly hard in most of Western Europe and North America, to buy any food from farms situated close to where one lives - i.e. 'local food.'

In England, where over 80% of food is now purchased in Supermarkets, the contents of a typical supermarket trolley of food has traveled more than 3,000 kilometers before it reaches the display shelves. This contributes greatly to planetary pollution and depleted food quality.

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Swedish Farmers Look to Poland

ICPPC leaders, Jadwiga Lopata and Julian Rose, were invited to come to Sweden by the Swedish Small Familly Farmers Association, in October 2003. This report summarizes their visit.
By Julian Rose

Ake Karlsson is chairman of the Swedish Small Farmers Association and has a 150ha arable and woodland farm at Noordkoping, some 130 kilometres south of Stockholm. Ake and his family are proud of their farm - and especially his herd of beef cattle. But his favorite animals are two cows kept over from his dairy herd , which was sold , along with so many others, in the mid 1990's, due to falling milk prices and the high costs placed on dairy farms by EU hygiene and sanitary controls.Ake is deeply saddened by the fate of the small farmer under the hands of an EU bureaucracy which pays 80% of its subsidies to 20% of the farmers - the largest ones - and leaves the rest to fight over the crumbs. A short drive from his farm is Hakan Thornell who is equally outspoken about the Common Agricultural Policy. Hakan has 130ha of land comprising both grassland and forestry. A few years ago he applied for EU support for his grassland area, but was refused the money when he cut the grass instead of letting it grow rank. Hakan says that both he and his colleagues were better off financially and more independent before Sweden joined the EU. In order to ensure that visitors understand his feelings he has erected a sign at the entrance to his farm which declares: "EU Free Zone". He is also pleased to show us a chicken house which is a glass reproduction of the European Parliament's headquarters, complete with cock and hens."UE free zone" sogn on the Hakan's farm

 


Glass reproduction of the European Parliament's headquartersStaff of the European Parliament's headquarters

 

Ake explains that since a subsidy was introduced which pays landowners to do nothing with their grass meadows ( i.e. take them out of agricultural production) significant areas of farmland have been bought-up by wealthy town's people who then collect the subsidies without making any commitment to the upkeep and management of the farm. Observing the passing farmland as we drive up the motorway, it is apparent how field after field is devoid of any farming activity and how a course grass is the only visible crop.

The next day we are taken to see a small scale goat farm. Here Katarina Ogren looks after 45 goats which she milks twice a day, making a selection of cheeses from each batch of milk. The cheese is then sold to specialist shops, restaurants and the recently opened 'farmers market' in Stockholm. It is a highly committed way of life and one which demands a very professional approach. Katarina applied for an EU subsidy to help build-up the farm, but found that the demands of the paperwork were very hard and that the financial returns were lower than the costs which she had to pay to an advisor whose help she needed. At one point 7 controllers came on the same day to inspect the farm and quiz Katarina over hygiene and sanitary controls. Now she is trying to withdraw from the system altogether, recognising that she has more to loose than to gain through trying to aquire EU support.

For the new accession countries there are many warnings to be heeded. The most obvious one must be not to be fooled by governments claiming that farmers will be better off under the EU. The truth is that unless farming fits into an 'industrial' or highly specialized category and is operated on a large scale, it stands little or no chance of attracting any serious EU subsidy. Ironically, the farms that fit this description are also the most environmentally destructive, relying heavilly on agrichemicals and monocutural crop production. But, for the great majority of farmers, the burden of regulations and controls that have to be conformed to are quite out of proportion to the financial returns - and this imbalance continues to drive large numbers of out of business.

So what is the answer?

Artur Granstedt , of the Swedish Biodynamic Research Institute, is leading a project to identify the main causes of groundwater pollution run-off into the Baltic Sea. The health of the Baltic is badly effected by agricultural and industrial waste from surrounding countries and parts are close to completely loosing their natural ecosystems and fish stocks.

Artur's research has revealed that if Poland, with its population of 38 million, follows the same model of agriculture as that adopted by Sweden, with as much pollution to the Baltic per inhabitant, the situation will soon become critical. Sweden contributes 22% of the total load of nitrogen and Poland 28%. But counted per capita, Poland's contribution is 5kg. Whereas Sweden, with a population of just 9 million, is 20kg. per head!
This reveals that the true costs of industrial agriculture have been ignored by the policy makers and that the example being set by Poland - which is often accused of being 'out of date'- is clearly worthy of greater respect.

Hans Von Essen , who was our host for three days and who chaired a specially convened seminar at the Royal Academy of Agriculture in Stockholm, fully supports this view and is quite sure of one thing: Poland should not follow the example set by Sweden . Hans recognizes, both as an observer and as a practitioner, the enormous value of the ecological principles that have guided the development of biodynamic and organic agriculture in his
country, but he is aware that this still only accounts for around 10% of Swedish farmland.

Participants at the Royal Academy were very concerned that Poland should not destroy its traditional and environmentally friendly family farms for the sake of conforming to the industrial agricultural model adopted by so many European countries under the Common Agricultural Policy. They believe that many Swedish farmers and also policy makers, recognize that they could learn a great deal from the Polish small scale family farms, opening-up new possibilities for young people to take-up the skills and wisdom which remain an essential part of such farming communities.

The answer is simply:
Most small Polish family farms are sustainable - ecologically, economically and socially. We must learn to understand that this form of farming is not an anachronism, but a picture of the farms of the future.

2002 Goldman Environmental Prize Ceremony

Additional information

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