The food crisis is on everyone’s lips. In painfully introverted politics, mainly in the form of runaway food prices, the UN’s World food program speaks of the impending world famine as an unprecedented crisis. The truth is that since Hans Rosling‘s death, most of his curves have unfortunately pointed in the wrong direction: Today, more than two billion people struggle to get their daily bread and 345 million starve.
The pandemic and the war over Ukraine’s fertile lands accelerated the crisis, but the problems have been there for a long time. The green revolution is no longer delivering, but more and more issues are emerging linked to monocultures, pesticides and artificial fertilizers. In addition, both agriculture and meat production contributes to global warming.
How can we feed the Earth’s growing population without impoverishing the planet? British columnist George Monbiot tries to answer that question in his new book “Regenesis: Feeding the world without devouring the planet.” He believes we have created a standardized system that possibly works when nothing goes wrong but lacks resilience. The slightest tremor has enormous consequences, which is what we are now experiencing.
Monbiot’s book is depressing reading for the middle class and eases their conscience about organic food. Of course, organic food has certain advantages, but it is not as environmentally friendly as we think.
Organic meat is often worse for the climate because one of the biggest problems with meat production is that it takes up land that would have to be returned to nature. This applies especially to cows that graze in the open. It is absurdly better to eat tightly packed chickens or chained pigs from strictly climate considerations. But of course, it is best to become a vegetarian.
It goes against much of today’s cultivation.
When it comes to cultivation, Monbiot advocates regenerative agriculture. It is an increasingly popular method to solve problems with one-sided monocultures and deteriorating soil quality. It does this by taking advantage of the crops’ natural interactions with other plants, insects and worms and microbes in the soil. It goes against today’s cultivation, which is instead based on knocking out ecosystems with the help of pesticides and planting.
Regenerative agriculture also rests on a different understanding of nature and man’s relationship to it than the usual one. Because according to Charles Darwin’s theory – as it is generally understood today – life in nature is characterized by a war of all against all, where the strongest survives. In this mythology, it becomes man’s task to master nature. In the words of Francis Bacon, we must subject nature to “the torture of experiment rather than let it follow its natural course.” The goal, often in our modern civilization, is control and domination.
We need to deepen our understanding of the farmland.
But later, biological research has shown that nature is characterized by cooperation and even altruistic sacrifice rather than struggle. It is this interplay that regenerative agriculture taps into. Cultivation should hook into the ecosystem and cooperate with it rather than try to control it.
There is no one answer to how to solve the global food crisis, but Monbiot is clear that many methods are required – including new crops and laboratory-produced protein. But an in-depth understanding of the soil undeniably appears to be critical. And it is frightening to see how poor the state of research is regarding the importance of soil for cultivation.
That we invest billions in the fantasy of terraforming Mars, at the same time as we lack basic knowledge about our own Earth – also says something about the myths we live in.