BiodiversityBiofuelsConsumerismDeforestationDesertificationEconomicsFood ShortagesGMOsHealth & DiseaseSoil Erosion & ContaminationWater Contaminaton & Loss

Food MythBusters – Do We Really Need Industrial Agriculture to Feed the World? (video)

Further Reading:

Geoff Lawton

Geoff Lawton is a world renowned Permaculture consultant, designer and teacher. He first took his Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) Course in 1983 with Bill Mollison the founder of Permaculture. Geoff has undertaken thousands of jobs teaching, consulting, designing, administering and implementing, in 6 continents and close to 50 countries around the world. Clients have included private individuals, groups, communities, governments, aid organizations, non-government organisations and multinational companies under the not-for-profit organisation. In 1996 Geoff was accredited with the Permaculture Community Services Award by the Permaculture movement for services in Australia and around the world. Geoff's official website is Geoff's Facebook profile can be found here.


  1. Nice piece. So, to clarify… 70% of all food is being produced by small farmers. Globally, small farmers overwhelmingly use more organic, less industrial methods. 30% (some say 40%) of all food produced is wasted. Therefore, sustainable farming practices are ALREADY producing enough food to feed our population! I wish this was the message rather than sustainable farming CAN produce enough food.

    Another conclusion is obvious, in order to ensure that everyone actually gets fed, which is different than merely producing enough food, we need more small farms everywhere. Decentralization! This is where Permaculture shines.

  2. Couldn’t agree with you more Brent, as the articles in the ‘further reading’ section above will attest. Below is another link for good measure, an article where I attempt to make it clear how industrial agriculture is not only NOT working to feed the world, it’s also the prime cause of the now-unfolding global food crisis:

  3. Great story. It really is. However, at this point, if a peaceful decent is the desired outcome, we need more than a small tweak here and there. Something that does more than affirm our beliefs, give us a false sense of hope, and leave us feeling warm and fuzzy inside.

    We need real solutions that address the real problems we now face. This story, as good as it is, only provides one solution to one problem. If we don’t address all the solutions to all of the problems (George Monbiot Annus Horribilis) – it simply won’t work.

    I would think this may have something to do with Craigs dogged determination to continue posting articles some might say fall outside the scope of permaculture. However, this is exactly what is most required.

    We must walk away from this all consuming monster called industrial civilization. This is where it gets tricky.

    Just a passing thought of course:-)


  4. The 70% figure needs a bit of de-construction –

    “small scale farmers / peasants produce 50% of the global food production; small scale food producers in the cities produce 7,5%; hunting, fishing and other forms of gathering and harvesting from nature counts for about 12,5%; and that the industrial food production produce about 30% of the total global food production”

    The problem is the 30% that is produced industrially or more precisely where it is being consumed. Reducing the 30% is the challenge. More small farms in North America at least are a non-starter economically. Even with subsidies and tax breaks, many farmers and/or partners hold jobs off the farm. The Rodale study is excellent but for industrial farmers to transition to “organic” farming is a tough, tough exercise. When chemical support is withdrawn from depleted soil, productivity drops until the soil recovers. Without transition support, the farmer is quickly bankrupt.

    Having more small farms in North America & most of Western Europe won’t solve the problem because of the problem of distribution. Supermarkets are the first choice for food shopping in North America and much of Europe but supermarkets don’t carry local produce unless they are locally owned and operated. I have yet to hear how local produce can fit significantly into a national or even international supermarket chain. If someone can explain how large scale distributors can economically depend on small scale producers, I love to hear it.

    The waste argument seems to me a numbers game. Reducing waste in North America & Western Europe is not going to automatically result in more food elsewhere. Starvation will not automatically be reduced by eliminating waste.

    I’m not trying to deflate balloons here but rather I’m struggling with the problems of getting on with it, doing it. From my perspective, this video is a cute bit of nonsense. It strings together a lot of feel good fuzzy mush.

  5. @DeepGreenGreenie

    I hear you, but I think the scale of the challenges towards implementing solutions should not cause us to lose perspective. Your talking of the current distribution infrastructure of supermarkets and long-distance transport is just focussing on where we are now, rather than where we need to head. The current way of doing things, that you’re describing, is ultimately impossible to maintain as we descend the peak oil precipice. Relocalising, as challenging as it may be, is becoming a necessity, and the sooner we accept these challenges and start transitioning towards them, the easier it will be for us in the long run.

    Yes, present large scale monocrop farmers have destroyed their soils, and are operating in the treadmill of chemicals and fertilisers, but this only makes the necessary transition to biologically-based systems all the more imperative. The sooner we start building soil, rather than burning it up, the easier it will be in the long run.

    This video doesn’t talk strategies. It’s not intended to be a comprehensive primer on agricultural strategies or policies. But if people can get their head around the potential of more holistic forms of food production, then we can create the will to bring these aims to pass.

    At the moment the farmers with the most land and the biggest monocrop systems are favoured by agricultural subsidies. We are shooting ourselves in the foot with our own tax dollars. This needs to turn around. As I’ve expressed many, many times, instead of ‘Get big or get out’ policies and subsidies, we could instead transition to ‘Get small or get out’, and start to make smaller scale, more biodiverse systems more viable.

    In the end, it’s just a question of priorities. If efficiency per farm labourer (output per farmer rather than output per square metre) and financing massive agricultural monopolies are the order of the day, then let’s keep things as they are, and continue to subsidise those who are depleting our aquifers, poisoning our watersheds and soils and burning up critical humus levels as if there were no tomorrow. Or, if getting the most food per square metre whilst increasing diversity and building soils and making optimum use of precious water is our desired outcome instead, then let’s push for policies that encourage/empower those people instead.

    Again, complaining about the challenges doesn’t make the problem go away – it only delays our getting proactive, and, again, the longer we leave these problems, the harder (and more expensive) they will be to deal with and retreat from.

    And, as we work towards the ‘ideal’ (an ‘ideal’ which will ultimately be seen as a ‘necessity’ as supplies of cheap oil and gas continue to wane) there are simple, transitional options that could easily be implemented immediately, like age-old methods of crop rotation. See this study as an example:

    The simple act of implementing an increase in diversity for crop rotations itself would cause society and its economy and distribution systems to start to lean towards a relocalisation trajectory.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

Back to top button