Stephen (Esteban) Bartlett

A very important topic and distinction.  It is precisely the scale of production and the respective models that accompany either small or large farms, that determines the social and economic character of agriculture, its ecological sustainability (ie how it maintains soil fertility), and its usefulness as a shield against hunger for the many.

Very simply put, small farms are necessary in order to end hunger.  80% of hungry people worldwide are rural people or rural migrants whose land holdings or economic or social infrastructure are insufficient to produce an income that can feed, clothe and educate their families.  This is a result of land concentration into fewer hands, ie larger farms.

The green revolution may have increased yields in certain grain crops for those able to take advantage, that is, those with capital to spend on seeds, chemical fertilizers and pesticides.  But social inequalities widened, and ecological limits came to bear, ie the law of diminishing returns came to bear on increasing uses of pesticides as resistances built up, soil lost its natural fertility (due to lack of organic material being returned), etc… Lands became concentrated into fewer hands due to the industrial model.

Studies have shown that, the world over, on average the smaller the farms are, the more productive they are in overall calories per acre.  We are not talking about the yields of large scale monocultures, but of a diversity of crops and animals raised in given areas.  ( Peter Rosset)

Regarding GMO seeds, it is now widely known that their main function is to make large scale monocultures easier (more convenient) to produce, through the use of herbicides sprayed over the crop, that the plant can withstand.  Overall yields of GMOs have been shown to be below those of the best hybrid or even open-pollinated varieties of the major grains and oilseeds.  Conventionally grown hybrid grain crops continue to out-produce GMO crops.

Finally, the argument that large farms of “efficient” monocultures (“efficient only in the sense of how much food each farmer can produce, but not how much can be produced sustainably, or even economically, on a given piece of land) are needed in order to combat hunger is completely false.  If rural peoples are to feed themselves, farms necessarily need to be smaller, so that living wage employment is more widely distributed and small-scale farmers have the means to grow their own foods, plus surpluses to sell.  It is the lack of support on the part of governments and the international financial institutions that imposed harmful conditionalities for decades now (including the de-funding of grain reserves!) for small-scale farming that has marginalized that sector, not any inherent inefficiency in that way of life or that scale of production.

Once small farmers organize themselves into cooperatives, the small scale of their individual farm holdings becomes irrelevant.  Their closer attention to the soil, their use of diverse plantings, their use of animal manures and other green manures, and their attention to micro climate through maintenance of wood lots, etc..for the domestic products forests supply, including medicines, all make small farms more effective in addressing economic impoverishment, in slowing or reversing the rural exodus to the cities, and in providing the community necessary to maintain a resilient rural culture.

It is likely that if you argue otherwise, your bread might very well be buttered in some way by the status quo of corporate, industrial-scale production, or some academic institution that thrives off the spouting of cleverly worded abstractions in the interest of capturing “research”
funding.  The debate over small versus large farms is really a debate about corporate control and profit-taking by producers of industrial inputs versus the survival of independent small-holders, the people that Thomas Jefferson swore were the bedrock of democracy, without whom democratic process would dry up and wither on the vine…

Stephen (Esteban) Bartlett, Agricultural Missions, Inc (AMI)