January 23, 2009

Agriculture and biodiversity

More from Aide and Grau (I edited out the literature references):
Present efforts to promote production systems with high local biodiversity, but low productivity (e.g., traditional agriculture and grazing, shade coffee, etc.) will not be sufficient to produce agricultural products for a population of more than 9 billion people, which is increasing per capita consumption, without sacrificing large areas of natural ecosystems. To meet the rising global demand for food and conserve Latin American ecosystems, modern high-yield agriculture and agriculture adjustment coupled with rural–urban migration need to be incorporated into large-scale conservation planning.


  1. I'm honestly not persuaded either way by the "only intensification can feed us" or the "only local and diverse can feed us". There was a truly astonishing slide shown by Schellnhuber at Climate Congress in Copenhagen two weeks ago, in which he took all the world's agriculture and put it where it would yield best. Astonishing how little land you need under those circumstances. The problems remain energy for distribution and fertilizer, and what on Earth everybody else in the world is supposed to do while they wait for their food to arrive.

    I need to write it up properly, but I think there's something to be said.

    My feeling is that one can grow the energy crops -- starchy staples -- where they do best, with the right inputs and controls over the downstream impact of those impacts, but that one should grow everything else -- the nutrition -- as close to the point of consumption as possible.

    As a gross over-simplification, of course.

  2. As close as possible is not a useful criterion. What is possible?

    Growing crops where they do best in terms of low inputs and high yields is also not the best criterion.

    Whether we should grow crops here or there should be left to the law of comparative advantage. Comparative advantage includes the relative productivity of people, investments already made, etc., and not only enviromental conditions such as climate and soil.

    Steps towards utopia may include eliminating barriers to trade, perverse subsidies, and silly regulations, and adding simple, well-designed Pigovian taxes on gas, fertilizers and pesticides. I don't think telling people where to grow things is a good strategy.