What we eat will decide if we need to find another planet to grow our food

Much is said about how organic farming is much less productive than industrialized forms of agriculture. For people who have been thinking about organic farming as one of the many solutions to the apocalyptic mess we find ourselves in, this argument of productivity in a debate with friends and family becomes a speed breaker.

While it is true that industrialized agriculture is more productive than organic farming when comparing a single crop monoculture, it doesn’t mean that industrialized agriculture alone can feed the world. Let me tell you why I think so with the example of the banana flower.

There are four edible parts of the banana plant : Banana bunch, banana leaves, banana stem and banana flower. Among these, only the banana bunch is sought after. With industrialized agriculture, monocultures of banana are encouraged over large swathes of land. But the banana flower and banana stem are rarely harvested because it is not cooked by people much anymore. (While the banana leaf is edible, it is used only for serving food on and packing food.) Banana flower and stem are not cooked by people any more because women, in average, spend lesser time in the kitchen or the farm / garden. This is despite all the major conveniences available in the kitchen. Men have rarely helped the women in the kitchen ever anyways. As a consequence, the same amount of land now produces 20% lesser food.

Every banana floret has to be cleaned one by one

(While we have become more industrialized, the farms have also gotten less diverse. So, the banana farm, which could have grown greens, spices and veggies in the understory, has absolutely nothing growing – not even a weed because of the carbon intensive ploughing and weedicide application. This is a discussion for another post though)

I could therefore argue that, an industrialized and urbanized civilization is more land intensive than one which is rural and relies on climate sensitive sustainable methods. Organic farming can feed more people than industrialized farming only if people move to the villages because it is more labour intensive. As long as we are going to chase GDP growth and free globalized trade, we are not going to head in this direction any time soon.


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