Monday, February 27, 2012

A deal which sounds too good to be true...

You've seen it before, if you follow the news.   Under the guise of "helping" them, president Clinton negotiated trade policies with Haiti which flooded their country with cheap subsidized rice from the US, for which he later apologized as if he had been innocent to the end result of such a deal.   While I'm sure there was some initial relief at the influx of food, the Hatian farmers were unable to compete, and are now out of business.   They're slowly losing the expertise to provide for themselves while they have developed a dependence upon our highly efficient (and thus vulnerable) and industrialized agriculture.

We've done the same thing with Mexico, using NAFTA to flood their markets with cheap subsidized corn, thus destroying their farmers.  Many of them had little choice but to starve or emigrate to the US as illegal aliens. The longer their farmers remain out of business, the more expertise they lose.

This same pattern has repeated itself throughout the world.   At the behest of the large corporations which own it, our government pushes our products into foreign markets, destroying their agriculture and engendering a dependence upon us while destroying their local expertise.  When the foreign country rejects our products as France did, we look for ways to punish them.

The problem isn't limited to people in foreign lands though.   You and I are just like the Haitians.  Every time we opt for the cheap industrial alternative (whether food, clothing, energy, or transportation), we lose the local expertise we once had in providing these goods and services for ourselves.  The gains in efficiency always come at a cost in resilience, lost knowledge, and greater dependency.

A great example of this is the field corn we grow on our farm.   Last year we produced perhaps 25 bushels on our half-acre field.  It took several days to spread manure, plow, disc, harrow, plant, cultivate, and harvest this crop.   At $12 per bushel (organic prices), the end value of our efforts is worth about $300.   If I figure an optimistically low 40 hours of labor involved, and subtract costs, we earned perhaps $5/hr.

A rational person would quickly realize this poor return on investment, and instead shell out the cash for organic, open pollinated corn (if they could find it). That person would be the little piggy who saved on the house of straw just as the wolf is starting to huff and puff..  Why?   Because they're still completely reliant upon a food system that is fully dependent upon fossil fuels -- which are, as I write this, becoming decreasingly viable to extract (not to mention their climate-altering side effects).   If the time comes when the complex industrial food system collapses, they will not have the expertise required to feed themselves or their families.   What do you think that knowledge is worth?

China has done something similar to us as a country.   Our manufacturing sector has been giddy with the prospect of utilizing their cheap labor in lieu of our own.  All they ask for in return is our expertise.   As we become increasingly reliant upon their manufacturing, our knowledge begins to disappear, and we become completely dependent upon them.  Should we rejoice at the cheap consumer goods that enable us to save money (or just buy more stuff), or should we be concerned about our new dependency?


Anonymous said...

I've been reading through your posts and wanted to drop a note saying thank you for writing as you do. I appreciate it a lot.

Charles Edward Owens Jr. said...

I have been trying to grow and preserve my area's food plants for years, I have lived in the area off and on literally all my life, but I have a small 1/6 th an acre city lot, though once we had open forest near here, that is going away with houses and apartments. I Hope to be able to grow all the food I myself need on the land I have. Which after you take out the house and other things you only get 1/12th an acre. In the book "One straw revolution" They feed 4 on 1/4 of an acre, so that is 1/16th per person. So my goal is to BioWebScape that down to 1/20th an acre or less. Between rainwater harvesting and other methods, I hope to be able to prove my ideas in a few years within this framework. The more we know about how to eat off the land we have the better off we will be. Found your link via JHK's site, thanks.