Contribution to GTI Roundtable "Farming for a Small Planet"
I would like to begin by thanking Frances Moore Lappé for a superb essay with a clear call to action for more ecologically-based food system models. The essay highlights key points that really resonate about the problems with the industrial agricultural model and the vast potential of agroecology as an alternative.
As Lappé notes, industrial agriculture is not just a technological approach to agriculture, but a broader model enmeshed in economic relationships. I would add that it is not just a market-based system that is intimately connected with industrial agriculture, but also a globalized world food economy that relies on industrial production methods to feed global supply chains. This global industrial food system is controlled by ever-fewer transnational corporations that source and sell increasingly processed and packaged “foods” around the world, with developing countries some of their fastest growing markets. Changing agricultural production methods to more ecologically sound practices embedded in more localized markets is an important step. But correcting course to a more sustainable food system will also require broader economic policy change, including revisions to international trade and investment rules that currently reinforce the industrial model and push against alternatives.
I also applaud the essay’s focus on the inefficiencies of the industrial food system. It is ironic that the advocates of the industrial food system feature efficiency as a key rationale for maintaining that system. It is important for advocates of sustainable agriculture to redefine efficiency as an ecological, rather than economic, concept. Such an approach brings out the true costs of industrial agricultural production, as the essay demonstrates so well.
Lappé’s essay makes a persuasive case for agroecology as an alternative path—showing that the science demonstrates its feasibility and that, consequently, it is a political choice. It is impossible to separate the question of sustainability in the food system, as the essay so eloquently argues, from that of democratic and accountable governance.