Categorized | Global View

Sustainable Agriculture

The average American eats 1,500 pounds of food a year. It’s not hard to imagine that a person in a developing country doesn’t achieve that same level of consumption. According to John Lawrence Hill’s, “The Case for Vegetarianism”, our average caloric intake per day is 3,150 calories. Comparatively, the caloric intake in developing countries is 2,200. Rachel Roys, president of MSU UNICEF, said 143 million children are undernourished(WORLDY?). Every two or three months, the amount of children that die from starvation(OR MALNUTRITION?) is more than the amount of people that have died from AIDS worldwide. (KIND OF CONFUSING. IS THIS AIDS OVER THE SAME TIME PERIOD?)
The root of eating habits in the U.S. is American agriculture (NOT QUITE SURE WHAT YOU’RE IMPLYING. IS IT THE WAY WE GROW OUR FOOD? ELABORATE). There are efforts from various people(WHO?/HOW?) involved with farming to make American agriculture have less negative(REDUNDANT) impact on the environment. Many of these people are involved in what modern lexicon (? USE DIFFERENT WORD) would call sustainable agriculture.
The word, sustainable, has been popping up a lot lately. Calling something sustainable means that it has the ability to sustain a certain process. In relevance to humanity, sustainability helps maintain ecological processes on earth and also using the earth’s resources at a rate at which they can be replenished. Sustainable agriculture, then, is agriculture that takes into account its negative impact on environment and strives to lessen it. It’s important to have sustainable agriculture in order to promote preservation of earthly life and processes, and also to lessen waste (HOW DO YOU KNOW THIS? ANY SOURCES?)


Aspects of sustainability are present at MSU’s Student Organic Farm. Organic farming holds a position in the story of sustainable agriculture because it may seem that organic farming, which generally limits the use of pesticides and utilizes compost and crop rotation in order to not exhaust nutrients in soil, is in align with sustainable values (SOURCE?). For example, Corie Pierce, coordinator of the Organic Farming Certificate Program at MSU, spoke about the damage pesticides can cause to the environment. Pierce said that farming organically was good because it was about being a good farmer. This means working with the land and not over-tilling it which can lead to erosion. Working with the land, sounds very similar to working to preserve the earth. Pierce said that giving plants pesticides on a farm puts that farm’s ecosystem on a sort of pesticide treadmill. This means that once pesticides begin to be used on plants, the plants will continue to need those pesticides. When the amount of pesticides are increased, the plants’ need for pesticides exponentially increases. Additionally, Pierce said that through the plants, pesticides can leak into the soil and then the water systems of a community, potentially harming the plants and animals that inhabit them. An example of this is the dead zone (an area devoid of life). The dead zone is bigger than New Jersey and it is located in the Mississippi river. The pesticides, Pierce said, are largely petroleum-based and lend to a dependency on oil. That dependency on oil could be unhealthy because most oil sources are non-renewable. (UNHEALTHY TO ENVIRONMENT? USE DIFFERENT WORD)
Conversely, the National Cattlemen’s Association stated in 1990 that pesticides do not damage the environment and that plants produce natural pesticides to protect themselves from insects, parasites and birds. In the opinion(NO OPINIONS, JUST SAID…DO YOU HAVE A QUOTE FOR THIS?) of MSU’s Dr. Paul Thompson the uses of pesticides is never ideal but in farming some use of pesticides is inevitable. Thompson also said that in most organic the class of pesticides is just restricted. There are even more eco-friendly pesticides such as bacillus thuringiensis(DOUBLE CHECK SPELLING) (Bt) that are natural and formed from microorganisms.

Conserving water is a facet of sustainability as well. In accordance with Pierce, water conservation isn’t an organic versus inorganic issue. Smaller farms use less water in comparison with larger commercial farms because they use sprinkler systems meant for simply covering large areas of land. On the other hand, smaller farms, which generally can’t afford to waste water, have more individualized water systems.


UNICEF, according to Roys, has saved more lives than any other children’s organization. What’s more is that one quarter of the children in the world are undernourished and malnourishment accounts for one-third of childhood deaths (CLARIFY. TOO CONFUSING). Children, after all, are the future and how society will solve the problem of hunger for children and adults is a pressing issue. Despite the amount of hunger present in modern society, “[the world] currently produces enough to provide everyone with a sufficient amount of calories,” Thompson said.
The root cause of hunger is poverty said Thompson. In rural areas, many families farm and may even have enough food to eat, but sometimes those who have enough to eat are nutrient deficient. There are families that suffer from low productivity on farms, as well, which leads to having to sell more of the food they grow, leaving little for themselves. The urban poor who suffer from starvation face a strictly income based problem for the most part. Besides intrinsic issues that families who are hungry face, there’s also the problem that industrialized countries try to keep prices low for produce which leaves farmers with little profit (SOURCE. HOW DO YOU KNOW THIS?).
The issue of hunger is related to sustainable agriculture because some have argued that agriculture can revolutionize the hunger crisis in today’s world. In Friedrich said that animal agriculture is wasteful because of the thousands of pounds of edible grain that is cycled through cattle. Others have argued that animal agriculture promotes sustainability (EXAMPLES?).
According to Thompson, if cattle are raised on an open range it can be sustainable and the cattle industry is structured with some range based production. Cattle can even be switched to a grain-based diet before slaughter to create better meat quality. However, Thompson said it is not ethical to cycle large amounts of grain and corn through cattle when it could be used to feed people. “The current agriculture system is not sustainable, but could provide sustainability and be consistent with animal welfare,”(THOMPSON SAID???)
Another issue that ties hunger and agriculture together is trade. Friedrich argued that throughout the famine in Ethiopia the country was exporting “much needed” soy and linseed to feed-farmed animals. Furthermore, he said that the issue is similar between the U.S. and Latin America. For example, two-thirds of the agriculturally productive land in Central America is devoted to raising farmed animals, almost all of whom are exported or eaten by the wealthy few in these countries.” Fredrich(SPELLING?) referenced Francis Moore Lappe in his writing/audiobook. Lappe, too, thought that a vegetarian diet would aid in the fight against hunger. Lappe makes a case in her book Diet for a Small Planet that one of the causes for hunger is the unfair distribution of resources. Basically, she believed that the wealthy controlled nature’s resources and that they take advantage of this power with little regard for the consequences that affect the poor. (PREFERRABLY, DON’T USE SOURCES FROM OTHER SOURCES. IT GETS CONFUSING. LEAVE OUT LAPPE. YOU CAN SAY WHAT HIS POSITION IS, THOUGH)
First off to digest Friedrich’s argument, it’s important to consider that trade seems to affect hunger in a complex way and that there are many variables that affect hunger. However, “no matter how poor [someone is] you need to sell food,” Thompson said. He meant that in order for farmers to make a profit here and abroad, trade has to exist. Furthermore, trade is necessary. As long as farmers can make their own choices about who to sell to, inequality will exist in the world market. Part of the problem is that the U.S. and Europe sometimes sell at prices lower than the cost of production; prices that farmers in developing countries can’t compete with. It is valid, according to Thompson, that nature’s wealth is controlled to fill the needs of affluent people, leaving out the poor. Higher income also is connected to a more wasteful lifestyle (ELABORATE).
Thompson said that a world shift to vegetarianism is not the solution to world hunger. He agreed that there is a level of meat consumption that is sustainable for the environment that we as humanity have probably exceeded and he thought that eating meat increases the amount of food that needs to be produced (considering that it takes about 2lbs of grain to produce 1lb of chicken, and even more grain to produce 1lb of beef)(BREAK THIS DOWN INTO TWO SENTENCES).
As far as trade is concerned, there’s also the suggestion that fair trade can promote sustainability. For one thing it gets farmers fair prices meaning that they would better be able to support and nourish themselves.


Perhaps the solution is to simply be mindful of how your actions affect others. Eating is a choice that you make over and over again in your day to day life. Why not make a good choice and think of others when you eat?

Rachel Roys does not represent the views or opinions of UNICEF or the UN.

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