The problem with organic farming is...


That even those who claim to be its champions seem not to understand the implications of what they're actually proposing.

Take Geoffrey Lean's piece in the Telegraph. Organic farming for us here in the rich world is indeed more productive that conventional, but look, look, organic farming in the Third World produces jobs!

Again, a switch to organic agriculture can help, for it employs many more people, creating more than 170,000 jobs in 2007 in Mexico alone.

Well, yes, quite, as I have been shouting for some time, jobs are a cost of a scheme, not a benefit.

In more detail, I'm perfectly willing to agree that certain organic methods could raise the productivity per acre of certain Third World farms. That's because I'm perfectly willing to agree that just about any structured method is going to improve such productivity. I can also see that the high cost of conventional inputs might deter some poor farmers from using them and thus simply better management of the resources they have being the optimal path for them.

However, what strikes me most is the way that Lean (and many others of his ilk) ignore the real point at issue here. What we really want to do is increase the standard of living of some hundreds of millions, if not billions, of our fellow human beings. This move to organic agriculture in Mexico for instance: yes, 170,000 jobs were created. That's 170,000 people in one year alone who were condemned to a life of staring at the southern end of an ox going northwards.

This isn't what we would desire for ourselves, this isn't something that we would be prepared to do, it's actually something that we're not prepared to do as a quick look around the country shows you. So why is it a good idea that 170,000 Mexicans have to do it?

We could of course ask the same question of sweatshops, we're not prepared to do that so why do people like me cheer on those who open them? Because that's the way our great grandparents got a start, how this incredibly rich world we now live in began to develop. Coming off the land and into the factories is what leads to our current siuation, one in which we all do far less work and have hugely more opportunities and wealth than any other group of people in the entire history of the species.

In short, what's wrong with organic farming is that it's proponents of it as a solution to Third World poverty seem to forget that any form of peasant farming requires peasants to do that farming. Whether they're using dung or ammonium nitrate as the fertiliser doesn't change that basic fact: moving people back into small scale farming is just condemning them to the lifestyle which we are all so grateful our own ancestors escaped from.