The need to produce more food in some regions of Asia during the past fifty years was—for a time—achieved by increasing the yields of grain crops by as much as 2.5 percent per year using industrial farming methods. These methods relied on high-yielding hybrid seeds and more recently seeds of genetically modified (GM) crops, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and intense irrigation. But by 2004 annual growth rates of crop yields began declining, e.g. the annual growth in yield for rice crops dropped to as low as .5 percent. This finding and other data led some experts to note that the higher yields of industrial farming were temporary and unsustainable. Top soil erosion, deteriorating soil quality, and depleting water supply were some of the major consequences, as well as risks to human health caused by ingesting toxins from the chemicals of industrial farming.
A 2012 report by the respected international aid organization ActionAid says that farming methods in Asian countries are now at a crossroads. Sustainable, or ecological, farming methods are gaining increasing acceptance around the world as the most viable way to promote food security, better health, and an improved environment. Farmers who practice sustainable agriculture use natural methods to build the soil, increase water retention and control pests. Currently, most farmers who use sustainable methods are small scale or family owned. They participate in the local economy and most of their produce is consumed locally.
By contrast, industrial farming usually focuses on planting vast tracks of land with a single cash crop destined for export markets (mono-cropping). In addition to using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, industrial farmers are increasingly using GM seeds in an effort to boost yields while using less labor. One of the principal traits of commercialized GM crops is resistance to Round-Up herbicide, resulting in vast quantities of this toxic chemical being sprayed on crops.
In addition, the increasing use of synthetic pesticides introduces toxins into the water and soil that kill many beneficial living organisms besides the pests they target. Crops absorb those toxins, which puts our health at risk when we eat them. Finally, industrial farmers rely heavily on irrigation techniques that deplete local reservoirs rapidly. Many industrial farms are run by large corporations that pay workers substandard wages and don’t recycle their profits back into the local economy.
People are becoming increasingly aware that organic foods are better for their health. But the benefits extend much farther than that. Organic, sustainably grown food not only benefits the individual, it also benefits local families, local economies and the health of the planet as a whole. Down to Earth is committed to supporting family farms and promoting the use of sustainable, organic farming.