Innovation vs. Rural Wisdom

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The industrial revolution brought with it numerous benefits for the modern age. Perhaps most significant is the technology that has made it possible to feed 7 billion people worldwide. The improvements in industrialized farming equipment made farming more efficient, producing higher yields while expending less energy for the farmers. However, less energy spent by people, cattle and horses to operate farming equipment meant that energy must be produced elsewhere. This energy came in the form of fossil fuels, and more specifically, petroleum.

Petroleum is used in everything from the oil used to power tractors, the fertilizer used to produce greater yields, the plastics used to contain the produce, and in the trucks, planes and ships used to distribute it. In a world that has become dependent on fossil fuels, a non-renewable resource that contributes to global warming, increased food prices and food insecurity, this cyclical component of our global food system poses many risks to the world food supply. A spike in oil prices can cause an increase in food prices significant enough that parts of the world, particularly vulnerable populations in the global south, may be unable to afford to feed themselves or their families.

In looking for answers to reducing our dependency on petroleum and biofuels, much can be learned from Cuba and their approach to sustainable agriculture. During the “Special Period,” Cuba created urban gardens and utilized mixed planting and crop rotations to create a sustainable and profitable food system. Though it is hard to imagine the Western World returning to the ways of old, there is a great deal of wisdom to be learned, that when mixed with new innovations and technologies, could lead us into the next phase in food production.

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