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With imminent global economic collapse, how are going to feed ourselves?
All the signs are there that an emergency is threatening: the collapse of the euro, which is now only a matter of time; rising fuel prices coupled with likely fuel shortages; galloping climate change; resource depletion (soil, forests, etc.) Indeed some, such as Richard Douthwaite in the opening article of 'Fleeing Vesuvius', would argue that we are already in an emergency.
Not only is there no plan to deal with an emergency but there is widespread denial and inertia. Asked in a TV interview recently did he think the euro will collapse a government TD said 'no, because the consequences would be too disasterous'. This shows a total lack of preparedness or serious intent at governement level to deal with the real issues facing the country.
It is interesting to contrast this with what happened during the last Emergency in Ireland, from 1939 to 1945 during the Second World War. Unlike today, the government - and presumably the general population - recognised that there was, in fact, an emergency. A rationing system for foodstuffs such as tea and sugar was introduced and a Compulsory Tillage Order was put in place whereby every farmer had to devote a proportion of his land to growing food crops. Modern media and culture likes to portray these times in Ireland as backward, inefficient and unproductive. Yet, the country, despite undoubted hardships, managed to survive the Emergency and few, if any, died from starvation.
There were a number of factors which, in addition to having an emergency plan of action, enabled Ireland to feed itself during World War II.
Virtually none of these factors, which fed Ireland during the last Emergency, exist today. Farms have become much larger, highly mechanised, oil-dependent, using copious toxic fertilisers and sprays, and farmers are usually operating on their own and in isolation. Food is mainly grown for processing for the 'market', whether export or Irish supermarket, and is unlikely to be consumed locally. At the same time, a huge amount of the food we eat is imported. All of this is a consequence of the much-lauded Common Agicultural Policy of that Abomination known as the European Union.
The coming Emergency is likely to bring about both severe food shortages (less imorted food available, high fuel prices etc) and much reduced capacity of people to buy food due to currency collapse, widespread unemployment etc.
So what can we do now to deal with this situation? As suggested above, it's a waste of time looking to the government (or the EU) to do anything. The answer must come from people at local level mobilising to grow food. This is where the Transition Movement can play a significant role. While a proportion of food can be grown in people's back gardens, window sills, community gardens etc. there will not be enough food if we dont convert a significant amount of farmland into food growing projects.
The capacity of conventional farming, including organic farming, to respond to the imminent food crisis, is to put it mildly very poor. This is not the fault of farmers but of a system described above. There is too much dependence on oil and not enough people to grow food in a post-fossil fuel scenario. What I believe is needed is for people with an interest in food-growing to enter into arrangements with farmers to acquire land to produce food sustainably for local need.
Speaking for myself, I own a small farm which I am converting to organic. I am interested in devoting a portion of the farm to local food production and am seeking a number of people to farm the land based on a cooperative model, using permaculture principles if possible.
Obviously food is only one aspect of the major transition that will be required. But food is central.
In the absence of or restrictions on money, alternative models will be needed to enable people to 'buy' the food. Local currencies and, more importantly, the Gift Economy may come into play here.
I would very much welcome thoughts and comments on the topic of feeding ourselves in the Emergency.
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