Thursday, March 4, 2010

"Can Britain Feed Itself?"

The nice thing about a small island nation is that it feels possible to actually account for everything and make plausible calculations. Simon Fairlie makes a go at it here, in a fascinating article on British self-sufficiency that breaks down land use and land needs on the island for multiple diets and types of agriculture.

1 hectare = 2.5 acres (approximately)

One hectare, chemically-farmed, feeds a bit under 6 omnivores.

One hectare, chemically-farmed, feeds 20 vegans.

One hectare, organically-farmed, feeds 8 vegans or a little over 3 omnivores.

One hectare in permaculture supplies about 4 omnivores or 8.5 vegans. Supplies includes textiles, fuel, and timber in addition to food.

Thus, a quarter acre could feed, clothe, and warm less than half an omnivore (.4 people x 10 quarter acres = 4 people). Five acres could sustain 8 of them.

"...could the UK become more self reliant, not only in food, fodder and fertility, but also in fibre and fuel? Our environmental footprint currently stretches across untold ghost acres around the world; if suddenly we had to shoehorn it into the 22 million hectares of non-urban land we have in this country, how would we cope? Could this be done organically, whilst keeping a reasonable amount of meat in our diet for those who wanted it, and ensuring that a reasonable proportion of the country is reserved for wildlife?"

The article touches on ag subsidies, land use policy, details of livestock and dairy herds, and concludes with a one-page statement on the viability of orthodox organic agriculture as a method to feed the world. The last sentence: "Blind adherence to doctrines and standards which cannot feed people will brand organic goods as a niche product for the privileged in a world dominated by agribusiness."

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