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Sustainable agriculture vs factory farming

News Section Icon Published 16/10/2013


Today happens to be both Blog Action Day and World Food Day, which are focusing on human rights and sustainable food systems, respectively. So what better time to remind ourselves of the part factory farming plays in disrupting the efforts of many to create a better world? We take a look.

Blog Action Day, which has been going since 2007, sees countless bloggers from all over the world focus on a pressing issue of our time – the theme of this year’s event is human rights. The long-running World Food Day was established in 1945 with the founding of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO); its running theme is food security.

Our right to food

The fact that these two events fall on the same day is a happy coincidence because the issues in focus are so closely aligned. Food is a fundamental human right, but this right is being severely compromised by intensive (and inherently unsustainable) systems of agriculture.

As Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, says: "We won’t solve hunger…with industrial farming… The solution lies in supporting small-scale farmers’ knowledge and experimentation, and in raising incomes of smallholders so as to contribute to rural development."

Three reasons why factory farming won’t feed the world

  1. Factory farming often thwarts small-scale farming by using up valuable land for animal feed and driving up grain prices, making it increasingly difficult for people to produce food of their own. In short, it concentrates profits into the hands of a few, disempowering many and acting as a barrier to "food sovereignty" (the right for people to have a say in how they produce their food).
  2. Factory farming wastes food rather than creates it. Confined animals can’t graze – instead they eat vast amounts of grain that humans could eat. A recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme calculated that grain-fed livestock wastes 83 percent of the calories it consumes. Indeed, the FAO has stated that in intensive systems "…livestock can be said to reduce the food balance", cutting the amount of food available for people.
  3. Industrial farming is likely to push people down the route of eating too much meat (as we see in most developed countries), which would be bad for people’s health. But it’s not just the quantity that’s an issue – so is the quality. It’s now widely accepted that intensively farmed meat is higher in saturated fat and has lower levels of key nutrients.

Three reasons why sustainable farming could feed the world

  1. Smaller-scale, less intensive, livestock farming is much more accessible for people. According to the FAO, traditional livestock systems "…are the major source of livelihood for 200 million rural families, and provide food and income for some 70% of the world's rural poor".
  2. Less intensive farming is far more efficient. Farmers can potentially make use of food waste for feed and raise animals on marginal lands, removing the need for expensive inputs, such as grain-based feed.
  3. Less intensive farming is better for people – it produces much-needed protein for people in the developing world, and meat from extensively farmed animals is usually higher in key nutrients and lower in fat.

We’d like to leave you with a great example of better farming from our friends at Practical Action, which involves a clever partnership between ducks and rice plants!

Huge thanks to Alex Gaylon for the image of a shepherd boy in India.


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