The Blessings of Dirty Work

Human beings boast its achievements freeing most of our species from doing the "dirty work", the muddy work of producing foods from toiled soil is left for 2 percent of world population. Are human beings truly able to get away from these "dirty work"? Barbara Kingsolver, the prolific writer that I have the deepest admiration for, writes the following in her The Washington Post article:
"Industrial farming -- however destructive to the land and our nutrition -- has held out as its main selling point the allure of freedom: Two percent of the population would be able to feed everyone. The rest could do as we pleased. Shiva sees straight through that promise. "Most of those who have moved off of farms are still working in the industry of creating food and bringing it to consumers: as cashiers, truck drivers, even the oil-rig workers who generate the fuels to run the trucks. Those jobs are all necessary to a travel-dependent, highly mechanized food system. And many of those jobs are menial, life-taking work, instead of the life-giving work of farming on the land. The analyses we have done show that no matter what, whether the system is highly technological or much more simple, about 50 to 60 percent of a population has to be involved in the work of feeding that population. Industrial agriculture did not 'save' anyone from that work, it only shifted people into other forms of food service.""
Barbara Kingsolver talks with Vandana Shiva, the elegant and respected scientist based in India, and explores the following neglected issue in modern agriculture: "Traditional farming retains soil structure, but intensive modern agriculture does not: Since the 1970s, while global grain production has tripled, an estimated 30 percent of the world's farmland has become too damaged to use. Also shrinking are the fossil fuel reserves for a system that requires petroleum to run the farm machines, serve as the chemical base of fertilizers, fuel the milling and processing plants and drive the food to widely dispersed consumers. Shiva puts it this way: "The new modified crops brought to us by the Green Revolution were described as 'green oil of the future.' Ironically, that has turned out to be correct in a way, as the Green Revolution makes a renewable resource -- food -- into a nonrenewable one, just like petroleum."

Chemical based farming has negative impact on soil, damaging the farmlands from small village in India to a Nebraskan farmland. Sustaining the costs of chemicals to retain and improve the damaged soil had and have ruined many farmers everywhere, which has been so severe in some parts of India that 150,000 farmers have committed suicide "often by drinking pesticide, to underscore the point -- after being bankrupted by costly chemicals in a cycle of debt created by ties to corporate agriculture. Centralized food production requires constant inputs -- fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation -- that in some settings are impossible to sustain, and chemical-based farming virtually always damages the soil over time, whether in India or Nebraska."

Alternatives to ruining chemical based agriculture is possible, Vandana Shiva and many like her scientists and conscious activists have proven this time and time again. Ms. Shiva's "devoted team has built the soil with compost and careful crop rotation to its present lushness. After a tour through the fields, we took off our shoes to enter the seed bank room, a precious library of germ plasm collected in labeled jars and baskets: oilseeds, mustard greens, wheats and barleys, 380 varieties of rice. Other farmers throughout the country are building different seed banks of locally appropriate varieties, all replanted in the fields each year as a living catalogue. "This is the basis of Indian farmers' sovereignty," Shiva said. "Our traditional crops."

Perhaps the problem lies in human beings' misplaced pride freeing themselves from "dirty" and "muddy" lands, while in reality most of our species is tied to agriculture from one form or another, only our perception has changed. The greed for making more profits by tying the traditional farmers with land ruining chemicals which is not sustainable is a sure cause and possibly debilitating future for food production may not be an impossibility. Human beings, the proud upright animals, so jovial in their uplifting feelings of not "dirtying" hands and legs by being away from muds and seedlings, forgetting so conveniently our species' survival depending on this very basic and elemental necessity of life and our boasted civilization.

Link to Barbara Kingsolver's must read article:
The Blessings of Dirty Work