Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Of Dust and Nations

What is intelligent consuming, and how does it relate to agriculture?

This article raises a lot of interesting questions, but it is still American and rural focused. Many parts of the world do live on the local market, and there are many drawbacks to this model, despite the claims of the proponents. For starters, many of the local farms (outside of America) do not necessarily operate on a sustainable model. Secondly, there is a lot to be said for the efficiency and quality of being able to focus on growing only one things (such as wheat or corn) instead of having to grow soybeans, corn, wheat, and raise animals. Next, what does this mean in an international context? One has to realize that part of the reason that many areas depend on the local model is the lack of a functioning transportation infrastructure. And as a result, the local market is the only option. Another consideration is the urban areas - a place like Chicago, Los Angeles, or Kabul, they can't depend on the local market because there is no agriculture going on in the city on the scale necessary to sustain the city. So their food has to be imported in some fashion, whether that's from the suburban farm areas, or some overseas processing plant, the food has to come into the city. If it does not, the mass urbanization that has taken place over the years in America, in Europe, Japan, what sounds like is happening in China... even Kabul, the population here is exploding. So if these cities begin to have to resort to locally produced food, the problems will begin to be extensive, and the urbanization trend will reverse. Of course, this article is talking about a gradual change, as a river wears it's new course into the landscape rather than a sea change, a wave sweeping over the land. Nevertheless, these are think that necessitate a careful understanding, and require more than a simple pastoral urge to return to the countryside for a worthwhile effect to be made.

I had already done some thinking about this today as we took a hike. We had to walk through some of the mountainside houses to get to the real hike. As we walked through here, I thought about the needs that these people have, clean water, clean food, improved sewer systems. All of the infrastructure needs of the city. Would having small patches of land dedicated to agricultre be a sustainable model here? Would there be able to be enough of an industry to support the city? Or would it be a sick parasite on the host, as more and more agricultural workers were needed to support the city, ensuring a constant increase in the population of the city as more agricultural workers were needed to support the agricultural workers that moved in to support the city? Or would there develop a ring of farms around the city, one that supplied the needs of the cty? Then what happens when they can effectively supply the city, and more people move to the city since the landscape can support it? The city size increases, and the farmers lose some of their arable land. Or even worse, the farms stay where they are, but the city grows around them, and what kind of implications does that have on the crops as it relates to pollution, cleanliness of water, etc?

Questions like this aren't easy, especially for one like me who has no real knowledge or experience in this area previously. One of the things that one begins to learn whilst living here is that many of the models that we have adopted in America can't be globally transported, perhaps because of geographical issues, maybe cultural or language issues. One other thing to realize is that America grew into it's geographical boundaries, and many other countries (I would say Australia is about the only exception to this outside of the Americas) don't have that luxury. There weren't large populations to consider when American cities were initially built (a good and bad thing, a factor that shows itself in the growth and development of cities like Los Angeles, Phoenix, or LA.), most of the country was uninhabited (largely, compared to the density of Asian or African countries), and the geography was far more arable and allowed for large scale growth, compared to somewhere like Afghanistan. Furthermore, the areas of America that share similarities with Afghanistan (like Arizona) had the rest of America to depend on for agricultural and other industrial needs. Somewhere like here does not have that fallback position.

Ok, well, I've pontificated for long enough, and it's about time to go play basketball. Take care, all.

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