It’s not too unusual today to see farming and farmers coming in for a ‘bit of stick’ in the media.
Some journalists and lobbyists seem determined sometimes to score points off the sector. Moans and grumbles usually relate to things such as:
Slow-moving agricultural vehicles blocking roads
Rising farm prices driving up the cost of living
Taxpayer subsidies (in some countries) with the implication that some farmers are being ‘feather bedded’
Concerns about agricultural practices and things such as GM crops, pesticides, destruction of the natural environment and so on
The ‘corporatisation’ of farming and big-business practices exploiting the consumer
Now not all of these concerns are constant and they can vary from one area, state or country to another but they exist and it can be an annoyance to farmers.
It’s possible to accept that, occasionally, there might be the odd grain of truth in some observations. The global farming industry, just like every other industry, has its fair share of issues to get to grips with and many farmers acknowledge that.
However, it’s sometimes overlooked just how critical farming is to society’s survival. Yes, that’s right survival.
The problem is that in much of today’s western industrialised societies and in fact also increasingly over the whole globe, society is more detached from farming and food production than it has ever been before in human history. Even in the great industrial towns of the early 19th century, it would have been a relatively short walk to the farms that started on the edge of town and every day urban folk would have seen farmers bringing their wares directly to them for sale in local markets.
That familiarity has now gone and with it that instinctive recognition of the importance of farming to society’s day to day existence. That’s because due to the advance of farming science and technology such as agricultural machinery, in most developed countries in the wold famine is now virtually unknown apart from either the history books or those distressing news reports from what are still sometimes called “third world countries” even though the term is now considered to be politically incorrect.
Yet famine and the mass deaths arising from it can be truly horrific. Just consider a few relatively recent examples:
the Chinese famines of the late 1950s and early 1960s caused by catastrophic agricultural policies and bad luck with weather excesses. Nobody really knows how many died but most conservative estimates put the figure between 15-20 million.
The late 19th century Indian famines caused by drought. They killed around 10 million people.
The Soviet famine of the early 1930s left an estimated 8 million dead due to disastrous government policies surrounding grain production.
The Potato famine caused by a blight and poverty left around 1 million dead in Ireland in the mid-19th century.
None of the above events, which are only a sample, are ancient mediaeval history and some occurred within living memory. They should serve as a reminder how much we rely on farming to produce not just an economic benefit to our society but also to keep us and our children alive.
Certainly, modern agriculture needs to be accountable and work in partnership with all areas of our society to constantly improve things but let’s not make farming the villain of the piece at every opportunity. It is all that stands between us and disaster in terms of having available food for the growing human population.