The Second Version


Agricultural Free-riding

In the last few years there has been a proliferation of organic farms - refusing to use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides; the latest trend seems to be going local, using only products available in a relatively short (some say 100 km, others 100 miles) radius.

All nice and good; I've always had an orchard and I know that well-tended and vine-ripened vegetables are much better than the mass-produced ones. And free-range livestock has superior meat. However, I think that the supporters of organic and local productions have failed to ponder long-term and wide-range effects.

Organic and local productions are more subject to loss of crop due to parasite and insect infestations and natural events. I don't know whether the organic production protocols allow the use of synthetic chemicals in an emergency, but when the infestation reaches the point of emergency, it may be too late to treat it succesfully.

It is machines, fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides that made possible to produce all the food required to feed a large part of Earth's population - and the possibility of transporting food from where it's convenient to produce it, to where the consumers are.

At this point, if local/organic supplies fail it is still possible to acquire food from mass-production sources, sometimes located halfway around the globe. Yes, prices will go up, but there won't be any real shortage of products.

However, consider a world which has gone vastly organic and local (or regional). The agrochemical industry will be reduced to a minuscule size, and the logistical organization required for long-distance transport agricultural products will be vastly downsized. There may not be enough agrochemicals available to counter an emergency - or not available in time. So, if crops are lost in a certain region, other regions may not have excess products to export - worse, the very means needed to transport food may not be there. At this point, in the disgraced region a food shortage if not famine becomes a real possibility.

It's free-riding because we can afford to go local/organic as long as someone else continues with mass production; we have the benefits while others bear the costs. But free-riding is not sustainable for long.

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