The choices we can make
As we have seen, our decisions around land development and agriculture are often driven principally by the pressure for corporations to maximize shareholder dividends. Short-term technological fixes keep lands profitable—even if those lands are no longer able to be productive without serious human intervention. To keep the system going, vast amounts of water are diverted, soil is worn out, workers are uprooted and little planning is done to develop long-lasting, resilient communities and food supplies. We have made biology subordinate to the economy.
Many people would argue that this system has worked and will keep working indefinitely. But our changing climate has added a great deal of uncertainty to the formula. Systems like the one we currently have—a system which rewards companies when they are able to make others pay for the environmental and social costs of production—may be reaching their limits.
What are our options for agriculture? This is a question that intimidates a lot of people—and understandably so. We live within the system we have. We rely on it every day. For the most part, we participate in it as end consumers, not as producers, so many of its functions are entirely invisible to us. So, having a discussion about how to replace the system with a stronger alternative can be puzzling at first. The system that we have feels so natural that we mistake something that’s well-established for something that’s working.
But systems—even well-established ones—are designed. They are created. Systems—even for things as fundamental as food and water—are essentially a series of choices made by people. So while the systems we have now may feel like permanent fixtures in human life, it’s important to remember that they aren’t.
From individuals to nations, people have a right to self-determination. And part of self-determination means having and exercising the power to design systems that work best for your own situation. This power is at the core of both political independence and economic self-reliance.
Integrating the natural cycle
into the economic cycle
Agroecology is the system that pays close attention to how the natural world operates and then replicates those systems for human use. Nature has had millions and millions and millions of years to figure out which plants and animals work well together, which crops want to grow in what climates, and which traits each landscape needs to thrive under an array of conditions from drought to freezing. Nature is basically the best research and development department we have available. Agroecology is simply the idea that we should use it.
For about a century, people have been attempting to impose a business onto the land rather than creating a business out of the land. Without exactly the right conditions, however, this becomes an almost impossible model to make work. When we work against nature instead of with it, we are taking advantage of something nature offers that the economy doesn’t: resiliency.