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Earth Summit Monday, 2 September, 2002, 14:05 GMT 15:05 UK
Intensive Farming: A way to end hunger or a threat to the environment ?
We produce more food than we need and yet a sizeable proportion of the world remains hungry.

As the populations of the poorer nations continue to grow, so too do the problems of food production.

The intensive farming methods of the west have boosted crop yields and meat and fish production has quadrupled. But it has also brought problems.

Statistics on soil erosion, declining fish stocks, deforestation, nitrate pollution and genetic diversity are raising fears for the future.

How can we increase food production to feed the poor without destroying the environment? Are intensive farming methods unsustainable in the long term?

We will be discussing this issue on Sunday 25 August in our phone-in programme, Talking Point. The programme is broadcast at 1400 GMT/ 1500 BST on the BBC World Service, BBC News Online, and on digital television in the UK. If you want to take part in the discussion, please include your phone number when you send your comments. This will not appear on the site.

This debate is now closed.

Your reaction

Some developing countries such as Zimbabwe are going into reverse with respect to food production and the ability to manage it. The problems seem political rather than technological.
Keith, Gillingjam, UK

We demand that lesser-developed countries allow global companies to access their markets yet we maintain barriers to keep their producers out!

Richard Ali, London
Lack of food is not the problem, poverty is. Hunger under current economics is based purely on lack of money. Large-scale agri-businesses over-produce due to government subsidy, then dump onto local markets forcing out local growers who can't compete. Many countries blighted by hunger still grow cash crops for debt-repayment instead of food. This adds to poverty, arable land ends up in the hands of global business to grow food for the West (bigger profits) and the cycle goes on. The genuine solution is smaller-scale agriculture where the prime criteria is food for sustenance, and secondly food for global markets. Open up our trade doors, remove food tariffs, stop subsidising agri-business and allow access to our markets by lesser-developed nations. We demand that lesser-developed countries allow global companies to access their markets yet we maintain barriers to keep their producers out! It's crazy. We preach fair trade but only when it suits us.
Richard Ali, London, UK

As long as we continue to give birth randomly and without weighing the consequences, over exploitation of natural resources will continue and this will cause a massive environmental degradation. The first step would be monitoring reproduction, and from there on we should divide food production. Each country should produce what it needs with no leftovers, and if a country produces more than what it needs then it should give the extra to needy countries which don't have the ability to produce their own.
Aseel Ahmad, Beirut-Lebanon

To quote from a recent issue of The Ecologist magazine: "US healthcare costs associated with individuals' being overweight are estimated at $118 billion a year (27 times the annual GDP of Somalia - the world's 'hungriest country' as rated by the UN". In a world such as this and one where we already produce enough food it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that more production and GMO's are not the right answer!
Stephen Watson, Brighton, UK

It seems the west wants the best of both worlds.

What we aren't taking into consideration is the food wasted in the UK. Food that sits on supermarket shelves and is thrown away if it is not purchased. Commercialism is responsible for this country's wealth, the downside is we put profits before the needs of those who don't already have money to buy food. Somehow I can't see the big supermarket chains being prepared to cut profits and send some of the food abroad. It seems the west wants the best of both worlds.

The first world used to live like the third world. Conditions were the same everywhere. Improved farming techniques, commercial farming and the drastic reduction of food producers and the growth of industrial cities equals more food. It is a simple equation, the more food growers there are, the less food is produced. Britain and the USA have an insignificant proportion of the population growing food. Africa needs professional commercial farmers.
Jeff Kewin, Sittingbourne, UK

We all need to know where the uneaten food is going.

Saj, Bangladesh
When we are already producing more food than required to feed the whole world, is it still wise to consider more of intensive farming ? Why, then, is a sizable proportion of population is remaining hungry ? We all need to know where the uneaten food is going. Does anybody have the answer ?
Saj, Dhaka, Bangladesh

As an Englishman living in Switzerland I am priviliged to see how it can and should be done. We don't need a long list, but I believe the Swiss concept of sustainablity is well known. There are 10% more tress than 100 years ago. So to the point. About 20km north of us a true organic farm was set up by the local council with technical support from Ministry of Forrest and Fisheries. 10 years later the conclusion is simple. Output per square metre, per kilowatt, per kilo fertilizer (natural) is higher than intensive methods which were run in parallel and the quality of life for the "earthlife" is sustained.
David, Baden, switzerland

There's no question that modern farming methods need to be adapted to reflect what we have learned over the course of the past several decades to avoid the long-term impact on soil, water supplies, and biodiversity. Like other critical environmental issues this one is fraught with political and economic difficulties, but the sooner we begin to address it, the better.
Carolyn, USA

We only have one solution

Dave, Kent, UK
No matter how you look at it we will never be able to farm enough food for our growing population. Intensive farming is not the solution, neither is gene manipulation and extremes of crop breeding. We only have one solution which we take in our own hands, namely a reduction in the population by sensible and manageable contraception methods or we wait until we all die from hunger and disease.
Dave, Kent, UK

While man has thus far been able populate the planet at a near exponential rate, thanks to successive advancements in agricultural science, we are a point now where we need to become keenly aware of the degradation in life quality that will accompany further growth - regardless of whether we find a way to feed the future masses. Massive conservation efforts coupled with reproductive education in poorer countries might just save this once magnificent planet.
Frans Lawaetz, USA

You rightly raise the questions of both having enough food and ensuring that everyone has access to it. Labour intensive farming methods have the potential to address BOTH these issues and can be environmentally sustainable. Capital/energy intensive methods may appear to produce more food under industrial monoculture but they do nothing to enhance the access to food by those who are poor.
Stuart Clark, Canada

Has nobody else noticed that it's just possible we don't actually need all the meat and fish we're producing or indeed consuming? As I understand it, in the richer countries, ppl could very easily drop their meat/ fish intake and that would help. Add in moving food shortages to where there are food surpluses and yes, starting a program for family planning in those countries that have rapidly growing populations.
jax, sheffield, uk

No person on this earth need starve on present food production. Yet we will sit by and watch it happen. There would be a supermarket and fast food outlet in every African town if a business plan proved it profitable.
clive, Glos, UK

Intensive farming is like globilization, it can't be stopped as long as farmers seek ways to get increased yields from the same acreage. The current and anticipated need for increased food supplies results from population growth in undeveloped regions. The best solution in this regard is to work with these nations to foster trade and strong educational institutions to allow individuals to increase their standard of living and reduce their birth rate based on choice. The lowest birth rates in the US are among african-american women with college degrees. If we educate women worldwide, we won't have an excess of mouths to feed in the future - not to mention a more educated populace.
Patrick, USA

It seems an absolutely impertinent question, if intensive agriculture will help eliminate poverty! How do you expect that to occur when most of intensive farming is done in the '1st world' for profit and not for helping the poor or the hungry. Can we ignore the manner in which intensive farming techniques have led to today's state of Earth, be it crops in the field or fishes and lobsters in the water. We have caused enough damage trying to make it cheaper to live, but not safer to live. Medical research today focusses on issues that are aesthetic problems first in the '1st world' like Obesity and excess fat deposition in the body not on the fact that there are a few million dying of malaria in the poorer nations. Essentially, what I am trying to say is that the developed nations viewpoint is extremely construed and obtuse, it is a culture of gluttony and self-preservation (I equate that to being like ETHNIC cleansing leading to the selective removal of the poor of the world) spread everywhere now. It is this that also leads to immigration and hatred for these nations, who then cannot comprehend as to why the people from poorer states hate them!!
Dr S C, Winnipeg Canada

I beg to differ with most of the views expressed so far. I believe that opposition to intensive farming and genetic modification of foodstuffs is misguided. Unless we can find ways to increase crop yields per acre, the proportion of the planet used for farming will increase until literally every available square foot of flat, moist earth is utilised. The environmental consequences of that are far more serious than the possible side-effects of GM crops or artificial fertilisers and pesticides.
Andy dawson, London, UK




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