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Monday, February 15, 2010

Agriculture must change

ON CREATING ECOSYSTEMS, and ELIMINATING HUNGER

By Michael Meredith

There is a lot that can be said about eliminating hunger, but the basics, of course, are food production. The present chemically driven agro-business model is unsustainable, and causes disease. Fortunately, many simple methods are available for increasing food production.

The root of agriculture, pardon the pun, is the roots. The roots of the plants need nutrition, and lots of valuable animal and vegetable materials are materials thrown away.

Composting, mulching (also known as sheet composting), and bio-gas (which is a form of anaerobic composting), as well as fermentation (which produces alchohol as a by-product), are all very good methods of recycling unused organic materials to the soil. Often these products can be cycled through animals, and this can become a regular merry-go- round of recycling.

A properly built pit latrine, or a composting toilet, can eliminate disease, and fertilize crops, as very few pathogens will survive the high temperatures of the composting, or being buried deep in the ground. It is also worth noting that many people believe that the squatting position reduces digestive and reproductive tract diseases. They point to many facts, such as the virtual absence of such diseases prior to the introduction of the porcelain throne, and the fact that African-American males have the highest rate of prostate cancer in the word, meanwhile, in Africa, it is virtually non-existent.

Many crops can be grown to increase the fertility of the soil. When the Americans and Canadians arrived in the Great Plains in the mid 1800’s, they found deep, rich topsoil going down six feet (they must have danced some jigs over that one). Many people have advocated certain plants as a way to increase fertility. These are often also crop plants with multiple uses.

The Indians in the Amazon basin built up soil by incorporating urine soaked charcoal into it. The tierra prieta, as it is called, has not washed away as most tropical soils do. This is a good way to recycle urine, and trace minerals can also be added to the blend. Drinking urine has a long history in medicine, it is claimed to cure many diseases, and is quite safe to drink, so don’t worry about putting it in your garden.

Growing perennial vegetables, bushes, and trees, can reduce labor and other inputs. Most intriguingly, establishing forest gardens can also provide nice places to live, with ornamental, food producing plants and trees all around, creating oxygen, flowers, and all the other things that human persons need and enjoy. It seems that we now have 30% less oxygen in the air than 200 years ago, leading to many diseases. That is one reason why deep breathing can cure disease.

Simple hole/hill farming methods will reduce labor and fertilizer inputs, as only a tiny fraction of the land area needs to be tilled and watered. The melons and squashes, which are most often grown this way, are some of the most nutritious crops available. They can sprawl ten meters or more, covering rocks, bushes, and even houses! The spacing of the holes means that bushes and trees can also be planted in the holes, and do their growing meanwhile many years of squashes are harvested. Moving latrines around is way to dig the garden, and dispose of waste at the same time. The shape of the hole is important, as a water collection area should be left at the surface to retain water. In cross section, we have a funnel, diverting nutrients and water to the plants roots, and holding moisture in the organic sponge. This is a miniature version of the swales, which are often constructed to hold back surface water, and divert it into the ground. Some of these methods will turn a desert area into an oasis.

Foliar sprays are often used to control insects and disease, as well as to fertilize crops. Fogging can be an effective way to water plants, so spraying then becomes a multi-functional system. Some people claim great results by playing music while they spray (study the sonic bloom method, and read “The Secret Lives of Plants”).

There has been considerable research done with salt tolerant plants, which can be grown in saline marsh areas. With more research, seawater could be pumped into the Sahara desert, and enormous new farms would be created.

Although I have surely missed your favorite topic in this short summary, I feel that I would be remiss in not saying a few things about ocean agriculture before winding up (or down, as the case may be).

The best plan that I have ever seen, which gets past the pollution, and poor nutrition of conventional fish farming, is a combination unit.

The deep ocean waters are nutrient laden. This creates many fine many fishing areas, such as off the coast of Chile. The deep waters hit a steep continental shelf, and upwell, feeding ocean plankton, which feeds the old food chain. By pumping water from the depths, and into a coral lagoon, which has been surrounded by nets to keep out predators, a lively fish farm can be created.

The dual- purpose part comes in when the difference in temperature of the deep and surface waters is used to spin turbines, and to create solid fuels from the energy. These OTEC plants have been thoroughly researched, but never, as far as I know, in the dual purpose, and therefore more economic, form presented here.

Of course there is also wave energy, solar energy, orgone energy, and others out the kazoo, but this is an introduction to agricultural research, so you’re going to have to study all that other neat stuff by yourself.

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