Fusebox EPFL

Making small scale production profitable

Today’s food production is based on big scale, to make scale economy. But this system has failed to feed people, and is harming environment.

Big scale farming is based on heavy use of mechanization and agrochemical, and therefore oil and fossil fuel. Mecanization means monoculture, which destroys biodiversity, creating the need of chemical pest control.

Economy of scale is not going on the full chain: profits are kept by big agribusiness company, and given back to shareholders, instead of paying a fair price to producers. It keeps small producers under pressure, and do not allow them to step out of precarity.

A new trend has to be supported: small scale production, with high yields. Pluriculture is not compatible yet with mechanization: that’s could be improved, considering that this mechanization is not harmful for environment, and not fostering producer’s instability with debts.

Small scale production is providing more jobs and more income for populations; it’s rooted locally, and is relevant everywhere in the world. Urban agriculture is a big opportunity for the future, and it could only develop on small scale farms. Small farmers in Africa cannot afford big piece of land, and are farming on less than 10ha.

The challenge is now to step out of scale economy, to make small production better than big scale, regarding yields (already possible – agroécologie), food waste, and environmental impact.

Tagged users
edited on Mar 7, 2014 by Nicolas Pierret

AlexS Mar 5, 2014

Hi Nicolas

It's true big scale farming so far is associated in a bad way. Out there are not many positive examples. You got pictures of the media which show that big scale farming so far causes all the bad environmental impact. Maybe big scale farming does so far but the reason therefore is not " how big is the production?-or the farm" it is how is the production done? How is your farm organized? Could there be a optimized combination of produzed products to save as well biodiversity as to be efficient and effective as your production capacity and possibilities depend on climate, topography, economical environment etc Why is your farm effective and efficient? How can I be effective and efficient and work sustainably as well? Are our farmers so far competent enough for their tasks?

You won't get a worse treatment in a huge hospital than in a small one. Your treatment depends on the insurance you have and pay.. ;) I think you know what i mean..

I think size should not be the question or shouldnt be the only question..

Nicolas Pierret Mar 6, 2014

Yes, you're right on the point that size is not necessary equal to quality, in both directions. But I'll say that the trend is to make it bigger to reduce costs. It produced monoculture, based on permanent use of artificial fertilizer and mechanization. You can accept it, but for me it's not a sustainable way to feed the world (Peak oil).

And this is now challenged, due to new, holistic vision of agriculture. Agroecology tend to consider agriculture as Agroecosystem: that means here that size matter. You have to find the right combination between organism (both vegetals and animals) so that each of them is benefic to the entire system.

Make it too big, and it'll collapse, and you're back again with mechanization and petrochimicals!

Yannick Rihs Mar 12, 2014

Hi guys,

It is an interesting discussion you are having here. One issue in this topic is obviously mechanisation of production to decrease costs. Maybe you can find a way to combine pluriculture and mechanisation?

 

Nicolas Pierret Mar 14, 2014

You're right, this is something really important. New trends in agriculture tend to associate culture. For exemple, the pussh-pull technic in Kenya, or the milpa technic in Mexico. This last technic is actually really old, but is a model for new way of cultivation in western countries. It associate corn with beans and marrow, each one acting as a part of the system to improve its efficiency.

Now the problem of these methods is the fact that it's really hard to harvest it mechanically. Developping special tools will turns this into a real alternative for industrial production. But the fact is that you could have hundreds of different associations... which means that possibly hundreds of different machines.

Unless you developp a specified module for each plant, and you can them plug them onto your harvester. It will then be customized by the farmer according to the association he chose.