Smallholder family farms beat out industrial agriculture and GMOs

In the last Post on ieBLOG we wrote about “Is Ireland’s Grass-Fed Family Farm Headed Towards Industrialisation?”  In a recent posting on Huffington Post Green, Eric Holt Gimenez offers an interesting, hard-hitting and well-written analysis of the distinctions between small farms and industrial farms, and how Mark Lynas and others, particularly supporters of Big Agriculture, get agriculture wrong.

Contrary to supporters of Big Agriculture — and Gimenez includes World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy as supporters — genetically modified crops (GMOs) and other industrial practices do not yield more pounds of crops per acre than small peasant and family farms.  Rather these smallholders regularly out-produce plantation agriculture when the yield is measured in pounds per acre.  Only when the measurement is per-acre yield of a single crop does plantation agriculture produce more.  The reason, as explained by Gimenez, is that smallholders cultivate multiple species and varities in the same field at the same time so any one crop does not compare in yields from an acre of monoculture.   

The single-species plantation, or monoculture — often soy, corn or sugarcane — requires substantial investment for expensive seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides, leaving the “farm” devoid of weeds, insects and mammals.  It is “capital-rich, but species-poor.”

Gimenenz also points out that industrial plantations grow their food not for the hungry, but for meat and energy needs of the middle class, while smallholder farms feed the rest of the world.  Moreover, he points out, we already produce food for 10 billion but about one billion go hungry as they cannot afford what food is available.  Note 1.

The analysis provides support for the efficiency of, and environmental benefits accruing from, small family-owned farms in Ireland and elsewhere.


Note 1.  The poor also do not get the food they need because of the inadequacies of the food distribution system.  See “Should We Starve or Burn:  The Heated Competition Between Food Production and GHG Emissions,” in the Report section of irish environment (August 2012).


Eric Holt Gimenez, “Of Myths and Men: Mark Lynas and the intoxicating Power of Technocracy,” Huffington Post Green (04 Feb 2013).  see








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