Crop-mobs, seedbombs and mall-farms

Paul Raven @ 01-06-2010

The Zeitgeist seems to have developed an obsession with agriculture. Observe:

Ecological fashion trends or economic necessities? I’m thinking a bit of both, and wondering how long they’ll last… hopefully for a while.

Speaking of sustainable living and community development, Futurismic fiction alumnus Douglas Lain (author of the grimly excellent “Resurfacing Billy”) plans to write a “radical self-help book” called Pick Your Battle, which will be…

… a book that will explain and explore urban gleaning, situationist theory, and unschooling while telling the story of my own and my family’s attempt to revolutionize our everyday lives. It will support efforts to organize local foraging, community gardens, psychogeographic field trips, and a confrontation with the current system.

He’s got a funding drive running on Kickstarter; if a mash-up of science fiction, situationism and sustainable living sounds like your cup of tea, why not go pledge Doug a dollar or two to keep him fed while he writes it? An interesting topic, and an adventurous funding model for creative writing.


Downsizing Detroit: agriculture in the inner city

Paul Raven @ 10-03-2010

We mentioned last summer that there was a chance some of the American cities affected worst by the changing economic climate deliberately “downsizing” themselves in order to consolidate what remains and cauterise the wound, and it seems that the decision has been made in the case of Detroit.

With the town already showing signs of becoming a new frontier for hippies, frugalists, art communes and close-to-the-land types, Detroit’s planners are proposing to change roughly a quarter of the city’s ghost-town urban areas into semi-rural farmland [via BoingBoing].

That’s a grim decision to have to make; I think we can assume that it’s being made by people who really can’t see any other way out. Question is, will Detroit be just the first of many?


Predator versus alien: this will surely not end well

Paul Raven @ 10-03-2010

Japanese knotweedWhile Alabama may have its congongrass, we here in the UK have our own invasive species of Far Eastern weed in the form of Fallopia japonica, better known as Japanese knotweed. In their great wisdom, our Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is planning to introduce another alien species – a form of plant lice – into the ecosystem to get rid of it. [image by dankogreen]

Laboratory tests were started on pests from Japan which control the knotweed by feeding on sap from its stems, causing the plant to die back.

The tests showed the chosen Aphalara itadori did not eat any other species, including closely related British plants and important crops.

Genius! I mean, the odds of a short-lifespanned insect evolving itself a wider diet when introduced to a totally new biosphere must be so small as to be negligible. Nothing could possibly go wrong with this plan!

Paging John Wyndham… would John Wyndham please report to the briefing rooms…


Colonialism redux

Paul Raven @ 10-03-2010

Via Tobias Buckell, The Guardian reports on Ethiopia, one of the world’s most food-short nations, and how it’s selling huge tracts of arable land to business interests from other countries:

The 1,000 hectares of land which contain the Awassa greenhouses are leased for 99 years to a Saudi billionaire businessman, Ethiopian-born Sheikh Mohammed al-Amoudi, one of the 50 richest men in the world. His Saudi Star company plans to spend up to $2bn acquiring and developing 500,000 hectares of land in Ethiopia in the next few years. So far, it has bought four farms and is already growing wheat, rice, vegetables and flowers for the Saudi market. It expects eventually to employ more than 10,000 people.

But Ethiopia is only one of 20 or more African countries where land is being bought or leased for intensive agriculture on an immense scale in what may be the greatest change of ownership since the colonial era.

An Observer investigation estimates that up to 50m hectares of land – an area more than double the size of the UK – has been acquired in the last few years or is in the process of being negotiated by governments and wealthy investors working with state subsidies.

Again, the line between nation and corporation is becoming very fuzzy indeed. The map is not the territory, so on and so forth. Maybe a Greek island or two might make a good commercial farm plot?

Let’s just hope that this move by Ethiopa doesn’t have the same knock-on effects as the Daewoo land-grab in Madagascar


Climate change might not starve us after all

Paul Raven @ 30-12-2009

oatsIn the hugely polarised sphere of debate around climate change, there are a few thinkers who float outside the two core camps of belief and skepticism. One of those would be Brian Wang, who seems pretty convinced that AGW is a genuine phenomenon, but who also thinks it’s not going to be an unmitigated disaster. For example, he has a post responding to suggestions that a global temperature increase would lead to mass famine and starvation, in which he lists currently available or imminent technologies and scientific developments that could cope with the changed climate and keep the planet’s belly full. [image by sarniebill]

Of course, it’s worth remembering that a large percentage of the Earth’s population doesn’t have enough to eat already… and that a small percentage consumes way more than it actually needs. Keeping up production levels will be important, sure, but efficient and fair distribution of food resources would go a long way toward helping us ride out the rough patch. But then the same applies to energy resources, and we’ve already seen how popular the redistribution idea is with those who have the most to lose…

[ Feel free to discuss Wang’s points in the comments, but as always with this sort of post, unqualified trumpeting of ideologies from either side of the fence will be deleted without prejudice – that applies to climate change denial and climate change doomsaying. I have better things to do than referee an unwinnable slapfight, I’m afraid, so check the comments policy before you post. ]


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