“Why peasants will save the world”

This new book is welcome because, beyond the facts, illusions and media lies denounced in twelve chapters, it opens up new perspectives and affirms: “No planet without farmers.”

Sylvie Brunel is probably the best specialist of the French agricultural world and her experience as head of the NGO “Action Against Hunger” allows her to extend her skills to the whole planet.

Her thesis and her message are clear. Faced with an approximate ideology advocating degrowth and ultimately scarcity in the name of preserving the planet, we must reinvent an agriculture that is low-polluting but sufficiently productive to cope with the inevitable demographic pressure.

The history of the last two centuries has shown that this is possible thanks to the use of chemistry and mechanization. The solution is to limit polluting inputs by using the remarkable capacity for adaptation that farmers have shown over the last ten millennia or so and because “the farmer is the one with whom everything begins.” However, institutions must not hinder their freedom of action.

A few formulas would deserve to be registered on all the websites of trade unions, NGOs, agricultural schools, media newsrooms and of course powerful national and supra-national public administrations:

“Climate change is opening up new lands in high latitudes that are rapidly greening.”

“Nature is never as beautiful as when it is cared for and maintained by man.”

“Between 1950 and 2010, world agricultural production increased by a factor of 3.5, but cultivated land increased by only 13%.”

“Not only is the organic is treated but it is very treated: the products used are less effective and it is necessary to apply them more often.”

“The organic farmer has an obligation of means… not results.”

“Fake organic kills more people in the world today than conventional.”

“Banning DDT has kept the mosquitoes alive but at the cost of 50 million deaths.”

“The carbon market is a veritable global gas factory that even has its mafia members.”

“Animal husbandry avoids considering nature as a vast stock of resources from which to draw without questioning their sustainability and renewal… yet what abolitionists who have the ear of the media and the favour of actors ready to mount the great battle horse of self-promotional indignation want is the disappearance of animal husbandry… Who will have the courage to put an end to the ritual slaughter methods that lead to incommensurable animal suffering?”

This book reminds us that agriculture is a very complex profession and that taking environmental externalities into account implies an increased use of science and technology. The praiseworthy militant initiatives such as agro-ecology, the AMAP movement, short circuits, permaculture… are not at the level of the mass production indispensable to feed some twelve billion people by 2050.

This fascinating reflection deserves to be pursued with regard to the evolution of institutions, particularly with regard to land control and the central role of property rights, taking into account the research of Garrett Hardin, Elinor Ostrom, Hernando De Soto… at the frontiers of law, economics, political science and sociology.

 So that the “peasants save the world”, as Sylvie Brunel wishes.

Sylvie Brunel, Pourquoi les paysans vont sauver le monde, Buchet Chastel, 2020.