Did you know that the cultivation of agricultural crops and raising of livestock play a crucial role in human health? No, really. Humans literally cannot survive without it. But how exactly is agriculture linked to human health and, more importantly, what role does industrial agriculture play in human health?
As the world observes World Health Day on 7 April – a tradition since 1950 – to commemorate the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organization (WHO), all eyes have landed on the agricultural sector and its direct link to human health.
According to Andrew Ardington from the Regenerative Agriculture Association of Southern Africa, the rise and rise of chronic illnesses has much to do with what’s wrong in our nutrition.
“The problem is that modern man believes that he can solve all problems with a technical solution, but food is not chemistry and physics. It is biological and complex. Leaving aside the dangerous chemicals we use to produce our food, we then process it to the degree that it is totally unrecognisable by anything other than chemical analysis,” Ardington says.
But how can the agricultural sector in South Africa cater to the health needs of its citizens? Well, according to Ardington, we’d have to start on the ground – the farm – and how food is produced there.
He explains that because maize is largely considered a staple diet in South Africa, the method used to produce this commodity needs to be reviewed.
“Our maize is produced in soils that have been degraded by industrial agriculture from a carbon level of around 4% to current levels of around 0.4% – a 90% loss of carbon.
“We need to change to regenerative maize production, improve the quality of food we produce and start healing the environment on our farms.”
He continues and says that already, extensive testing in the United States has produced evidence of a direct correlation between soil carbon levels and the nutrient density of foods.
“Healthy soils produce healthy foods. Only chemists and investors in industrial agriculture think synthetic inputs and poisons produce healthy foods… We then need to work out how we are going to get that better food to people.”
Industrial agriculture could crash and burn
Food shortages are already a growing concern locally and globally.
Food security at a household level is at criminal levels, in Ardington’s opinion, and this state was made significantly worse by lockdown.
“Add to that the inflation bought about by the energy and fuel prices and the war in the Ukraine, and things that are already bad – children dying of malnutrition in the Eastern Cape – are going to get worse.”
Food insecurity is largely a function of economics rather than agriculture; a function of access rather than a lack of availability, he adds.
“Every time the world has had to supply food aid to a region, the world has been able to do it. At a global level there has always been food available. The people who were starving just didn’t have access to it for political or economic reasons.”
Ardington is advocating that the world turns to regenerative agriculture for the sake of future food security. Because if we’re not careful, industrial agriculture will crash and lead to even more massive, global food shortages.
Explaining why, he says that the current industrial method of agricultural production is based on the mining of resources – soil, fertility, water – and not farming those resources. “And we all know that mines have a limited lifespan.”
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