Archive for the ‘agriculture’ Category
From Ellen Davis, ‘Scripture, Culture and Agriculture’:
The positive aim of the agrarian critique is not that all surburbanites should be farmers but rather that they should move beyond romanticism – a mind-set that always includes a deluded and therefore potentially destructive element – to a realistic relationship with the land on which all our lives depend, a relationship of multigenerational commitment and nurture. (p. 67)
She cites Douglas Boucher’s observation that:
We now see that [combating world hunger] is not simply a matter of whether food is available in the market; people must have the money to buy it. In a world economy in which food is a commodity, poverty will lead to starvation no matter how productive agriculture becomes. The basic problem for hungry people is not a scarcity of food, but a scarcity of income. (Davis, p.77)
A few years ago I heard an interview with Amartya Sen, a Nobel Prize winning economist whose study has focussed on the causes of famine. He had personal experience of living through a famine in Bangladesh as a child in a middle-class household, where there was always food on the table. In the interview he explained that even the most severe famines never affect more than 10% of a country’s population. The food is always there. What is lacking in a famine is the political will to get the food to those who are hungry.
In every country for which data is available, smaller farms are shown to be 200 to 1000% more productive per unit area. (p. 104)
In both the United States and Britain, the suicide rate among farmers is twice that of the general population; in other parts of the world it may be even higher. Rural residents experience significantly higher rates of depression and mental disorder, and studies have shown “exceptionally large increases” in the incidence of substance abuse and domestic violence. (p. 105)
Despite the food industry’s claim to be feeding the world, chronic extreme hunger has increased since the mid-1990s, with 842 million people severely undernourished – even though there is, in absolute terms, enough food in the world for the current population. …The United States and Europe dump agricultural surpluses on poor countries where local farmers cannot compete. The tragic irony is that such “food aid” increases both poverty and hunger. (p. 105)
In attending to issues of land care in Israel’s Scriptures, I am to some degree shifting the terms common in biblical scholarship and contemporary theology, which have given more attention to possession of land as a national territory. The biblical writers themselves consistently regard the two matters as related; land tenure is conditional upon proper use and care of land in community. (p. 2)
Overall, from a biblical perspective, the sustained fertility and habitability of the earth, or more particularly of the land of Israel, is the best index of the health of the covenant relationship. (p. 8)
The essential understanding that informs the agrarian mind-set, in multiple cultures from ancient times to the presetn, is that agriculture has an ineluctable ethical dimension. Our largest and most indispensable industry, food production entails at every stage judgments and practices that bear directly on the health of the earth and living creatures, on the emotional, economic, and physical well-being of families and communities, and ultimately on their survival. Therefore, sound agricultural practice depends upon knowledge that is at one and the same time chemical and biological, economic, cultural, philosophical, and (following the understanding of most farmers in most places and times) religious. Agriculture involves questions of value and therefore of moral choice, whether or not we care to admit it. (p. 22)
Writing that is genuinely agrarian can come only from a relationship with a place deep enough to shape the minds of writer and readers.
Certainly the Scriptures of ancient Israel know where they come from. They reflect the narrow and precariously balanced ecological niche that is the hill country of ancient Judah and Samaria – “a strip of land between two seas,” as they say, with water to the west and relatively barren wilderness to the east. The Israelite farmers knew that they survived in that steep and semiarid land by the grace of God and their own wise practices.
The Bible as we have it could not have been written beside the irrigation canals of Babylon, or the perennially flooding Nile, any more than it could have emerged from the vast fertile plains of the North American continent. For revelation addresses the necessities of a place as well as a people. Therefore, ancient Israel’s Scripture bespeaks throughout an awareness of belonging to a place that is at once extremely fragile and infinitely precious.(p. 26)
…agrarians know the land, not as an inert object, but as a fellow creature that can justly expect something from us whose lives depend on it. (p. 29)
It is noteworthy that in ancient Israel agricultural land seems to have been literally invaluable. There is no record, biblical or inscriptional, of an Israelite voluntarily selling land on the open market, because – in contrast to their neighbors in Egypt and Mesopotamia – Israelites seem to have had no concept of arable land as a commodity to be bought and sold freely. …a piece of land is the possession of a family, to be held as a trust and transmitted from generation to generation. Although the rights to land use may temporarily be sold to pay off debts, the land reverts to the original family unit every fiftieth year (Lev. 25:31). There is to be no permanently landless underclass in Israel. (p. 39)
Land is the earnest of the covenant, the tangible sign and consequence of God’s commitment to the people Israel.