Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Watermelon Lunacy

'The man who can make two grains of corn grow where one grew before will have served mankind better than the whole race of politicians.'

I forget who said that (was it Jonathan Swift) but it is perfectly true. And in the last couple of centuries there have been quite a few of these people, to whom statues should be erected around the world. They are the inventors of pesticides, chemical fertilizers and mechanical sowing and harvesting machines. (I wish I could give a few names but I can't do the research here).

Now: Tomatoes grown on an allotment covered with sheep shit and tended by hand taste wonderful; far, far better than anything you'll find in the supermarket. They are also hellishly expensive to produce. They are a luxury for people who have time or money to spare and choose to spend it that way. You can't feed the world by throwing sheep shit around and then going out with your spade. We in the wealthy nations aren't used to thinking of food as a luxury, and there's a reason for that (see paragraph 2) but for many people it still is.

I have no objection to people spending their time and money as they wish, but certain things must be borne in mind. Basic things, like simple economics.

I hadn't realized until yesterday, while discussing the matter with my brother-in-law (the one who runs the farm) that organic farming is actually subsidized by the Spanish government. There is a programme to encourage farmers to sow only seed that has itself come from organiclly farmed crops, to use only manures from organically raised livestock, to spray nothing whatsoever on the soil or on the growing crop, and if they do all of this they get a hefty subsidy from the government (ie you and me- well, me anyway, and probably you too if you live in the EU).

I expect you're way ahead of me here, but let me have the pleasure of spelling it out- the government is deliberately encouraging farmers to triple (roughly) the production costs of food, and to reduce to a quarter or so the productivity of land. If they are successful we will all starve. This is complete madness.

Yes, I know we won't starve because Spain, while not quite on a level with Germany or France or the UK, is a wealthy country and the extra costs needed to keep ourselves fed will in fact be absorbed by other, less vital, sectors of the economy, which will experience a dramatic downturn. You can argue about the possible future benefits of windfarms and solar panels, but to deliberately triple (at least) the production costs of such an important industry, to tie a massive millstone around the neck of your economy (and by extension, the world's) for no reason whatsoever, is complete and utter madness. Since our government, despite its faults (Hickory passim) is not entire stupid, the only assumption I can make is that some eco-bunny has persuaded them that we are more likely to vote for them if they attempt to starve us than if they don't. And it's probably true.

Of course, if the scheme does become too popular they will stop the subsidies before too much damage is done, but that doesn't make it any less nuts, nor any less obviously naked, cynical populism. Does Britain do this as well?

No comments: