Not only agriculture ends with the destruction of the peasantry

by Professor Dr Heinrich Wohlmeyer

World and regional food supply have come under scrutinity. In 2008 – 11 years ago – the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) called for a radical rethinking of world agricultural policy in its study “Agriculture at a Crossroads”. IAASTD warned that the current way of cultivation, which dominates world market, would not be able to secure world food supplies. On the contrary, a small-scaled, site-oriented, diverse land management is necessary. This corresponds to the horticultural patterns of cultivation of all advanced civilisations with scarce land and high population densities. This type of cultivation also saved our lives in times of need during the Second World War.

However, the mainstream of international agricultural industry keeps on moving in the opposite direction. Labour productivity is maximised at the expense of land productivity, diversity and natural soil fertility. The tone is set by the large farms in North and South America, Australia and New Zealand1. Furthermore, big business, recognising the untenability of the current world financial order, is fleeing into land purchase, and exploiting large corporations and states such as China purchase fertile land abroad thus driving away the farmers. All this leads to remote agricultural management, in which the intimate personal contact with the soil, plants and animals is lost. Digitisation, seen as a mantra for the future, supports this pattern.
A soulless agricultural management is gaining more and more space forgetting that the only economic sector that contains the word “culture” is agriculture. L.C.I. Columella (died around 70 A.D.) already pointed out this danger in the foreword to his 12 books on agriculture.2 He wrote: “Moreover, I believe that this3 does not happen to us due to disfavour of the climate, but due to our own failure, since we have handed over land management to the most miserable slaves like executioners for mistreating the soil, while in times of our ancestors land management was done by the best men with utmost art and love.” Count Hartig4 refers to the opposite in his “Brief Historical Reflections on the Reception and Decay of Farming by Different Nations”, Vienna and Prague 1786, with regard to Japan: “Unlike China, Japon gives its inhabitants, a fertile soil to cultivate; sandy soil, stony regions and mountains are natural obstacles to agriculture here .... But the mountains are covered with grain, and the hardworking Japanese even pulls the plough in those steep mountains where draught cattle can no longer be used for work. By the use of the richest and most elaborate artificial fertilisation, the sandy soil is transformed into the most fertile field; old implements and clothes, oysters and shells, everything is used by them to force gifts out of earth, through multiplication of the fertilizer.” The small Iseki and Kubota all-wheel-drive tractors currently driving around our city gardens and parks are the modern descendants of this small-scale agriculture that is now being destroyed by opening up to cheap US imports.
We can put it in a nutshell: If direct contact with soil, plants and animals is lost, and if large technology and cheap imports cause the abandoning of difficult small scale cultivation, and the latter is praised as “natural, state-of-the-art structural adjustment and modernisation”, then the adaptive  nature management, the agriculture, gets lost and thus also the food security of the coming generations.
The call of the IAASTD5 and the recent resolution of the United Nations General Assembly from 17 December 2018 on the rights of farmers and other persons working in rural areas, which was not signed by Austria, should bring about a rethinking.
If about 6 small farmers per day give up in Austria, the alarm bells should be ringing. Because only farmers who master the tools of the trade and difficult terrain can intensify horticulturalism and ensure local basic services in the event of a crisis – which can not be ruled out.
Rural management views nature as an entrusted good with which it interacts. It is a culture of dealing with the living. They know their fields, their plants and their cattle and feel connected to them. My late host father6, the farmer Franz Steindl, looked at the soil when taking a sample with a spade and smelled at it, then he said: “My boy, the ground is just fine.” All his animals had a name and answered to it. He noticed signs of illness at once.
With intimate contact, the right hemisphere of the brain can spontaneously recognise the state of complex systems and thus help to intervene appropriately. This cannot be guaranteed by predefined programmes.
The farmers as designers, guardians and outposts of the cultural landscape can intervene quickly and appropriately even in the case of natural hazards (for example, water drainage and fire fighting). If they are no longer on site, damages are only noticed when the damage is already extensive. Unfortunately, this is the case internationally.
But there is more to it: It is about a culture of life that is carried within and that we are currently eradicating. We are no longer speaking of the “farmer” but of the BFU (rural family business) and the management of natural resources. Agriculture no longer appears in the official title of the responsible ministry ...
The Servite Father, Father Bonfilius (Franz) Wagner, who, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, was sent back to his old hometown Gratzen (now Nové Hrady) in southern Bohemia at the age of 65, and who rescued und revived the monastery Gratzen and the place of pilgrimage Brünnl (now Dobrá Voda) , and revitalised the youth to a new beginning, he said before his death in 2005: “The end of the world will come when the very last peasant and very last monk or nun will die, when there will be no one left who would till the land and pray for the world. Peasants and pastors seem to die hand in hand unless we wake up and take countermeasure.”     •

1    New Zealand sheep from intensive animal husbandry underprice the local sheep farmers and is praised to be ‹green› although the feed business is conducted with herbicide distribution and fertilisation from the air.
2    De re rustica libri duodezim. Tusculum-Bücherei, Artemis Verlag München 1981
3    The bemoaned decreasing natural soil fertility.
4    He travelled widely and was a member of the Royal Academy in Marseille and the Academic Museum in Paris.
5    In which Austria, unlike Switzerland, did not participate.
6    As a child, I grew up in a farmer’s family.

(Translation Current Concerns)

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