Supply crisis and food security

Why a country needs its own productive agriculture and where the “green” criticism of agriculture goes wrong

by Hans Bieri*

In the worsening crisis, the most obvious question is security of supply. This was and is the core concern of so-called internal colonisation, in the spirit of which the Swiss Association for Internal Colonisation and Industrial Agriculture, now the Swiss Association for Industry and Agriculture SVIL, was founded in 1918. At that time, too, Switzerland had “abandoned its agriculture to the influences of the world market”, according to Hans Bernhard, the founder of the SVIL in 19181, which led to serious supply shortages. This was to be countered with an agricultural and settlement policy oriented towards general welfare by developing the domestic economy.

In 1944, the Hungarian-Austrian economic historian, economist and social scientist Karl Paul Polanyi wrote: “After a century of blind ‘improvement’, man is restoring his ‘habitation’. If industrialism is not to extinguish the race, it must be subordinated to the requirements of man’s nature. The true criticism of market society is not that it was based on economics – in a sense, every and any society must be based on it – but that its economy was based on self-interest.”2
  This destructive struggle of economic self-interest, which set countries against each other and also resulted in the 1918 supply crisis, awakened the internal colonising will to “restore its own dwelling”. All the writings of the SVIL from 1918 to the 1940s, from which the above quote by Karl Polanyi comes, bear witness to this.
  Today, however, the conditions for “restoring one’s own dwelling” are being shattered step by step and at an accelerating pace.
  In 1996, the SVIL held a two-day symposium at the ETH on the question “Is Switzerland losing its footing?” The seriousness of the situation remained underestimated for a long time.
  Not only with regard to security of supply, but also with regard to neutrality, it is now necessary to prevent further “damage to the land” and to “recultivate” it instead. The connection between security of supply and neutrality will be examined in another article.

Agriculture under pressure from deregulation,
settlement growth and loss of cultivated land

The SVIL has always clearly and unequivocally opposed the decimation of productive agriculture. Since the 1980s, however, agricultural self-sufficiency has come under increasing pressure:

  • The WTO demanded an opening of agricultural free trade. The warning voices that agriculture should not be included in the free trade negotiations – as was the case with the GATT for decades – were thrown to the wind, as was the historical experience with supply crises. What was new in the WTO was that the dismantling of trade barriers would also increase security of supply in the food sector, which is now becoming increasingly apparent as a mistake that could have been avoided.
  • Loss of land and cultivated land is advancing from two sides: on the one hand, as a result of too much immigration with the resulting growth in settlement (jobs, residential areas, supply infrastructures) and, on the other hand, as a result of the deconstruction of cultivated land for nature conservation.
  • The death of farms due to low incomes and loss of land continues.
  • The ecology debate has been unilaterally imposed on agriculture by the conservation organisations instead of first addressing the causes of conflict stemming from the economy as a whole. Green reform groups believe that the ecological problem can be solved by reducing production and cultivating nature separately. In this way, agriculture was forced to provide additional, uncompensated maintenance services (cultivated landscape maintenance, biodiversity contributions for biodiversity and particularly nature- and animal-friendly forms of production, etc.) while overall direct payments and production services remained unchanged.

In addition, ecological critics do not want to recognise any connection between Switzerland’s population and settlement density and dwindling biodiversity, but blame this conflict solely on agriculture. Increasingly, agricultural policy has also become an object for expanded demands on the living environment. In the process, ever more drastic ecological regulations are imposed on agriculture without addressing the macroeconomic causes of environmental degradation. The label organisations of organic agriculture are also concentrating solely on marketing their unique selling points without addressing the basic macroeconomic conflict of the underpayment of agriculture.
  Because of this multiplicity of conflicts, Parliament has abandoned the AP 22 agricultural policy and instructed the Federal Council to submit a revised concept by summer 2022.

Supply chains – the new problem

Now, in addition to the already strained relationship between population size and land base, there are once again additional uncertainties about supply through imports. Until now, against all warnings, the global supply chains – one does not have to produce everything oneself, one can import everything at any time – were the main argument for deregulation and free trade. Today, it is precisely the supply chains that are the sore point, which is reflected in significant price increases for raw materials.
  As a result, the supply situation for Switzerland – with a degree of self-sufficiency of just under 55% and a high proportion of imports – has become more than uncertain against the backdrop of this increasing turmoil. For these reasons, the call for a Plan Wahlen 2.0 (see Plan Wahlen 1941, to expand the potato and bread grain area and to adjust the diet) is political precaution. Today, this means: an emergency programme of re-expansion of arable land, reclamation of extensification areas and no further watercourse widening projects (through renaturation, i.e. widening of watercourses), which, according to the conservation organisations themselves, deprive agriculture of up to 50,000 ha of prime and irrigable land.
  It is now a question of secure supply in the face of disrupted supply, which is what agricultural policy must be pragmatically geared to.
  The same considerations also apply to the required reduction path, i.e. the political target by means of which the use of additives in agriculture is to be reduced step by step. A reduction in auxiliary materials leads to a collapse in production - the looming crisis is certainly the wrong moment for this. It is therefore also wrong to impose a reduction path on agriculture in addition to the adjustment process that is already underway, and this in the face of rising energy and raw material prices and rising production costs. In order to be able to replace auxiliary materials with ecological intensification, the current industrialisation pressure on agriculture must be eliminated. For this economic pressure prevents ecological intensification. Such an intensification requires a longer-term recultivation process. Measures that stifle production and risk “Cambodian conditions” (Pol Pot, relapse into poverty and hunger) – or conversely, adapting our livelihoods to economically generated conflicts – are misguided.
  Recently, it has been argued against self-sufficiency that auxiliary materials such as fertiliser, diesel and animal feed would have to be imported anyway, making self-sufficiency illusory in any case. Such argumentation only contributes to further lowering the currently low level of self-sufficiency in this crisis instead of increasing it. Fuel and fertiliser from fossil sources in particular can be stored in sufficient quantities without any problems.
  The fact that a few years ago, the state supply law significantly reduced stockpiling compared to the past seems to be in line with the “policy” which today is virtually causing supply bottlenecks in an inhumane manner.

The Ambivalence of the ecological critique of agriculture
 and industry and the danger of global famine

More and more urgently, the question arises as to which agenda “green” politics follows? Especially in the current crisis, when domestic production should be secured and expanded, these circles criticise productive agriculture and also want to stop the supply of fossil energy and auxiliary materials. Not only fertiliser production is affected, but also grain prices are skyrocketing due to interrupted supply chains as well as unprecedented property encroachments in the payment system (sanctions). According to Bloomberg, the global price of durum wheat doubled from about $ 20 per dt (decitonne) in 2020 to $ 38 per dt in December 2021. Meanwhile, the USA, as a net importer, is holding itself harmless on the world grain market with its self-printed dollars. Currently, the price continues to rise to $ 45 per dt. This makes food no longer affordable for millions of people. Covid-19 has broken supply chains, India is experiencing heat waves, and a lack of rainfall in Europe is also depressing yields. Western sanctions are shockingly blocking fossil fuel energy use and with it manufacturing from fertiliser production to industrial production. Add up all these disruptions orchestrated at the monetary and legal levels, and striking supply shortages loom. In fact, the combined export shares of Russia and Ukraine in global wheat production before the crisis were about 3%. It is not the production volume that is the problem, but the explosion of prices due to sanctions and disruption of logistics.
  And as if that were not enough, an energy supply emergency and destruction of the economy is being “accepted” for reasons of “ecology”. Who is served by such an approach, openly heading for a supply crisis?
  Only industry can reduce entropy (environmental pollution) in the long term. The sought-after “ecological turnaround” can therefore precisely not begin with an increase in the price of energy. In reality, the reduction of raw material consumption is the long-term product of SME-supported technology development, which is now being damaged by the sanctions policy. These connections are overlooked by the protection organisations!
  As far as world food is concerned, the dependencies that have arisen in the grain supply of the Near and Middle East and North Africa are the result of previous global political wars. In Iraq and then also in Syria, a rich grain culture was destroyed, which also increased the dependence on grain imports in these countries. This in turn increased Eastern Europe’s specialisation in the production of food commodities.
  It is not a progressive policy to abuse these internationally created mutual interdependencies as a target for sanctions in order to launch international emergency and politically exploitable shock strategies. Are consumers to experience painfully what it is like when the gas tap is turned off and fertiliser production is interrupted? What explains the long-standing opposition to Nordstream 2? Is it about “ecology and climate” or is it about access to gas resources or about the question of who should own them “rules-based” in the future? In this way, the ecological conflict increasingly becomes a powerless appendage in the economic conflict over resource bases. The destruction of self-sustaining economies creates internationally disruptive dependencies and enormous targets for intervention, sanctions, etc. The energy embargoes are exacerbating the conflict. Energy embargoes exacerbate international crises. With supply and hunger crises, every social life is brought into dependence on global behavioural regulation. This is obviously an attempt to continue the previous colonial domination. The fact that an energy embargo is taken in all seriousness as a contribution to sustainability shows the progressive economic and political loss of reality.
  The emancipatory power of industry and its ability to solve the entropy problem are destroyed by this supposedly “ecological” energy policy. It is a relapse into an immature society that “regulates” life, material and energy flows authoritatively and sacrificially. This process, promoted by the Great Reset, leads to an eco-dictatorship.
  Unless Europe summons up the revolutionary force for a confederate Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok – against the ever-increasing imperial re-feudalisation under transatlantic auspices. •

1 Bernhard, Hans. Die Innenkolonisation der Schweiz.
2 Polanyi, Karl Paul. The Great Transformation. p. 267 (, First edition 1944

Hans Bieri is dipl.Arch.ETH/SIA, spatial planner, managing director of SVIL and chair, Zurich. The following article is a slight revision of a text that originally appeared as the SVIL 2022 Annual Report.

Swiss Association for Industry and Agriculture (SVIL)

The Swiss Association for Industry and Agriculture (SVIL) was founded in 1918 by Swiss industrialists and its first managing director, Professor Hans Bernhard, in Zurich City Hall as a consequence of the food crisis, when 150,000 tonnes of food were missing from domestic food shelves within a short period of time after the collapse of free trade as a result of the First World War – and this despite existing high purchasing power. It became clear that a highly developed industrialised country could not do without its own agriculture, even if imports from economically backward countries at lower prices had always been possible. Such a procurement option from low-wage countries is an asymmetrical trade in favour of the rich countries, which, however, turns into the opposite when shortages occur due to wars, climate, epidemics, etc. This is why it is so important for a country to have its own agricultural sector. shortages occur. Because the susceptibility of free trade to disruptions in the food sector has devastating effects on the economy and society, Switzerland’s industrial representatives have learned the lesson and decided to rebuild their own agriculture in Switzerland, which is capable of feeding our country in the event of supply disruptions. The Swiss Association of Industry and Agriculture, is an association under private law that acts in the interest of food security on a non-profit basis. Its statutes state the protection of Swiss soil and its rational use as its main objectives. The focus is on the conservation and promotion of soil as a renewable resource and a secure basis for nutrition.

Internal colonisation

Colonisation originally refers to the reclamation and settlement of fallow land and, in the course of time, also to the economic subjugation of already settled countries. Internal colonisation, on the other hand, refers to the development of economic and settlement space within the country.

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