Modern agriculture: Some lexical rectifications

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Chemical food or just food?

The debate about our food system is becoming more and more important in political discussions. We are realizing the major importance it has in the sustainability of our livelihood.

In these debates, it is very important to understand the meaning of some commonly used words and to replace them in their context.

What I mean by “modern agriculture” is the practice of monoculture, intensification through the use of chemicals, mecanisation, and oversimplification of agrosystems.

The conventional agriculture

Calling our modern agriculture “conventional” is quite pernicious. It rose in the 1950’s with what History refers to as the “Green Revolution“. In fact, the Green Revolution, along with other factors, is the introduction of massive amounts of industrial chemicals on the plants and in the soils because farmers noticed it resulted in a sharp increase in crop yields. After World War II, Europe was devastated and there was an actual need of bigger food production.

However, what should have been exceptional and temporary has slowly become the norm. It has become so widespread that we now call it “conventional”. In fact, this kind of agriculture has everything to be called the “chemical agriculture“. Yet it is not the name we use to identify this extremely new practice in human History.

Interestingly, the society (and agro-chemical companies) tend to marginalized what has been the rule for centuries (organic agriculture) and instead claim to be normal what is not (chemical agriculture), biologically speaking.

The globalisation of conventional agriculture forced us to even label the products that are organic, creating a feeling of difference, “not normal”. As organic becomes more and more popular, especially among wine makers, I’m looking forward to a label for “chemical agriculture” products, and no particular label for normal organic food.

Labels for organic agriculture and chemical agriculture

French bio label and its parody for “chemical agriculture”

Fertilizers and pesticides

In our case fertilizers and pesticides have lost their adjective. If we want to be accurate, they are “chemical fertilizers” and “chemical pesticides”. Those products have become so common in our lives that considering that there are low-cost natural counterparts out there is not even in our minds.

When I say “natural” I mean “not artificial or synthetic”. Because in fact, chemistry is part of nature. The problem is the utilization from human beings of various substances and their misuse in agricultural practices. (See: On the importance to eat organic).

Besides, “pesticides” should often be called “biocides“: life-killers. Because in practice this is what they do. They might kill or prevent one specific type of “pest”, but they also kill directly or indirectly precious farmers’ partners: ladybugs, worms, bees…

I believe calling things by what they are is important because words have an impact on people’s consciousness.

As Jean Jaurès said:

“When people cannot change things, they change words”

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Posted in Food and Agriculture
One comment on “Modern agriculture: Some lexical rectifications
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About me
I'm passionate about sustainable lifestyles and urban agriculture. I believe that community-supported initiatives and bottom-up policies are key to foster necessary societal changes. I'm an advocate of degrowth, agro-ecology, sharing economy and participatory democracy. Based in Bratislava, Slovakia, I like learning, reading, writing, sharing, hiking, dancing, eating, and celebrating.
Nicolas Giroux
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