Food shortages

I will tell you a little story. There is a man named Cliff Adam, living in a group of islands with about 40,000 people. Cliff got a grant from the United Nations to collect some food plants that might suit the area. They gave him $136,000. So he took off in his plane and kept sending home parcels. He left two or three friends there who kept planting all these trees. He sent back some 600 sorts of mango, 30 or 40 sorts of breadfruit, all sorts of guava, and so on. When he got back home, he then moved them out in rows on 68 acres near the shoreline. Then he got another 135 acres from the government, up on the hills. So he set out all these trees. About three or four years later, he had all sorts of cassava and all sorts of yams and taros that you could imagine. He said to me, "I am in a very embarrassing position." I said, "What is wrong?". He said, "Well I shipped this crop in that wasn't growing here traditionally." This was really a coconut economy. He shipped all these plants in, and he set them out as trials. So he said, "The problem is, what I was going to do was this: give the farmers different sorts of mangos, breadfruit trees, and all that, and I have been doing it; but already the production from my two hundred acres would feed the island, and that's experimental production. I am in the embarrassing position where, as agricultural research and nutrition officer, I am already alone responsible." He said to me, "What am I going to do?" I said, "I dunno."

This is a difficulty wherever people undertake this sort of assembly. You haven't gotten very far along the road, maybe four to seven years along the road, when you've grown so much food the whole thing gets rather embarrassing, and if you are the agricultural officer of a small country, you could probably feed the country on the experimental plots. What's embarrassing is that there are dozens of small farmers. Values fall. They are not going to have any money any more. So this is the problem in tropical areas. It is true for India. Our assessment of India is that there are six billion acres unplanted, planted to nothing. You can see it all over India. There is nothing on it. Yet India is starving on these little rice plots in the valleys, making a virtue out of it. The problem is that when we plant the land, people quickly become food self-sufficient. If you plant on an extended basis, then the whole structure of the economy is affected. What if nobody wants to trade or buy food? What if no one has to bother with it anymore? So there are problems. They are problems of a different order than the problems that we think we have. That has happened to several people who have tackled it seriously within the last five years.

There is another man who's pushing his food jungle just out of habit. He doesn't have to make money. He has an income from property--not much, but enough. A few years ago he started to build out the edge of a rain forest, moving out into the grasslands. He went about 30 yards, assembling trees. He has some 600 species of tropical trees. As soon as he had his trees going, he started to put in vines and epiphytes. By the second or third year, when I saw him, he was over his head in food. All around there was the sounds of food thudding to the ground. Now he's just gotten cracking. He had just assembled his species, and already he was in the embarrassing position where he could feed the whole coastline around him for miles. But he was still going on. He developed some very interesting techniques. He used coconuts like a hand grenade. He would run out along the ridges into the grasslands, heaving coconuts down to the creeks. Boom! Boom! Of about every hundred, about four would take root and start up. He threw hundreds. So a person can run through the landscape bombing it with food. He established his food pioneers, then grew coffee, cocoa, tea, grapefruit, mango--just about anything you might name. Many of those fruits had never grown in Australia before. They are all doing right well, including a packet of brazil nuts that he bought and put in. They all came up, so he bought four thousand and put them in, and they all were coming up. So he put all those out, along with as many coconut trees as he could heave in. It could be exactly the same in India.

You could run all over India and just throw a food carpet across the whole continent. India is basically an unplanted continent, the world's largest empty space, as far as I can see. Yet people are dying of starvation. The problem is the economy, and land ownership. You don't have a food problem. I don't think you will ever have a food problem. If you seriously started this roll away stuff, started to roll all over that place, you wouldn't get very far before you would have an embarrassing amount of food. In a money economy, it's all right only while nobody else is doing it. But what if everybody started doing it? Terrifying thought! Now the position is already being faced in some small communities where there is such a surplus of food that there is no real economy in food at all. Take the great North American continent. If you put coconuts where there is now nothing, but where coconuts would grow--if we were to run around down there establishing three or four million coconut trees that would be yield in four years' time--you couldn't sell coconuts any more.

[source: Bill Mollison - An Introduction To Permaculture]