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Thread: farming on marginal land

  1. #1

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    Default farming on marginal land

    Hi there

    I'm having trouble with the question, "What's wrong with grazing livestock on land unsuitable for tillage?" and the questioner often includes the fact that, without this use of such land, "farmers in remote locations would be out of a job" or some such.

    Now, my responses are usually, "Why do humans feel the need to exploit every last inch of land? What's wrong with land just being there?" and "The need to exploit marginal land ignores the larger issue of all good arable land being exploited for livestock and the subsequent problems with soil erosion, nutrient depletion, forest clearance" etc etc - you get the picture.

    It's still a hard argument to counter, especially over here where 'bad land' is used for sheep grazing or cattle during summer and the livestock farmer feels embattled already without me taking a shot!

    What's your take on it?
    "The trouble with quotes on the internet is that you can never tell if they're genuine" - Abraham Lincoln

  2. #2
    cobweb
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    Default Re: farming on marginal land

    my take would be, "what's right with it?"

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    Ex-admin Korn's Avatar
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    Default Re: farming on marginal land

    Quote DavidT View Post
    "What's wrong with grazing livestock on land unsuitable for tillage?"
    It's not the grazing as such there's something wrong with. The problem is the exploitation of the animals.

    Now, my responses are usually, "Why do humans feel the need to exploit every last inch of land? What's wrong with land just being there?"
    My own response would rather be "Why do humans feel the need to exploit every animal they can exploit? What's wrong with allowing the animals to just being there?"
    I will not eat anything that walks, swims, flies, runs, skips, hops or crawls.

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    Default Re: farming on marginal land

    Thanks cobweb; you're right but it's never enough just to say that, is it? It's partially because I need to get it extremely clear in my own head!

    Korn; thanks, that's very focused. Here's a typical response:

    There simply is not enough good arable land between the sprawling cities to grow enough food to feed the population if veganism was the compulsory.
    Down this end of the country for instance there is no "arable" land for about 30 miles and then it's marginal. Surely it's more sustainable to allow sheep to range over the hills eating heather and coarse grasses and then eat the sheep, rather than "import" vegetables from hundreds of miles away.
    While I respect vegetarians and vegans for their lifestyle and ethics, I sometimes despair over their arguments.
    Sigh....
    "The trouble with quotes on the internet is that you can never tell if they're genuine" - Abraham Lincoln

  5. #5
    cobweb
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    Default Re: farming on marginal land

    well that's what I would say, but if I *really* wanted to expand on the argument, I would add that there's no 'need' to do this, it isn't adding anything by using marginal land, and in fact at some point would be taking more of the Earth's resources, e.g water, chemicals (various) and packaging, not to mention petrol, in the process of willfully killing these marginally farmed animals and turning their bodies into human 'food'.

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    Default Re: farming on marginal land

    Very good point cw. It would be extremely interesting to see some lifecycle analysis of that type of farming, the energy balance as it were.
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    Bad Buddhist Clueless Git's Avatar
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    Default Re: farming on marginal land

    Quote DavidT View Post
    Hi there

    I'm having trouble with the question, "What's wrong with grazing livestock on land unsuitable for tillage?" and the questioner often includes the fact that, without this use of such land, "farmers in remote locations would be out of a job" or some such.?
    'Lo David

    If your questioners did not 'need' so much perfectly tillable land to keep their livestock on then there would be enough perfectly tillable land for the entire human population to live on.

    Basicaly it is their insistence that so much good land be ring fenced for animal use at the cost of displacing human populations to remote and inhospitable areas that causes the problem in the first place.

    There simply is not enough good arable land between the sprawling cities to grow enough food to feed the population if veganism was the compulsory.
    Down this end of the country for instance there is no "arable" land for about 30 miles and then it's marginal. Surely it's more sustainable to allow sheep to range over the hills eating heather and coarse grasses and then eat the sheep, rather than "import" vegetables from hundreds of miles away.
    While I respect vegetarians and vegans for their lifestyle and ethics, I sometimes despair over their arguments.
    Your matey is simply missing the point that all the land used for animal pasturage/feed growing/storage/processing becomes free if people stop eating meat David.

    The maths, roughly, is that it take eight-ten times the land to sustain a meat eating population than it would take to sustain a vegetarian population. The removal of meat from a populations diet would thus free up 80-90% of all existing arable land.
    All done in the best possible taste ...

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    Default Re: farming on marginal land

    Very good, CS, thanks. Your last paragraph's point is one I've used...then it becomes a question of disconnect, one of an indirect moral challenge which brings back all the usual cries of 'we've adapted to eat meat' or some such nonsense.
    "The trouble with quotes on the internet is that you can never tell if they're genuine" - Abraham Lincoln

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    Ex-admin Korn's Avatar
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    Default Re: farming on marginal land

    There simply is not enough good arable land between the sprawling cities to grow enough food to feed the population if veganism was the compulsory.
    If we all would have been vegans, there would be a lot of wild animals not being killed by hunting etc - they would need this land. Since a massive percentage of all land is used to produce fodder for livestock, a lot of land would be 'liberated' if all humans would have been vegans. It takes a lot more land to grow fodder>meat than to grow vegan food.

    Down this end of the country for instance there is no "arable" land for about 30 miles and then it's marginal.
    Well - some humans live where there's no local access to plant food at all, and live on fish and other sea life. But they wouldn't have settled in such an area if they were vegans... There are lot of places where most plants can't be cultivated: in deserts, in mountain areas and so on. But bees/insects, birds, other mammals etc. need these areas. We don't have to grow food on every inch of the planet.

    Surely it's more sustainable to allow sheep to range over the hills eating heather and coarse grasses and then eat the sheep, rather than "import" vegetables from hundreds of miles away.
    Unethical behavior will always be justified by some people. It surely makes sense to allow sheep, deer, rabbits and goats eat whatever grows in these areas, but that doesn't mean that we should eat these animals afterwards.

    The conflict between either eating animals grassing on such land or importing plants from another part of the world is an artificial one. It's a theoretical scenario constructed by somebody who feels a need to justify his consumption of animal products. People who come up with such arguments usually don't restrict their food intake to animals from turbo-free-range animals eating wild plants on barren land anyway - or avoid cotton, coffee or orange juice from far away locations. They buy meat from supermarkets, from cows living on fortified special food grown on land reserved for producing livestock fodder - eg. soy from hundreds of miles away.

    http://www.fao.org/ag/magazine/0612sp1.htm

    Millions of humans suffer from not getting enough food every day, and many of them live next to land dedicated to produce animal fodder, because some other humans happen to like the taste of beef. The local farmers generate more profit from producing animal fodder than they would if they produced healthy plant food for the local population. It's all quite ugly, and usually have more to do with money than ethics.

    Arguments suggesting that one could raise animals on such land and eat them isn't even something a vegan would consider - because vegans don't want to kill or eat animals.

    People produce nutrient-poor sugar, tobacco, coffee etc. because it sells, not because we rally need it. Instead of producing sugar, which almost steals nutrients from our bodies, we should rather aim towards producing more nutrient rich 'super foods' in the future. This is a totally different approach than killing and eating animals who may survive on marginal land...

    Maybe simply we'll have to fight overconsumption of food - globally -in the future. With so many obese people in the west, sustaining these people's weight alone has an impact on the environment in many ways: they crave more food, and often eat food with no or few nutrients. It even takes more energy and resources to make clothes for them or transport us if we weigh too much. It would be beneficial for everything and everyone (environment, humans, animals) if our species would take a step closer to healthy, natural living - especially if compared with finding new ways to maintain our high and totally unnecessary consumption of animals. The step should IMHO be in the opposite direction.

    Our species eat when we are bored, when we are stressed, when we have to little sleep, when our blood sugar is decreasing due to having eating 'no food' like sugary junk food, and the food industry throws away tons of food every year, for economical reasons. Food is big business.

    Vegans certainly aren't interested in finding ways to help 'the dark side' produce and consume more meat and dairy!
    I will not eat anything that walks, swims, flies, runs, skips, hops or crawls.

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    Bad Buddhist Clueless Git's Avatar
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    Default Re: farming on marginal land

    Quote DavidT View Post
    Very good, CS, thanks. Your last paragraph's point is one I've used...then it becomes a question of disconnect, one of an indirect moral challenge which brings back all the usual cries of 'we've adapted to eat meat' or some such nonsense.
    All we can ever do is knock the silly arguments on the head one at time David ..

    Slack and I were talking about this; How an argument starts off with "obviously we have to eat meat as we have these two tiny pointy teeth ..."; Gets totaly demolished; Moves on to "but if we didnt eat cows then there wouldnt be enough vegetables to go round .."; Gets demolished; Carries on ad-finitum til the meat eater runs out of ideas and then, in a flash of 'inspiration', he says "aha! but obviously we have to eat meat, thats what these two tiny pointed teeth are for!"

    Sometimes I reckon all we can do is have an answer for everything and just have fun as the eternal wheel of meat-muddied-minded confusion goes round and round and round ...
    All done in the best possible taste ...

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    Default Re: farming on marginal land

    Great responses, guys, an education! Thanks.
    "The trouble with quotes on the internet is that you can never tell if they're genuine" - Abraham Lincoln

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    Default Re: farming on marginal land

    Quote Korn View Post
    Vegans certainly aren't interested in finding ways to help 'the dark side' produce and consume more meat and dairy!
    This is something I've often pointed out, in different words. Imagine if veganism became more popular, say 20% of the western population aspired to become vegan. We think we have an uphill battle with all the specious arguments now! The meat and dairy industry would spend untold billions to stop the trend and there would be way more belittling and destructive propaganda going on, much like the climate change denial industry.

    On top of that, vegans would even be called 'unpatriotic' and of course the jobs angle would be hammered: veganism simply does not make the kind of increasing profits 'regular' diets do.
    "The trouble with quotes on the internet is that you can never tell if they're genuine" - Abraham Lincoln

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    Default Re: farming on marginal land

    Quote DavidT View Post
    an uphill battle with all the specious arguments now!
    But it's been many years since someone has come up with a new argument pro meat and dairy. The answers are already there, so it's more a media dilemma then a political/ethical discussion.


    On top of that, vegans would even be called 'unpatriotic'
    Not that I in any way can be considered a patriot - but why?


    veganism simply does not make the kind of increasing profits 'regular' diets do.
    If you are detail-oriented, you are right. If you look at the big picture, the situation is the opposite: if we can feed as many people on a diet that's more economically sustainable - with less effort and a lower environmental footprint, there will be more resources which can be dedicated to other and more important tasks - without sacrificing any real values. There will be more food generated from the same amount of land, so we could produce/sell and even export more food. THe poor countries would be less dependent on support from us, because a a major problem would have been solved (since humans would eat plants instead of animals raised on plants). All this would bode well for a more healthy economy.
    I will not eat anything that walks, swims, flies, runs, skips, hops or crawls.

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    Default Re: farming on marginal land

    Quote Korn View Post
    But it's been many years since someone has come up with a new argument pro meat and dairy. The answers are already there, so it's more a media dilemma then a political/ethical discussion.
    What I was trying to say is that when the pressure is on any particular profitable business, their spin machines (like their advertising machines) work in ways we hadn't dreamt of. So yes, it's a media dilemma and one which they'd relish and one worth being alert to.

    Quote Korn View Post
    Not that I in any way can be considered a patriot - but why?
    I suppose I'm thinking of the jobs angle - eat Irish beef rather than Chinese lentils. As you say, it's the media power that's the problem, not the ethics of it. Eat MacDonald's, not that imported soya and so on.

    The trouble I find with meat-eaters generally is their lack of a bigger picture or their refusal to deal with the collective consequences of their individual actions.

    Quote Korn View Post
    If you are detail-oriented, you are right. If you look at the big picture, the situation is the opposite: if we can feed as many people on a diet that's more economically sustainable - with less effort and a lower environmental footprint, there will be more resources which can be dedicated to other and more important tasks - without sacrificing any real values. There will be more food generated from the same amount of land, so we could produce/sell and even export more food. THe poor countries would be less dependent on support from us, because a a major problem would have been solved (since humans would eat plants instead of animals raised on plants). All this would bode well for a more healthy economy.
    Oh, I agree entirely. I often say that, on a personal level, veganism (home-growing being a big part) is so cheap that you can afford other stuff. No doubt that applies at a macro level too.

    "The only work I can get is serving in Burger King. You want to put me out of a job?"
    "The trouble with quotes on the internet is that you can never tell if they're genuine" - Abraham Lincoln

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    Ex-admin Korn's Avatar
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    Default Re: farming on marginal land

    Quote DavidT View Post
    I suppose I'm thinking of the jobs angle - eat Irish beef rather than Chinese lentils.
    Let's start responding to these arguments before they pop up then. Lentils don't always come from China - they are even grown in several European countries like Bulgaria and Greece, and some varieties are even OK with the weather in countries like UK. The best lentils I've bought were grown in France! I'm all for using local stuff, but a real concern from someone who avoids using imported products (tea, sugar, cotton, computers, TVs etc) would 'impress' me more than statements from someone who have problems with a vegan lifestyle, imported products etc if he can use these viewpoints/problems to defend his current lifestyle.



    Eat MacDonald's, not that imported soya and so on.
    Since we don't need soy, that's an easy one. Netherlands, by the way, is the second largest importer of soy in the world, and already exports soy to many European countries (eg. to be used as fodder for livestock).



    "The only work I can get is serving in Burger King. You want to put me out of a job?"
    That's the old pro-war-in-Vietnam argument. But the answer is simple: vegans don't want anyone unemployed, we just want that basic, common viewpoints that pretty much everyone agree in (less suffering, reduced environmental footprint, improved human health etc) shall be taken into consideration when we generate more workplaces.

    If someone can serve non-vegan fast food at Burger King, s/he can serve vegan fast food as well - on Burger King or somewhere else. S/he won't be out of work, but slaughters will have to find a more meaningful job. I saw an interview with a slaughter on TV a while ago, who said that all slaughters actually do have problems with doing what they do, so they wouldn't be depressed if they would 'slaughter' eg. apples in the future instead.
    I will not eat anything that walks, swims, flies, runs, skips, hops or crawls.

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    Default Re: farming on marginal land

    OK, I know this is resurrecting an old thread, but I've had similar questions come up in regards to the thesis that I'm working on, in regards to human survival and animal agriculture on "marginal" lands in places like Africa. I've also lived for quite a while in Dingle, Co Kerry, Ireland, so I know precisely the types of "marginal" lands he is talking about in this instance... I guess I'm just looking for further feedback, given the following qualifications: The person who objected to David's argument clearly stated that there were no arable lands for 30 miles. Now, living on the Dingle Peninsula, which is a beautiful, but rocky, windswept peninsula on the west coast of Ireland, I have seen clearly what is being talked about here... I'm not so sure its about farmers trying to exploit every last bit of land, as much as it is about the quality of the land thats available, and the ability of the land to put out food... and the land belonging to some people may not be fertile enough for them to subsist on... It may be too rocky, or windswept, or infertile to eek a living out of growing enough veg to support onesself--or at least might take a lot more work and effort than the animal farming does, (which is a whole separate question in my opinion and which still certainly does not justify meat eating.). The sheep, however, can eek a living out of the grasses that live on the marginal lands, the rocky hillsides, etc, whereas it would be difficult for people to farm these places. Please note that i am NOT making an argument against veganism--I would like nothing more than to see the eating of animals and animal products abolished entirely--but I'm just looking at the situation, having lived in a place where this is partly an issue, and wondering what the viable solution is. I think it would be very difficult to supply most of ones food by growing it on this land. This is not the case for some areas of the country, where the soil and conditions are better, but what is to be said for the places where it does not seem feasible for one to sustain onesself off of the little poor quality land that one owns? Though I hold there must be some other solution, I can easily see why farmers would make the argument about sheep being a good way to obtain human nourishment off of marginal lands.

    I am also more interested in this question because as I mentioned, I have been getting similar questions in regards to my thesis, because people from areas such as villages in the Congo who are in my class feel that its unfair to make the cessation of meat eating and animal raising binding for people who live in villages such as this, where they "need" animals for food. Certainly it IS less work to let the animals do the work of eating the grass and converting the grass into protein for humans to eat than it would be to put in the hard labor required for vegetable/non animal farming--but that is no excuse to continue taking animal lives, as far as I am concerned. However, a lot of people (such as those in my class) just dont buy this argument, because it is so ingrained that meat is needed--and of course its easier to allow the animals to do the work than to dig fields and grow veg etc. So what ARE the solutions? what are the solutions for people who live on marginal lands, have limited or no income, and need to grow all of their own food?

    Thanks

    kaybee

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    Default Re: farming on marginal land

    I must admit I don't know much about this issue because I have always been more interested in reasons why I and other people in the affluent west should be vegan than in trying to lay down the law about what people in developing countries should do - if you are desperate to feed your family it's fairly clear that people will do what they think will work best in the short term. In the long run though my feeling is that with equitable distribution of food everyone could be vegan.

    I've seen it argued (e.g. here http://www.ifundafrica.org/projects/...in-africa.html) that grazing animals causes problems of erosion and so on so isn't very good even from a people-centric point of view as a long term solution. Maybe that's something you could investigate if you haven't already.

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    Default Re: farming on marginal land

    Quote kaybee View Post
    OK, I know this is resurrecting an old thread
    I don't mind - here I go bringing it up again!

    Quote kaybee View Post
    but I've had similar questions come up in regards to the thesis that I'm working on, in regards to human survival and animal agriculture on "marginal" lands in places like Africa.
    Have got any further with this, kaybee?

    Quote kaybee View Post
    I've also lived for quite a while in Dingle, Co Kerry, Ireland, so I know precisely the types of "marginal" lands he is talking about in this instance... I guess I'm just looking for further feedback, given the following qualifications: The person who objected to David's argument clearly stated that there were no arable lands for 30 miles. Now, living on the Dingle Peninsula, which is a beautiful, but rocky, windswept peninsula on the west coast of Ireland,
    I know it; it can be beautiful but bleak. Trees are a rarity. The place is blighted with housing, I think. Food-wise, it cannot sustain that number of people in its present incarnation. It would take a lot of collective effort agains the odds to produce fruit and veggies to fill their bellies. I'm not saying it couldn't be done but it's unlikely so long as it is so easy to import food. The people who live there do so because they can import that food. If they had to be self-sufficient, I doubt whether half of them would stick it for long.
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