Beyond fossilised paradigms: Futureconomics of food

The economics of the future is based on people and biodiversity – not fossil fuels, toxic chemicals and monocultures.

The kingdom of Bhutan does not measure GDP growth, but ‘gross national happiness’ [GALLO/GETTY]

New Delhi, India – The economic crisis, the ecological crisis and the food crisis are a reflection of an outmoded and fossilised economic paradigm – a paradigm that grew out of mobilising resources for the war by creating the category of economic “growth” and is rooted in the age of oil and fossil fuels. It is fossilised both because it is obsolete, and because it is a product of the age of fossil fuels. We need to move beyond this fossilised paradigm if we are to address the economic and ecological crisis.

Economy and ecology have the same roots “oikos” – meaning home – both our planetary home, the Earth, and our home  where we live our everyday lives in family and community.

But economy strayed from ecology, forgot the home and focused on the market. An artificial “production boundary” was created to measure Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The production boundary defined work and production for sustenance as non-production and non-work – “if you produce what you consume, then you don’t produce”. In one fell swoop, nature’s work in providing goods and services disappeared. The production and work of sustenance economies disappeared, the work of hundreds of millions of women disappeared.

To the false measure of growth is added a false measure of “productivity”. Productivity is output for unit input. In agriculture this should involve all outputs of biodiverse agro-ecosystems – the compost, energy and dairy products from livestock, the fuel and fodder and fruit from agroforestry and farm trees, the diverse outputs of diverse crops. When measured honestly in terms of total output, small biodiverse farms produce more and are more productive.

Low output, high input chemical, industrial monocultures, which in fact have a negative productivity, are articially rendered more productive than small, biodiverse, ecological farms.

Inputs should include all inputs – capital, seeds, chemicals, machinery, fossil fuels, labour, land and water. The false measure of productivity selects one output from diverse outputs – the single commodity to be produced for the market, and one input from diverse inputs – labour.

Thus low output, high input chemical, industrial monocultures, which in fact have a negative productivity, are artificially rendered more productive than small, biodiverse, ecological farms. And this is at the root of the false assumption that small farms must be destroyed and replaced by large industrial farms.

This false, fossilised measure of productivity is at the root of the multiple crises we face in food and agriculture.
It is at the root of hunger and malnutrition, because, while commodities grow, food and nutrition have disappeared from the farming system. “Yield” measures the output of a single commodity, not the output of food and nutrition.

This is the root of the agrarian crisis.

When costs of input keep increasing, but are not counted in measuring productivity, small and marginal farmers are pushed into a high cost farming model, which results in debt – and in extreme cases, the epidemic of farmers’ suicides.

It is at the root of the unemployment crisis.

When people are replaced by energy slaves because of a false measure of productivity based on labour inputs alone, the destruction of livelihoods and work is an inevitable result.

It is also at the root of the ecological crisis.

When natural resource inputs, fossil fuel inputs, and chemical inputs are increased but not counted, more water and land is wasted, more toxic poisons are used, more fossil fuels are needed. In terms of resource productivity, chemical industrial agriculture is highly inefficient. It uses ten units of energy to produce one unit of food. It is responsible for 75 per cent use of water, 75 per cent disappearance of species diversity, 75 per cent land and soil degradation and 40 per cent of all Greenhouse Gas emissions, which are destabilising the climate.

Bhutan has given up the false categories of GNP and GDP, and replaced them with the category of gross national happiness – which measures the wellbeing of nature and society.

According to the recently released report from the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), extreme events due to an unstable climate are costing $80bn annually. We need to move from these false and fossilised indicators to real indicators which reflect the health of nature and wellbeing of the economy. The inadequacies of the old paradigm based on economic growth and false productivity are being recognised at the highest levels.

In food and agriculture, when we transcend the false productivity of a fossilised paradigm, and shift from the narrow focus on monoculture yields as the only output, and human labour as the only input, instead of destroying small farms and farmers we will protect them – because they are more productive in real terms. Instead of destroying biodiversity, we will intensify it, because it gives more food and nutrition.

Futureconomics, the economics of the future, is based on people and biodiversity – not fossil fuels, energy slaves, toxic chemicals and monocultures. The fossilised paradigm of food and agriculture gives us displacement, dispossession, disease and ecological destruction. It has given us the epidemic of farmers suicides and the epidemic of hunger and malnutrition. A paradigm that robs 250,000 farmers of their lives, and millions of their livelihoods; that robs half our future generations of their lives by denying them food and nutrition is clearly dysfunctional. 

It has led to the growth of money flow and corporate profits, but it has diminished life and the wellbeing of our people. The new paradigm we are creating on the ground – and in our minds – enriches livelihoods, the health of people and eco-systems and cultures.

On April 2, 2012, the United Nations organised a High Level Meeting on Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a new Economic Paradigm to implement resolution 65/309 [PDF], adopted unanimously by the General Assembly in July 2011 – conscious that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal and “recognising that the gross domestic product does not adequately reflect the happiness and well-being of people”.

I was invited to address the conference at the UN. The meeting was hosted by the tiny Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. Bhutan has given up the false categories of GNP and GDP, and replaced them with the category of “gross national happiness” which measures the wellbeing of nature and society.

Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley has recognised that “growing organic” and “growing happiness and wellbeing” go hand in hand. That is why he has asked Navdanya and I to help make a transition to a 100 per cent organic Bhutan.

In India, Navdanya is working with the states of Uttarakhand, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar for an organic transition. We aim for an organic India by 2050, to end the epidemic of farmers suicides and hunger and malnutrition, to stop the erosion of our soil, our biodiversity, our water; to create sustainable livelihoods and end poverty.

This is futureconomics.

Dr Vandana Shiva is a physicist, eco-feminist, philosopher, activist and author of more than 20 books and 500 papers. She is the founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, and has campaigned for biodiversity, conservation and farmers’ rights, winning the Right Livelihood Award [Alternative Nobel Prize] in 1993.