I would like to share with others who have even less exposure to agricultural wisdom than I do, and also farmers who know better but who need to follow the pressures of the percieved marketplace. The issue is monoculture farming, which dominates the modern industrial farming techniques that currently feed the world. Let me start by talking about trees, and then I will connect the dots.
I remember as a child in elementary school in the 1960s they told us about Dutch elm disease, that was marching through the country killing all the elm trees. I learned recently that some variants of elm trees can resist the disease, and are being planted in places, though nowhere near as dominant as the original elms were throughout American cities. There were three problems that made Dutch elm disease so destructive:
1) imported fungus, likely from Asia not Holland (but discovered and labeled in Holland) for which there was no natural resistance or counter-bacteria in the United States
2) monoculture of trees (genetically identical) planted throughout the cities that were developed by people, as opposed to the natural mixing of tree species, and elm sub-species, that would occur naturally over a large area
3) trees planted too close together so the disease spread easily
This is a lesson that applies tremendously well to our modern agriculture, which focuses more and more on monocultures.
For example, we are in process of losing the second form of banana, the so-called Cavendish species, eaten the world over but under destruction currently. That is an example of monoculture throughout the mainstream banana industry. There was a superior banana variant, the Gros Michel, that dominated world production before 1960 and tasted far better than the Cavendish but that was also destroyed by a disease, Panama disease, in the 1940s and 1950s. The difficulty is now to find a replacement species that ripens in a certain way, can be harvested and shipped, and that will meet the taste requirements of those who eat them. Currently, there is no replacement candidate that meets the criteria met so well originally by the Gros Michel banana. Believe it or not, the scientific, economic, social, and military history of banana production is fascinating.
But on a larger stage, the question that needs to be posed is: are our corn, wheat, rice, soy beans, and other monoculture crops, vulnerable? If so, any disease striking them could have devastating effects on world food supply. What have we done, if anything to prevent or prepare for that risk?
An excellent article on permaculture, or sustainable agriculture, points out many of the factors affecting today's worldwide food supply. There are tie-ins to peak oil, climate change, and the genetics of monoculture that make our current system of food production quite vulnerable.
As we approach Darwin's 200th birthday, and the 150th birthday of the publishing of Origin of the Species, we should make sure to learn the lessons of genetic diversity as a means of enhanced survival and strength. This applies to our food supplies. Unfortunately at this time, the lessons of biodiversity are being ignored by the mainstream economists and political leaders who are charged with creating an agriculture system that is not only productive but resilient under a variety of threats and changes in climatic or predator conditions.
This is one of the issues that must at some point be confronted by any national leadership that truly wishes to protect the citizens whom they represent.