All technologies are relevant. All are aids to action. The task before us right now is not simply to devise new and better technologies – the status quo is rather good at that – but, as in all things, to ensure that the technologies we produce really do contribute, at least in net, to the Goal (of convivial society, personal fulfilment, and a harmonious relationship with the rest of nature). Some do, beyond doubt, including a great deal of modern and traditional medicine. But many, equally obviously do not. What’s needed above all is a robust philosophy of technology, to help us decide which technologies really do or could edge us towards the Goal, and which do not. And, of course, we also need a political and economic system that will enable us to develop what we need and cast off whatever leads in the wrong directions.
All technologies are indeed pertinent – but the ones of most importance as should be intuitively obvious but apparently is not obvious too much or most of the modern oligarchy, are those of agriculture and food. Indeed, agriculture and food culture should be at the core and the forefront of all human activity; the bass of all that we do. The agricultural strategy in Britain in the autumn of 2022, and to a large extent over the previous four decades, is more or less the precise opposite of what ecological and moral principles, and common sense, require.
It’s too early to tell, says colin tudge. BUT we ought to give it our best shot On a recent Farming Today This Week on Radio 4 a Shropshire farmer who among other things grows wheat, declared that organic farming is “never going to feed the world”. And this view is clearly shared by many … Read more
George Monbiot’s plan for a world without agriculture is misguided, says Colin Tudge George Monbiot has a three-point plan to feed us all well and look after the wildlife and generally solve all the world’s problems — a somewhat unlikely amalgam of veganism, re-wilding, and high tech, producing ersatz meat from microbes raised in “compact … Read more
E. F. Schumacher coined the felicitous expression “appropriate technology” in Small is Beautiful in 1973; and what is appropriate, I would say, is whatever helps to improve the lives and long-term prospects of all humanity and of the natural world. As always, though, what we really need (and what most people would surely prefer?) and what we get are two very different things.
Sometimes the most appropriate technologies may be “low-tech”, or “artisanal” – the kind that requires no formal science at all. But sometimes only the highest of “high-tech” will do – the kind that is rooted in bona fide science, and is inconceivable without. In practice we all make use of both. So it is that a traditional farmer in what Gandhi was happy to call “the Third World” might benefit enormously from an ox-cart – very definitely “low-tech”; but benefit more if it had pneumatic tyres – borderline high-tech; and even more if the farmer and his or her oxen were vaccinated against the many possible murrains, and had mobile phones so they could stay in touch with other farmers and with the world at large. And modern vaccines and of course mobile phones are very high tech indeed. The task for humanity, I suggest, is to ensure that everyone, everywhere, has access to the kind of technology that is best suited to their needs.
Further thoughts on Appropriate Technology
In my very first book, The Famine Business (Faber & Faber 1977; Penguin Books 1979) I coined the expression “Rational Agriculture”. But many took “rational” to mean “most profitable”. So in So Shall We Reap (Allen Lane, London 2003; Penguin Books, London, 2004) I changed “Rational Agriculture” to “Enlightened Agriculture”, which is informally but adequately defined as –
“Farming that is expressly designed to provide everyone, everywhere, forever, with food of the highest quality, without cruelty, without exploitation, and without wrecking the natural world”
And although in the autumn of 2022 we are a million miles from achieving this — and in Britain right now will move even further away if the present government gets its way – such a goal should be well within our reach. Technically, it should almost be easy.
Alas, the expression “Enlightened Agriculture” has never really caught on and so for PR purposes is it shortened to “Real Farming”, as in the Oxford Real Farming Conference.
In practice, Enlightened Agriculture, aka Real Farming, is compounded of two grand and established ideas: Agroecology and Food Sovereignty.
As always, all is discussed in The Great Re-Think. What follows are elaborations and updates. Thus:
Further thoughts on Enlightened Agriculture
I’ve been taking a serious interest in food and farming since the 1960s – and in that time the science of nutrition has changed radically, and to some extent at least, food cultures have changed accordingly. Modern nutritional science is wonderfully intricate and in some ways revelatory yet it all boils down to an irreducibly simple adage:
“Plenty of plants, not much meat, and maximum variety”
This corresponds precisely what is produced when farmers practice agroecology. These nine words also describe the basic structure of all the greatest cuisines on an axis from Italy to China.
In other words:
“There is a near-perfect, one-to-one correspondence between agroecology, modern nutritional theory, and the world’s greatest cooking”
In other words,
“All most of us really have to do is to re-learn how to cook.”
Again, the following elaborates and develops these themes – with very considerable input from the food writer and teacher Suzanne Wynn.