GENE LOGSDON: The News Is Blind To Farming



Staying with relatives recently, I spied a big coffee table book on a shelf titled Britain On Country Roads published in 1991. I love pictures of farming landscapes, especially in the British Isles, so I paged through the book. There were gobs of photos of seashores, village streets, old castles, quiet roads, crossroads taverns, flowery hillsides, quiet forests and glistening rivers, but not in a hundred pictures or so was there a hint of farming activity. Whoever chose these pictures turned a blind eye to what makes the countryside along those country roads so lovely and alive, economically as well as socially. It was assumed, evidently, that tourists would not be interested in farmers working in the fields, livestock out on pasture, or barns burgeoning with hay.

I keep thinking that with the rise of interest in local food, this blind eye in journalism for farming will soon end. But try to recall if in all the news flowing out of the turbulent Middle East in the last few years, if you have seen any scenes of farm activity.  Just recently there was a one sentence reference to the food situation in Yemen, pointing out as a quick aside that 90% of the food is imported— not one word of how significantly this fact impacts what is going on there. Anthropology and cultural history, if not economics, teaches that a big part of the problem when war and genocide are rampant is population outrunning food, or more accurately, population outrunning farm land upon which to grow food. So why doesn’t the daily news address this?

Rarely, for example, do we see news stories on the huge amounts of money that Saudi Arabia has spent digging deep wells for farm irrigation (and they still keep running dry) so they can grow more grain. Or the shiploads of manure the Saudis have imported from Europe for the same reason. Saudi Arabia can afford to do this, maybe, but how much of this attention to food production is the reason why, so far, this country has been fairly stable compared to so many around it that do not have money to import enough agriculture to keep up with population.

Usually, when the landscapes of any of these countries in the chokehold of genocide is shown in photos, about all you see are rocks and sand and a few withering, stunted bushes and trees. The viewing farmer immediately deduces that it is no wonder these people are killing each other. They are starving to death. But then the scene shifts to cityscapes and not far from bombed buildings there are street side market stands loaded with fresh food. Why aren’t we shown what must be verdant fields and gardens where this food is coming from? Why doesn’t just one reporter point out with words or pictures, a Muslim smiling while she buys fresh food at a Christian market stand, or vice versa? Why are there not more thoughtful discussions about how farming instability leads to political and  religious instability? Why not more instruction over how much of the savagery in places like Iraq and Libya is caused by food shortages or land shortages to grow food on. It seems to me that we might bring peace to these regions faster if we were exporting farm equipment and birth control education, not bombs.

I might be overly influenced by what I learned years ago studying northern Africa. There is much archeological evidence amid the ruins of ancient north African  cities in the deserts showing a very vital and abundant agriculture. For years it was believed that desertification brought an end to the agricultural plenty but now it is generally agreed that the collapse came from overpopulation and war that destroyed the delicate and skillful management that had turned desert landscapes into productive fields, plus Rome importing food to maintain its own cheap food policy. Very intricate systems to catch and store water in the rainy seasons were very susceptible to the instability caused by raiding tribes looking for land to feed their burgeoning numbers. It took the skill of a stable agrarian society with years of experience to make that work. Carthage was the last gasp of that long story.

I am fairly sure something similar is going on in the Middle East. If the news gatherers would show us farm fields and what is happening on them as often as they show us destroyed cities and deserts full of wrecked war machines, we might learn more about the real problems. Why are world leaders so eager to talk about genocide but not about the kind of population pressures that cause it?