The Next Thirty Years
By Dr. E.F. Schumacher
from The Soil Association Journal, December 1977
[Ed. Note: The following transcript of an address to the Soil Association by E. F. Schumacher, author of "Small Is Beautiful," may be of interest to readers of Alan-Chadwick.org because Chadwick's work is mentioned in the section titled "The TLC Factor" below. Schumacher visited the Covelo project in 1975 or 1976 and was highly impressed by the success of Chadwick's Biodynamic French Intensive Method. The following article is reprinted by permission, courtesy of the Soil Association.]
This article is a transcript of the last major talk given by Dr. Schumacher to Soil Association members, his address at the 1976 Annual General Meeting. Editing was difficult and it has been left in the form of a talk rather than a written article since the personality of this great man comes through more clearly in this way.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am not going to speak about the next thirty years of the Soil Association but commune with you about what ought to be policies for this country in the fields of agriculture during the next thirty years. I do this with some trepidation because I am not myself an agriculturalist. I am talking to you as an economist.
Not so long ago the principal of one of the most illustrious agricultural colleges in the world talking to young students aged about twenty told them in so many words “Just watch it, by the time you are fifty you will not be able to use the methods we are teaching you.” In other words there is now a growing volume of opinion―or even conviction―that there will be great changes. There will be changes whether we like it or not because for a continuation of what is now the conventional system, the resources will simply not be available, they will not be there. The task of man on this earth is always to meet the challenge of changing circumstances and his real task is to meet them freely, namely out of some anticipatory insight. He has to meet them, and it has been said that freedom is the recognition of necessity. If he can recognize necessity then he can make the necessary adaptations freely, otherwise he is just being dragged along by pressures over which he has no control. In other words, it is our task to gain the insight into the necessities that are likely to meet us during the next thirty years.
During the coming period I see―this of course is speculative―that we shall be involved in three worldwide crises. One has already started: this is the fuel crisis. I feel that this will be followed by the world food crisis, and of course I am not alone in thinking this, and I fear that this will be followed, or may coincide, to a large extent, with the world health crisis. I see very great trouble, particularly on these three fronts.
I don’t want to delay you long to try and justify these wild speculations of mine. On the fuel side it is very very clear that in all the countries that really matter the situation is no longer under the control of Government. I think of the biggest fuel consuming and fuel importing country in the world, the United States. They had a great project to make themselves independent of the OPEC countries―the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries―by 1985. The project is now nearly three years old and the amount of American import of oil from OPEC countries has doubled. This is a situation which repeats itself all over the world because the problem is not faced directly but statistically, and of course we know a lot about that in this country too. So-called plans are made which are no plans at all but simply assumptions that certain things will grow two percent, three percent, every year and lo and behold after twenty years everything in the garden will be lovely. This applies to food because there can be no doubt that the demand for it is increasing. I do not know what will happen to world population over the next thirty years, but there is very little doubt that for some time it will continue to go on growing. The food output has been whipped up by all sorts of questionable means where many regions in the world have come now into a phase of severely diminishing returns, where new doses of extra effort produce less and less extra output. And I think out of all this frantic nature of the struggle for more food - and a very difficult struggle because there will be less energy - we shall have very great health problems. I believe something of this kind is in the offing.
Let us see what would be three musts, the three most desirable things about agricultural achievement in this country. First, we must have an absolute determination backed by work, not by statistics, to attain food self-sufficiency. After all, food imports means that somebody else has surpluses and these surpluses are rapidly disappearing. Again it is very interesting to watch what is happening to agriculture in, for instance, the oil-rich countries. Well, they say, we now have all the money in the world so we don’t have to bother doing agriculture any more, and the population engaged in agriculture―you may not think of Saudi Arabia as a highly productive agricultural region but they have a lot of agriculture―the proportion of population engaged in agriculture in Saudi Arabia is scaling down as it is in all the oil-rich countries. There are more countries now who are dependent on food surpluses produced by somebody else when the number of food surplus-producing countries has shrunk to virtually only North America.
So the first thing we must face is that we need food self-sufficiency. If people speculate why Britain has been such a weak performer in the last thirty years since the end of the Second World War comparatively, it’s hardly ever mentioned that Britain is the only major country which cannot feed itself. The French economy is like a pyramid on a very broad base of food surpluses. The British economy is the pyramid inverted standing on its apex and this makes an enormous difference - such a difference that even the French politicians have never been able to ruin France, and even the allegedly so superior British politicians cannot keep their country healthily afloat. So this is the first thing and would really mean regaining some sort of national health.
Secondly, and this I know will be received as a very tall, or impossible, order, this has to be achieved by biological instead of chemical means, because as more and more people see quite clearly, the chemicals, all based on fossil fuels, will simply not be available. And there are many other reasons. So again I am just formulating the desiderata.
Thirdly, I believe we should conceive the necessity that in the course of the next few decades the proportion of active population on the land will be unable to rise from what it is, currently 3.5% to 4%, to something of the order of 15%.
THE TASK OF AGRICULTURE
I myself cannot see that the first two desiderata can be attained except by what you might almost call the reintroduction of the human factor to the productive process of agriculture. For many decades we have withdrawn the human factor and substituted big machines and chemicals. For our general orientation let us just consider what are the purposes and tasks of agriculture. Sometimes a most interesting discourse is elicited by the most primitive question. What is agriculture there for? In a civilisation like ours where only a very fer percent of the population are engaged in growing things in agriculture, horticulture, etc., the answer is - Well, what a funny question. There is only one purpose and that is to produce food and produce it as cheaply as possible. But if we had 15 percent of the population in direct contact with this reality I think we could get additional answers. The answers might be - Well, of course you can say the primary purpose of agriculture is to produce food and a number of other raw materials, but for goodness sake don’t forget the secondary tasks and purposes. What are they?
One, quite obviously, is the maintenance of an agreeable and healthy landscape. Who should do it if agriculture withdraws? On the Continent you already have the phenomenon under what used to be the Mansholt plan of so much agriculture having been abandoned that you find the landscape in some of the finest parts of Western Europe is just going to hell.
Another secondary task of agriculture surely is to assure continuity, that is to say in the language of this Association, to maintain and build up soil fertility.
Another secondary task, very close to the Soil Association, is the maintenance and improvement of a cycle of health, the famous sequence soil, plant, animal, man and then back to the soil.
Another task is the maintenance and improvement of natural adaptability of agricultural production to changing circumstances, as the scientists will tell us, the maintenance of a full gene pool. So that if new plants in the new situations are needed it is there in Nature and hasn’t been organized out of Nature - a very great danger of the modern phase of monoculture and specialization.
But it goes much further, this secondary task of agriculture, it is an essential part of the whole water household of Nature. I don’t know about what happened this year and why it happened this year with the British weather, but I do know that in the developing countries the water household has been very severely upset by the agricultural practices which they have so recklessly adopted from the temperate zone. Travelling through great parts of the so-called Third World you very often have to stop the a car suddenly because a bridge has been swept away by floods. I find out when the bridge was built and time and again you find bridges that have been there for a hundred years, have never been flooded, and now they are swept away. And so you have floods in spring and you have drought in summers and autumns on a scale that has never been known before. That’s what I mean, that the purpose of agriculture, a secondary purpose, is to maintain in good health the water household of this globe.
The same can be said about the air household. I don’t want to go into too many details because they are beyond my competence, and philosophically speaking, the point I have already touched upon, the secondary purpose of agriculture, it is to keep humanity in touch with the reality of Nature. Nobody is in touch with that reality working in offices and factories and living in the concrete jungle of super towns. The deep flaw in the modern mentality is that somehow our brains seem to have shrunk so much that in all these things we can only see the primary purpose and we forget totally about the secondary tasks and purposes.
Now this will give us some orientation to find a way to try and pursue these three objectives that I have picked out as being absolutely essential tasks for the next thirty years. The three crises lead up closely and of course are connected with the three desiderata. The fuel crisis forces us to move from chemistry to biology. That means also to move from fossil fuels to solar energy. I am always greatly amused when I hear people talk about solar energy because the last thing they think about is that the greatest user of solar energy is agriculture. It is completely foreign to them to think that it is precisely the abandonment of the natural process fed by solar energy and the embracing of processes which are chemical, and therefore dependent of fossil fuel, which has produced most of the difficulties that we now have to face. In this movement from chemistry to biology, what work is actually going on? As far as I know virtually no work in the United Kingdom to find biological fertilizers. There is work going on in Australia, in India, in France, in Mexico, but to my knowledge not in the United Kingdom. This would be a most interesting and challenging work progamme because―I happen also to be connected with the chemical industry―we know that when we make polymers, we need a tremendous input of energy, although Mother Nature can do it with solar energy alone in the rubber tree.
There is a lot that we have to learn, this is the price of survival. As I say the fuel crisis already leads to this kind of thinking. The food crisis forces us into self-sufficiency as I have mentioned already, and the health crisis that I can see coming on a worldwide scale, does force us into a more balanced pattern of settlement, that is to say a more decentralised form of living and a far more healthy lifestyle and that does mean closer to Nature than what has developed in the last 100 years.
THE TLC FACTOR
Now let’s look just for a few minutes―are there any possibilities of fulfilling these desiderata? I can see three major possibilities. I can only talk, as it were, in shorthand now. The first one is quite obviously not simply dumping more chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, on the ground because the secondary consequences are too bad to contemplate. Neither is it a question of getting another few percent―we have to get a different order of magnitude of output. There is now a great deal of evidence, which is being added to every day, that in order to get the highest possible yields per acre you have to reintegrate the human factor into the process. Some people call it more precisely the TLC factor. When I heard the word the first time at a lecture I also heard people behind me asking―Well, where you can buy it, and who makes it?―but it means the human factor, "Tender loving Care."
The extraordinary thing is, although people shut their eyes to it and get very hot under the collar if you mention it, it has been documented, again and again in various parts of the world, that if you bring back the human hand and care you can, on a very economic basis, obtain yields per acre that are a high multiple of what the best run agriculture can do. This was established in Germany by a Swiss who worked there most meticulously for twenty years, Dr. Feist. It is now being established again by Alan Chadwick in Northern California, an Englishman who started life as an actor but is now the finest teacher of intensive horticultural, agricultural methods that I think the world possesses today. And he again comes up with the same figure as Dr. Feist some thirty years ago namely that you can get five times the output per acre by these intensive methods than what a well-run agriculture can achieve. The interesting thing about Mr. Alan Chadwick’s Northern Californian experiments and he is teaching this, is that the energy input is one percent of what agriculture requires and these percentages are calculated per unit of output, not, of course per acre.
Chadwick calls the whole process, for reasons that I have not been able to elucidate entirely, the French Intensive Biodynamic Method. Why French I don’t know. However, I am not saying that this is a universal answer that could be simply applied. It’s this sort of approach that has to be followed because it's no use playing about with a ten percent or twenty percent increase, we have in this country to double the yields unless we utilize far more acres.
UTILISATION OF LAND
That brings me to the second point. I believe in this phase, the next thirty years, we shall have to take very seriously any suggestion being made that you can actually utilize land that is not being utilized properly today. Somehow, there again, we have a kind of blockage in our mind. We think for instance that the land of this country is intensively utilized for food production. ―Well it isn’t. There are vast stretches which don’t produce anything and vast stretches which probably could not produce economically by the methods of agriculture. Taking the world as a whole, only between eight percent and ten percent of the surface area is utilized by agriculture and that increasingly turns out not to be enough. But we now have an increasing volume of evidence and literature which says that the amount that could be utilized for food production could be, not eight to ten percent, but as much as three quarters or seventy-five percent. How?
I first came across this, very surprisingly, many years ago when an American unknown to me, except through literature, sent me a letter. He was a great friend of Gandhi's and the letter read, “Dear Mr. Schumacher, Although I don’t know you I have read some of the things you have written. Gandhi used to say when you get old,, walk through your library, pick out the best books and send them to a younger man. This is what I have done, so you will be receiving a parcel of books. Yours sincerely, Richard D. Gregg.” This parcel arrived in due course from Oregon, United States, and it contained the most fantastically interesting books which an American by the name of Russell Smith published in 1929 entitled “Tree Crops - A system of Permanent Agriculture”. A classic pioneering thinker, this man Russell Smith. The same theme has now been taken up again by the excellent John Sholto Douglas who published this year a book called “Forest Farming”. Openly of course he declares that he is, in a sense, a pupil of Russell Smith’s. Now the evidence provided by these people is such that one cannot just take cognisance and walk on. I mean, they say there are the trees which would grow in this country, which are growing in this country but have never been looked at from this point of view, which produce beans not at the rate of 30 cwts per acre or two tons per acre, but twenty tons per acre. That one of these trees featured by both Russell Smith and Sholto Douglas is the Honey Locust tree which produces three long pods with beans inside the pods that can be milled just like wheat, and the flour can be used just like any other flour.
Well, I would say that we are in such a situation that it is not permissible to read such a book and not do something about it afterwards. I hope therefore that we can arouse a certain amount of interest among our contemporaries that at least some people who have a bit of land should start planting trees. I said to Sholto Douglas, “O.K. I will write a preface to your book and I will clear about an acre and a half of thorn bush land which I have down in Surrey and you then have to tell me what trees to plant.” He did tell me what trees to plant including the Honey Locust, and I am getting them now from Hillers along with a number of others recommended by Sholto Douglas, all food producing trees. You see, we have this wonderful tax system where food producing things are supposedly zero rated, anything that is simply there for ornamentation or beauty and so on, pays whatever it is, eight or twelve and a half percent VAT. Unfortunately the Honey Locust has not been ranked as a food producing tree, the news hasn’t reached our tax experts yet that it is an extremely productive tree, according to the experts producing something of the order of twenty tons of high protein food for foodstuff per acre.
SOIL ASSOCIATION’S LEAD
I think there are really fantastic possibilities and just as we have heard from Lady Eve when in the past there have been people who were prepared to plant 300 acres with oak trees, in the present there ought to be us prepared to plant at least a few trees of this kind. Anyone who has ten acres of wheat might be wise to say, will be wise to say, all right, if of course I can get twenty tons per acre from one acre in the form of Honey Locust beans maybe I can double my output by planting out of the ten, nine under wheat and one with tree crops. The great thing about tree crops and forest farming is what they call three-dimensional farming, namely underneath the trees you can still have grazing for your cattle, and the great message is, that the stretches of land and hilly, rocky, mountainous country which are certainly not really suitable for agriculture, that land the Good Lord has provided for food producing trees. I hope, therefore, that in the course of the next thirty years, starting as early as conceivably possible, we shall, and perhaps the Soil Association can take the lead in this, we shall develop a programme of inducing people wherever there is a bit of land where a tree can be fitted, to start planting, not with the expectation that very soon they will reap twenty tons per acre of useful stuff - no - in order to get the stock established and then a lot of work can be done and will be done to search for the best specimens to be grafted on to the already established stock.
This is the way agriculture has been improved but as far as food producing trees are concerned this work has never really been done. I think out of this one could develop an entrancingly interesting programme where we would appeal not to the selfishness of people but to the wish that so many people now have, namely to do something that is sensible in terms of conservation for a healthy future. This is the second big possibility that I can see. The first one is to come to smaller units and far more intensive production per acre through the reintroduction of the TLC factor. The second one is to take this entrancingly interesting story of tree crops seriously, and the third one is, we can't afford any more to look at agriculture separately from the way that we look at our diet.
DIET AND HEALTH
It is becoming better and better known now that the rich countries are feeding about 400 million tons of grain to animals. This is an amount of grain which could support and maintain 2000 million people. Those who have heard it and taken it seriously (like a very important French expert in these matters, Rene Dumont) they have said, "O.K. now that I have realized this I shall reduce my meat consumption by fifty percent because then at least I do what can be done to liberate enough grain to feed 1000 million people―which is about the problem the world has today." Now I am not saying that this is an easy matter, but one has to create a consciousness of these things. Yesterday, travelling up, I looked at “The Times” and there was a very interesting article on the one side and my eyes went to the other side and at a big advertisement with a sort of headline at the bottom, which said, “A Man is a Meat-eating Animal.” Now when people say that, and it is of course commercial interests, they are missing this very very important point which must be an element in the task we have, thinking of the next thirty years, of solving these very very deep problems of survival.
I am quite certain, if we would really get interested along these lines and not statistical planning which I have already mentioned, that we get so often from Whitehall simply assuming there will be an expansion of two percent a year and lo and behold after twenty five years you have doubled your supplies and then you get a decline of two percent every year. No, a tackling of these quite specific things to which no doubt a few others can be added that I am ignorant of. If we do this I am quite certain that this is the best thing we can do to meet the challenges that are coming on the health side because this would automatically bring a lot of healthy occupations back to the population and the population into healthy occupations. It would also create a much close relationship between people and food production and therefore less necessary food processing, less storage, greater freshness. And if science is proving anything it is that this freshness that you get straight from Nature has an immense health value.
Well, my time is running out. I am not saying that any of this is a walkover, but I am saying that if we really rethink our attitudes and values that it will happen, or can happen. I think that the possibilities of implementing such things over the next thirty years depend very much on what we do inside our minds and hearts, philosophically speaking. If we go on being bamboozled by widely accepted pseudo science to believe in a mindless, stupid, accidental universe and therefore cannot liberate ourselves from this materialism, we shall find we are unable to develop the kind of reverence for Nature which will be needed in order to pursue such policies. But I believe, in these respects, we are now at the end of an era and the possibilities also are of a very deep philosophical reorientation are now better than they have been for about three hundred years.
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SMALL AND BEAUTIFUL WORLD
An appreciation by John Davy of Fritz Schumacher, who died last week.
‘He saw a danger that his words could be inflated into gas balloons, which would carry people gently over the landscape of the world’s problems at a considerable height, in the illusion that their trip was changing life below.’
Just over 12 years ago, Fritz Schumacher (who died aged 66, suddenly and unexpectedly in Switzerland last week) launched his idea of an ‘intermediate technology’ for the Third World in an article in this newspaper. He argued that advanced technology was having disastrous effects in developing countries, and a quite different approach was needed. We described his views as ‘startling’ and many experts were scornful.
Last March, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I heard him speak on a cold Sunday evening, at the tail end of a university vacation, to a rapt audience of 5,000 students. He had become a hero of the alternative society, a spokesman not only for some radical ideas about development in the Third World but for the groundswell of frustration and despair, especially among the young, over the miseries of life in advanced societies.
His American tour drew huge youthful crowds. But he was also received by State governors, prominent academics and industrialists, and by President Carter. The ecological crisis and the energy crisis, of which he was an early prophet, are now the conventional wisdom of a multitude. Mr. Desai’s new Government in India has publicly embraced intermediate technology. The American Government has set up a $20 million fund for research in alternative technologies. And in Britain official support is at last forthcoming for the Intermediate Technology Development Group, which Schumacher founded in 1965.
The title of his best-selling book, ‘Small is Beautiful,’ has passed into the language. No man, it would seem, could ask for his life to be crowned with more success. So why did I find him, after his lecture, in a curiously uncertain mood?
In part, he was doubtful about his own success. He wondered how much real will for change lay behind the enthusiasm. He saw a danger that his words could be inflated into gas balloons, which would carry people gently over the landscape of the world’s problems at a considerable height, in the illusion that their trip was changing life below. He was deeply sceptical of panaceas and blanket solutions. He saw real hope for the future in many small-scale but concrete initiatives (in his own domestic life, this included milling wheat by hand and baking bread, thus bringing a therapeutic balance into the life of a busy intellectual, and providing his family with a product much superior in quality to any available in the shops).
He began to ponder these questions 35 years ago, as a farm labourer in Northamptonshire. Born in Bonn, he had been a Rhodes scholar in Oxford in the 1930's and then, having decided that to live and work in Nazi Germany was impossible, emigrated to England permanently. The war brought a brief internment, then farm work until 1943.
After the war he worked with Beveridge; he was also a prominent member of The Observer’s editorial team. From 1945-50 he was economic adviser to the British Control Commission in Germany. There followed 20 years as economic adviser to the National Coal Board in London, when he began to perceive vividly that our industrial way of life is built on a profligate expenditure of natural capital, namely coal and oil.
During this period he was seconded to advise the Government of Burma, and managed to include some serious study of Buddhism. This influenced the now classic essay ‘Buddhist Economics.’
In 1962 Schumacher spent time with the planning commission in Delhi to advise on rural development. There he saw the appalling effects of pouring in aid in the form of advanced technology. Often, plants broke down and could not be maintained. But where it worked, cheap goods undercut rural industries. Unemployment in the villages brought migration to the shanty towns spreading round the big cities. The Western technologies could be operated only by an elite. The rich got richer, the poor, poorer.
From these experiences came the concept of ‘intermediate technology,’ of the kind that in Europe allowed the long slow transition from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. The traditional village tools were too primitive. Western products too complex. There was a gap in the middle - a need for simple pumps, improved building materials and storage techniques, packing machinery and tools that could be understood and maintained by a village blacksmith.
Such technologies were almost forgotten. One of the first tasks of the Intermediate Technology Department Group was to compile a catalogue of suitable products - ‘Tools for Progress.’
The group how has 40 full-time employees, a series of expert panels, and consultancy and development units with contacts and projects all over the world, many of them highly successful. But the problems are formidable. The educated elite in developing countries, usually trained in Europe or America, tends to have been brain-washed into the same uncritical enthusiasm for technical sophistication which produces so much idiocy in the West.
Schumacher was the first to acknowledge that without human and social development, technology - intermediate or otherwise - can achieve nothing. Thus it remains to be seen how far and how deep the intermediate technology idea can reach into the problems of the Third World.
Meanwhile Schumacher’s work attracted growing attention in the advanced countries. We too have unemployment generated by labour-saving technologies, decaying cities and depersonalized work. Schumacher was convinced that we are witnessing the end of a way of life that will destroy itself by its own contradictions within half a century.
In recent years, among his many activities Schumacher also presided over a society to promote organic farming and gardening, the Soil Association. This body, once widely regarded as the resort of cranks, is now clearly a respectable pioneer of ecological sense. Schumacher had seen the havoc which agri-business can create in developing countries. Now its gross inefficiencies, in global terms, are becoming clear in advanced countries.
One of his latest enthusiasms was for food-bearing trees, which can achieve three-dimensional protein production with solar energy. He launched a project to breed improved varieties, build seed stocks and promote planting, in the interests of our children, to help them survive the food crisis which he expected to be the inevitable companion of the coming energy crisis.
He was recently confirmed into the Roman Catholic Church (making legal, as he put it, a long-standing illicit love affair). For his ‘Guide for the Perplexed’ he had been reading Thomas Aquinas, and often quoted his saying ‘The slenderest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge of lesser things.’
On his American tour, his youthful audiences frequently tried to draw him into a denunciation of the giant corporations. He refused to be drawn. “I never deal with corporations,” he said. “I deal only with people. And I have actually found some very able people even inside big corporations.” He met everyone as though they really mattered. And he lived his own life with consistent humanity. He will be missed - and remembered.
This tribute to Dr. Schumacher appeared in the ‘Observer’ newspaper on 11the September...
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The Soil Association
President Lady Eve Balfour
A world-wide charity, founded in 1946, to promote a fuller understanding of the vital relationship between soil, plant, animal and man. The Association believes that these are parts of one whole, and that nutrition derived from a balanced living soil is the greatest single contribution to health (wholeness). For this reason it encourages an ecological approach and offers organic husbandry as a viable alternative to modern intensive methods. The Association has published a code governing methods of organic production of the highest quality. The Association licenses growers who comply with this code to use the Association’s Ordinary Trade Mark. The Association conducts courses and conferences as part of its educational activities and gives help and advice to those wishing to adopt and practice organic methods on the farm or in the garden.