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In overall output, the diversified farm produces much more food. In the United States the smallest two-hectare farms produced $15,104 per hectare and netted about $2,902 per hectare. The largest farms, averaging 15,581 hectares, yielded $249 per hectare and netted about $52 per hectare.
In Latin America, there were about 16 million peasant production units in the late 1980s, occupying close to 60.5 million hectares — 34.5 percent of the total cultivated land. The peasant population includes 75 million people representing almost two-thirds of Latin America’s total rural population. The average farm size of these units is about 1.8 hectares, although the contribution of peasant agriculture to the general food supply in the region is significant. These small units of production were responsible for 41 percent of the agricultural output for domestic consumption.
In general, traditional agroecosystems are less vulnerable to catastrophic loss because they grow a wide variety of crops and varieties in various spatial and temporal arrangements. Researchers have found that polycultures of sorghum/peanut and millet/peanut exhibited greater yield stability and less productivity declines during a drought than in the case of monocultures.
One way of expressing such experimental results is in terms of “over-yielding” — occurring when two or more crops grown together yield more than when grown alone (for example, when one hectare of a mixture of sorghum and peanuts yields more than a half hectare of only sorghum plus a half hectare of only peanuts). All the intercrops over-yielded consistently at five levels of moisture availability, ranging from 297 to 584 mm of water applied over the cropping season. Quite interestingly, the rate of over-yielding actually increased with water stress, such that the relative differences in productivity between monocultures and polycultures became more accentuated as stress increased.
Surveys conducted in hillsides after Hurricane Mitch hit Central America in 1998 showed that farmers using sustainable practices such as the legume “mucuna” cover crop, intercropping, and agroforestry suffered less “damage” than their conventional neighbors. The study spanning 360 communities and 24 departments in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala showed that diversified plots had 20 to 40 percent more topsoil, greater soil moisture, less erosion, and experienced lower economic losses than their conventional neighbors.
SCENE: Aboard a train, which may or may not be heading towards a cliff face. The conductor seems to have checked out in some previous scene, and it is left to the passengers to decide on a course of action.
Passenger 1: Hey everyone! If we don't find a way to switch to a different track, it looks like we might run into that cliff up ahead! Then we would probably all die.
Passenger 2: Dude, what the fuck is wrong with you? Trains are an incredible invention! If not for them, we would always be late for work and wouldn't have freshly slaughtered meat to eat for lunch! Why do sick bastards like you always have to diss on the marvels of modern technology?
Passenger 1: I didn't say anything about... Wait, I'm not even going to worry about this. We have bigger things to worry about. Hey, has anyone seen the conductor?
Passenger 2: We don't NEED a conductor! We're HUMANS! We can grow wings and defy gravity if we need to, because we're just that awesome! Hey, did you notice that we're on a TRAIN? Going, like, a thousand miles an hour? You know who did that? That's right, bitches! HUMANS did that! Not only did we INVENT this thing, we set it to running. We are the fucking bomb. And because we are so goddamned smart, we don't need any stupid conductors. If there WERE a problem, and there's clearly NOT, then we could INVENT our way out of it, if we needed to, but we don't, because our train is so damned cool.
Passenger 1: Did anyone see that switch we just passed? Shit, that cliff wall seems to be getting closer. Hey, guys, we really better come up with, you know, a Plan or something, and quick.
Passenger 2: Hey, don't listen to him, he's just a stupid luddite. Screw this, I'm not even INTERESTED in this conversation; I'm just going to sit back and enjoy the ride.
Passenger 1: Ok, that's cool. I'm just going to be over here, reading this instruction manual...
[Cliff wall approaches with alarming haste, massive block letters appear on screen:
TO BE CONTINUED!]
Nothing like the Bengal Famine can happen in India again.
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