Unknown connexions between food, agriculture, environment and health? Human ecogenetic explores revolutionizing ways…
Since immemorial times our daily meals are mainly based on cereals, meat and dairy products.
Demeter: beneficent or evil goddess
Grain farming is a major cause of environmental degradation. The firsts slash and burn farming already started up the baleful cycle of “deforestation ? pasture ? cultivation ? erosion ? desertification”, which ruined so many fertile and green regions. In Mesopotamia, the Sumerians, great wheat farmers, left behind wide rocky areas dotted with rare oases; in Central America, soils depleted by corn cultivation triggered increasingly deadly wars, which finally resulted in the complete disappearance of the Maya civilization. This destructive process has undergone an exponential and catastrophic explosion along the World’s population growth and even more so with modern, mechanized agriculture based on monocultures saturated with pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
Meat and milk: immeasurable damages
Production of meat and milk is also devastating. It takes 50 to 100 times more surface area for a kilogram of beef than a kilogram of carrots; that same kilogram of beef requires 13 to 20 tons of water, 160 times more than a kilogram of potatoes. Production of animal protein monopolizes huge surfaces: more than half of the cultivated lands are being sacrificed to feed livestock! Cattle rearing is one of the main causes of environmental degradation: greenhouse gas emissions, acidification of forests, devastated Amazonian basin, water pollution by nitrates, eutrophication of the oceans etc.. Global meat consumption has increased fivefold in half a century, in two in the last two decades. Globalization of the Western diet can only aggravate the situation. The nearest exoplanet is 600 light years away, and we do not know whether it is habitable or somehow inhabited by dinosaurs … so, we’ve got to save what is left of our Earth!
And if the human ecogenetic held the solution?
The farm program is directly dependent on human dietary requirements. Question number one is thus to define a food range consistent to human genetics. Tradition is not a reliable reference: the harmfulness of several thousands years old culinary preparations has been scientifically demonstrated, especially that of fried and grilled foods which are major causes of cancer and cardiovascular diseases. And what about the rest of our eating habits: where to draw the line between our real needs and our false needs? Our closest relatives, bonobos and chimpanzees, feed for about two thirds on fruit, a quarter on greens and roots and one twelfth on animal or plant proteins — well ahead of the modern dietary recommendations of five fruits or vegetables a day! None of these primates eat cereals or milk products, and they hunt very occasionally only. Their genome is extremely similar to ours, so it is likely that a diet adapted to human genetics would be close to that of these primates. May the systematic use of grain products, dairy and meat from domesticated mammals express an evolution of the human genome? Or is it a drift against nature introduced by agriculture and livestock farming, in contradiction with our genetic potential? What if mankind would adopt a diet modeled on that of our closest relatives? Monocultures would be replaced by widespread agroforestry including all possible varieties of fruit trees, bushes, vegetable plants, wooded grasslands for poultry and small ruminants, ponds for biodiversity and bees for pollination and honey. Crops could be grouped according to the most favorable associations of plants and animals, preventing diseases and the need for chemical treatments. All cultivated areas would be wooded and the few crops or forage still needed would grow beneath the trees. The picture would not only be idyllic from the aesthetic point of view and lifestyle, but it would avoid almost all abuses of today’s agriculture: regulating the water, wind, erosion, fallow, fertilization, soil life… Even the wood of fruit’s and nut’s trees at the end of their producing live would be an important carbon capture and a massive source of building materials and renewable energy. The question then is whether we could obtain a sufficient yield in calories, proteins and other nutrients to feed people as with the current cereal’s monocultures and intensive farming. The challenge is twofold: on one hand for the immediate returns and on the other hand for safeguarding the long-term humus.
A fundamental solution against hunger in the world?
The experience of such a “polyvalent Agroforestry” is here offered to all farmers, professional or amateur, agronomists and ecologists it might interest. A beam of sound empirical data is essential to plan the possible future of agriculture, of humanity and the planet’s ecosystem. It is by comparing figures from different types of production that we can draw reliable conclusions. This will determine if a diet closer to our genetic data would be applicable in practice, in terms of reserves in humus, water, nutrient intake and production costs, and what would be its effects on public health and environment. It’s not a matter of converting people to a form of revolutionary diet, but to know what’s at stake. Progress of knowledge could lead to a general awareness, especially in the Internet age, and influence the global ecological balance. The “Association for Human Ecogenetics” itself lead a pilot project that will serve as a model nutrition and agriculture. It will work on the collection of field data, educational and financial support to other experimenters, data aggregation, redistribution of information, advice and sharing experiences. If you are interested to participate or lend your support to a multipurpose agroforestry experience: Click here!