Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Chinese Farming and Incremental Science

What the world needs right now, I think, is not so much grand scientific breakthroughs is more effort devoted to making minor improvements in ordinary things. Like this major government agricultural effort in China:
Running from 2005 to 2015, the project first assessed how factors including irrigation, plant density and sowing depth affected agricultural productivity. It used the information to guide and spread best practice across several regions: for example, recommending that rice in southern China be sown in 20 holes densely packed in a square metre, rather than the much lower densities farmers were accustomed to using.

The results speak for themselves: maize (corn), rice and wheat output grew by some 11% over that decade, whereas the use of damaging and expensive fertilizers decreased by between 15% and 18%, depending on the crop. Farmers spent less money on their land and earned more from it — and they continue to do so.
I am convinced that very few of the ways we do things are truly optimal, from sowing rice to timing traffic lights, and I look forward to many more similar efforts.


Shadow said...

Stealing helps too.



G. Verloren said...


Oh come now. If people didn't "steal" plants like this, there'd be no coffee grown outside of Arabia and the Horn of Africa, no silk raised outside Southeast Asia, no tomatoes or potatoes outside of the Americas, et cetera.

If we're too selfish to share world-benefitting crops with other countries, then we deserve to be "robbed" of them. Although it's hard to consider it true robbery when we still retain the crop and all its benefits - we just don't get to extort other into paying us a ransom for access to the seeds.

I'd rather other people be allowed resort to "theft", than that people be allowed to demand a "ransom" for seeds which will feed the hungry and cure the sick, by providing more nutrition at less cost and with less pollution.

Shadow said...

Oh, come on now! Do you think China is playing Robin Hood here? They are not. The last famine that killed millions occurred in the 1950s, and you know who was in charge then. China can feed its population without stealing, and it's getting richer, so it can afford to import food. This is just more technology theft.

If by "share" you mean free, I suspect the seeds would never have been developed. Sounds like you don't mind that people in the U.S. have to pay for the produce these seeds produce, but China? Even though they can feed themselves, they should get it free?

G. Verloren said...


I'm not certain what argument you're trying to make here.

China is bad, so therefor it's bad when they feed their people more cheaply and with less pollution without paying our arbitrary "intellectual property" tax, and line the pockets of our corporate overlords?

Yes, China has had famines in the past century. We had one ourselves in the 1930s. How is that relevant to the current situation? Why even bring up famines, if you're going to immediately turn around and point out how they're irrelevant?

You call this technology theft, but that's exactly what I dispute. The patenting of seed varieties is an extraordinarily recent form of insane capitalist greed. It didn't exist back when China had their famous famines, and if they had been able to avert those famines by importing western seed stock, we would have lauded it as a triumph of modern science and agriculture, and taken it as a compliment that other countries would look to our crops to solve their problems.

You bring up how we have to pay to produce these seeds, but it was our choice to make that investment, and we've already benefitted from it. More importantly, we will also benefit from the Chinese having access to these seeds too - far more than we would ever benefit from denying them access.

China accounts for a very significant portion of the world's agriculture. Consequently, we directly benefit from their being able to produce the same amount of food at lower cost, more efficiently, and with less pollution. Or do you feel that needlessly raising global grain prices, squandering the globe's limited arable land and fresh water resources through inefficiency, and polluting the planet through reliance on pesticides and fertilizers on an unprecedented scale is somehow a boon to us?

If you want to talk about intellectual property such as which movie studio in what country gets to own what rights to which work of art or fiction, and whom has to pay how much to be allowed to use that sort of trivial nonsense, go right ahead.

But when it comes to humanity feeding itself in as efficient, reliable and sustainable a manner as possible, that's an entirely different matter. We're all in the same boat on this. We can't afford to be short-sighted and selfish tribal idiots about it. When you can feed the hungry, house the homeless, and cure the sick at no direct cost to yourself, it is a moral abomination to refuse to do so until someone agrees to your extortion fee.

Shadow said...

Patenting plants and seeds is nothing new. It's been going on for 90 years now -- most seeds are patented -- and agricultural production has increased over that time. Remove the financial incentive and research slows to a trickle. And China can well afford to buy what it needs, so this is not Jean Valjean stealing a loaf of bred to feed his sister's children. Yes, what China and Chinese companies are doing is theft.


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