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Will smallholding become a must?

PUBLISHED: 16:24 06 December 2007 | UPDATED: 08:18 28 March 2014

A top scientist has given an apocalyptic vision of the future after oil runs out - and he says it will be a future in which farming co-ops and smallholders will come into their own.

One of the world’s leading experts on oil reserves has warned that the lives of billions of people will be threatened by a food crisis caused by our dependence on dwindling supplies of fossil fuels.

Richard Heinberg says higher oil prices, the loss of farmland to biofuel crops, climate change and the loss of natural resources will combine with population growth to create an unprecedented food shortage.

One consequence will be a return to living off the land not seen for 150 years, he says. Governments will have to provide incentives for people to return to an agricultural life and land reform will be needed to enable smallholders and farming co-ops to work their own plots.

The bleak predictions were made by Heinberg in a lecture to the Soil Association in London.

The author and former advisor to the National Petroleum Council specialises in ‘Peak Oil’ - the point where oil production reaches its maximum and begins to decline - and the implications it has for climate change and food security.

Heinberg said the only way to avoid a world food crisis is a planned and rapid reduction of fossil fuel use - oil, coal and gas - and a switch to more organic methods in the growing and delivery of food.

He called for a return to ecological organic farming methods which would require the transformation of whole societies.

And with oil supplies rapidly running out, the full resources of national governments will be needed to achieve it, he says.

Population growth will have to be curbed, the amount of food transportation will have to be reduced and food will need to be grown in and around cities, he says. Producers and consumers will need to live closer together  and draft animals reintroduced.

A Defra spokesman said he was unable to comment on the speech itself, but told CS that the Government acknowledges the need for sustainable energy production. “The Government’s line on energy production is that we recognise there is a need to move to a low carbon economy.”

Find out more: www.soilassociation.org

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