Agriculture: villain or boon companion?


Yes, it felt strange to think of the Karen as horticulturalists, being predominantly rice farmers (for some reason I picture horticulturalists more as veg and root-crop growers) but they fit the definition… It didn’t occur to me that you could farm grains as part of a rotational system, rather than insisting on their continued cultivation on the same piece of land year after year. On the sustainability question, the main claim in the article related to soil erosion:

The results of research conducted by Chanpen Chutima Teewin of the impacts of the Karen people's rice cultivation method on soil surface showed that the rotational farming system of the Karen currently causes soil erosion below the accepted standard level (0.2 tonnes/rai/year). The study stated that the rice cultivation method of the Karen and Lua peoples uses the land in a manner which does not cause soil erosion, and that this was achieved by growing plants that do not disturb the soil, by digging holes to plant seeds, and by growing a variety of plants, such as fertilizing plants and ground-cover plants. This cultivation method is effective in lowering and preventing soil erosion in highland areas. Chanpen's study states that of ten areas studied, six areas had soil erosion that did not exceed the accepted standard, and four areas had very little soil erosion.

I suppose 0.2 tonnes/rai/year still represents some soil erosion, even at a small rate, but probably the other plant communities that come in during the fallow years build up the soil to compensate, so the overall effect might be to build topsoil rather than strip it away totally. Impressive for hill farming! By contrast the ‘type 4’ rice farming of ‘Long cultivation-very long fallow or abandonment’ seems to support clicketyclack’s point about sedentary vs. nomadic people:

With the exception of the fourth type, the practice of these farming models require the farmers to establish permanent settlements.

Makes sense really - if your food-growing system depletes the soil beyond repair you have to move on once it’s exhausted. Agriculturalists as the true nomads, who’d-a thought it!

Interesting question - fire is obviously also a source of ‘catastrophe’. The only major differences I can think of at the moment are that, unlike plough cultivation, fire doesn’t disturb the soil in the same way (perhaps the microbial/fungal life would survive a light burn? - I don’t know), and it doesn’t totally reset the ecological clock because the big trees are left (in the oak system at least).

Will check out that new ag stuff in a bit. Looks v. interesting at first glance!



I think the main premise behind the terms agri and horti are what you are creating with the catastrophe. Horticulturalists use agricultural practices of catastrophe to start succession over, then work on every level of succession for their food production. Agriculturalists rely solely on the first level of succession (agri = field). The oak savannas of the NW were not fields, they were mixed woodlands. Also, as Ian said, fire has a different effect on the soil than tilling. Root digging sticks were used in camas prairies, but they don’t have the same scale as tillage.

Keep in mind that agriculture one of many tools of the horticulturalist. Once they only use that tool more than 50%-60% of the time, they become “agriculturalists.” At least, that is my understanding.


I would be curious to know what the Karen’s percentage is in terms of rice production. What else are they eating? Are they exporting rice as a cash crop to purchase other food or is it grown just for their communities?


Found this:

Traditionally, most Karen work as farmers--a profession that allows them to be indepedent and free. Liviing in the mountains and forests, they plant according to the seasons and the soil conditions of the area. Traditionally, the food they produce has been for personal consumption, not for sale to others. This holds true for raising animals. Chickens, pigs, etc. would be consumed by the family raising them, or amongst friends and relatives in the village.
The ancient profession of farming amongst the Karen has begun to change, keeping in step with major changes in technology and market forces. The Karen no longer farm simply for self-sufficiency, but have now become commercial farmers, attempting to produce as much as possible for shipment to the market. In order to accomplish this, they have had to start using greater and greater amounts of land and use modern technologies to replace more traditional ways. In the past, for example, water buffaloes were used to plow the fields. Now, modern gas-powered machines have replaced them. These changes have caused Karen farmers to begin competing both against the clock and against each other, each farmer trying to produce the greatest yield possible.
Though it sounds like they're talking about the lowland farmers here (apparently there are lots of Karen spread through Burma and Thailand - [url=]wiki[/url]), those who had already converted to flooding rice paddies and re-using the same piece of land. Other depressingly familiar changes include movement from gift economy to cash and wage labour and the embracing of tourism. But the previous article suggests it's more 'traditional' up in the hills. Or at least it was back in 2004... There was this ominous bit:
However, currently, the level of economic development is increasing in the communities, and the introduction into highland areas of many new plant species which require increasingly frequent use of the land, cause soil disruption, and require the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides will result in more intense use of the land. The long-term, permanent use of the land, as opposed to the rotational cultivation system, will cause the death of the land and invasion by plant pests.
Culture erosion = soil erosion and vice versa. It's happening everywhere :( >:(


Another good quote I found as I’m writing the Tending the Wild article, that relates to this discussion:

“As many researchers have noted in recent years, past generations of scholars tended to equate cultivation with the familiar practices and geometric patterns that characterized European agriculture (Blaut 1993; Butzer 1990; Denevan 1992; Doolittle 1992). In turn, past scholars tended to dismiss many of the unfamiliar and seemingly chaotic anthropogenic plant communities encountered in Africa, Asia, and the Americas as “nonagricultural.” European cultivation was the measure by which all other practices were judged, and scholars commonly presumed that cultivation had emanated from within a small number of “civilized” societies. Increasingly, these notions have been discredited. Further, recent researchers have come to accept that foraging, hunting, low-intensity plant cultivation, and intensive agriculture are not mutually exclusive activities. Among peoples called hunter-gatherers, therefore, the emergence of plant cultivation did not always eclipse efficient and preexisting modes of subsistence; often, the development of cultivation merely augmented the outcomes of hunting and gathering, thereby contributing to the overall temporal stability and spatial concentraction of food resources. A growing body of archaeological evidence likewise confirms that, in many different times and in many different places, plant cultivation persisted alongside other subsistence strategies for millenia without demanding a transition to agriculture (despite an abundance of evolutionary models that have suggested the contrary). In many cases past and present, hunter-gatherer subsistence strategies and low-intensity plant cultivation can be “overlapping, interdependent, contemporaneous, coequal, and complemantary” (Sponsel 1989:45). Past attempts to categorize all the world’s peoples as “hunter-gatherers,” “pastoralists,” or “cultivators,” it seems, represent heuristic efforts of limited value that often conceal as much as they reveal.” - Nancy Turner & Douglas Deur, Keeping it Living


Print-ready PDF pamphlet of Peter’s Horticulture vs. Agriculture and Jason Godesky’s Agriculture or Permaculture: Why Words Matter:


I had never been understanding that distinction, talking of agriculture and that this was understood differently, for something that would not be really good as cultivation otherwise might be. So while earlier posts from me weren’t getting any response that wouldn’t have been merely because of religious differences, as I might have thought, but then over differences with my thoughts for the need for cultivating for food and basic necessities from plants that could be growing for that. I emphasize coming to what is most sustainable with speaking of its importance. Civilization cannot go on the way it is going, and the way civilization is, there won’t be enough change from it now. As many as possible should break from that for the most sustainability, the most certainty would be for all people to do so, though that is more than I believe can be hoped for. The only way there could be sustainability for the many people that should come to such change for that is with cultivating plants for those needs. This world will never support the many people that would depend on using animals for it, as they do with the industries, which are leading more than anything to the probable disasters that would come. All the people depending on hunting animals as they do depend on the industries for that will not be better, in the sense that it will still ruin environments. Nothing will sustain more people than with cultivation of plants for those needs. With enough growing dependence on animals can be completely diminished, and many people are showing it can be done. And I speak of a vision to promote that does not depend on technology for equipment for farming, and not with use of monocrops, but a very natural level of farming that is compatible with having all the natural environments. But it will mean great simplicity at even a primitive level, but in communities living this way, as people have lived for thousands of years, this will work well and people can be tighter as communities and happier that way even than people are with their entertainment in the world with modern culture.

I have spoken of this even through such medium with anarchists and what seem to be anarcho-primitivists, they don’t really get how I can say things as this, and also preppers or survivalists, they don’t get it either, but it seems to me some will get that there must be what is most sustainable even for the most people, not just thinking of surviving and having a way for that which can’t include many others, and so with it working just with many people doomed or dying off. I don’t know for sure if others can see it but I see that I can hope for what is better.

I no longer use WordPress as I did for blogging. I had a lot of difficulty with the device I use posting with that site. I still have communicated in much the same way through my own forum, with few others having joined.


Thanks to woozeltracker for letting me know this forum is on again! :slight_smile:
I reread my essay, still agree with it. I tried to wrestle with the terms ag and horti last year or so, not sure if it was any use. I am now assuming that ag=intensive cultivation (as in ratcheting, aka the growth economy) and horti= non-intensive cultivation (more like a steady-state economy, or one that fluctuates up and down dep. on feedback). I figure the damage to the land happens when people keep on intensifying despite the feedback from the land.

It seems to me this is an easy to understand way of putting it. This way, then, the Easter Islanders would be ag people because they kept on intensifying, even though they did not have fields, just gardens and chickens.

Thanks, Peter, for the links. Will check them out.


I get it that there is thinking for being prepared with skills for primitive living, with a view of a coming crash that makes sense. But with it really coming what would it mean? It might be such that many will suddenly decide that they want to know of any alternatives, for their survival. It may be pretty realistic to say that not many are going to prepare soon enough, and those of us who do can make use of everything at our disposal for surviving and thriving, without dependence on civilization when it won’t be dependably there for us. But I see value in living as we are supposed to in this world, this is not happening with civilization here, and the Creator will not be dismissive of those who are destructive to the creation, it really matters. The way for all to live will not then have harms coming to this world or its natural environments. For that we could only live in the most sustainable way. So what is needed for this case is everything to be from what is growing for it to be available. If animals are kept for such, or if they are hunted, even though the skills are valued by many for being that prepared for survival, it will not be nearly so sustainable, and one must depend on enough people dying off, for the world to still support that, which is unlikely because the world in that scenario may be in no shape for that. The people could still all live having this sustainability if instead of use of animals there is use of what will grow for that instead. This is the sustainable way ideal for all of us with which we would always live in this world.

Governments’ role shouldn’t be for a nanny state and be more intrusive in private lives, as they have been doing, but to be involved with real social issues and needs with protection from threats to the society. But with our knowing how it should be it isn’t going to change in that direction, and it has more ability with the technology that there is now to grow more intrusive with incremental diminishing of personal freedoms, and such can be foreseen with what is seen from history. This is a bit serious, but it is an issue among others for which I promote coming to greater independence with others from civilization while it can happen.



I have not responded to your posts because I cannot understand what you are trying to communicate. From what I can understand, it seems that your posts are off-topic to the threads you are posting them in. Perhaps try starting a new thread? Thanks.


Peter, I think I somewhat undarstand what frank is trying to say. A lot of it is vague and I really had to read between the lines, but apparently (correct me if im wrong) frank says that people can’t depend on animals alone for food. Frank is right, but saying that on a rewilding forum like its an important and often-overlooked point is like trying to raise awareness that sometimes you may have to break thru passwords to a hacker-- it’s not only obvious but also something that we already know and is a basic fundamental of rewilding!

Also, frank, when you make references to “food that is grown” it seems like you focus on agriculture and completely ignore foraging as even existing. Tying these two points together, it seems like you have either ignored or haven’t yet read a basic fact of rewilding/anarcho-primitivist philosophy (which it seems you identify as), which is that people lived for thousands of years eating a great diversity of plant, animal, and fungal foods.
This is part of the basic rewilding ABC… a point that is a major part of rewilding.
I hope I’m not overstepping my boundaries by saying this, but even though I’m not a moderator, I suggest that you read some rewilding articles/books. Read derrick Jensen and Daniel quinn. Read Peter, willem, and Jason’s blogs, as well as the other blogs of the other members. Hell, read tom brown jr! I think that you may had valuable insights and opinions to share but don’t understand exactly what rewilding and this forum are about. Hope this helps.

(Also, just a personal pet peeve… Try to make clearer points!!! I know I’m not the only one having truoble understanding your posts, so try to make them neater pleaze.)


I don’t see how my communication was or is off-topic, if the topic is agriculture and whether it is a villain or a boon to us and our future, as I understand of what is addressed. This is still the subforum for dealing with misconceptions. If it is still desired I will start discussion for my position on it elsewhere, but this seemed to be the good place for it, but if any are responding to a post from me and it calls for my response, I think I should then respond. I have come though to make a point of never making personal remarks or saying something to make another uncomfortable with it

I have read quite a bit of such material suggested, it contributed to much of my current thinking. But I did not come to agreement with absolutely everything I read. I am more selective being discriminating with examination.

I may not be communicating in the best way, I understand that, but I tend to avoid saying what I do in simple ways as this may not be persuasive enough. I can still try to have what I say be understood better.

I am communicating for what is most sustainable, and saying that it is really needed, and especially with many not doing so soon enough, those who will should do so in the greatest way possible. I communicate for having the most people survive well, and even for them to do better. Nothing else would attract people to come to a great change. I see there is real need for rapid change in things for sustainability, by many if not all, which it ultimately must be.

This will involve change to living with great simplicity, and it is called for to do this with others, living in the way that worked so long for humanity.

It just won’t work just the same way as it did for much of that time when there were a lot less people, there are too many now, and it is better to have as many survive as can, with what is most sustainable still. Using animals will not be the most sustainable way that there could be, and current use of animals is with it being the greatest of causes bringing destructive harm and depletion in this world, with exception of a possible nuclear war. You and any can certainly examine it individually and make choices about using animals, but this use could be minimized and even eliminated, the use is not needed, as people are showing and even more so now, and that use is not sustainable in the way using plants would be. And as agriculture is discussed in this thread I think I can speak to it, not that there shouldn’t be foraging for wild edible vegetation, I do understand about that, but with the most survival for many with contentment with that, there should be vegetation that people would grow, this having the greatest sustainability for the most people. Anything else will not support as many people as well, and that being provided is desirable, with more then being ready to come to such change for that.

Growing vegetation, which I previously thought was the equivalent of agriculture, is not to continue with all the modern equipment and monocrops for it. It should be organically grown with all of it being known to not be GMO. I communicate with thinking of natural farming with little use of tools for it, which has communication for that, and I can elaborate at some time if it is needed.


Hi Frank,

Your argument for natural agriculture and minimizing and eliminating the use of animals as a food source appears to me to be very human-centric. I think your goal is to have the largest possible number of people survive. However, I would like to see this conversation of non sustainable modern agriculture vs. sustainable horticulture vs. hunter-gatherers vs. some combination actually include the “will of the land” itself. What is best for the trees, the rivers, the soil, and all the other-than-human aspects of our environment?

For example, my Low Saxon ancestors in the area now known as the Netherlands once raised cattle, and a large part of their diet consisted of meat and dairy. Most people would probably consider that a modern farming lifestyle. But they honored and respected the land and sacred trees such as the oak which flourished on the higher areas where they built their houses, and allowed the lowest lands to flood naturally, fished and foraged there when it was wet, and grazed their cattle there when it was dry.

Compare this to the agricultural culture that took over the land in more recent times, where almost every square foot of land has been dyked, drained, and put to “practical use”. The modern Dutch take deep pride in their “Mastery over Nature”. But even if these vast fields were farmed organically and “naturally”, the will of the land is still being suppressed.


Hi Goblin Girl. It is interesting to bring thought to what there should be for the Netherlands region. Perhaps I too have certain ancestors that dwelt there at some time. That which was retrieved from the sea is not a stable arrangement, were there no human presence to be sure it stays as it is, the sea would reclaim it, and I think likely in a few decades. Farming with livestock in that manner was with more modern development. But my point is that this and other ways are not sustainable as what I speak for. Yes it is of value to have less people perish, more sustainable ways are needed for that, but I communicate that there should still be the same amount of sustainability anyway, and that with however many there are, stability will come just with that. And this is with what is best for any and all environments and I care for those. There is less death in any of this, and more death in any way is not more desirable. This can work just with the great simplicity that humanity managed with for the longest time. No modern equipment is needed in this, with foraging among wild growth natural farming with simple methods would work very well, with the right nutrition available meat is not really needed, enough information is available to show that, and this way for bands of people to live together would be the best for the most people and all the environments and the animals. Less land, and water and what is thought of as resources, that way is necessarily to be used supporting humanity. It is human selfishness wanting something more, though.


Hey folks, just did a post on the origin of ag. Any thoughts?


Boy, no disagreements? Woo-hoo! ;D


Hey Vera,

Haha. I thought it was very interesting. Thanks for sharing! :slight_smile:


Good to know! Thanks for writing! :slight_smile:


It was interesting, and I am following.


I didn’t read either of these … I just finished a similar book that considered the change in social structure that agriculture brings / anthropologically brought & I wondered if there was any way of putting a poll in this thread to see what others think without reading every post ?