Nostalgia? Returning to More Natural, Biological Technology in Farming

Farming methods may to modern eyes seem to have once been more natural but are we being romantic and nostalgic?

A great website that traces the history of the countryside and agriculture – ukagriculture.com – is an easily digested history of UK population and economic developments and their impact on farming from the days of Saxon England onwards.

One small example is the fluctuation in the country’s woodland from approximately 11% woodland cover during the Roman period (100AD) to 15% in Norman era. It was down to around 7% by 1350AD, even less than today, and then climbed to a broadly stable 10% while the total length of hedgerow continued to grow as more fields were enclosed.

Meanwhile there was from very early times an inexorable drift of population from the countryside to the towns and cities, which accelerated after c1750 and the onset of the industrial revolution.

Two more significant moments in history are the Second World War with the need to increase domestic food production and then, fuelled by a rural labour shortage, the development of the combined harvester.

Add in population growth, the search for profit and the need to increase food production and the result is so-called agribusiness, getting rid of the hedges that used to enclose our fields and the woodland that got in the way of the big machines that allegedly made farming more efficient.

It’s pretty clear, therefore, that producing food – farming – has always been driven by economics and by population changes.

So while in the past there may have been a better balance in the way farmland was used thinking nostalgically is something of a red herring. Farming is now and historically always has been a commercial activity.

Urban population growth and production costs are the twin pressures to produce more from the same amount of land, especially on an island like Britain. They led in the 1960s and 70s to using more and more chemicals to get rid of pests and diseases and to increase yield per acre.

Then came the wake-up calls: the BSE and other scares, tales of hormones in our chickens, increasing evidence of chemical-induced carcinomas from our food.

A couple of decades on and we no longer tolerate damage to people’s health from chemicals in our food, or the threatened destruction of the environmental balance on which we all depend for life.

The growth in global communications and in global travel have also opened people’s eyes to inequalities in both food production and people’s access to enough food.

It’s becoming urgent that we balance the need for more food against the imperative to preserve the quality of the land it comes from. It’s commonsense, it’s not about nostalgia.

That’s why the growing emphasis on sustained farming, organic and more natural agriculture and on biological agricultural products like biopesticides and biological yield enhancers that could arguably be as crucial to the small developing-world farmer as they are to bigger operations in the developed world.

It’s about trying all kinds of things appropriate to the local ecology – as illustrated by this story about Zambian farmer Elleman Mumba a 54-year-old peasant farmer growing maize and groundnuts on his small plot of land in Shimabala, south of Lusaka.

Feeding his family used to be a problem and the yield was very little. “We were always looking for hand-outs; we had to rely on relief food.”

With no oxen of his own to plough his field he had to wait in line to hire some, often missing planting as soon as the first rains fell. for every day of delay the potential yield is shrunk by around 1% – 2%.

In 1997, Mr Mumba, thanks to free training given to his wife, switched to conservation farming. It uses only simple technology, a special kind of hoe and Instead of ploughing entire fields, farmers till and plant in evenly spaced basins.

Only a tenth of the land area is disturbed. it reduces erosion and run-off and in the first season increased his yield to 68 bags of maize – enough to feed the family and buy four cattle! (his full story is on the BBC Africa website)

That’s what innovation, sustainable farming and thinking outside the box are all about. It’s about economics and what works, not about nostalgia.

What Are The Biological Considerations In Geotechnical Engineering?

We all know that Geotechnical Engineering is a field of civil engineering which focuses on analyzing the geotechnical behaviors of soil and rocks. Usually, this type of engineering is involved in construction projects. Engineers and geotech engineering consultants will need to collect samples of the soil where a building or a structure is to be constructed. After having collected the soil samples, they will then analyze it in order to know if it is cohesive or not and if the ground is stable or not. The ground needs to be stable in order for the structure to be built otherwise it might just collapse.

However, these aren’t just the things you need to know about Geotechnical Engineering. There are certain considerations that are involved. The understanding of the soil’s behavior for the past 300 years has been centered on the mechanical principles and geological processes. Later on, it involved mineralogy and the relevance of colloidal chemistry. And just recently, the research on earth science and biology has enabled significant advances in understanding the important involvement of microorganisms in earth’s evolution and their presence in near surface rocks and soils. It has also enabled us to understand the participation of microorganisms in mediating and facilitating geochemical reactions. And now, we have come to the understanding that in the field of Geotechnical Engineering, there is an effect of the biological activities on soil mechanical behavior.

So what are the biological considerations in Geotechnical Engineering and the different geotechnical engineering services?

As what has been stated earlier, microorganisms are involved in the evolution of earth and that’s a fact that we cannot deny. In other words, microorganisms play an important role on the formation of many fine grained soils. Aside from that, they can also alter and change the behavior of coarse grained soils. They can also accelerate geochemical reaction by orders of magnitude. They also promote both weathering and aging. And lastly, they can alter the mechanical and chemical properties of specimens after the soil sampling has been done.

These are the biological considerations that are to be made in Geotechnical Engineering. It is very important for geotechnical engineering companies and geotechnical engineering firms to know this. The condition of the ground to which any structure is to be built on depends on the microorganisms that are present in that area. Understanding this is very important before a geotech engineering project is started to prevent any problems in conducting tests and in the construction work.

Human Origins – Is Science Right?

One of the most popular kinds of website these days are those providing genealogy records. They help people searching for their ancestral roots. We are uncertain about who we are. We seek identity. Where do we come from? What are our human origins?

Religious view of human origins

Up to about two centuries ago, the religious view prevailed in Western culture. Then, people assumed they were created in the image of God with an immortal soul. They were conscious of their designated place, in the grand scheme of things, as somewhere between the angels and the animals. In short, this Christian worldview gave life its meaning, a sense of our human origins and an outlook people could try to live by.

However, nowadays, in our secular times, we have lost awareness of transcendence and the sense of the sacred. A few people even think humans descend from aliens who visited earth. But even if true this wouldn’t explain how aliens came into existence.

Most people give the scientific way of knowing pride of place. Consequently, the question, ‘Who made us, God or evolution?’ is firmly answered in favour of the latter. In Darwin’s theory there is no room for divine guidance or design.

“We are the only people who think themselves risen from savages; everyone else believes they descended from gods.” (Marshall Sahlins)

The Christian fundamentalists who argue for creationism do religion no favours. They have a literal understanding of the biblical account of the 7 days of creation. So they see this as factual history. (An alternative view they don’t like is that the book of Genesis is a myth conveying a useful psycho-spiritual message relevant to personal growth.) Consequently, the ‘creationists’ make bogus scientific claims. Not surprisingly, these are easily derided by anyone with any sense. As a result, it has become next to impossible for the idea of design within our human origins to gain any kind of fair hearing.

Evolution and our human origins

It seems today that Darwinian evolution is the only possible explanation of life’s start and development. However, Huston Smith in his book ‘Beyond the Post-Modern Mind‘ presents the case for further consideration of a concept of ‘great origins’.

Fossils found in the Earth’s crust show that there have been changes in the constitution of plants and animals, and with the help of radioactive and potassium-argon dating, these have been placed in historical sequence.

Moreover, higher, more complex forms of life (such as human beings) appeared later than simpler ones. All species of life on earth can be traced back through their pedigrees to the simplest forms in which life initially appeared.

Darwin proposed how all this happened saying it did so through natural selection of those fittest to survive working on chance mutations. Darwinism is popular in science because natural selection is purely mechanical and the mutations on which it works do so solely by accident. In other words, biology views the origin and development of human life as an automatic process with no room for divine providence.

Perhaps this is not surprising as all branches of science avoid any account of natural phenomena as having any design. This is because there can be no scientific instruments to observe purpose and meaning. What might be intended is beyond the ability of science to judge empirically.

Criticism of Darwinian evolution

We need to ask questions about any fossil evidence for incremental change.

Geology… does not reveal… finely graded organic change and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against (my) theory.” (Charles Darwin)

Also, there is the question about a lack of fossil evidence for intermediate forms between species.

“Evolution requires intermediate forms between species, and palaeontology does not provide them.” (David Kitts professor of geology University of Oklahoma)

A third concern is to do with non-functionality of changes that only later result in useful new body parts. How can natural selection account for the emergence of complex organs? Ones that are made of many parts that only when they work together after thousands of generations have any use for survival? In the short term what good is half a jaw or half a wing? The module of the brain that governs linguistic ability has no counterpart among non-humans. It’ has appeared in human beings suddenly in its present form.

Huston Smith points out that Darwin’s theory of evolution is rather weak but looks strong because there are no other contenders for understanding our origins.

Non-naturalistic views of human origins

I would suggest that if science has a restricted kind of knowing, then perhaps we need to re-look at other ideas for finding a sense of who we are and where we come from. The trouble with a naturalistic outlook is that it assumes that nothing that lacks any material component can possibly exist.

This way of thinking stops one from considering all sorts of less tangible phenomena – those that involve subjectivity and cannot be seen with any kind of precision, prediction or control. To illustrate, at times we can gain intuitive insight, notice fortunate coincidences, and remember dreams. In addition, we can be surprised by wonder and awe at the life force within nature. We can be willing to surrender ourselves to life’s growth and healing power.

Subjective truth may not prove anything, but it can offer reasons for what to believe. Beliefs about who we are and where we come from. And as such it can guide our decisions and conduct.

Spiritual awareness and our human origins

I would say perceiving in non-naturalistic ways is a sort of spiritual awareness. According to 18th century Swedish philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, the spiritual inflows into the natural. The divine is spiritual, and it endeavours to flow into and enliven the natural. The divine energy is one of love wishing to share its life in human action.

Swedenborg thought that those learned people who study natural sciences are more likely to deny any divine reality due to their focus instead on natural forces. In addition he thought that for the rest of us any negative frame of mind is associated with a materialistic and self-orientated attitude. This he wrote opposes deeper understanding.

“The force or endeavour within the action or movement is, it is plain, something spiritual within something natural; for thought and will are spiritual activities, whereas action and movement are natural ones.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher)