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Keywords:

  • agricultural productivity;
  • biophysical overrides;
  • fossil energy;
  • climate change

The productivity of industrial capitalist agriculture is central to dominant development narratives. It is also highly unstable, with intractable biophysical problems created in the substitution of labour, skill and knowledge with technology, and overridden with unsustainable ‘technological fixes’ and masked by a host of externalized costs. Relatively cheap oil is central to this, effectively subsidizing the low-priced industrial grains and oilseeds on which global food security has come to hinge. However, the chronic biophysical contradictions of industrial capitalist agriculture are accelerating, at the same time as the surge in biofuels has augmented the still-rising demand of livestock feed to embolden industrial producers. A period of acute and ominously regressive food price volatility looms in the short term, with more ruinous outcomes ahead. But this might also widen openings for rebuilding biodiverse food systems and remaking and valorizing agricultural work, which will involve rethinking agriculture's place in conceptions of development and modernity.