There are lies, damn’ lies, and statistics; statistics can be used for bamboozlement, and often are. But good stats, properly deployed, are vital. They can reveal relationships that otherwise remain obscure. Presented clearly, they summarize complexities wonderfully. To be sure, it’s a mistake to put too much store by them – or by maths of any kind, for maths is not the ultimate arbiter of truth, and it has no moral content; it certainly does not tell us what we ought to do. But maths in general, including statistics, is an almost indispensable aid to thought.
So in this section we will tease out the statistics that are the most revealing about the state of the world in general and food and farming in particular, and present them as clearly as possible – with as much narrative as is needed to make sense of them; and of course, as always, comments will be invited and positively solicited from people at large.
It is? important to be “objective” insofar as this is possible, for it’s when stats are used polemically that they start to deceive. Yet the College is devoted, unashamedly, to the cause of Enlightened Agriculture – farming that is truly intended to feed people – and we must focus above all on the kind of statistics that make the case. We need to show beyond all scepticism, in simple images that can’t be denied, that complex, polycultural, labour-intensive, low-input farming really must be the way forward: that it can be far more productive in terms of food production over time, than the industrial kind; that it is sustainable; that it really can feed the world forever – and that the industrial kind simply cannot.
It ought to be easy to collect the appropriate stats, but it isn’t. Again we find that the broad surveys that could tell us what we need to know, just haven’t been done – or if they have, they have not been clear and public. So for the time being at least, the case must be put together piecemeal.
These issues are vital – none more so. What kinds of farming really can feed us without wrecking the rest, and what cannot? But again we find little or no guidance from on high. Again it falls to the College to find out what is the case.