During the 20th century, the word ‘Horsepower’ has been adapted to describe the power output of the internal combustion engine. However, the early road hauling and agricultural steam engines were quite literally described as being three, four or five ‘Horse power’, thus one could equate the strength of the horses to that of the steam engines of this new era. These steel beasts lead the charge of the all-conquering industrial revolution, followed by the dominance of the internal combustion engine and the almost total dependence on oil for the great majority of agricultural and transport needs.
We have now reached the beginning of the end of that era. We are now in the time of ‘post peak oil’, which means that world reserves are past their peak and in a process of decline. Demand however, particularly from China and India, is still increasing. Prices for crude oil are therefore on an upward journey – and apart from a few ‘blips’ in market pricing policies, will be in excess of what many of us can afford in the very near future. This will have a particularly marked effect on agriculture, because the global market for food is heavily dependent upon oil. Oil for fixing nitrogen for synthetic fertilisers, oil for the creation and production of herbicides pesticides, fungicides as well as the construction and maintenance of virtually all tractors and agricultural machinery.
The industrialised West is so fixated on oil and its derivatives that few have yet woken up to the implications for food production in a post peak oil era.
However we at ICPPC have given it considerable thought, and see the return of the work horse as a very real solution to the looming crisis.
At the epicentre of this oil crisis is the almost sacrosanct belief amongst capitalist nations that free trade between all countries is the foundation for an ever expanding world economy, and that all rules and regulations should be adapted to keep this economic momentum going and growing.
What we see today under the world free trade banner is the movement of mass-produced foods and agricultural commodities from one end of the world to the other, with no regard for the inestimable pollution and environmental destruction, let alone the depleted nutritional status of the foods themselves, travelling half way round the world and passing through countless temperature changes and distribution outlets before reaching their destination.
Counting the true cost of oil dependent industrial agriculture and the globalised supermarket-led free market of food distribution, reveals a massive debt accrued to mother earth, a debt which is entirely unsustainable and unimaginably destructive. Global warming is the most blatant expression of our earth’s current desperate cries for help, and the fever which grips her every artery.
If we wish to survive we must help our planet to be healed, not tomorrow but now. And our first and foremost task must be to once again regionalise and localise our food production, using systems that are not dependent on oil. Local food for local people will soon not just be the cry of a small number of concerned environmentalists; it will become an absolute necessity for the survival of communities the whole world over.
As western countries search for low energy solutions to rising CO2 emissions and food production and distribution needs, Poland will find herself suddenly ahead of a game she thought she was lagging behind in. The 1 ½ million peasant farms, many with work horses or at least some experience of handling heavy horses, are finding themselves in the spotlight, as oil-free food producing specialists par excellence! Far from being chided as leftovers from a vanished era, they are increasingly recognised as being at the forefront of an ecologically benign, time-honoured system of small-scale rotational farming. A system which treats the living soil with the respect it is due, and therefore also the food that grows in it.
This little booklet “Renaissance of the Workhorse” features a few of the skilled exponents of the oil-free agriculture of tomorrow, and the equine partnership whose physical and emotional link is so unique in expressing the timeless bond between animal and man.
Julian Rose, July 2007