Big money gathers eagerly around short-sighted concepts, never bothering to notice the long-term suffering it can cause. Or maybe that’s an easy way to see the messy collection of hubris, lofty goals, corporate influence and cultural ignorance behind the announcement that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are calling for a second Green Revolution. They are donating $10.4 million to alleviate hunger using methods including the promotion of genetically modified crops.
The first Green Revolution was not regarded as a success by those “lucky” recipients of First World largess. Their carefully cultivated (often perennial) plantings were torn up and traditional methods well suited for local conditions (rocky hillsides, monsoons, lack of irrigation) ignored. Farmers were provided hybrid seeds which produced astonishing yields on test plots using high quality irrigation and modern intensive farming methods. But these seeds could not be saved to replant the next year. These crops had to be coddled with petroleum-based fertilizer and pesticides. The farmers needed to use equipment no one could afford to repair or fuel.
This first Green Revolution was considered a success by much of the First World.But it failed because it didn’t address, perhaps made worse the larger issue. AsFood First explains, the Green Revolution imposed industrial farming methods without addressing unequal access. In South America per capita food supplies went up 8% while the number of hungry people increased 19%.
Today yields continue to improve around the world. As Sharon Astyk notes in her brilliant blog Casaubon’s Book,“We presently grow enough food to feed 9 billion people. That’s an astonishing realization for most people – that the world produces about double the number of calories we need.”
Yet people starve while grain rots in warehouses and famine-struck regions export food. Why? Because it’s not as much about the volume of food as it is about who controls it.
Now, another Green Revolution. This time it’s not just hybrid seeds but genetically modified (GM) crops. These crops are highly profitable to Monsanto, DuPont and other mega corporations. Typically they require the timed use of specifically matched herbicides and pesticides. But the extra cost of these seeds (and their chemical companions) are a waste because they don’t increase crop yield, despite what the slick PR might allege. Let’s repeat. GM seeds are not the hope of the hungry because no they don’t magically make more food than the seeds nature designed.
The Union of Concerned Scientists “…reviewed two dozen academic studies of corn and soybeans, the two primary genetically engineered food and feed crops grown in the United States. Based on those studies, the UCS report concluded that genetically engineering herbicide-tolerant soybeans and herbicide-tolerant corn has not increased yields. Insect-resistant corn, meanwhile, has improved yields only marginally. The increase in yields for both crops over the last 13 years, the report found, was largely due to traditional breeding or improvements in agricultural practices.”
In fact, organic farms produce consistently high yields with good pest resistance.
And big surprise, traditional farming methods are much more suited to the areas where they’ve been used. Maybe, just maybe respecting methods that honor the life of the land makes more sense than imposing industrial agriculture. You’d think we humans would have noticed the We Know Better Than Nature approach hasn’t worked out too well.
A paper in the African Journal of Food and Nutritional Sciences noted,
“Viable agro-ecology models have been reported in widely disparate places like the United States and India . In the United States, a landmark study by the prestigious National Research Council found that “alternative farmers often produce high per-acre yields with significant reductions in costs per unit of crop harvested, despite the fact that many federal policies discourage adoption of alternative practices”. The Council concluded that Federal commodity programs must be restructured to help farmers realize the full benefits of the productivity gains possible through alternative practices .
In South India, a 1993 study was carried out to compare “ecological farms” with matched “conventional” or chemical-intensive farms. Ausubel found that the ecological farms were just as productive and profitable as the chemical ones . He concluded that if extrapolated nationally, ecological farming would have “no negative impact on food security,” and would reduce soil erosion and the depletion of soil fertility while greatly lessening dependence on external inputs.”
One would think such a rich man might put money into solving world hunger through equal access to justice, educational, and cultural understanding. Instead, whatever is promoted as green looks good enough.