tagged w/ yield
Non-GM varieties are more drought resistant, yet agritech giants ensure farmers are unable to access them
Dr Eva Sirinathsinghji
A fully referenced and illustrated version of this article is posted on ISIS members website and is otherwise available for download here
The United States is suffering the worst drought in 50 years. But crop damage may well have been avoided if high quality non-GM varieties were available to farmers. Further evidence is emerging that glyphosate-tolerant crops are ill-equipped to deal with drought, while high quality non-GM varieties are flourishing. Monopoly of the seed industry has left farmers unable to get non-GM varieties, despite the drought having global repercussions including steep rises of cereal prices and reduced meat production in many countries.
In a commentary circulated by GM Watch (UK), Howard Vlieger, a co-founder and agroecological farming advisor of Verity Farms in drought-stricken South Dakota the US, provides evidence from a farmer who has grown both GM and Verity Farms’ non-GM varieties of soybean and corn side by side . Non-GM soybean, grown in agroecological conditions to promote soil biodiversity and nutritional content is shown next to Monsanto’s GM triple-stack GM corn, which is glyphosate-tolerant and additionally expresses two Bt insecticidal toxins, grown using conventional chemical industrial methods that include the use of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide, Roundup (Figure 1). As captured in the photograph, non-GM varieties appear greener, fuller, and healthier. These impressions are backed up by the far superior yield reported of non-GM corn, which averaged 100-120 bushels per acre (BPA) compared to the 8-12 BPA to 30-50 BPA of GM corn.
Figure 1 Aerial photo of adjacent fields with non-GM corn (left) and triple stack roundup ready GM corn (right)
The large yield differential was confirmed in a new set of harvest data provided by Vlieger (with accompanying photographic identification) for three fields surrounding Verity Farm, all growing Smart Stack RR corn . All were harvested for corn silage as the yields were too poor to harvest the grain. The federal crop insurance adjuster appraised yields were respectively 12 bushels per acre (BPA), 27 BPA, and 28 BPA. The Non-GMO corn on Verity Farm across the road yielded 108 BPA.
The findings were replicated with soybean crops (see Figure 2).
Glyphosate-tolerant crops have been repeatedly shown to be less healthy than conventional varieties. Their increased water demands make them entirely unsuitable in times of unpredictable weather conditions and increasingly limited supply globally (see  World Water Supply in Jeopardy, SiS 56). Monopolisation of the seed market means conventional varieties are unavailable, therefore reducing the farmers’ ability to effectively deal with changing conditions and most worryingly, it threatens global food security and sovereignty. A global shift to non-GM agroecological farming is the real way forward.
More at the link above.
http://www.permaculturenews.org/images/corn_drought_oct_2012.jpgNon-GM varieties are more drought resistant, yet agritech giants ensure farmers are... more
A decade after India officially allowed GM crops to be cultivated, a parliamentary panel said it had no confidence in farm biotechnology. The panel cited concerns over health and environment issues.
The report poses a fresh policy dilemma for the government and the seed industry with implications on the farm economy. The parliamentary standing committee on agriculture, led by CPM's Basudeb Acharya, which tabled the report “Cultivation of Genetically Modified Food Crops - Prospects and Effects” also called for a reversal of the policy.
“The committee has come to the conclusion that since concerns on the potential and actual impacts of GM crops to our food, farming, health and environment are valid, GM crops are just not the right solution for our country,” Acharya said.
Criticising the haste with which the government had promoted GM crops, Acharya said the government “should stop parroting the promotional lines of the biotechnology and seed industry and their cronies within the technocracy and stand by scientific reasoning and greater public good”.
The committee had travelled across the country and consulted various stakeholders including farmers, biotechnology industry on the issue.
The report states that Bt cotton, India's only commercially cultivated GM crop, had not improved the socio-economic condition of cotton farmers in the country and had intensified their distress especially in the rainfed areas of the country which forms the majority of cotton and farmer suicide belt.
The report pointed out grave inadequacies with the regulatory system on GM crops.
Apart from recommending a decision-making role for states in any open release of GM crops, the report recommended the discontinuation of open field trials due to danger of contamination.A decade after India officially allowed GM crops to be cultivated, a parliamentary... more
Monsanto Fails at Improving Agriculture
UCS'S New Ad Campaign
Set the Record Straight on Monsanto
We don't have Monsanto's advertising budget - that's where you come in!
Eight Ways Monsanto Fails at Sustainable Agriculture
Monsanto Improves its Bottom Line…But Not Agriculture
Karen Stillerman, senior analyst, Food and Environment
Union of Concerned Scientists (blog), July 3 2012
The Monsanto Company is raking it in—last week they reported third quarter profits of $937 million. Yes, you read that right: Monsanto's profit for the three-month period ending May 31 amounted to nearly a billion dollars, up a whopping 35% from the same quarter last year. That raging river of cash flowing in must make it easy for the company to finance a flurry of advertising and lobbying extolling the virtues its products. According to Monsanto’s PR, the company is feeding a growing population, protecting natural resources, and promoting biodiversity.
But the truth is decidedly less impressive, and now UCS is setting the record straight with an ad campaign of our own.
More Herbicide + Fewer Butterflies = Better Seeds?
With a series of three new ads you can see on our website, we're taking on Monsanto's claims directly.
One of the company's ads (coincidentally, the one that appeared across the street from UCS's Washington, DC, office earlier in this year) says their "better seeds can help meet the needs of our rapidly growing population, while protecting the earth’s natural resources." In response, our ad points out that the company's Roundup Ready crops have increased herbicide use by an estimated 383 million pounds and have been associated with an estimated 81 percent fewer monarch butterfly eggs in the Midwest—critical ground along the spectacular annual migration route of these butterflies to and from Mexico.
We're also using our campaign to take issue with Monsanto's suggestions that its genetic engineering technology is improving U.S. crop yields (nope, not much) and conserving water (not at all). Instead, as our ads and our analysis behind them show, the company's products are spawning an epidemic of "superweeds" and crowding out more sustainable alternatives.
Fighting Fire with Facts
We have no illusions that Monsanto's spin machine will let up anytime soon. After all, as Mother Jones' Tom Philpott lays out, the company’s combination of glossy ads, high-powered lobbying, and big-time political contributions is paying off with favorable results (at least from Monsanto’s perspective) in Congress. But we expect policy-makers here in Washington to take note of our ads—which will be up all this month on city buses and in transit stations near the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s headquarters, the U.S. EPA, and Capitol Hill. And we hope those decision-makers—who are accountable to farmers and the public to really improve agriculture—will look more skeptically at Monsanto's claims in the future and give sustainable alternatives a fair shot.
UCS still believes that the truth can be powerful, and you can help us tell it far and wide.Monsanto Fails at Improving Agriculture UCS'S New Ad Campaign... more
The Deccan Development Society (DDS), is a two-decade old grassroots organisation working in about 75 villages with women's Sanghams (voluntary village level associations of the poor) in the Medak District of Andhra Pradesh. The 5000 women members of the Society represent the poorest of the poor in their village communities. Most of them are dalits ("untouchables"), the lowest group in the Indian social hierarchy.
COMMENT from PV Satheesh of the Deccan Development Society: Yesterday, as a part of the global anti GMO week observation over 500 women from the DDS communities from the mandals of Zaheerabad, Jharasangam, Raikode and Nyalkal took out a procession in Zaheerabad to protest against government inaction on the spread of Bt cotton in Medak, which they said is not only environmentally destroying the farmers but also is creating havoc with their economics. Farmers who are lured by the promise of Bt seed dealers of great returns are finding to their dismay that even 50% of the promised yields are not being realised.
Under these circumstances the women have demanded a total ban on the cultivation of Bt cotton in Medak District besides serious criminal cases against the Bt seed dealers.
The women took out in procession an effigy of a GMO DEMON and burnt it in front of the Tahsildar's office where they submitted their memorandum. Later they went to the District Collector, met him and submitted a copy of the memorandum.
Please see the full memorandum [English translation] below.
Memorandum demanding a total ban on the cultivation of Bt cotton in Medak District Deccan Development Society
April 13 2012
We, members of the DDS Food Sovereignty Trust, representing over 5000 dalit women from small and marginal farming households present the following demands for your kind consideration:
Medak is a district devoid of irrigation facilities. This is the only district in AP that does not have any canal irrigation. It is in this context that we, traditional farmers of Medak have been for centuries following significant rainfed biodiverse farming system. However since the last two decades, because of the government’s promotional policies and pressure from markets, cultivation of irrigation dependent crops such as sugarcane, potato, ginger etc have seen a frightening growth in our district. This has a deep impact on the underground water sounding alarm bells for Medak District. Since the last few years even millet farmers who cultivate their degraded lands for food crops in our district are being trapped by the cotton industry by making false promises that they can make heavy profit by growing cotton.
The new entrant into this scene is Bt Cotton whose cultivation is growing at a terrifying rate in the district. Since the advent of this cotton, food crop cultivation is declining in Medak. This district has been famous for growing millets which can grow even in the least fertile lands without irrigation. These crops have traditionally protected the food and nutritional security of the population of Medak District, especially of the poor.
We the members of the Deccan Development Society have initiated several research studies since last 20 years on the food crops and the food and nutritional security they offer and have been able to discover several new truths. We would like to bring them to your kind notice.
1. Our studies done this year in the four mandals of Zaheerabad, Jharasangam, Raikode and Nyalkal has revealed that the yields from Bt cotton is around 500-800 kgs per acre under dryland conditions and 1000-1200 kgs per acre under irrigated conditions. As per current market rates, the farmers are able to earn between 17000 to 40000 per acre depending upon whether they are dryland farmers or irrigated farmers. As a result the dryland Bt Cotton farmers are earning a net income of 8-10,000 per acre.
2. This has come as a rude shock who were dreaming of great gains by farming Bt cotton. Cotton cultivation does not yield no benefit apart from the monetary income No fodder, no uncultivated greens nothing. Besides as scientists are pointing out, Bt cotton fields are suffering from soil toxicity year after year resulting in toxic soils and soil fatigue. As a result of this, crops such as chillies which used to be grown after cotton is harvested are wilting on the field. Besides, there are several instances of Bt Cotton itself wilting on the field.
3. Apart from these problems, we have learnt from Bt cotton farmers in Warangal as well as from newspapers that cattle which have grazed on Bt cotton refuse have died of toxicity. Women who have laboured on Bt farms are suffering from skin diseases and respiratory problems. Our sisters in DDS Community Media Trust who have done regular filming month on month for three years in Warangal, Nalgonda and Adilabad districts have brought to light these truths in their video films.
4. In contrast to this toxic Bt farming, millet farmers enjoy homes full of grains, cowsheds full of fodder, and all season uncultivated greens. This offers them food and nutritional security. They are also protecting soil, water and environmental health through their ecological practices such as non chemical farming.
5. This year we in DDS carried out INSIMP [Initiative for Nutritonal Security through Intensive Millet Promotion] on behalf of the Government of Andhra Pradesh by ecological growing millets in a biodiverse environment in over 2500 acres. The studies carried out on these farms are revealing that dryland farmers [without irrigation] have been able to earn a household income upto ₹15-20,000 per acre through these farming practice
In view of all the above, we are placing the following demands in front of the Medak District administration and the Government of Andhra Pradesh
1. Keeping in view the environment and water resources of Medak District, Government must immediately ban the cultivation of Bt Cotton in the district.
2. Many companies have carried out false propaganda that Bt cotton cultivation results in great profits. Government must initiate criminal proceedings against these companies and ban them from trading in Bt cotton.
3. Pending the above, Government of AP must enact a legislation that Bt cotton companies must give a written undertaking that their cultivation will result in minimum yield of a certain quantity of cotton. If farmers do not get these promised profits Government must file lawsuits against them and force them to compensate farmers losses.
4. Hundreds of thousands of farmers in the mandals of southern Medak, viz., Zaheerabad, Jharasangam, Raikode, Nyalkal, Manoor, Narayankhed etc. are engaged in organic farming. Bt cotton cultivation must be prohibited in these mandals immediately in view of the fact that Bt cotton will genetically pollute the crops on these organic farms.
5. Government must recognise traditional farmers as conservers of environment, water resources, and frontline soldiers in the fight against climate change. Such farmers must be honoured with an annual honorarium of ₹5000 per acre for their ecosystemic services.
6. When Government honours farmers during the Ugadi and Sankranti Puraskaras these ecological, biodiverse farmers must be honoured as Progressive Farmers.
We request you to kindly place these demands of ours in front of the Government of Andhra Pradesh and help Andhra Pradesh to come out of the agrarian crisis into which genetically engineered crops are bound to push this state.
On behalf of the DDS Food Sovereignty Trust
http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=387551471278629&set=o.276951472985&type=1The Deccan Development Society (DDS), is a two-decade old grassroots organisation... more
10 years of Bt Cotton – False Hype and Failed Promises Exposed
Coalition for a GM-Free India, March 21 2012
The false hype and failed promises of Bt cotton in India were exposed by the Coalition for GM-Free India with a special report released in a press conference here today. As the 10th anniversary of Bt cotton's regulatory approval in India approaches, the Coalition, using data from government institutions, highlighted that the hype around Bt cotton as revolutionizing the cotton production in India is clearly wrong.
Closer examination of the data from the last 10 years negates the two important claims of dramatic yield increase and significant fall in pesticide usage. The report clearly exposes the dark side of the Bt cotton story – stagnant yields, pest resistance, new pest and disease attacks, the need for high levels of expensive farm inputs and the spate of tragic farmer suicides in the cotton belt.
In the face of aggressive PR campaign by the biotechnology industry which is being uncritically accepted by the government and regulators, the Coalition said, "This is a wake-up call for the Government, Parliamentarians, policy-makers, farmer organizations and media to closely examine the crisis in the cotton belt and critically re-assess the 10 years of Bt cotton. The government should stop promoting Bt cotton and pro-actively advise farmers about its unsuitability and risks."
The cotton farmers are in deep crisis after ten years of Bt cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers. The extensive crop failure has exposed the false hype and advertising, often repeated by policymakers and regulators. In Andhra Pradesh, state government estimates show that out of 47 lakh acres planted with Bt cotton during Kharif 2011 season, the crop failed in 33.73 lakh acres (71% of the area). The state government reported that 20.46 lakh farmers suffered from cotton crop failure and lost Rs.3071.6 cr. In Maharasthra, the cotton crisis forced the government to take the unprecedented step of declaring Rs. 2000 cr. as compensation (the estimated loss is Rs.10,000 cr.). The cotton production estimates had to be downgraded despite the large expansion in cotton cultivation area.
Presenting some of the analysis, Kiran Vissa, co-convener of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) said, "The real yield gains in the past decade (from 278 kg/ha to 470 kg/ha) happened from 2000-01 to 2004-05, i.e. when Bt cotton area reached only 5.6% of the total cotton area. From 2005-06 to 2011-12, when the Bt cotton area grew to exceed 90% of the total cotton area, there is no sustained yield gain – only going from 470 kg/ha to 481 kg/ha. It is the pre-Bt cotton yield gains that have proved to be stable, resulting from various factors including fresh land brought under cotton cultivation, expansion of irrigation and use of high-yielding hybrids." The report also refers to the statement of Dr. K.R. Kranthi, Director of Central Institute for Cotton Research(CICR), "The main issue that worries stakeholders is the stagnation of productivity at an average of 500 kg lint per ha for the past seven years. The gains have been stagnant and unaffected by the increase in area of Bt cotton from 5.6% in 2004 to 85% in 2010."
Regarding pest protection, scientific studies and the company statements show that the target pest bollworm has developed tolerance to Bt cotton, whereas secondary pests like mealy bugs and whiteflies which were hitherto unseen are causing major damage. At the farmer level, pesticide spraying quickly went back to pre-Bt levels after the first three years. Data from Directorate of Plant Protection for six major cotton-growing states shows that in Maharashtra with the largest Bt cotton cultivation area, there has been a steep increase in pesticide volume (3198 MT in 2005-06 to 4639 MT in 2009-10) whereas in four other states (Gujarat, M.P., Punjab, Karnataka) there is a marginal increase. The only decline is in A.P., possibly due to the successful campaign against pesticide use by the government’s Non-Pesticidal Management (NPM) program. At the national level, even in the peak expansion years of Bt cotton, the pesticide usage increased by 10%. This is despite the heavy increase in use of more powerful low-volume pesticides during the same period, which should have reduced the total volumes. This shows that Bt technology is a false solution to the pesticide problem – the NPM methods which eliminate pesticide usage completely have been successfully demonstrated in states like A.P. in large-scale government programs while the Bt technology with all its risks, at best reduces pesticide usage temporarily for a given target pest.
Official information shows that Bt cotton requires more inputs in terms of fertilizers and irrigation, and is particularly susceptible to rainfall shortage at peak bolling period. The costs of cultivation have gone up significantly after the introduction of Bt cotton, leading to increased risk and debt for small farmers. The Coalition’s report also criticizes the false and unethical advertising by the companies like Mahyco-Monsanto whose advertisements were pulled up by Advertising Standards Council of India, earlier this year.
NOTE: The new report is here:
More at the link
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-_18y9F0sPOI/TdIEc4UA1GI/AAAAAAAABEA/xp8fIIcCwNU/s1600/BT-Cotton-CIRAD.jpg10 years of Bt Cotton – False Hype and Failed Promises Exposed Coalition for a... more
EXTRACT: The State Council has released the draft proposal of a grain law that establishes legislation restricting research, field trials, production, sale, import and export of genetically engineered grain seeds. The draft stipulates that no organization or person can employ GE technology in any major food product in China.
China drafts legal proposal to completely shut down GE rice
Greenpeace, 22 February 2012
We're ecstatic to announce a new legal initiative in China that's set to keep GE away from the country's staple food.
"This is actually a world-first initiative that deals with GE food legislation at state law level," said Fang Lifeng, the Food and Agriculture campaigner of Greenpeace.
The State Council has released the draft proposal of a grain law that establishes legislation restricting research, field trials, production, sale, import and export of genetically engineered grain seeds. The draft stipulates that no organization or person can employ GE technology in any major food product in China.
"There are currently too many loopholes and weak control over GE food and technology in China. This law needs to clarify what 'relevant laws and regulations' can be applied to regulate GE crops. We urge legislators to accelerate the legislation of Genetically Engineered Organisms Bio-safety Law, and also to enhance the supervision of GE food and other products. Otherwise, this law will only be lip service," Fang said.
According to a Greenpeace investigation, over the last 20 years investment on GE technology has been 30 times that on ecological agriculture. "This is a big obstacle for the development of modern sustainable agriculture in China", Fang continued, "China's money must be spent on supporting food that is safe for human consumption and the production of which has taken into account environmental impacts. And GE technology has clearly failed to do either."
"No country should go down the path of GE crop commercialization. Instead every country should reduce the financial support on GE technology and put more investment on agricultural technology that has proved to be safe and effective. This includes ecological agriculture, green technology to control pests and disease, molecular marker-assisted selection, etc."
The announcement comes after a highly successful seven year slog from Greenpeace campaigners to keep GE rice out of the country's food market.
http://www.greenpeace.org/eastasia/specials/gpm01/EXTRACT: The State Council has released the draft proposal of a grain law that... more
In 2007, the nonprofit Solar Electric Light Fund began helping women’s collectives in the west African nation of Benin water their vegetable gardens using solar power. The system they used was simple enough: solar-powered water pumps, paired with drip irrigation. Each of these two technologies have been shown to improve the lives of people living in poverty, off the grid. But few people had ever tried combining them.
“Neither of them were particularly innovative in their own right, but bringing them together truly was,” says Bob Freling, SELF’s executive director. “I found precious few examples of solar drip irrigation. Frankly, it was puzzling, because it seemed like a perfect fit.”
This technological innovation means the women’s collectives can keep producing crops during the region’s six-month dry season, provide greater food security to their families, and start thinking about sending their kids to school. It also could help communities survive and adapt to climate change. The project is now expanding: At least eight more villages in Benin will start using the solar irrigation systems.
Drip irrigation delivers water directly to plant roots, increasing crop yields and using 40 to 80 percent less water than traditional irrigation systems. It’s particularly well suited for dry places, like the semi-arid Sahel region of which Benin is part. But it also requires power inputs, which can be hard to come by in off-the-grid communities. When SELF began working on the project, one of the pioneers of drip irrigation, Dov Pasternak, was working to spread the irrigation technology across west Africa. Pasternak had designed a vegetable garden that used diesel generators to pump water into the irrigation system, but Freling says “That was going to be a non-starter for us.”
Although Pasternak was skeptical of the affordability and longevity of solar systems, he agreed to work with SELF, and soon, Freling says, became "a die-hard believer in solar." The system installed in the pilot villages pumps water into a holding tank from a surface stream in one and from an underground source in the other. Gravity pulls the water to the plants, a mix of vegetables like tomatoes, carrots, okra, and cabbage. Because it’s powered by the sun, the system self-regulates: more water goes to the plants when it’s sunny, which is when they’re most thirsty.
Since the beginning of the pilot program, SELF has worked with researchers at Stanford’s Center for Food Security and the Environment to monitor the impacts of the program on the communities using the irrigation systems. The women involved the project document their plantings, their haul from the gardens, the portion they feed to their families, and the portion they sell. Already, the women report that they’re better able to provide for their families: Women growing vegetables with the technology fed their families 3 to 5 more servings of vegetables each day during the project's first year. The women in the project use the extra income to buy staples for their families, and the community as a whole benefits from the increased availability of vegetables during the dry seasons.
More at the linkIn 2007, the nonprofit Solar Electric Light Fund began helping women’s... more
Agroecology is the science behind sustainable agriculture, from the ground up.
It combines scientific inquiry with place-based knowledge and experimentation, emphasizing technology and innovations that are knowledge-intensive, low cost, ecologically sound and practical. By listening to farmers, and using the most up-to-date science, agroecology provides a modern framework for thinking broadly about agriculture in terms of its four key systems properties: productivity, resilience, equity and sustainability.
At PAN, we document and publicize the contribution of the agroecological sciences to climate-friendly, sustainable development, profile the successes of local organic farmers and provide technical support on alternatives to our campaign partners.
Africa :: The push-pull system (PDF) of ecological pest management is transforming small farms in Africa. It illustrates agroecology's ingenuity, as well as the many economic, food security, health and environmental benefits of this approach.
Kenyan maize farmers have tripled their yields by intercropping maize with plants that repel pests, support natural pest predators and suppress weeds. One of the plants, desmodium, is a nitrogen-fixing legume that is also used as fodder for animals. The inclusion of these plants in the farming system reduces synthetic pesticide use and augments livestock feed, providing families with additional milk and meat for consumption or sale. Additional benefits include reduced run-off and soil erosion, enhanced soil fertility, improved food security and family nutrition, and increased household income. More than 12,000 farmers across eastern Africa have adopted the technology, with another 100,000 expected to do so over the next three years.
More stories at the linkAgroecology is the science behind sustainable agriculture, from the ground up. It... more
If you assume that Bill Gates is so well informed about all his philanthropic targets that you take his word at face value, you would be in good company, but you might be terribly wrong. Organizations well versed in the agricultural issues facing developing nations are saying his annual letter, released last week, is completely mistaken when it asserts that a lack of support for GMO crop development is responsible, in part, for allowing world hunger to endure. We interviewed Heather Pilatic, Ph.D., co-director of the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA), to show us the other, important side of the story.
TakePart: In the introduction to his letter, Bill Gates cites the Green Revolution of the 1960s and '70s, saying scientists created new seed varieties for rice, wheat, and maize, and that this resulted in increased crop yield and a decrease in extreme poverty around the world. Do you agree that this is a model to use moving forward?
Heather Pilatic: The Green Revolution is a story that some people like to tell, but it has little basis in historical fact. Take the Green Revolution’s origins in 1940s Mexico, for instance. It was not really about feeding the world; Mexico was a food exporter at the time. Rather, the aims included stabilizing restive rural populations in our neighbor to the south, and making friends with a government that at the time was selling supplies to the World War II Axis powers and confiscating oil fields held by Standard Oil (a funding source for the Rockefeller Foundation, one of the key architects of the Green Revolution).
We can also learn from India, the Green Revolution’s next stop after Mexico. India embraced the Green Revolution model of chemical-intensive agriculture. Now it is the world’s second biggest rice grower with surplus grain in government warehouses. Yet India has more starving people than sub-Saharan Africa—at more than 200 million, that’s nearly a quarter of its population. History shows that a narrow focus on increasing crop yield through chemical-seed packages reduces neither hunger nor poverty.
So no, we do not agree that the Green Revolution offers a promising model for addressing poverty.
TakePart: Bill Gates is urging that more money be donated to agricultural innovation, including crop GMOs, because "one in seven people will continue living needlessly on the edge of starvation." Of course, this argument worries all of us. Will you explain PANNA's perspective?
Heather Pilatic: We could not agree with Gates more on the first point. Investment in agriculture in the developing world is enormously efficient and more impactful on the ground than investment in just about any other sector. It is also true that more people than ever before are going hungry, needlessly. We have enough food to go around now. We disagree with Gates on two points—one scientific and one political.
First, the science. Most of the rest of the world's experts agree that GMOs are not what the world's poor need to feed themselves. The science simply doesn't bear this claim out. Our staff scientist was a lead author in the most comprehensive analysis of global agriculture ever undertaken, the UN & World Bank's International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (the IAASTD). After four years and with the input of over 400 experts, and reams of evidence, the IAASTD concluded that the developing world's best bet for feeding itself in the 21st century was explicitly not the kind of chemically intensive farming that accompanies GMO seeds. Rather, these experts found that smaller scale, farmer-driven, knowledge-intensive, ecological agriculture is one of the most promising ways forward for the developing world in particular. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has reported that ecological farming can double food production within 10 years. This is the kind of agriculture we should be investing in.
Second, the political—and this cuts two ways. We must finally recognize that hunger is a problem of poverty and access to resources, especially land, not agricultural yield. The solution to world hunger is a political one: stop kicking farmers off their land and dumping product on the world market that puts them out of business; protect farmers’ rights to save and exchange seed; kick the bankers out of food-crop commodities speculation, they're playing roulette with our food system; write fair trade policies; listen to the world's poor, they know what they need...in short, democratize food and farming if you want to address hunger.
Finally, here in the U.S., kick the farm lobby out of Congress and the pesticide industry out of our federal regulatory agencies (EPA & USDA). Together, these two special interests have a chokehold on U.S. farm, aid and trade policy, and dominate our agricultural research agenda in ways that make it possible for a smart man like Bill Gates to believe and prosyletize on behalf of an approach to agriculture that A, the rest of the world knows is defunct; and B, has failed—after 14 years of commercialization and billions of dollars in public research funding—to deliver on a single one of its promises to the public.
More at the linkIf you assume that Bill Gates is so well informed about all his philanthropic targets... more
EXTRACTS: "We have tried to have ever more efficient farming, with fewer people, more machines and a greater dependency on pesticides, fertilisers, GM crops and energy, using 10 kilocalories to produce 1 kilocalorie. But that is only possible if there is cheap oil. The system is basically bankrupt." - Hans Herren, Co-Chair of the IAASTD
Dr Herren was dismissive of the concept of "sustainable intensification", the alternative view of food security with food production at its heart, championed by the UK Government-commissioned Foresight report. He described it as "an excuse to sneak in GMOs and to continue with business as usual".
CropWorld Global 2011: Changing our global approach to farming
Farmers Guardian, 1 September 2011
SOCIETY has gone 'properly wrong' in the way it produces and consumes food, according to Hans Herren.
Dr Herren, a renowned scientist and international development expert, is on a mission to promote what he insists is a better alternative to the current global 'industrial' food production system, which he describes as 'bankrupt'.
He is a leading advocate of agroecology, a holistic farming model based on organic principles, where food is produced by small family farms using green methods which nourish soils for future generations.
"We have tried to have more efficient farming, with fewer people, more machines and a greater dependency on pesticides, fertilisers, GM crops and energy, using 10 kilocalories to produce one kilocalorie. But that is only possible if there is cheap oil," said Dr Herren.
"The system basically is bankrupt, which is why we need to change it to a more modern, advanced system, which will create energy, rather than consume it, and is not dependent on fossil energy, but more on people and better science."
Dr Herren, originally from Switzerland, co-chaired the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology, (IAASTD), a three-year project involving more than 400 experts from across the world.
Its 2008 report called for a radical overhaul of the way the world produces food to 'better serve the poor and hungry'. It demanded a shift away from the 'focus on production alone' and a greater emphasis on methods which conserve natural resources, backed up by trade and subsidy reforms and investment in science, education and training.
Dr Herren described it as 'the mother of all reports on agriculture on a global and human scale', but admitted being disappointed about how little its findings had been implemented globally.
Dr Herren, who spent 27 years in Africa researching pest management and sustainable production, continues to promote agroecology through the US-based Millennium Institute, of which he has been president since 2005.
He said the key to future food security was not to use more inputs to produce more food per hectare, but to rely on techniques backed by 'solid science and agronomy - such as crop rotation with legumes and green manure, a cover crop grown to add nutrients to the soil - 'to enable the land to regenerate'.
But he also claimed it had been shown in experiments and in the field these farming methods can 'double, treble or even quadruple' yields in Africa.
He added: "Agroecology will produce food which is affordable because more people will be working, so they can actually afford it.
"We need to support small-scale and family farms, where more people get employed. We have 1.5 billion people who have no job. We really have to see all this in an inter-linked system."
He refuted the suggestion that, while agroecology may have merits in developing countries, where prevailing yields were relatively low and labour was abundant, it was unrealistic and idealistic to imagine it taking over in developed nations.
Instead, he insisted productivity levels could be maintained in developed countries if agroecology displaced intensive farming.
“It has been shown in the US that organic agriculture actually produces equally good yields as traditional agriculture,” he said. “But when there is drought or a flood, organic produces more as it is more resilient. There is no question we can deliver.”
The catch is that increased crop rotation would require a change in the way food is consumed. “You can’t disassociate consumption from production. In a rotation where you have more legumes someone has to eat those beans.”
He added people in urban-centric nations such as the UK and US would return to the land if agriculture became a ‘better and more rewarding job’ through greater investment, better prices for food and a reappraisal of farmers’ importance. “We need to look up to the farmer and down to the professor,” he said.
Dr Herren blamed the lack of wider support for this model of food security partly on what he claimed was a misconception of what it represented.
“We need to dispel this idea that agroecology is a back-breaking, low-yielding process and that we want to go back to grandfather’s agriculture. Actually, agroecology has a lot of science in it and a lot of knowledge,” he said.EXTRACTS: "We have tried to have ever more efficient farming, with fewer people,... more
Climatewire recently ran a rather tedious article rehashing Monsanto’s familiar talking points, on the occasion of a media conference put on by the GMO seed/agrichemical giant. Here's a sample:
The company's pipeline is teeming with seeds aimed to protect farmers from losses due to pests, heat, drought and nutrient deficiencies. Nitrogen-efficient corn is expected in the next three to 10 years, as are high-yielding soybeans.
These Wonder Seeds of the Future are vital, the company insists, because (as the Climatewire reporter puts it) "The world will need to double its crop output to satisfy 9 billion people on just a sliver more of available land." According to its marketing pitch, Monsanto will solve that problem by conjuring up seeds that allow farmers to "produce more, conserve more, [and] improve lives."
While contemplating the Cilmatewire piece—which was, to be fair, balanced by withering analysis from Union of Concerned of Scientists' Doug Gurian-Sherman—I got to to thinking about a Guardian article I read a while back on how people are scraping by in the Gaza Strip under the twin hardships of occupation and blockade.
Under siege from Israel, Palestinian farmers in Gaza have limited land, little access to water, and face ruinously high fertilizer costs (when they can get fertilizer at all): In other words, the very conditions Monsanto claims its seeds will save the world from. But these farmers don't have access to the wonder seeds, partly because they don't exist yet (Gurian-Sherman is skeptical that they ever will); and partly because Palestinian farmers don't have the resources to buy pricey patented seeds anyway. (How farmers resource-strapped farmers are ever supposed to afford Monsanto's premium-priced super-seeds—if and when they do come into existence—has never really been explained.)
So what are Palestinian farmers doing? According to The Guardian, they're turning to a technology that has been proven to conserve water, recycle crop nutrients, and generate robust yields: diversified organic agriculture. The newspaper quotes an official from the UN's Gaza emergency food program:
In so many other places, this is terribly trendy and green. But in Gaza the resource scarcity is so bad this is actually becoming a necessity.
Where organic ag has taken root, The Guardian reports, food security has been bolstered and dependence on food aid for survival has decreased. The UN is pushing organic ag as a response to resource scarcity, and last year Hamas government rolled out a a 10-year strategy "aimed at skirting the blockade and developing sustainable agriculture," The Guardian reports.
Already, concrete steps are being made. According to The Guardian, Palestinian farmers are barred by the blockade from buying synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, which could be used to make explosives. All they have access from the import market is "fertilisers made from Israeli waste water run-off," which is expensive—$200 per metric ton—and of "uncertain safety." But a local initiative called Palestinian Environmental Friends (PEF) is generating a homegrown fertilizer from manure and crop waste collected from local farms. It costs just $100 per metric ton to make, and profits from it stay within Gaza.
Farms are also solving the fertilizer problem by setting up closed-loop aquaculture/crop systems that recycle nutrients and generate bounties of food:
In a rural area of the central Gaza Strip, Eyad Najjar plucks organic carrots from the sandy soil of his tiny farm. Najjar no longer uses fertilisers or pesticides for his plot, which also grows tomatoes, parsley, rocket, lettuce and spinach. Instead, a fishpond on the field's far edge delivers water rich in nutrients via drip irrigation.
Smiling, Najjar squeezes an almost-ripe fruit hanging from the branch of a lemon tree. "The onions and lemons are bigger and better," he says.
More at the linkClimatewire recently ran a rather tedious article rehashing Monsanto’s familiar... more
One of the experts set to testify at Wednesday’s long-awaited meeting about the county’s policy for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on open space says scientists are seeing new, alarming patterns in plants and animals due to increased use of the herbicide Roundup.
Michael McNeill is an agronomist who owns Ag Advisory Ltd. in Algona, Iowa. He received his Ph.D. in quantitative genetics and plant pathology from Iowa State University in 1969 and has been a crop consultant since 1983. He was among three experts invited by county officials to testify at the Aug. 10 meeting of the Cropland Policy Advisory Group (CPAG).
CPAG, which has been meeting since February, serves as a sounding board for the county’s parks and open space staff as they develop a new cropland policy on matters like what may be grown on county land. The group has only touched briefly on the hot-button GMO issue in its past meetings; the Aug. 10 meeting was devoted entirely to the subject.
McNeill told Boulder Weekly before the meeting that he and his colleagues in the industry are seeing serious, negative effects produced by the use of glyphosate, which is the primary ingredient in Roundup weed killer. (Monsanto, the company that makes Roundup, has generated controversy by genetically altering crops to make them resistant to the herbicide.)
McNeill says that in the Midwest and other areas of the country, such as Louisiana and Mississippi, weeds like water hemp, giant ragweed, lamb’s quarter and velvet weed have become Roundup resistant through natural selection, due to a particular genetic mutation that survived the poison and therefore reproduced successfully and wildly.
The problem is, farmers’ natural reaction has been to simply apply more Roundup to their crops, which is having deleterious impacts, McNeill says.
“Used judiciously, it can be a useful product, but as with anything, if you abuse it, it can have negative effects,” he says.
McNeill explains that glyphosate is a chelating agent, which means it clamps onto molecules that are valuable to a plant, like iron, calcium, manganese and zinc.
“When you spray glyphosate on a plant, it’s like giving it AIDS,” he says.
The farmers’ increased use of Roundup is actually harming their crops, according to McNeill, because it is killing micronutrients in the soil that they need, a development that has been documented in several scientific papers by the nation’s leading experts in the field. For example, he says, harmful fungi and parasites like fusarium, phytopthora and pythium are on the rise as a result of the poison, while beneficial fungi and other organisms that help plants reduce minerals to a usable state are on the decline.
He explains that the overuse of glyphosate means that oxidizing agents are on the rise, creating oxides that plants can’t use, leading to lower yields and higher susceptibility to disease.
McNeill acknowledges that Monsanto could simply find a new chemical that kills the newly resistant weeds, but the weeds will simply find a way around it again.
“It’s mother nature’s plant breeding program,” he says. “It’s very widespread, and it’s a serious problem.”
McNeill says the situation is causing “sudden death syndrome” in soybeans, which means they are dying at increased rates when they go into their reproductive phase. He adds that corn is showing a higher incidence of Goss’s wilt, which has been a problem in Colorado since the early 1970s, and studies show that glyphosate causes a rise in both diseases.
And the problems are not limited to plants, it’s extending to the animals that eat them, according to McNeill.
He says he and his colleagues are seeing a higher incidence of infertility and early-term abortion in cattle and hogs that are fed on GMO crops. He adds that poultry fed on the suspect crops have been exhibiting reduced fertility rates.
McNeill, who works with universities, the federal government and private companies, says his advice to his farmer clients is to rotate chemicals — or don’t use them at all. While it is more labor-intensive, organic farmers usually cut their weeds as an alternative to herbicides. He says he consults for about 160,000 acres of conventional farmland and 5,000 to 6,000 acres of organically farmed land.
“My clients are my farmers, and I want what’s best for them,” he says. “And my clients are the consumers who consume the farmers products, and I want what’s best for them.”
McNeill compares the Roundup situation to the way science eventually caught up to another poison: Just as DDT was initially hailed as a miracle pesticide and later banned, researchers are beginning to discover serious problems with glyphosate.
More at the linkOne of the experts set to testify at Wednesday’s long-awaited meeting about the... more
Farmers Markets Could Generate Tens of Thousands of New Jobs with Modest Federal Support, New Report FindsThey’re Growing Nationally, but Federal Policies Favoring Industrial Agriculture Hold Them Back
Over the last several decades, thousands of farmers markets have been popping up in cities and towns across the country, benefiting local farmers, consumers and economies, but they could be doing a lot better, according to a report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). What’s holding farmers markets back? Federal policies that favor industrial agriculture at their expense.
“On the whole, farmers markets have seen exceptional growth, providing local communities with fresh food direct from the farm,” said Jeffrey O’Hara, the author of the report and an economist with UCS’s Food and Environment Program. “But our federal food policies are working against them. If the U.S. government diverted just a small amount of the massive subsidies it lavishes on industrial agriculture to support these markets and small local farmers, it would not only improve American diets, it would generate tens of thousands of new jobs.”
UCS released the report just a few days before the 12th annual U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Farmers Market Week, which starts on Sunday, August 7. According to the report, “Market Forces: Creating Jobs through Public Investment in Local and Regional Food Systems,” the number of farmers markets nationwide more than doubled between 2000 and 2010 jumping from 2,863 to 6,132, and now more than 100,000 farms sell food directly to local consumers.
All that growth happened with relatively little help. Last year, for example, the USDA spent $13.725 billion in commodity, crop insurance, and supplemental disaster assistance payments mostly to support large industrial farms, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The amount the agency spent that year to support local and regional food system farmers? Less than $100 million, according to USDA data.
In 2007, the most recent USDA figure, direct agricultural product sales amounted to a $1.2 billion-a-year business, and most of that money recirculates locally. “The fact that farmers are selling directly to the people who live nearby means that sales revenue stays local,” O’Hara said. “That helps stabilize local economies.”
Keeping revenues local also can mean more job opportunities. Last summer, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asked Congress to set a goal in the 2012 Farm Bill of helping at least 100,000 Americans to become farmers by, among other things, providing entrepreneurial training and support for farmers markets. O’Hara’s report takes up Vilsack’s challenge and argues that supporting local and regional food system expansion is central to meeting that goal.
In the report, O’Hara identified a number of initiatives the federal government could take to encourage new farmers and the growth of farmers markets in the upcoming Farm Bill. For example, the report called on Congress to:
•support the development of local food markets, including farmers markets and farm-to-school programs, which can stabilize community-supported markets and create permanent jobs. For example, the report found that the Farmers Market Promotion Program could create as many as 13,500 jobs nationally over a five-year period, if reauthorized, by providing modest funding for 100 to 500 farmers markets per year.
•level the playing field for farmers in rural regions by investing in infrastructure, such as meat-processing or dairy-bottling facilities, which would help meat, dairy and other farmers produce and market their products to consumers more efficiently. These investments could foster competition in food markets, increase product choice for consumers, and generate jobs in the community.
•allow low-income residents to redeem food nutrition subsidies at local food markets to help them afford fresh fruits and vegetables. Currently, not all markets are able to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
“Farmers at local markets are a new variety of innovative entrepreneurs, and we need to nurture them,” said O’Hara. “Supporting these farmers should be a Farm Bill priority.”
More at the link.They’re Growing Nationally, but Federal Policies Favoring Industrial Agriculture... more
A group of leading scientists, economists and farmers is calling for a broad shift in federal policies to speed the development of farm practices that are more economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable.
Writing in the journal Science, they say current policies focus on the production of a few crops and a minority of farmers while failing to address farming’s contribution to global warming, biodiversity loss, natural resource degradation, and public health problems.
“We have the technology and the science right now to grow food in sustainable ways, but we lack the policies and markets to make it happen,” says John Reganold, a Washington State University soil scientist and the Science paper’s lead author.
Starting in the late 1980s, Reganold pioneered several widely cited side-by-side comparisons showing organic farming systems were more earth-friendly than conventional systems while producing more nutritious and sometimes tastier food. His Science co-authors include more than a dozen other leading soil, plant, and animal scientists, economists, sociologists, agroecologists and farmers.
The Science paper grows out of several national efforts to address concerns about farming’s impact on the environment, including the landmark 1989 National Research Council report, Alternative Agriculture, which recommended greater research and education efforts into sustainable farming. All the authors of the Science paper wrote the council’s 2010 update, Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century.
The paper is particularly critical of the Farm Bill, which is slated for renewal next year. While only one-third of farmers receive payments under the bill, it has an outsized influence on production. It does little to promote sustainability, write the authors, while “distorting market incentives and making our food system overly dependent on a few grain crops mainly used for animal feed and highly processed food, with deleterious effects on the environment and human health.” Environmental impacts, says Reganold, include overdrawn aquifers, eroded soil and polluted water.
Meanwhile, he says, agricultural research and the field of “agroecology,” which adapts the principles of nature to farming systems, are finding new ways to grow abundant and affordable food while protecting the environment, helping farm finances, and contributing to the well-being of farmers, farm workers and rural communities.
cont.A group of leading scientists, economists and farmers is calling for a broad shift in... more
Despite fundamental differences in what they represent, there are occasional calls to allow the use of genetic engineering (which produces genetically modified organisms, known as GMOs) within the USDA National Organic Program. GMO varieties are currently most widespread in corn, soybean, canola and cotton crops, in dairy production, and in minor ingredients, such as dairy cultures, used in food processing, but new products are being introduced and commercialized.
Here are 10 essential points that I believe show why GMOs are incompatible with organic production:
1. Basic science. Humans have a complex digestive system, populated with flora, fauna, and enzymes that have evolved over millennia to recognize and break down foods found in nature to make nutrients available to feed the human body. GMO crops and foods are comprised of novel genetic constructs which have never before been part of the human diet and may not be recognized by the intestinal system as digestible food, leading to the possible relationship between genetic engineering and a dramatic increase in food allergies, obesity, diabetes, and other food-related diseases, which have all dramatically increased correlated to the introduction of GMO crops and foods.
2. Ecological impact. Organic agriculture is based on the fundamental principle of building and maintaining healthy soil, aquatic, and terrestrial ecosystems. Since the introduction of GMOs, there has been a dramatic decline in the populations of Monarch butterflies, black swallowtails, lacewings, and caddisflies, and there may be a relationship between genetic engineering and colony collapse in honeybees. GMO crops, including toxic Bt corn residues, have been shown to persist in soils and negatively impact soil ecosystems. Genetically modified rBST (recombinant bovine somatrotropin, injected to enhance a cow’s milk output) has documented negative impacts on the health and well being of dairy cattle, which is a direct contradiction to organic livestock requirements.
3. Control vs harmony. Organic agriculture is based on the establishment of a harmonious relationship with the agricultural ecosystem by farming in harmony with nature. Genetic engineering is based on the exact opposite -- an attempt to control nature at its most intimate level - the genetic code, creating organisms that have never previously existed in nature.
4. Unpredictable consequences. Organic ag is based on a precautionary approach - know the ecological and human health consequences, as best possible, before allowing the use of a practice or input in organic production. Since introduction, genetic modification of agricultural crops has been shown to have numerous unpredicted consequences, at the macro level, and at the genetic level. Altered genetic sequences have now been shown to be unstable, producing unpredicted and unknown outcomes.
continuedDespite fundamental differences in what they represent, there are occasional calls to... more
H is for the difference between Myth and Legend. The idea came about from one of my dead end 'thought showering' escapades, looking at the word 'hybrid'. The Chimaera came up, and it's secondary meaning of 'impossibilty' and the rest kind of happened when appropriate alignment to the Lexus philosophy was made. Animated in AE. Other programs: Photoshop and FCPH is for the difference between Myth and Legend. The idea came about from one of my... more
For a technology that has sucked up billions of research dollars and prolonged agriculture's dependence on chemical inputs, GMOs (genetically modified organisms) have yet to justify their role in a world desperate for more sustainable ways to produce healthier food for more people. In a recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists entitled "Failure to Yield," a summary of on-farm production levels of genetically modified crops showed less than marginal gains in actual yield. In fact, the review concluded that "no currently available transgenic varieties enhance the intrinsic yield of any crops."
Let's Put GMO Food on the Shelf
Such findings beg the question: Who needs GMO food anyway? If GMOs are developed to increase yields, then they have failed. If they are marketed to reduce costs for farmers, and the price of GMO corn seed is now three times greater than it was just a few years ago, they have failed yet again. If these seeds are engineered to use less herbicides when, according to recent indications, many weeds are becoming Roundup-resistant, requiring a cocktail of herbicide applications in certain farming areas while crop land is just being abandoned in others, they have most certainly failed!
GMO defenders cite net yield increases per acre due to weed and pest management traits, apparently comparing GMO-chemical regimes with non-GMO-chemical regimes in traditional intensive corn-soy production systems. They don't compare the genetically modified pest-management results with non-chemical systems where organic corn tolerates higher weed populations without yield loss, and where insect damage becomes insignificant in most years once basic crop rotations are established and soil health improves. It seems GMO defenders have failed to take the varying approaches of these two systems into account, which leaves us with only a chapter of the whole story.
GMO Food Just Doesn't Make Sense
Despite the failures of GMOs, it is clear that their developers have not failed at making huge profits in a system where farmers are forced to market on volume, and have no market rewards for nutritional quality or penalties for ecological impact.
So what have consumers gained? Perhaps the answer is unclear. But I do know why we in the organic movement are so dead against GMO food. The answer is pretty simple: Genetically engineered seeds just don't make sense. Here's why:
• How can a seed variety that is costly to patent (and legally can't be saved for replanting) help poor farmers around the world?
• How can a seed that needs increased levels of toxins to control weeds be the safest option, ecologically or from a human standpoint?
• How can a seed that is artificially injected with foreign proteins be harmless to eat?
GMO Food and Human Health: The Hidden Consequences
Whether genetically modified foods are safe for human consumption will remain a controversial issue. Yet some scientists who have been quieted or marginalized have found serious concerns about the safety of GMOs in laboratory animal studies. In many investigations involving GMO-fed animals, there have been cases of underdeveloped organs, reproductive problems, accelerated aging and even death.
As the four As (allergies, asthma, autism, and ADD) rapidly increase in U.S. health statistics, we must consider that GMOs could certainly be one of the causes. As a matter of fact, in a recent position paper by the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, physicians across the country called for a moratorium on GMO foods because "there is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects."For a technology that has sucked up billions of research dollars and prolonged... more
And the winner is: organic.