House of Cards
I am not Catholic. I am pissed off. I am giving up Monsanto for Lent.
This is Day 13.
You’ve heard the argument: Earth’s human population will grow to 9 billion by 2050. GM crops are necessary to feed the world.
Fear not. Monsanto is here to save the day.
According to their website: “Monsanto is one of the world’s leading companies focused on sustainable agriculture. We discover and deliver innovative products that support the farmers who feed, fuel and clothe our world.”
If GM crops are so wonderful, why was U.S. fertilizer use five times higher in 2007 than in 1960 (look at the “rate per fertilized acre” data), while crop yields increased by only 50%?
If GM crops are so wonderful, why did Monsanto recently admit that its Bt cotton resulted not in improved yield, but in resistant bollworms in India? (Click that link! I especially enjoyed the part about how Monsanto blamed the failure on the farmers, then proceeded to direct them to deal with the problem by applying more pesticides.)
I hope the farmers can afford those pesticides. Small farmers in many developing countries certainly can’t.
Just as in the so-called Green Revolution of the 1940’s through the 1960’s, attempts to force Big Ag-style monocultures on poor farmers results in overplowing and higher irrigation requirements, leading to loss of topsoil, leading to the need for more chemical fertilizers to keep crops growing in the absence of naturally rich soil, leading to a damaged ecosystem more susceptable to pests, leading to the need for more chemical pesticides to keep crops growing, leading to farmers who can no longer afford to farm, leading to even more overcrowded and underfed third-world cities.
And don’t forget that Monsanto won’t let farmers save their own seed. They have to buy it every year.
Who are we feeding now? The World…or Monsanto?
Furthermore, Big Ag-style monocropping is hardly what you’d call “environmentally friendly.” According to the U.N. Environment Program:
“Convententional/industrial agriculture is energy- and input-intensive. Its high productivity relies on the extensive use of petrochemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, fuel, water, and continuous new investment (e.g. in advanced seed varieties and machinery).” ~ Agriculture: Investing in Natural Capital, March 2011
Fortunately, organic polyculture is demonstrably capable of increasing yields — without destroying the environment, creating resistant weeds and pests, or forcing third-world farmers out of business.
In fact, as Mark Bittman recently pointed out in the Times, “Agro-ecology and related methods are going to require resources too, but they’re more in the form of labor, both intellecutal…and physical: the world will need more farmers, and quite possibly less mechanization.”
A 2008 paper from the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development and the U.N. Environment Program put it this way:
“Organic agriculture can increase agricultural productivity and can raise incomes with low-cost, locally available and appropriate technologies, without causing environmental damage. Furthermore, evidence shows that organic agriculture can build up natural resources, strengthen communities and improve human capacity, thus improving food security by addressing many different causal factors simultaneously … Organic and near-organic agricultural methods and technologies are ideally suited for many poor, marginalized smallholder farmers in Africa, as they require minimal or no external inputs, use locally and naturally available materials to produce high-quality products, and encourage a whole systemic approach to farming that is more diverse and resistant to stress.”
It boils down to this:
A food system built on dwindling natural resources, even if it “feeds the world” for now, will eventually starve us all.
A food system that replaces the natural resilience of biodiversity with monocropping, even if it “feeds the world” for now, will eventually starve us all.
A food system that takes the next generation of seed out of farmers’ hands, and fills those hands instead with unaffordable chemicals, can’t “feed the world” now, let alone later. It will starve us all.
Debunking the Stubborn Myth that Only Industrial Ag Can ‘Feed the World,’ Tom Philpott, Grist, March 2011
Agro-ecology and the Right to Food, U.N. report, March 2011
Botonist Sue Edwards’ conclusions from her work in Ethiopia.
Read all posts in the Monsanto Project Series.