(Beyond Pesticides, August 21, 2008) As the debate over how to solve the global food crisis heats up, experts criticize many in the mainstream media for promoting pesticides and genetically engineered seeds as solutions to global hunger. In a recent critique, Francis Moore Lappe, author of the famous book Diet for a Small Planet and co-founder of Food First and the Small Planet Institute, says the media, in this case NPR, are off the mark in identifying the underlying causes of the food crisis and fail to look at the hopeful stories of farming communities that are succeeding with agro-ecological methods.
Ms. Lappe writes, “On every continent one can find empowered rural communities developing GM-free, agro-ecological farming systems. They’re succeeding: the largest overview study, looking at farmers transitioning to sustainable practices in 57 countries, involving almost 13 million small farmers on almost 100 million acres, found after four years that average yields were up 79 percent.” As an example, she points to what may be the “pesticide capital of the world,” Andhra Pradesh, India,where “pests developed insecticide resistance and genetically modified (GM) cotton failed to live up to Monsanto’s promises.” After significant crop losses and farmer suicides there, many communities rejected Monsanto’s seeds and chemicals and adopted farming methods relying on agro-ecological approaches and have since enjoyed increased incomes and health.
Ms. Lappe’s argument that the answer to the food crisis lies largely in the adoption of community-based agro-ecological farming methods echoes the assessment of over 400 scientists and experts in agriculture from around the world who convened earlier this year for the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) (see Daily News of June 5, 2008). Some described this report as the agricultural version of the International Framework Convention on Climate Change, the now famous treaty on global climate change. Yet the findings of the IAASTD rarely make it into the media when discussing the global food crisis.
Recently, Prince Charles’ outspoken stance against genetic engineering has reinvigorated the debate about the pros and cons of genetically engineered seeds. For all the value in having this discussion, it is paramount not to overshadow what should be the focus of attention -the promising future of agro-ecological and organic farming in addressing the food needs of the world while protecting public health and the environment.
Beyond Pesticides encourages sound organic practices as a viable, healthy alternative to agriculture that relies heavily on chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and as a valuable tool to slow climate change.