The Great World Agriculture Debate

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Puerto Rican journalist Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero directs the Puerto Rico Project on Biosafety. He is also a Research Associate of the Institute for Social Ecology, a fellow of the Environmental Leadership Program, and a senior fellow of the Society of Environmental Journalists. He writes specially for the Fife Diet ahead of our Food Revolt gathering in Kinghorn on 12 November.

Agriculture is humankind’s most important activity. According to some estimates, some 70% of the water our species uses goes to crops and farm animals, and agriculture takes up more space than any other human activity- just look at Google images of the Earth’s surface. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), agriculture employs at least half of the world’s workforce, which makes it evident that no economic sector will ever create as many jobs as farming does. Agriculture therefore must be at the very center of any project for revolutionary social change.

Farming is, as a matter of fact, a central factor in climate change. According to the non-governmental organization GRAIN, winner of the 2011 Right Livelihood Prize:

“The model of industrial agriculture that supplies the global food system essentially functions by converting oil into food, producing tremendous amounts of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the process. The use of huge amounts of chemical fertilisers, the expansion of the industrial meat industry, and the ploughing under of the world’s savannahs and forests to grow agricultural commodities are together responsible for at least 30 per cent of the global GHG emissions that cause climate change.

Turning foodstuffs into global industrial commodities entails also a huge loss of fossil energy by transporting them all over the world, processing, storing, freezing and taking them to where they are consumed. All these processes contribute to the climate account. By adding them we see that the current food system could be responsible for close to one half of all greenhouse gas emissions.” (1)

According to “Cocinando el Planeta” (Cooking the Planet), an 82-page document jointly authored by various organizations, including GRAIN, Entrepueblos and Veterinarians Sans Frontiers:

“When we consider the climate change-food system duo, in general we think in terms of transport or, sometime, of deforestation associated with ranching. But the truth is that few times we become aware that the management of farm lands, the use of synthetic fertilizer, the manufacture of industrial feed, and the destruction of local food markets constitute the central nucleus of global greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time food processing and distribution industries- which include transport, packaging, refrigeration and commercialization- are also big emitters. It is estimated that the food and agriculture system generates up to 50% of these emissions. The current industrial model of food production and consumption is a major consumer of energy, which contributes significantly to global warming, as well as deepening the destruction of the environment and rural communities.” (2)

The green revolution is at the very center of the problems of agriculture in the 20th and 21st centuries. In brief, the green revolution was the export of the American-style industrial and mechanized model of agriculture to the third world. This process, which took place throughout the cold war, was directed and funded by the Rockefeller and Ford foundations, the World Bank, the United States government, and United Nations agencies. According to Helena Paul et al: “The Green Revolution was a transformation of agriculture practice developed for the South by scientists, governments and donor agencies from the North. Essentially it involved the development of varieties of certain major crops- such as wheat, rice and maize- that would, in response to higher inputs, produce higher yields” (3). The green revolution was one of the single largest non-military undertakings of the twentieth century. In terms of massive use of human resources, first-rate scientific expertise and public funding, it was comparable to the Manhattan Project and the Apollo space program.

This agricultural revolution began in Mexico in the 1940’s with the Rockefeller Foundation’s Mexican Agricultural Program (MAP). The MAP’s origins can be traced to a road trip taken by a remarkable American from the US to Mexico City in late 1940. His name was Henry A. Wallace, at that moment the vice president elect of the United States, and one of the most important forefathers of the green revolution and industrial agriculture. His life and career are an outstanding example of the idealism, contradictions and conflicting agendas behind the green revolution. Wallace was the scion of a powerful and wealthy Iowa agribusiness dynasty. A descendant of Irish immigrant farmers, his grandfather was founder of the influential Wallace’s Farmer agricultural journal, and his father, Henry C. Wallace, was US secretary of agriculture during the 1920’s.

 

Prior to entering politics, Henry A. was the first private businessman to commercialize hybrid corn seed and founded the Pioneer Hi-Bred corporation, which in the following decades became one of the world’s premiere seed companies and an undisputed world leader in corn breeding and genetics. In 1999 Dupont bought Pioneer through what was then the largest initial public offering of shares in history. With this purchase, Dupont became the world`s largest seed company until it was surpassed by Monsanto in 2005. Both Monsanto and Dupont belong to a small handful of companies that control the field of genetically engineered seeds.

By the 1930’s Wallace was one of the leading progressives in the US. It must be understood that the term “progressive” in the United States had a different meaning from the rest of the world. The American progressive movement, which started in the late 19th century and reached its fullness halfway through the 20th , made plenty of common cause with the communist and socialist movements of its time. But unlike the communists and socialists, the progressives came not from the working class or organized labor, but from the middle class. The progressives did not seek revolution or to abolish capitalism; rather, they believed that all social classes had a common interest in clean politics, transparency and accountability in public service, and in stamping out corruption, cronyism and inefficiency in government. The progressive movement was the most important reform movement in US political history. Many fixtures of contemporary American politics, like public utilities, regulatory agencies and foundation-funded activism, are the legacy of progressives. Most importantly, they pioneered the interest group politics that gave birth to the non-governmental organization (NGO) as we know it today.

 

Upon being elected US president in 1932, F. D. Roosevelt made Wallace his secretary of agriculture. According to none other than John Kenneth Galbraith, one of the two or three most important economists of the twentieth century, Wallace was the number two man in Roosevelt’s ambitious New Deal (http://newdeal.feri.org/wallace/essay.htm).

 

In the words of historian Arthur Schlesinger:

 

“Wallace was a great secretary of agriculture. In 1933 a quarter of the American people still lived on farms, and agricultural policy was a matter of high political and economic significance… For the urban poor, he provided food stamps and school lunches. He instituted programs for land-use planning, soil conservation and erosion control. And always he promoted research to combat plant and animal diseases, to locate drought-resistant crops and to develop hybrid seeds in order to increase productivity.”

(http://www.cooperativeindividualism.org/schlesinger_wallace_bio.html)

 

Quoting historian David Woolner:

“Wallace championed a whole host of New Deal programs, such as the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, the Rural Electrification Administration, the Soil Conservation Service, the Farm Credit Administration, the food stamp and school lunch programs, and many others. In the process, he also transformed the Department of Agriculture into one of the largest and most powerful entities in Washington… Wallace also greatly expanded the Department of Agriculture’s scientific programs, rendering the department’s research center at Beltsville, Maryland the largest and most varied scientific agricultural station in the world.” (http://newdeal.feri.org/wallace/essay.htm)

(That research center is now named the Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center.)

Wallace’s road trip to Mexico was of historical importance for several reasons and must be seen in several geopolitical contexts.

Context #1. Wallace was on his way to attend the inauguration of president Manuel Avila-Camacho. The US and Mexico had been at war with each other a century earlier, and in that war the US had taken almost half of Mexico’s territory. Anti-US sentiment was still palpable, but it was hoped that Wallace’s visit- the first time a US government representative attended a presidential inauguration in Mexico- would signal the dawn of a new era in US-Mexico relations.

Context #2. Avila-Camacho was succeeding Lázaro Cárdenas, one of the most important and esteemed political figures in Mexican history, and one of the top political leaders of Latin America in the 20th century. Mexico’s ruling classes and US corporations had little love for him. He redistributed lands to the poor in one of the most important and thorough land reforms in the 20th century, over the outrage and protest of agribusiness and wealthy landlords. Cárdenas also nationalized oil, to the chagrin and terror of the Rockefellers’ Standard Oil company. Big business interests both in the US and Mexico hoped to see the new president swing the ideological pendulum in the opposite direction, towards more pro-US and business-friendly policies.

Context #3. World War Two had started. Although at that time the US had not entered the conflict, the Roosevelt administration foresaw a real possibility of open war with Germany- for the second time in little over twenty years- in the near future. Latin America, from Mexico to South America’s southernmost tip, was home to countless German, Italian, Hungarian and Austrian immigrants- and/or their descendants- and doubtless not few of them had pro-Axis sympathies. Furthermore, Germany had a substantial diplomatic and business presence in Latin America and the Caribbean. Washington strategists therefore saw a need to win over the intelligentsia, political classes and business elites of this region to the Allied side. Wallace’s timely trip to Mexico was certainly a step in that direction.

To coordinate its multifaceted anti-Nazi efforts, president Roosevelt created the Office of Interamerican Affairs (OIAA) in 1941, headed by the young Nelson Rockefeller, whose subsequent career would involve him, both directly and indirectly, with US covert operations, especially in Latin America. In the 1970’s he reached the zenith of his political career as vice president of the US. In that capacity, Nelson ironically led a commission to investigate abuses by US intelligence agencies. The OIAA’s anti-Nazi activities became the template for anti-leftist operations later on in the cold war, and very probably provided inspiration for president Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress.

Context #4. Being a farmer and a plant scientist, Wallace made numerous stops along his route to meet Mexican farmers, campesinos as well as agribusinessmen, in order to learn all he could about Mexico’s agriculture and its problems.

“Wallace drove his own Plymouth around Mexico… The Mexican people loved it. Wallace was the first official U.S. representative to attend a Mexican inauguration, yet he insisted on traveng among the ordinary people. Soon, thousands of people were waiting in villages to see him. He visited both subsistence and industrial farms, agricultural experiment stations and government officials. He was relentless in his questions.” (http://www.livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe50s/crops_14.html)

“Wallace’s ability to speak Spanish and his respect for the Mexican people helped to cement the friendship between the two nations, which was particularly important in the face of the coming war. After Camacho’s inauguration, Wallace spent a month traveling around Mexico with Secretary of Agriculture-elect Marte Gomes.” (http://www.winrock.org/wallace/wallacecenter/wallace/bio.asp#anchor4)

Wallace was appalled by what he saw as the backwardness of Mexican peasants:

“He found that it took a typical Mexican farmer at least 200 hours of backbreaking labor to produce each bushel of corn; in his home state of Iowa, it took the typical farmer 10 hours for every bushel of corn. Wallace came back convinced that modern agricultural technology could help Mexico out of poverty and hunger.”

In his view, it was not land reform and small scale family farming what Mexico’s peasantry needed in order to fight hunger and poverty, but the industrialization of agricultural production. “Wallace unabashedly saw gringo know-how as the salvation of Mexico’s rural poor”, according to journalist Bill Weinberg in his book Homage to Chiapas (Verso Books, 2000). “It was Henry A. Wallace, more than any other man, who opened Mexico to the agribusiness model.”

Once installed as vice president in early 1941, Wallace met with Rockefeller Foundation president Raymond Fosdick. “If the Rockefeller Foundation would undertake to help the Mexican people increase the yield per acre of corn and beans”, he told Fosdick. “it would mean more to the future of Mexico than anything else that government or philanthropy could devise.” Thus the Mexican Agricultural Program was born. An all-star team of Rockefeller Foundation scientists was quickly dispatched to the Mexican countryside on a scouting mission. The team’s findings, published in the 1967 book Campaigns Against Hunger, blamed population growth, the redistribution of farm land into small plots by Cardenas’ land reform, and technological backwardness for Mexico`s rural poverty.

The green revolution’s first dissident was actually a scientist that worked for the Rockefeler Foundation. And he spoke up before the MAP even got started. Carl O. Sauer, a University of California geography professor with twenty years’ experience doing field research on Mexican agriculture, was unimpressed with the scouting team’s reports. In the words of Weinberg: “Sauer saw an arrogance in the assumptions of gringo technical superiority- especially given that the US was just recovering from the Dust Bowl agricultural disaster.” Sauer wrote: “A good agressive bunch of American agronomists and plant breeders could ruin the native resources for good and all by pushing their American commercial stocks… The example of Iowa is about the most dangerous of all for Mexico. Unless the Americans understand that, they’d better keep out of Mexico entirely.”

According to historian Bruce Jennings, who chronicled the origins of the green revolution in Mexico in his 1988 book on international agricultural research:

“In concluding his remarks on agriculture, Sauer reminded the officers of the (Rockefeller) Foundation that plants such as maize had a much more varied use in Mexico than was true of the same plant in the United States. As a result of these differences, Sauer cautioned against applying the agricultural sciences to recreate the history of U.S. commercial agriculture in Mexico… in spite of the severity of Sauer’s observations, the Foundation set the stage for the management of science according to the logic of commercial production.” (http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Mexican_Agricultural_Program#Early_Controversy)

Sauer’s criticisms and his recommendations for a more grassroots bottom-up approach were ignored.

At least in the short term, the MAP’s results were nothing short of spectacular. The first harvests of the program’s high-yielding varieties of wheat and corn broke records, and students and scholars from all over Latin America came to Mexico to study its novel breeding techniques and its “science-based” approach to productivity.

The Program’s first director was J. George “Dutch” Harrar, who went on to succeed Dean Rusk as president of the Rockefeller Foundation. According to historian and journalist Mark Dowie: “If anyone deserves the title Father of Industrial Agriculture, it is Harrar.” But the MAP’s leading personality was undoubtedly the charismatic and energetic scientist Norman Borlaug, who in the coming years would become the most visible face of the green revolution. Borlaug, an Iowan like Wallace, won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his plant breeding work. He was the green revolution’s number one PR spokesman, he traveled the world preaching the virtues of “scientific” agriculture and soliciting the support of governments all over the world until his death in 2009 and the age of 95.

In the 1960’s MAP was transformed into the International Center for Maize and Wheat Research (CIMMYT), considered the world’s foremost authority in the research and development of both crops. The CIMMYT, whose first director was Borlaug, was the first of over a dozen International Agricultural Research Centers (IARC’s) established all over the global South, which became the operating arm of the green revolution. These IARC’s, which were based on the MAP/CIMMYT model, included the International Rice Research Institute in the Phillipines and the International Potato Center (CIP) in Peru. In the words of Dowie: “CIMMYT became the model for similar centers throughout the developing world, most notably in India. Collectively, they have transformed the entire field of agricultural research and altered farming practices throughout the Third World. Whether for better or for worse remains to this day a matter of heated debate.”

The green revolution was initially led by the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, but eventually new players joined in, like the US Agency for International Development, the United Nations Development Program, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Bank, and the Australian, Canadian and British governments. In 1971 a permanent secretariat to coordinate the work of the IARC’s was set up. This organization, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is essentially a consortium of funders and works as the centralized, top-down headquarters of the green revolution.

Mark Dowie devoted a whole chapter of his book on foundations to the green revolution:

“Championing the massive global restructuring of agriculture known as the Green Revolution is perhaps American philanthropy’s single most ambitious international undertaking… The program was vast, technically complex, and in many ways truly revolutionary. Yet its goal was simple: Feed the world. The strategy, given its creators, was quite predictable: to transfer Western scientific agricultural technologies to ‘undeveloped’ countries, thereby increasing worldwide yields of basic food crops, and ending hunger”.

“The story of this massive undertaking is a valuable case study of an earnest, long-term philanthropic effort to solve a complex, seemingly intractable problem without addressing the fundamental reasons for its existence.” (4)

The last words of the preceding quote are of utmost importance. The green revolution did not address the causes of poverty and hunger. On various occasions its scientists and administrators openly admitted to it. When CIMMYT scientist Donald Winkelman was asked by Bruce Jennings why he did not deem socioeconomic studies to be relevant to agricultural research, he responded “I am not interested in theories of how the rich screw the poor.” This attitude is typical of green revolution scientists, assures Dowie.

One of the founding myths of the green revolution is the idea that hunger can be eradicated by simply increasing agricultural production, without ever taking on economic, social or political issues. In the words of rural development specialist Peter Rosset: “The green revolution myth goes like this: the miracle seeds of the green revolution increase grain yields and therefore are a key to ending world hunger. Higher yields mean more income for poor farmers, helping them to climb out of poverty, and more food means less hunger. Dealing with the root causes of poverty that contribute to hunger takes a very long time and people are starving now. So we must do what we can- increase production.” (5)

 

The green revolution failed. After decades of relentless work by the IARC’s and the CGIAR, world hunger has not been ameliorated. The world does not have less hungry people today, but more. Considering the vast human and financial resources that went into this endeavor, it is no exageration to state that the green revolution was one of the biggest failures of the twentieth century. In spite of its painfully obvious failure, the green revolution’s protagonists and spokespeople stubbornly refer to it as a success, that it was one of the most noble and successful humanitarian undertakings of all time. In light of the persistence of this triumphalist discourse, one can also say that the green revolution was also one of the major deceptions of the last century.

According to Pat Mooney and Cary Fowler, both winners of the 1985 Right Livelihood Prize, the green revolution failed “because the problem was not simply one of too little food and could not be solved simply by producing more. The problem was and is one of maldistribution and ultimately lack of power and opportunity amongst the hungry in Third World countries to participate in the process of food production and consumption.” (6)

“A major weakness of the green revolution was its narrow focus on the seed”, says Helena Paul et al. “It failed to see the farm as a complex system, where the seed is only one element that contributes to overall productivity. As a result, whole areas of research into soil fertility, mixed cropping, water management and other sustainable practices, which can easily double yields, were overlooked as scientists focused on finding the perfect genetic combination, an approach with major limitations.” (7)

The green revolution has been under continuous and unending criticism ever since it started. In the early 1960’s authors Rachel Carson and Murray Bookchin warned about the environmental and human health hazards of pesticides, one of the main elements of the green revolution. In the following decade, American activists Frances Moore Lappe and Joseph Collins founded the non-governmental organization Food First, which has produced educational materials on food, agriculture and hunger, with an explicitly critical view on the green revolution and neoliberal policies. In 1977 Lappe and Collins, with the collaboration of Cary Fowler, wrote “Food First: Beyond the Myth of Scarcity”. This pioneering book made a bold frontal attack on every assumption of the green revolution, from Malthusianism to the need for pesticides in agriculture. In 1981 Food First published “Circle of Poison”, a book about the hazards of pesticides, which led to the founding of the Pesticide Action Network, a global network that today comprises over 600 non-governmental organizations, institutions and individuals in 90 countries.

Throughout the 1980’s and 90’s a new chorus of critical voices spoke up against the green revolution: the advocates and practicioners of what has come to be known as organic, or ecological, farming. The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) defines organic agriculture as “a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved.” (8)

Among the most important critiques of green revolution agriculture and supporters of organic farming are the pioneering research work done by Fowler and Mooney, the educational work of GRAIN, University of California agroecologist Miguel Altieri, Cuban scientist Fernando Funes, Puerto Rican professor Ivette Perfecto, Indian ecofeminist Vandana Shiva, and a growing number of small farmers’ organizations in both North and South, grouped together as Via Campesina, possibly the most important civil society organization in the world today.

But the green revolution’s personalities, seeing their work under attack, did not give way and snapped back at the critics at every step of the way. They argued that organic agriculture is no more than a romantic ideal that will never provide the yields necessary to feed a hungry world that urgently needs practical thinking and action. Borlaug launched virulent attacks against organic production. He told the New York Times that many envirornmentalists “are elitists. They’ve never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they’d be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things”. (9)

The debate continued in the new century, and in 2002 the UN and the World Bank announced the creation of a high-level investigative body that would carry out a thorough assessment of agricultural science and technology, which would aim to settle the green revolution vs. organic controversy once and for all. The final report of this undertaking, titled the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), known also as the Agricultural Assessment, was published in 2008.

This report is the result of a conscientious, strictly evidence-based study that aimed to answer the following question: What must we do to overcome poverty and hunger, achieve sustainable and equitable development, and sustain a productive and resilient agriculture in the face of environmental crises? It aims to set the agenda of global agriculture for the next fifty years.

The (IAASTD) Assessment was set the ambitious task of answering the central question of how agriculture in 2050 will contribute to a well-fed and healthy humanity despite the challenges of vast environmental degradation, population growth and climate change, and do so in such a way that the potential to produce food has not been lost because of how we farm”, explained Jack Heinemann, professor of genetics and molecular biology at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. (10)

This exhaustive assessment is to world agriculture what the Nobel peace prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is to the world’s climate. The similarity between both is not coincidental. IAASTD director Robert Watson chaired the IPCC from 1997 to 2002.

The IAASTD report was authored by over 400 experts- from international agencies, the scientific community, non-governmental organizations and private enterprise- who collected data and information from thousands of other colleagues from all over the world, and was submitted to two independent peer review processes. It was funded by intergovernmental organisms like the World Bank, the UN Development Program, UNESCO and the FAO.

The process of writing the report was unprecedented, as governments, research institutions, industry and civil society all shared equal responsibility for its design and drafting. “The success of this experiment supports the value of civil society participation as full partners in intergovernmental processes and future international assessments” (11), said Lim Li Ching, lead author of the IAASTD’s East and South Asia and Pacific section and director of the Third World Network’s Biosafety Programme.

The report concluded that the green revolution model of industrial agriculture, with its input and energy intensiveness and marginalization of small scale farmers, must come to an end. “The IAASTD report calls for a systematic redirection of investment, funding, research and policy focus towards the needs of small-farmers. This involves creating space for diverse voices and perspectives, particularly those who have been marginalized in the past, including poor farmers and women”, says Ching. Business as usual is not an option, declared Watson.

The IAASTD report “emphasizes the importance of locally-based, agroecological approaches to farming”, according to Food First executive director Eric Holt-Gimenez. “The key advantages to this way of farming—aside from its low environmental impact—is that it provides both food and employment to the world’s poor, as well as a surplus for the market. On a pound-per-acre basis, these small family farms have proven themselves to be more productive than large-scale industrial farms. And, they use less oil, especially if food is traded locally or sub-regionally. These alternatives, growing throughout the world, are like small islands of sustainability in increasingly perilous economic and environmental seas. As industrialized farming and free trade regimes fail us, these approaches will be the keys for building resilience back into a dysfunctional global food system.” (12)

The IAASTD report calls for a systematic redirection of investment, funding, research and policy focus towards the needs of small-farmers”, says Lim Li Ching. “This involves creating space for diverse voices and perspectives, particularly those who have been marginalized in the past, including poor farmers and women.The IAASTD report says that greater emphasis is needed on safeguarding natural resources and agro-ecological practices, as well as on tapping the wide range of traditional knowledge held by local communities and farmers, which can work in partnership with formal science and technology. Sustainable agriculture that is biodiversity based, including agro-ecology and organic farming, is beneficial to poor farmers, and needs to be supported by the appropriate policy and regulatory frameworks. ” (13)

The report reflects a growing consensus among the global scientific community and most governments that the old paradigm of industrial, energy-intensive and toxic agriculture is a concept of the past”, according to a joint declaration co-authored by several groups, including IFOAM, the Pesticide Action Network and Greenpeace. “The key message of the report is that small-scale farmers and agro-ecological methods provide the way forward to avert the current food crisis and meet the needs of local communities. For the first time an independent, global assessment acknowledges that farming has a diversity of environmental and social functions and that nations and peoples have the right to democratically determine their best food and agricultural policies.” (14)

We speak of the green revolution in the past tense because a new green revolution has been taking place since the 1990’s. There are several important differences between the old and new green revolutions. The first green revolution was founded on hybrid seeds that were the product of conventional breeding, while the new green revolution is based on genetically engineered seeds- which is why this new revolution is often referred to as the gene revolution. The seeds of the first green revolution were freely distributed, while the seeds of the gene revolution are patented.

The first green revolution was not some evil plot to take over world agriculture- its protagonists, like Wallace and Borlaug, really intended to put an end to world hunger, and fully believed such a goal could be achieved within their lifetimes. Their agricultural revolution was driven by a conflicted mix of idealism, pragmatism, cold war geopolitics, and a sincere belief in the promise of modernity and secular salvation through scientific progress. But the new green revolution is motivated solely by greed and profit, nothing else. The first green revolution was carried out by the public sector and philanthropic private foundations, while the gene revolution is exclusively the product of a half dozen transnational corporations that dominate the so-called “life sciences”, of which the undisputed leader is Monsanto. To this we must add the arrival of a new actor on the scene, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is channeling enormous sums of money into agricultural research in the global South, especially in Africa.

The new green revolution does not take place in opposition to the previous one. On the contrary, it aims to complement it and extend it, and the institutions of both frequently work together. The most prominent example of this collaboration is the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, a joint venture of the Gates and Rockefeller foundations. The institutions of the old green revolution, the IARC’s and CGIAR, are still around and continue doing their work, but nowadays with less financing and support than in the previous century. They are undergoing a funding crisis, as are all public agricultural research programs worldwide, as neoliberal governments have declared open season on public funding for scientific research and agricultural science. In response, these institutions are forming public-private partnerships with biotechnology corporations, for example CIMMYT’s joint effort with Syngenta to develop conventional and genetically engineered wheat varieties. These arrangements are not exempt of controversy. Critics have pointed out that they can lead to the patenting of seed collections and the abandonment of research and development of conventional seed in favor of genetically engineered varieties.

The great world debate on agriculture continues to this day. The advocates of the green revolutions continue arguing their case in academia and the media, defending genetic engineering, which they see as the logical continuation of industrialized agriculture. They are bent on ignoring the IAASTD’s important findings and condemning them to silence and oblivion. As recently as July 2011 Scientific American’s blog published an article attacking ecological farming with old arguments and unsupported canards (15), wholly ignoring the IAASTD and numerous other valuable references that point toward the need and practical viability of a new ecological form of farming.

In conclusion, no human activity is as important as agriculture. Therefore, efforts for environmental protection- like, for example, countering climate change- and alternative movements that seek the transformation of social and economic relationships must assign it the highest importance. The evidence shows quite clearly that the current mode of industrial agriculture is literally endangering the whole planet, and far from helping fight hunger it has done quite the opposite. On the other hand, there are practical and viable ecological alternatives with which we can successfully take on the twin challenges of protecting the environment and feeding the world.

1- GRAIN. “El fracaso del sistema alimentario transnacional” Revista Biodiversidad, Sustento y Culturas, October 2009. http://www.grain.org/article/entries/1234-el-fracaso-del-sistema-alimentario-transnacional

2- GRAIN, Entrepueblos y la Campaña “No Te Comas el Mundo”, conformada por el Observatori del Deute en la Globalizació, la Xarxa de Consum Solidari y Veterinarios Sin Fronteras. “Cocinando el planeta” November 13 2009 http://www.biodiversidadla.org/Principal/Contenido/Documentos/Cocinando_el_planeta

3- Helena Paul and Ricarda Steinbrecher with Devlin Kuyek and Lucy Michaels. Hungry Corporations” Transnational Biotech Companies Colonise the Food Chain” Zed Books, 2003.

4- Mark Dowie “American Foundations: An Investigative History” MIT Press, 2002.

5- Peter Rosset et al. Quoted in H. Paul et al, page 4.

6- Pat Mooney and Cary Fowler . Quoted in H. Paul et al, page 14.

7- Helena Paul et al .

8- IFOAM. Definition of organic agriculture. http://www.ifoam.org/growing_organic/definitions/doa/index.html

9- Citado en John Tierney. “Greens and Hunger”. New York Times, May 19 2008. http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/05/19/greens-and-hunger/?pagemode=print

10- Jack Heinemann. “Hope Not Hype: The Future of Agriculture Guided by the IAASTD”. Third World Network, 2009.

11- Lim Li Ching. “Overhaul of agriculture systems needed” South-North Development Monitor #6457, April 17 2008.

12- Eric Holt-Gimenez. “Pouring fuel on the food” Food First, April 16 2008 http://www.foodfirst.org/en/node/2090.

13- Lim Li Ching. “Overhaul of agriculture systems needed” South-North Development Monitor #6457, April 17 2008.

14- “Civil society statement from Johannesburg, South Africa: A new era of agriculture begins today” April 12 2008 www.twnside.org.sg/…/Civil.Society.Statement.on.IAASTD-22Apr08.pdf

15- Christie Wilcox. “Mythbusting 101: Organic Farming > Industrial Agriculture” July 18 2011 http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/science-sushi/2011/07/18/mythbusting-101-organic-farming-conventional-agriculture/; Tom Philpott “3 ways Scientific American got the organic ag story wrong” July 25 2011 http://motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2011/07/organic-agriculture; Pesticide Action Network “Scientific American fact-checkers on holiday” July 25 2011.http://www.panna.org/blog/scientific-american-fact-checkers-holiday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Mexican_Agricultural_Program

 

One Comment
  • Aruna Rodrigues October 24, 2011 at 04:04

    Dear Carmello
    Thank you for this histroical record of farming and of the ‘good intentions’ that blighted farming and encouraged its industrial US model in devloping countries. May be it is not too late. For India it is not and we will stand shoulder to shoulder to stop it.
    best regards