Why bother with history

African Green Revolution, is no joke

Since my early days in Secondary school, I have always wondered at the benefits in history as a subject: Why, because nothing ever seems to be learned. We just repeat the same mistakes and re invent the same old wheels

Asia’s Green Revolution was an economic and ecological disaster and should have taught a final definitive answer to the damage intensive farming can cause. But what are all the gurus teaching Africa to do, you got it; repeat the same old failed model

Sustainable farming techniques are being sidelined in favour of a quick-fix solution; modern seed varieties (MVs) that produce better yields if treated with synthetic fertiliser and pesticides.

Such inputs are expensive and the seeds need frequent replacement. In Asia, the use of MVs in a head-long rush for bumper harvests has been shown to accelerate soil degradation, destroy crop diversity and encourage farmers to go into debt.

As Africa seeks to banish hunger, sustainable alternatives that can boost production, incomes and food security, help conserve soil and water and build resilience to climate change remain badly are treated as a backward joke, because a myriad of per diem agents as advising a better way and I’m sure the Mont Santos of this world are contributing to the pot as well. I have no axe to grind with either side in this biased debate between the financial and farming world, but I do know how the poor farmers in Northern Malawi should go, and I would like my grandchildren to know what good soil is, and what noxious pesticides can do to our health.

Speaking of grandchildren as we, today, await a second bundle of joy, I feel that the good message will be handed on very well. Our oldest has already made the move. Having done a PhD in Chemistry and then spent a couple of years in the strange world of agrichemicals, he went to South America for a few months, which showed him in the error of his ways. Re returned, gave up the job and now plays music full time. (That’s his story). Of course this weekend playing at the Cambridge Folk Festival is not wholly unattractive!!

The Green revolution of Asia should have warned Africa, but maybe the usual corruption, by the really corrupt, deliberately ignored the possible lessons which include widespread soil degradation, increased vulnerability to pests, farmer debts, a decline in traditional farming knowledge, increased inequality in rural communities, loss of biodiversity and increased greenhouse gas emissions from industrial agriculture.

In recent years, interested parties including the World Bank, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), USAID, the Rockefeller and Gates Foundations and African governments have promoted a Green Revolution for Africa where solutions they advocate seem to focus too narrowly around promoting synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, which were behind many of Asia’s problems.

There are concerns about a number of initiatives funded by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) founded in 2006 by the Rockefeller and Bill and Melinda Gates’ Foundations, and supported by DFID (and maybe the Irish Government).

Working in 12 African countries, it funds important projects promoting improved seeds, soil health, market access for farmers and finance and policy work. It also aims to increase productivity by improving farmers’ access to mainly hybrid seeds – part of the MV range – and inputs such as chemical fertilisers.

A recent report says that AGRA funded agro-dealers in eight countries are selling ‘ever more quantities of chemicals to farmers and increasing their reliance on inputs’.

In Malawi, where AGRA operates, ‘the principal beneficiaries of these efforts are the key suppliers of the inputs, mainly Monsanto,’ it says.

To me it looks like there is a pact to promote particulat products

The report says 70 per cent of the world’s nearly 1 billion hungry are smallholder farmers and the rural landless who have been long locked into a cycle of low productivity, lack of assets and services and weak market power.

Today, they also face the effects of climate change, land degradation and ground water depletion.

The report gives examples of successful sustainable agriculture techniques that can help.

They include:

-          Diversification: cultivating a wide range of crops; introducing mixed systems of crops, livestock and aquaculture; and increasing biodiversity

-          Nutrient recycling (waste from one sub-system is used as an input in another)

-          Maximum use of renewable, locally available resources (such as seeds, manure, mulch, nutrient-fixing plants)

Low external-input organic soil and crop management techniques such as integrated pest management and zero or low till farming, enabling a radically reduced reliance on, or complete avoidance of, synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, looks like a no brainer, but what has that got to do with anything.

We use these techniques on our farms in Northern Malawi and encourage the farmers we work with to do the same. It’s a tough job, because even if we show them, there is such a hurricane coming from the experts and gurus that seeing is no longer good enough. Our first Ministry ally has come on board, but as I said before it’s like bows and arrows against the remote controlled drones

But after all: Who the hell do We think W are. And maybe History need to get off the page.

The final weapon of mass destruction for the poor.

from Common Ground
Common Ground is an independent publication, 100% Canadian owned. It is Western Canada’s biggest and best-loved monthly magazine dedicated to health, wellness, ecology and personal growth.

Fight against terminator seeds not over

Murray Dobbin

Of all the perverse, corporate manipulations of the growing and processing of food, none is more sinister and destructive to the public good than the so-called terminator technology. Terminator seeds are patented, genetically modified seeds, deliberately engineered to become sterile after one harvest; farmers can’t use their seeds to plant the next crop and must purchase new seed every crop year. The technology threatens the livelihood of 1.4 billion people dependent on farmer-saved seeds and the globe’s biodiversity.
As the women of the international farmers’ organization La Via Campesina have said, “Terminator technology is a weapon of mass destruction.” That’s why it’s the focus of a new, social media activist site, RightOnCanada.ca. But more on this below.
In fact, there is a global fight against this technology – currently the subject of a moratorium on its commercialization – involving literally hundreds of farmers’ and peasants’ organizations and others concerned about the future of the planet. The Canadian government is one of the principal targets of the campaign. Canada is one of the “Terminator Trio,” comprised of the governments of Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The US also wants the moratorium lifted, but it has not signed the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Many terminator critics accuse Canada of doing the US’s dirty work in the hope of some return favour. Last year, terminator opponents won a significant victory at a meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Curitiba, Brazil. The Brazilian government, chairing the meeting, announced that the 188-member governments of the CBD agreed to reject language that would have undermined the six-year-old moratorium on terminator.
Despite this massive rejection, the Harper government has not changed its position, calling for a “case by case risk assessment” of terminator seeds. The Liberals also opposed a ban when they constituted the government, and despite their newfound commitment to the environment, have not changed their stance. According to Liberals’ agriculture critic Wayne Easter, “…all plants with novel traits must be studied on a case-by-case basis…”
As matters stand now, the two political parties that have a realistic chance of becoming government after the next election are both opposed to an outright ban on terminator technology. That leaves the Greens and the NDP at the national level. Both parties support a ban and last spring the NDP put forward Bill C-448, a private member’s bill known as the Terminator Seeds Ban Act. The bill, introduced by the NDP’s Alex Atamanenko, died on the order paper when Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament.
Part of the problem with a parliamentary system, especially one without proportional representation, is that it produces executive government with few checks and balances of its power. Voters have little influence between elections because they have no effective access to power. That’s something that Kathleen Ruff, former head of the BC Human Rights Commission and of the Court Challenges program (recently killed by the Harper government), wants to change.
Ruff has established the online activist site, RightOnCanada.ca, which is focussed on human rights and intended to replicate the famously successful MoveOn.org in the US. MoveOn has more than three million members and was a major player in the Democratic victory over the Republicans in the last US Congressional election.
MoveOn describes itself as “… a service – a way for busy, but concerned, citizens to find their political voice in a system dominated by big money and big media.” That pretty much describes RightOnCanada. It took on the terminator technology as its inaugural issue last spring and its email letter-writing campaign saw 13,000 messages sent to the leaders of the federal parties in the Commons. The campaign preceded the NDP’s private members’ bill and helped highlight what is normally a low-key affair. RightOnCanada has since taken on the issue of “deep integration,” the secret plan to divert Canadian water from Canadian rivers to the US and the so-called “harmonization” with the US of standards for pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables.
But it expects to revisit the terminator issue. That’s because Monsanto, the corporate poster boy for genetically modified organisms, is now poised to commercialize this technology. In 1999, feeling the enormous pressure of an international campaign, Monsanto pledged not to pursue terminator technology. But on June 1, 2007, Monsanto negotiated a $1.5 billion takeover of the world’s largest cotton seed company, Delta & Pine Land, the US company that developed and patented the world’s first terminator seed technology.
According to the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (a partner with RightOnCanada) this can mean only one thing: Monsanto has broken its pledge and is now on track to take this perverse technology into the marketplace. Kathleen Ruff notes that RightOnCanada will be there to fight any such move.

Murray Dobbin is a Vancouver author and journalist whose latest book, Paul Martin: CEO for Canada? published by James Lorimer is in BC bookstores now.

Tell the Canadian government to ban terminator technology
The right to save seeds is a crucial part of the human right to food. This basic right is threatened by terminator technology, which genetically engineers plants to produce sterile seeds after first harvest and, if introduced, would force farmers to purchase seeds every year from transnational seed corporations.
If allowed to proceed, terminator technology would transfer control of the world’s seed supply from the hands of farmers to the monopoly control of large corporations. It would also threaten the biodiversity of agriculture and the health of the planet’s food supply. “Preventing farmers from re-planting saved seed will increase economic injustice all over the world,” says the World Council of Churches, which has called for action to stop terminator technology.
Recognizing its inherent dangers, governments attending meetings of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity created an international moratorium on terminator technology in 2000. The Canadian government, however, with the help of Australia, New Zealand and some major biotechnology companies, tried in February 2005 and again in January 2006 to overthrow the moratorium.
Tell our government to support the ban on terminator technology. Visit http://www.rightoncanada.ca (click on campaigns) to send a letter to agriculture minister Chuck Strahl, Prime Minister Harper, the opposition agriculture critics and your MP.