The Toxic Agriculture of Monsanto and Big Agribusiness vs. Agroecology Rooted in Local Communities
“We are being far too kind to industrialised agriculture. The private sector has endorsed it, but it has failed to feed the world, it has contributed to major environmental contamination and misuse of natural resources. It’s time we switched more attention, public funds and policy measures to agroecology, to replace the old model as soon as possible.”—Dr David Fig, Biowatch, South Africa
Based on the results on his farm in Gujarat, Indian farmer and campaigner Bhaskar Save demonstrated that by using traditional methods, his yields were superior to any farm using chemicals in terms of quantity, nutritional quality, biological diversity, ecological sustainability, water conservation, energy efficiency and economic profitability.
Bhaskar Save died in October, but in 2006 he published a now quite famous open letter to the Indian Minister of Agriculture and other top officials to bring attention to the mounting suicide rate and debt among farmers. He wanted policy makers to abandon their policies of promoting the use of toxic chemicals that the ‘green revolution’ had encouraged.
According to Save, the green revolution had been a total disaster for India by flinging open the floodgates of toxic agro-chemicals which had ravaged the lands and lives of many millions of farmers (for example, read about the impactin Punjab). He firmly believed that organic farming in harmony with nature could sustainably provide India with abundant, wholesome food.
India had for generations sustained one of the highest densities of population on earth, without any chemical fertilisers, pesticides, exotic dwarf strains of grain or ‘bio-tech’ inputs—and without degrading its soil. For instance, see this analysis which highlights better productivity levels in India prior to the green revolution. (If further evidence is required as to the efficacy of organic farming, see this report, based on a 30-year study, which concludes that organic yields match conventional yields, outperform conventional in years of drought and actually build soil fertility rather than deplete it; and see this report that says that organic and sustainable small-scale farming could double food production in the parts of the world where hunger is the biggest issue.)
Save argued that numerous tall, indigenous varieties of grain provided more biomass, shaded the soil from the sun and protected against its erosion under heavy monsoon rains. But in the guise of increasing crop production, exotic dwarf varieties were introduced and promoted. This led to more vigorous growth of weeds, which were able to compete successfully with the new stunted crops for sunlight. The farmer had to spend more labour and money in weeding or spraying herbicides. In effect, farmers were placed on a chemical treadmill as traditional pest management systems were destroyed and soil degradation and erosion set in.
Moreover, this water-intensive, high external input model of agriculture led to the construction of big dams, indebtedness, population displacement and a massive, unsustainable strain on water tables. Save noted that more than 80% of India’s water consumption is for irrigation, with the largest share hogged by chemically cultivated cash crops. Maharashtra has the maximum number of big and medium dams in the country. But sugarcane alone, grown on barely 3-4% of its cultivable land, guzzles about 70% of its irrigation waters.
For Save, in a country of farmers, it was essential to restore the natural health of Indian agriculture to solve the inter-related problems of poverty, unemployment and rising population. See his arguments in more detail here.
Such views may be out of step with global agribusiness interests and the international bodies, national governments and regulatory bodies they have co-opted or hijacked (see this, this, this, this, this and this), but there is an increasing awareness across the globe that the type of viewpoint put forward by Save and many others is valid.
Of course, millions of farmers across the world already knew that what Save had stated was correct long before he said it and have for a long time been organising and resisting the industrialised model of petrochemical-intensive and GMO farming being imposed across the planet. They are in step with what the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge Science and Technology (IAASTD) report (among others) advocates: a shift towards organic farming and investment in and reaffirmation of indigenous models of agriculture.
Likewise, botanist Stuart Newton’s notes that the answers to agricultural productivity do not entail embracing the international, monopolistic, corporate-conglomerate promotion of chemically-dependent GM crops. He argues that India must restore and nurture its heavily depleted, abused soils and not harm them any further with chemical overload, which is endangering human and animal health.
Newton provides good insight into the vital roll of healthy soils and their mineral compositions and links their depletion to the green revolution. In turn, these degraded and micro-nutrient lacking soils cannot help but lead to denutrified food and thus malnourishment: a very pertinent point given that the PR surrounding the green revolution claims it helped dramatically reduce malnutrition.
Over the past few years, there have been numerous high level reports from the UN and development agencies putting forward proposals to favour small farmers and indigenous agriculture, but this has not been translated into sufficient action by national governments on the ground where small farmers increasingly face marginalisation and oppression due to corporate seed monopolies, land speculation and takeovers, rigged trade that favours global agribusiness interests and commodity speculation (see this on food commodity speculation, this on the global food system, this by the Oakland Institute on land grabs and this on the impact of international trade rules).