Saturday, May 22, 2010

Food Fights

debate from Seed Magazine Food Fight, Food Fight, Round 1 and Food Fight, Round 2. From the editors' comments in Round 2:
"Greetings, reader, and welcome to the Rebuttals Round of the Food Debate, in which our experts each respond to one another’s opening statements. As you’ll likely recall, when we left the conversation, Dr. Chappell presented a two part-motion: 1) poverty and access to food are more directly related to hunger than food production. 2) Therefore, agroecological methods of farming, even if somewhat lower-yielding, are the more sustainable approach to long-term food security. Paarlberg mounted a strong defense for the Green Revolution, arguing that advocating for agroecological—and especially its strictest form, organic—farming in the developing world is foolhardy. First world elite tastes, he argued, should not confine African farmers to 19th century labor.

Now we reach the rebuttal stage,...."
There are various links to data and questions about the success of the green revolution. What I can agree with are the editors' comments:
"We recognize that biotechnology without dramatic reforms to infrastructure, grain-marketing systems, subsidies, and food security policies will not go far—much like solar panels, hybrid cars, and CFLs will have little effect without an economy-wide carbon price. Yet biotechnology, particularly if developed in the public sector, could bring substantial benefits to smallholding farmers. Virus-resistant cassava, drought-tolerant wheat, and stress-tolerant rice, chickpea, and pearl millet are among the many varieties of crops in incubation at not-for-profit agricultural research institutions around the world. To be skeptical of biotechnology’s prospects for boosting nutrition and alleviating poverty and is not unreasonable, given its track record to date, but to us, an indiscriminate dismissal would (forgive us), be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. "

The link in 'track record' is to this article How the Science Media Failed the IAASTD, criticizing Nature reporting and editorials on International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD)( Excerpts:
"If they are ever implemented, the lessons drawn by IAASTD (at least those in the current draft) would represent a remarkable break with current practices which, in most countries typically emphasise (though they usually do not call them so directly) farm consolidation and chemical-intensive agriculture.

It is often lamented that our societies have an abundance of knowledge and a shortage of wisdom, but the current IAASTD draft comes as close to providing wise guidance for agriculture and development as we have yet seen. Its chief message is appropriately revolutionary: we have so far fed the world principally by depleting natural capital and we must now look beyond business as usual if we really want to address poverty.

The IAASTD draft document is surprising for still another reason. Although supported by the World Bank, it does not offer much support for transgenic crops as the best hope, or even as a particularly useful tool, to alleviate the agricultural ills that beset developing countries, the hungry and the poor.
Last October, Monsanto and Syngenta resigned altogether from the IAASTD project. Though they gave no public reasons for their resignation, the industry body CropLife International told Nature magazine that an inability to make progress in arguing for GMOs was the fundamental reason (1).

A Tragedy for the Poor?

In a recent editorial, Nature magazine argued the interesting point that withdrawal of these companies was a tragic event. The companies, said Nature, were ‘Deserting the poor’ (1). Leaving aside that Monsanto and Syngenta were a very small part of the IAASTD process, this statement is hard to support from a scientific point of view. Are Monsanto scientists more knowledgeable about poverty, development and the needs of developing country agriculture than university or government scientists? Probably not. Do Syngenta scientists have fore-knowledge of impending agricultural developments not available to the rest of us? They may do, but if so these are company secrets which have not so far been made available for discussion or disputation. Does Nature believe that academics and government scientists are unable to make the arguments for biotechnology? But if the scientific need for the companies’ presence was hardly overwhelming, it follows that neither is their loss a particularly significant one.
In placing the blame for the corporate boycott exclusively with the IAASTD, perhaps it never occurred to any of the journal editors that in so doing they were supporting a tiny handful of corporate biotechnologists against the aggregated views of 400 independent scientists?"

Related: Michael Pollan reviews several books on food and food movements in US The Food Movement, Rising

Finally for those interested in gardening Growing Vegetables Upside Down
P.S. Concluding article in the Food Fight Series
Food Fight, Conclusion

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