Photo via stock.xchng by dimitri_c
The objectives of this week's Global Harvest Initiative symposium, which focused on coordinated efforts to address world hunger, were compelling. World hunger already affects 1 billion people and the numbers are projected to climb. Unfortunately, thanks to big agribusiness sponsors ADM, DuPont, John Deere and Monsanto, the event ultimately amounted to nothing more than glitzy green packaging for the same old unnecessary gift of chemical dependence for the world's farmers. In his opening remarks, GHI executive director William Lesher placed the focus firmly on the need for more food, highlighting a projected "productivity gap" that will require a doubling of current world food output by 2050. By framing global food security in terms of "not enough food," the Global Harvest Initiative seems stuck on doing the same old thing harder and faster, citing technology and high-input dependent systems as the solution to world hunger.
What was Einstein's definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The GHI seems to be ignoring this wisdom--more food alone won't help starving people until the global agricultural system radically shifts its focus to address the barriers of poverty (the inability to buy food) and distribution (getting food to where people are).
Dead-End Agriculture: Where Will It End?
With focus on the "more food" paradigm, the GHI event lacked an honest assessment of the limits of dead-end chemical agriculture to play a leading role in actually feeding people. Its backers still push expensive seeds and continued dependence on limited resource inputs. And without mention of what organic agriculture is already doing to meet the most important goals of the hunger-sustainability problem, is the GHI really interested in the best methods? As demonstrated by 30 years of research in our Farming Systems Trial, organic and near-organic techniques offer robust, biodiverse, productive and regenerative systems that can out-produce chemical approaches in drier and wetter seasons.
Organic restoration is true conservation -- a focus of yesterday's symposium -- that does not require us to choose between areas that will be protected and areas that must be sacrificed to our agricultural destruction. Well-managed organic systems actually increase biodiversity throughout farmed land at every level of the food chain.
And while the GHI mission calls for more money, attention, research, trade and policy support for chemically dependent farming systems, it ignores the findings of many of the world food study groups, who maintain that organic and ecological production systems are the best hope for transforming the "feeding the world" challenge.
Organic Agriculture and Beyond: Changing Our Food System
Instead of simply producing more corn and soybeans on industrial farms, we need to focus on growing more diverse and nutritive crops that are produced in more ecologically sound ways using locally-available, biologically renewable resources. With only a fraction of the hundreds of millions of research dollars already spent to overcome chemical agriculture's failures, agricultural researchers around the world could work on organic farming advances relevant to their bioregions.
Forget aiming to flood the market with more energy dependent commodity crops; researchers need to uncover better ways to use more types of cover crops to build soil quality and health, displacing fertilizer and increasing crop resilience in hard growing years. Farmers around the world need more knowledge about managing weeds in more sophisticated ways with crop rotations and timing, sharing what works without using herbicides. Policy makers need more science that documents the tremendous carbon-sequestering benefits of many organic techniques, bringing credit where it is due.
In the midst of all this big-ag hype, the true agenda of the GHI symposium is clear: more money for chemical agriculture systems. But no amount of money can offset the true cost of these systems -- to our environment, and to our health. I want hungry people to be fed, farmers to prosper, ecosystems to thrive while farming improves, wildlife to flourish, and whole bio-regions to develop sustainable economies. That's why I demand organic agriculture be front and center on the global food agenda.