A seedling grows in an organic field, on the outskirts of Bangalore, Karnataka. Image: Vivek M
Agriculture is facing numerous important problems: food supply, social justice, ecology, climate change. We are told by the agrochemical industry there is only one, simple, solution: the next level of the so-called “green revolution”.
The story so far: intensification and globalization of agriculture in the later 20th century has increased yields and production of food dramatically - at least in the western world. The so-called developing countries still suffer hunger and poverty, although global production would be sufficient to feed the whole world.
The enlightened West is starting to notice that intensive agriculture has reached a limit, further yield increases appear to be unlikely. We are also beginning to discover that our agricultural systems are not sustainable at all: high inputs, soil degradation, environmental pollution, animal justice, loss of biodiversity and climate impacts. Because of all this ecological agriculture has gathered a lot of solidarity. But it is often regarded as an old-fashioned fantasy – and therefore not suitable as a solution for poor countries because food outputs would never be able to be increased.
The opposite is the case.
This is the main message of the UN report on Agroecology, released on the 8th of March. It states that a doubling of food production by use of eco-farming within 10 years is possible – with all the benefiting effects on social structures, farmers´ incomes and ecological aspects. UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier De Schutter clearly points out that the most efficient farming techniques available are the ones based on ecology. These do not rely on extensive inputs but on the use of ecological systems and the knowledge of these systems. The published study is based on numerous scientific investigations, which are not only reliable but also deliver impressive examples. These include ecological pest control by use of the so-called “push-pull-strategy” (coupled with improved water management and soil re-degradation, as well as reduced erosion) or the use of ducks and fish in rice fields (providing additional food and manure), or agroforestry. In the end yields increased by 80% in 57 developing countries, with an average of 116% in the African projects. The martyred soils are also restored, generating forgotten water availability and fertility.
The other side of the coin …
… from the agrochemistry point of view: ecological agriculture increases yields (as industry propagates for their products) but also strictly reduces the use of artificial pesticides and fertilizers. Projects in Indonesia, Vietnam and Bangladesh recorded up to 92% reduced use of pesticides.
Where`s the profit?
This is the main point. Who might benefit from a sustainable, social and climate friendly agriculture? It is not biotechnology – especially not the GE part of it. This will never be able to serve the local needs of farmers for adapted crop varieties. These are - and should be - public property. That’s another battlefront…
The benefits of ecological agriculture are free and yet are the most valuable benefits imaginable – and it is difficult to earn money with them. They will save potential millions in social and climate impacts. In this instance “millions” does not only mean dollars but also lives.
Profit for us!
Climate, ecology, sustainability, social justice and so on – as long as you do not have Monsanto-stocks (hopefully these will decline) we are in a “win/win-situation”. And in the end it will be of commercial interest.
Therefore we should all be encouraged to further spread these ideas – especially as they are not just ideas but concrete future solutions.
-Dirk Zimmermann is a Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner at Greenpeace Germany