At the UN: Overturning the False Solutions to the Food Crisis

In this summary report from an event at CSD 17, we learn how agribusiness, foundations, scientists and policy makers have spun the food crisis into ideas it has engendered in order to push for more industrial agriculture.

by Tristan Quinn-Thibodeau, WhyHunger

The global food crisis should bring everyone together – governments, UN agencies, civil society and business – around the urgent need for sustainable development. However, the overriding theme of “Overturning the False Solutions to the Food Crisis,” a CSD side event sponsored by Friends of the Earth, was the way agribusinesses, foundations, scientists, and policy makers have spun the food crisis and the critical ideas it has engendered in order to push for more industrial agriculture, more genetic engineering, and more “free” trade. The formation of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and its embrace by governments, corporations, and other establishment powers, serve to illuminate this development of false solutions to the food crisis.

Corporations like Monsanto, as well as the scientists and policymakers linked to the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations, have both ignored the critical analyses of the food crisis and co-opted the real solutions put forward by leading scientists, civil society organizations and social movements. These real solutions are embodied in the IAASTD (International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development) report, which argues that reorienting our food and agricultural systems toward sustainability, equity, diversity and ecological resilience is the only effective approach to solving our food and climate crises. However, the very fact that these agribusinesses have to resort to misleading tactics shows the remarkable work that civil society organizations have done in revealing how damaging industrial agriculture is to the world.

Covert Genetic Modified Organisms (GMOs)

Elenita Daño of the Third World Network and author of Unmasking The New Green Revolution In Africa: Motives, Players and Dynamics, noted that last year’s CSD meetings featured much more prominent discussion of genetically engineered agriculture. However, due to campaigns and pressure from pro-GMO and agribusiness organizations, genetically modified organisms are now being covertly referenced and inserted into policy. As part of this covert move, advocates of genetic engineering are resorting to the myth that the food crisis was caused by insufficient food production, spreading misleading facts about the benefits of genetic engineering over both traditional and conventional science and agronomy, and by other specious arguments. For instance, Monsanto has claimed that its genetically modified seeds contribute to soil conservation because they ultimately require less soil tillage, even though the idea of conservation agriculture clearly refers to organic and truly sustainable agricultural techniques.

Industrial Agriculture, GMOs, and “Philanthrocapitalism”

As was pointed out in the side event, GMOs are not just problematic because seeds are genetically engineered. Rather, their danger lies in the fact that they are suited essentially only to industrial agriculture. Most GMOs require monocropping, enormous inputs of fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, and they need processing once they are harvested in order to be consumed as food. Currently, only four GMO crops are widely grown, and these are corn, soy, cotton, and canola (rapeseed), with the majority of GM crops being used for agrofuels or animal feed. Also, the ‘Green Revolution’ is not just about technology and the technique of growing food, but is also closely linked to neo-liberalism and opening up foreign economies to the global market. Thus, GMOs are part of a package that reduces the ability of foreign governments to protect and support their own agriculture and development. This neo-liberal element is seen in the fact that although AGRA makes use of eminent African scientists, the program was designed by powerful European and American business interests.

Elenita Daño made the point of calling this new move by agribusiness and by foundations such as Gates and Rockefeller “philanthrocapitalism,” which uses the significant capital and moral power of charitable foundations to open up developing economies and disable their governments from shaping their own development.

Real Solutions for Africa and the World

Bill Freese of the Center for Food Safety also presented some key advances in conventional and organic agricultural sciences, involving the innovative use of intercropping to handle weeds, new conventional variants of plants that resist drought conditions, and research projects that pay careful attention to ecosystems in managing pests. It is these scientific advances that need to be discussed, advocated, and replicated, not the interests and projects of western agribusiness.