Farmers Would Do Better To Understand The Land Than Grow GM Crops

Farmers Would Do Better To Understand The Land Than Grow GM Crops

Suppose your relationship is falling apart and you want to save it. To find the best counsellor, you might search online or ask your friends. It’s no different in agriculture. The rational response to any food or farming dilemma is to test and compare different options to see which is most effective as a solution.

Except when it comes to genetic modification (GM). I have yet to hear of a research trial where a newly developed GM crop has been compared with other approaches to address the problem it claims to solve. If the goal was to identify the most effective solution, this would be very odd – but if the real goal is to find a use for the technology, it makes perfect sense.

Here’s an example from my work in the subtropics (I better not name the country). In the 2000s, one region experienced several consecutive years of severe drought. The worst affected area saw over 3,000 wells dry up, and over 2,000 of its cattle lost. Many farmers were unable to sow their staple maize crop. The easy culprit was climate change, since temperatures had risen half a degree in recent years. What was less frequently pointed out was the poor condition of the soils: 60% suffered from erosion, 40% had low water retention, and 45% had low fertility – all the result of several decades of industrial agriculture.

The mainstream agricultural sector proposed constructing a large water pipeline from the wetter part of the country to the drier parts. Yet the government didn’t have the funds. A GM drought-tolerant maize was also suggested, but thankfully wasn’t yet available.

I started working with a local research team to develop a low-cost pilot in two communities with a very different approach. It sought to help farmers understand the water cycle and manage water sustainably; and also to experiment with simple techniques to improve soil fertility. These included planting cover crops, which are crops put there primarily to protect the bare soil from high temperatures and from water escaping through plants and Earth (evapotranspiration); as well as adding organic fertilisers; rainwater harvesting and testing numerous crop varieties to see which worked best. Farmers and households were particularly supported to share their own local knowledge and experiences.

Reaping Benefits

After just one year, we saw various intended and unintended results. There was much more crop diversity, and yields and production had increased across the board. Manure had become a valuable resource, which farmers were collecting systematically from livestock. There was more water available for these animals, and the soil’s capacity for water retention had improved too. The farmers were widely using biological fertilisers, and had generally become better at working together and experimenting.

Above all, the first vegetable market had opened – previously there had never been any surplus to sell – along with an informal seed market. Family incomes had gone up and there were more nutritious foods for everyone. For an investment of just £15,000, the project seemed to tick all the development boxes.

Most telling were the responses from community members who were asked what had changed:

A year ago drought was a worry to us, but now we don’t rate this as important as other concerns.

The main change? Now we can afford for all the children in our village to wear shoes.

Suppose instead that a GM drought-tolerant maize had been available at the time. Farmers would have had to buy patented seed every year. At best, the crop would have needed slightly less water and the yield might have been maintained or even increased a little. No other crops could have been grown since the soil would have remained degraded, and irrigation would have still been required. (This kind of GM maize has since been developed, at a cost of millions of pounds.)

I’m not the only one with these sorts of findings. Previous studies have shown that this kind of agroecological approach produces better results than GM in terms of environmental impact, human health and societal benefits; while it has been convincingly argued that using GM varieties does nothing for biodiversity in agriculture.

The Industrialised Mindset

The conventional corporate model legally obliges chief executives – on behalf of shareholders – to prioritise profits over ethics and sustainability, whatever their personal inclination. It is a manifestation of an underlying mindset. This can be seen in Cuba, where until recently there was no private corporate sector, and where the government made several varieties of GM maize available to some parts of the country in 2006. Cuba inherited its agricultural approach from the former Soviet Union, which unwittingly shared a mindset with Western countries that has been dominant for over 300 years.

Borrowing from the French philosopher Descartes, this world view breaks down complex processes into smaller parts to be analysed in isolation, and sees nature as a resource to be exploited and conquered. It wasn’t and isn’t always so – as indigenous communities continue to demonstrate with their reverence for nature and their sense of inter-connectedness. The organic and regenerative farming movements attempt to take a similar approach, as did the “drought-proofing” project that I outlined above.

GM is simply a manifestation of the same misguided industrial mindset, a mindset that tries to control nature rather than work with it. From a psychological perspective, the need to control is driven by fear, as I found from years of interviewing farmers about why they felt they needed to continue with industrial agriculture rather than switch to organic.

Allowing private companies to peddle their wares in the name of development or to “feed the world” is arguably immoral when there are alternatives that can bring much wider benefits. If GM were banned, though, similar problematic technologies would continue to present themselves. It is the mindset from which they emerge that needs reprogrammed. Its not as if there aren’t better ways of achieving the same result.

About The AuthorThe Conversation

wright juliaJulia Wright, Senior Research Fellow, Agroecological Futures, Coventry University. She has worked for 30 years on sustainable agriculture and food security applied research and development, specialising in building capacity and resilience of vulnerable groups to natural and man-made disasters, regeneration of the natural resource base, and low-carbon systems.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Related Book:

List Price: $24.95
Sale Price: $24.95 $15.29 You save: $9.66


List Price: $19.95
Sale Price: $19.95 $11.72 You save: $8.23


List Price: $18.95
Sale Price: $18.95 $12.49 You save: $6.46


enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

LATEST VIDEOS

How Supercharged Trash Gas Could Produce More Green Energy
by InnerSelf Staff
Synthetic compounds called “siloxanes” from everyday products like shampoo and motor oil are finding their way into…
300 Million Face Severe Risk of Climate-Fueled Coastal Flooding by 2050
by Democracy Now!
As a shocking new report finds that many coastal cities will be flooded by rising sea levels by 2050, Chile’s President…
Climate Warning: California Continues To Burn, Data Estimates Of Global Flooding
by MSNBC
Ben Strauss, CEO and Chief Scientist of Climate Central joins MTP Daily to discuss alarming new information about…
Stanford Climate Solutions
by Stanford
Climate change has brought us to a defining moment in human history.
Buying Renewable Energy From Your Neighbor
by NBC News
Brooklyn Microgrid, a project of parent company LO3 Energy, is looking to disrupt the more than 100-year-old energy…
Debate Over Pipelines Clouds Concern For Climate Change
by Global News
Climate experts are warning that Canada shouldn't ignore the wildfire crisis in California
How Climate Change Affects Wildfires
by NBC News
NYU environmental studies professor David Kanter explains how climate change is creating the perfect conditions for…
Rice Bowl Of Malaysia Threatened By Climate Change
by The Star Online
Kedah is known as the country’s “Rice Bowl,” and it is especially suitable for the growing of the grain.

LATEST ARTICLES

Building With Bamboo Can Cool The Climate
Building With Bamboo Can Cool The Climate
by Kieran Cooke
If you want to cut global temperatures try building with bamboo, say UK-based researchers studying its thermal…
To Win A Climate Election, Parties Need Ambition, Not Compromise With The Fossil Fuel Industry
To Win A Climate Election, Parties Need Ambition, Not Compromise With The Fossil Fuel Industry
by Marc Hudson
The UK will go to the polls on December 12 for the third time in four years. Climate change didn’t make waves in…
3 Ways Cities Can Prepare For Climate Emergencies
3 Ways Cities Can Prepare For Climate Emergencies
by Ryan Plummer, et al
Cities are on the front line of climate change. While their footprints cover a mere two per cent of the Earth’s…
How Green Roofs Can Protect City Streets From Flooding
How Green Roofs Can Protect City Streets From Flooding
by Catherine Howell, et al
Spring and summer 2017 have been among the wettest on record in eastern North America.
How Supercharged Trash Gas Could Produce More Green Energy
by InnerSelf Staff
Synthetic compounds called “siloxanes” from everyday products like shampoo and motor oil are finding their way into…
Climate Change Will Magnify Weather Blocking Events
How Climate Change Will Magnify Weather Blocking Events
by InnerSelf Staff
“Blocking events” have produced some of the 21st century’s deadliest heat waves. These stalled high-pressure weather…
Arctic Sea Ice Loss Opens Marine Mammals To Deadly Virus
Arctic Sea Ice Loss Opens Marine Mammals To Deadly Virus
by InnerSelf Staff
Scientists have linked Arctic sea ice loss to a deadly virus that could threaten marine mammals in the North Pacific,…
Scientists’ Climate Gap Is Narrowing
Scientists’ Climate Gap Is Narrowing
by Alex Kirby
A poll shows scientists’ climate gap is shrinking − between their work on climate change and their own response to it.