I was reading an article recently that asked, “Can the Green
Revolution—biotech-heavy agriculture that promises high yields—really mitigate
the world’s food shortages, or does it indenture farmers and threaten
biodiversity?” I think it might be useful to ask some tough questions that
might make some angry.
I became stuck immediately on this question. Are those
really the only options? I believe this oversimplifies the issue. While there
are many studies that show that biotech agriculture has trapped some farmers in
the proverbial hamster wheel and that if left to become the main source of
growing food very well will threaten biodiversity, it doesn’t necessarily mean
that it’s always, and in every case, bad.
In an article by Vandana Shiva, she states: “But today, just thirty crops provide 90 percent of the calories in the
human diet, and only three species—rice, wheat, and maize—account for more than
50 percent of our calorie intake. According to the State of the World’s Plant
Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, of the 7,098 apple varieties
documented in the United States in the beginning of the twentieth century, 96
percent have been lost. Additionally, 95 percent of the cabbage, 91 percent of
the field maize, 94 percent of the pea, and 81 percent of the tomato varieties
have also been lost. In Mexico, of all the varieties of corn reported in 1930,
percent exist today.”
This is a serious issue which is why when I think of biotech
farming, I think of balance. It is becoming like a cancer, instead of supplying
ingenious help in specific areas. What makes this, or anything for that matter,
become negative is when it’s left unchecked and it begins to become the only
way of doing things. Nature, our environment, depends on balance and
equilibrium as our own bodies depend. In fact, almost all things require a
delicate balance. This begs the question: is biotech or industrial agriculture
always bad? Or, in certain cases and used in balance with other techniques,
could it provide useful technology for parts of the world, especially as
climate change becomes an ever more reality.
Now, I’m not being naïve about biotech nor am I a big
proponent of it. As it is used currently, I think these farming practices do
more harm than good. Almost, if not all, of the intakes for this type of
farming requires money. There is no seed saving as the seeds are built not to
allow for this. The system is built to continually make money. This is a big
problem for some of the very areas these seeds claim to help as these
communities. This only scratches the surface however. As was brought up in the former
article, seeds being saved and used each season acclimate to the environment.
They become drought tolerant, etc. But what if climate change is moving too
fast for the seeds to catch up? This really is a complex issue.
I’m not sure it’s a one size fits all as our culture is very
guilty of that whether its biotech, industrial or sustainable agriculture. That’s
another component of this complex problem. For something to be sustainable it ultimately
means it must continue to change. Sustainability is an evolution, it isn’t
constant. Being sustainable means that we are constantly learning from each
other. Sustainability means diversity. In the truest form of sustainability
wouldn’t that include a multitude ways of farming?
I prefer sustainable agriculture to industrial or biotech. I
don’t want to purchase or consume either of the latter. I also recognize that a
solution might involve multiple groups that, atleast on the surface, completely
disagree. What’s underneath the surface? Could we find any common values
potentially? Maybe we can’t. Maybe the driving forces behind some of the groups
are too willful such as our current economic model that demands a company to
increase profits by increasing products or services. Sales cannot remain
stagnant. These companies become trapped in their own hamster wheel losing
sight of maybe why they started in the first place.
I’m not sure of the answers here, but I know they’re complexity
is worth exploring. It’s worth it to remain curious and look at the whole
system because if I am behind diverse, sustainable agriculture, then I must be
looking at all the options when deciding what is the best solution.