In his final State of the Union address, President Obama took the long view, focusing on the future and naming several critical arenas for change. Over dinner afterwards, my family shared what we each liked (or didn’t like) about the address. I certainly agreed with the President’s points about the need to “reduce the influence of money in politics” and ensure that “the system’s not rigged in favor of the wealthiest and biggest corporations.”
Extended drought in California, freeze warnings in Oregon, flooding in the Southeast…. Today’s mounting environmental stresses of extreme and unpredictably shifting patterns in the weather, along with exhausted soil, resistant “superweeds” and pollinator losses, are taking a toll on farms across the country.
These stressors, many brought on or exacerbated by the destructive practices of industrialized farming, are also giving us a pretty clear warning that our approach to farming is going to have to change — significantly and fast.
Two weeks ago, I was speaking to a roomful of specialty crop growers and organic farmers from Indiana. They were concerned about the pesticide drift that is expected to accompany the planting of Dow and Monsanto’s new herbicide-resistant corn and soybean seeds this spring. Presenting alongside me was Anita Poeppel of Broadbranch Farms, a family-owned and operated farm in north central Illinois.
Anita shared a message with her fellow growers: We need to be ready. If USDA allows these new GE seeds — that’ve been designed to be sprayed with highly toxic, drift-prone herbicides — onto the market, we are all going to be in a lot of trouble.
Organic farmers who use agroecological practices build healthy soil, conserve water, protect pollinators and keep the air and water clear of harmful pesticides. We owe them thanks for this. They also produce bountiful crops.
Yesterday, these hard-working farmers received an important boost of recognition from the scientific community with the release of findings from a major new study comparing the productivity of organic and conventional farming.
Today is World Food Day and around the world communities are taking a stand against hunger. But the solutions put forward differ dramatically depending on what one understands the “food problem” to be. For many, every day is World Food Day and presents both the necessity and opportunity to fight for farm and food justice; for them it is a matter of integrity and survival.
Walking past the ancient Roman Coliseum on my way to the recent International Symposium on Agroecology, the surprising twists of history were on my mind. Even a few years ago, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization — host of the symposium — would never have organized such a meeting. “Agroecology” was considered far too radical and dangerous a concept to many in FAO who had dedicated long careers to exporting the chemical-intensive “Green Revolution” model of agriculture around the world.
Yet there I was, along with 400 other scientists, agri-food system researchers, farmers and social movement leaders, commencing an intensive two-day exchange of agroecological knowledge, science and practice in the heart of Rome.
One morning a few weeks ago, I received an email from the National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council (NRC), announcing the makeup of a provisional committee of experts that has been tasked with carrying out a comprehensive new study of GE crops. This study is supposed to assess the history of GE crops around the world, the diverse experiences of farmers in different countries and a wide range of “purported” negative and positive impacts of GE seeds and their associated technologies (for example, pesticides).
Done right, this could be an illuminating investigation, right? But as I looked over the bios provided on NRC’s webpage, I quickly realized that the Council appears to have a pretty poor idea of how to carry out such a challenging, complex and multi-faceted study. In fact, this week 67 scientists and researchers publicly rebuked the NRC for failing, right at the outset, to put together a slate of experts equipped for the task (full letter here).
“This pesticide is toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates. Do not apply directly to water… Drift or runoff may be hazardous….The use of this chemical…may result in groundwater contamination.” Does this sound like a green chemical of the future, something that you’d want drifting over fields, rivers, streams, schools and homes? Not so much. But our Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may disagree.
EPA has been stumbling hard and making some bad decisions lately, including this latest announcement: the agency intends to approve Dow AgroScience’s new formulation of the highly toxic herbicide, 2,4-D — to be used with the corporation’s genetically engineered (GE) 2,4-D resistant corn, cotton and soybean seeds.
Growing environmental threats of climate change on top of ever-intensifying economic stresses are pushing many farmers around the world to their edge. At the same time, a growing number of these farmers and scientists are realizing that 1) continued reliance on the energy, water and chemical-intensive industrial model of agriculture is simply no longer an option and 2) our most robust response to today’s converging stresses lies in cultivating resilience and food democracy.