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Notes for GMO Global Impact Webinar
August 12, 2013
Today there are about 1 billion hungry people in the planet, but hunge...
With the Green Revolution, farming becomes petrol-dependent. In India, adoption of the
new seeds has been accompanied by a...
Commercial agriculture produces most of the food for the country and makes an
important contribution to export earnings.
corporate GM corn cultivation, thus transferring control of the national food supply as
well. Widespread open planting of ...
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Notes for Webinar on Global Impact of GMOs August, 12 2013


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Notes of Katherine Zavala's presentation at the GMO Webinar for the Food Justice Learning Call series, organized by Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), who are a member of the US Food Sovereignty Alliance.

The full video of the Webinar can be found here:

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Notes for Webinar on Global Impact of GMOs August, 12 2013

  1. 1. Notes for GMO Global Impact Webinar August 12, 2013 Today there are about 1 billion hungry people in the planet, but hunger is caused by poverty and inequality, not scarcity due to lack of production. The world already produces enough food to feed 9 to10 billion people, the population peak expected by 2050. The bulk of industrially produced grain crops go to biofuels and confined animals. We need an alternative agricultural development paradigm, one that encourages more ecologically, biodiverse, resilient, sustainable and socially just forms of agriculture. The basis for such new systems of food sovereignty are the myriad of ecologically based agricultural styles developed by at least 75% of the 1,5 billion smallholders, family farmers and indigenous people today on 350 million small farms. Most of the food consumed today in the world is derived from 5,000 domesticated crop species and 1.9 million peasant-bred plant varieties mostly grown without agrochemicals (ETC, 2009). However, the solutions for smallholder agriculture advocated by big bilateral donors, governments and the initiatives of private foundations have tended to center around the promotion of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, which are costly for farmers and often resource depleting. This drive for a new ‗Green Revolution‘ as exemplified by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) has tended to sideline more sustainable, farmer led approaches. The original ―Green Revolution‖ – it provided a promise to end hunger through miracle seeds. These miracle seeds would supposedly increase grain yields. Although improving seeds through experimentation is what people have been up to since the beginning of agriculture, the term "Green Revolution" was coined in the 1960s to highlight a particularly striking breakthrough. In test plots in northwest Mexico, improved varieties of wheat dramatically increased yields. Much of the reason why these "modern varieties" produced more than traditional varieties was that they were more responsive to controlled irrigation and to petrochemical fertilizers, allowing for much more efficient conversion of industrial inputs into food. With a big boost from the International Agricultural Research Centers created by the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, the "miracle" seeds quickly spread to Asia, and soon new strains of rice and corn were developed as well. By the 1990s, almost 75 percent of Asian rice areas were sown with these new varieties. The same was true for almost half of the wheat planted in Africa and more than half of that in Latin America and Asia, and about 70 percent of the world's corn as well. Overall, it was estimated that 40 percent of all farmers in the Global South were using Green Revolution seeds, with the greatest use found in Asia, followed by Latin America. Did it prove itself to be a successful strategy? Not really. Green Revolution narrowly focused on increased production and it failed to alter the tightly concentrated distribution of economic power, especially access to land and purchasing power. Basically, if the poor doesn‘t have the money to buy food, increased production is not going to help them.
  2. 2. With the Green Revolution, farming becomes petrol-dependent. In India, adoption of the new seeds has been accompanied by a sixfold rise in fertilizer use per acre. Yet the quantity of agricultural production per ton of fertilizer used in India dropped by two- thirds during the Green Revolution years. Flash forward to 1999, AGRA – Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa – became an initiative launched by the Rockefeller Foundation,, joined 7 years later by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. ―Public-private partnerships‖are a cornerstone of AGRA. Private investment is seen as necessary to stimulate economic growth and, conversely, Africa represents huge potential new markets for agribusiness. For instance, at the 2006 Africa Fertilizer Summit,funded by the Rockefeller foundation, more than 40 African governments agreed to lift all cross-border taxes and tariffs on chemical fertilizers. AGRA promotes a failed technology. AGRA is simply the flagship project for a larger, industrial campaign for a Green Revolution based on the spread of genetically engineered crops. While AGRA is not directly distributing genetically engineered seeds in Africa, it is training the scientists and setting up the infrastructure for the spread of these GM crops. And by building partnerships with state government, promote GM seeds to be part of government schemes to farmers. Biotechnology has had dismal results in Africa in recent years. Field trials in Kenya showed Monsanto‘s multi-million dollar virus-resistant sweet potato variety to be no less virus-resistant—and no more productive—than local varieties. In another example of spectacular failure, three varieties of Monsanto‘s GM maize failed to produce crops during the 2008/9 growing season in South Africa, leaving as many as 200,000 hectares of cornfields barren, as well as crop losses across several provinces. Monsanto compensated commercial farmers who lost their yield and barred them from speaking out publicly. South Africa South Africa is the one of 7 developing countries worldwide, which are growing GM crops for commercial purposes, and the only country in Africa producing a GE crop a part of the staple food of its population – GE white maize. South Africa imports and exports GM maize as animal feed. South Africa now devotes an estimated 300,000 hectares to growing GE white and yellow maize, soybean and cotton. About 80% of the cotton grown in South Africa is GE. Field trials have been conducted on potatoes, wheat, canola, sugarcane, apple, eucalyptus, strawberry, sugar beet, tomato and sweet potato to identify GE varieties for commercial production. South African agriculture mirrors the high levels of inequality in the country. There is large-scale industrialized commercial farming sector and a small-scale, labor intensive, low input sector where farming is often one of a number of livelihood strategies for poor rural households.
  3. 3. Commercial agriculture produces most of the food for the country and makes an important contribution to export earnings. Small-scale agriculture is largely confined to the former apartheid homelands. These areas remain home to a third of South Africa‘s population and 70% of the poor. In South Africa, the uptake of GE crops amongst small-scale farmers has been limited to schemes (government packages) where farmers receive a package of inputs and support and loans from the Land Bank. With these government schemes, the farmers risk getting trapped in debt cycles if their crops fail and they are not able to repay loans and buy seed again. South Africa doesn‘t have a well-developed policy on GMOs, nor do they include the public in decision-making about GE activities in the country.South Africa does have a GMO Act 15 of 1997, which is supposed to regulate the production and release of GMOs in the country and should address biosafety concerns. However, the GMO Act contains a number of flaws. It does not make adequate provisions for risk assessments, it imposes liability for environmental and other damage on the end user (farmer or consumer) rather than the provider, and it does not allow for proper public input or oversight in permit granting procedures.The Act is essentially a mechanism to fast-track permits for field trials, commercial releases and the import and export of GE crops. There has been no public policy process to determine the use of GMOs in South Africa and decision-making has been characterized by a lack of transparency and denial of access to information, as it was witnessed in the High Court case between Biowatch South Africa, Monsanto and the Department of Agriculture. GM Corn in Mexico More than 60,000 farmers and supporters from workers‘ and environmental organizations marched through Mexico City on Jan. 31 to avoid this fate. It was one of the largest mobilizations to date to reject the Monsanto game plan. With tens of thousands of people shouting ―No genetically modified corn in Mexico!‖ and ―Monsanto get out!‖, the march showed the muscle of an unusual grassroots movement to protect small farmers and consumers. It also revealed the remarkable success of decades of public education and organizing on an issue that Monsanto and other major biotech firms hoped would slide under the radar of the people most affected by it. Monsanto–along with Pioneer, Dow and other chemical/biotech firms–have been pushing hard to take over production of the world‘s third major staple crop: corn. Small farmers in the U.S. have long experienced the pressure exerted to move them out of the way. Monsanto predicts that its corn seed will be planted on 96 million acres in the United States this year. But the key to its plans to conquer the market lies south of the border. The powerful corporation, the largest seed seller in the world, desperately wants permission for unrestricted planting of its GM corn in Mexico. If GM corn is planted in Mexico, it will accelerate the transfer of acreage and water rights from small farmers to
  4. 4. corporate GM corn cultivation, thus transferring control of the national food supply as well. Widespread open planting of GM corn will lead to contamination of native varieties. This is a scientific fact. Mexico is the center of origin of corn, and the home of hundreds of varieties developed by indigenous communities over centuries. To lose in situ preservation of these varieties is to lose a wealth of agro-diversity that has major importance for sustainable food production, and to eventually become dependent on Monsanto and other large corporations to feed ourselves. The Mexican government first legalized GM plantings through what has come to be known as the 2005 ―Monsanto Law‖, which the farmers are demanding be revoked. It then began issuing permits, first for experimental plantings. Having passed that phase, Monsanto has now requested permits to begin all-out commercial production. It has filed to sow some 700,000 hectares of genetically modified corn in the state of Sinaloa alone. Shifting to Agroecology A 2008 report by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD)—a joint initiative of the World Bank, United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and others—found that the real solution to hunger was not to be found in technological fixes such as GM seeds, but rather in equitable distribution of resources and support for ecological and traditional agriculture. This agriculture contains practices what a number of our Global South Partners are calling agroecology. As an applied science, agroecology uses ecological concepts and principles for the design and management of sustainable agroecosystems where external inputs are replaced by natural processes such as natural soil fertility and biological control (Altieri, 1995). Agroecology takes greater advantage of natural processes and beneficial on-farm interactions in order to reduce off-farm input use and to improve the efficiency offarming systems. Agroecological principles take differenttechnological forms depending on the biophysical and socioeconomic circumstances of each farmer or region. A key principle of agroecology is the diversification of farming systems promoting mixtures of crop varieties, intercropping systems, agroforestry systems, livestock integration, etc., which potentiate the positive effects of biodiversity on productivity derived from the increasing effects of complementarity between plant-animal species translated in better use of sunlight, water, soil resources and natural regulation of pest populations. Agroecological systems are not intensivein the use of capital, labor, or chemical inputs, but ratherintensifythe efficiency of biological processes. Social process – farmer‘s knowledge is at the center of crop cultivation – and it‘s a political process – which encourages one to question whether the food systems is working – who has the decision making power in our food system?