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Monsanto is starting an advocacy campaign in Australia, calling for greater acceptance of their GMO wares. Aside from all the environmental and personal health issues involved with GMOs, Monsanto is also conveniently ignoring that mother of all wake up calls, peak oil. Without cheap energy, their large scale globalised monocrop systems will collapse.


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Courtesy: Marc Roberts

It seems we have Monsanto on the defensive, and offensive:

Global biotechnology company Monsanto has begun an education and advocacy campaign to change the opposition many Australia consumers have to genetically modified food.

Speaking at the NSW Farmwriters Forum in Sydney, Monsanto’s head in Australia, Peter O’Keefe, argued that organic and permaculture production was "not viable" on a large scale, and Australia was falling behind other countries in productivity improvements because of the reluctance to embrace GM technology. – ABC.net.au

Okay, it’s understandable that Monsanto would want to attack permaculture and organics. These systems are biodiverse, they build soil, and thus eliminate the need for expensive inputs and agribusiness products. The biodiversity and soil building gets the farmer out of the chemical treadmill and dependency on Monsanto and their ilk, and creates a climate and ‘product’ that makes genetic tinkering a redundant enterprise.

Now, they’re talking about the need to persevere with ‘large scale’. Note, there’s ‘large scale’ and there’s ‘large scale’. We need a lot of agriculture, as we’re a whole lotta people now: 6.8 billion, and counting, at a rate of an extra billion every 12 years at the moment – heading to around 9.2 billion by 2050 at current expansion – if we don’t have a major population-reducing meltdown first…. which is quite on the cards. But while we need a lot of production, it’s the how of the matter that makes all the difference.

Feeding these people will not be easy. I have no question about that, and this consideration consumes many of my waking hours. Presently, one in five people in the world are severely undernourished, and that rate is growing at an alarming pace. Clean water is available to even fewer.

Of course, at the moment, there is actually more than enough food in the world to feed everyone, but our present economic system fails to distribute it – more, it actively pulls food, and the ability to produce it, right out of their hands. All those unable to participate in the money economy tend to fall through the cracks, and starve. To Monsanto, people who eat (I think that covers all of us) are customers. Without money, in our present large scale globalised system, eating gets struck off your daily activity list.

But let’s back up a moment, and look at a little context….

The ‘large scale’ Monsanto are referring to is a continuation of the status quo, and not letting the little distractions of deforestation, climate change, soil erosion, water loss, soil and water (and people and animal) chemical contamination, resource wars, etc. – that are all primarily caused by our current agricultural activities – divert us from it. They’re talking ‘large scale’ industrial, monocrop agriculture. It’s the kind of agriculture that’s efficient in only one single way – that being to produce the most ‘food’ (if you can call it that) with the least human labour. In other words, less farmers, and more machines, per acre. When you look at the efficiencies in every other area, it fails signally. It’s been proven time and time again, in back yards and small acreages the world over, that biodiverse systems are more productive (and resilient), and that such agriculture produces a superior product with far greater quantities on much smaller sections of land.

The ‘problem’ with biodiverse systems is that they don’t lend themselves to mechanised/automated/factory-floor type farming. Biodiverse systems require more human involvement and stewardship – more people and less machines per acre – which means more of us need to become involved in primary production. At an individual quality of life level, taking into account the diverse, healthy activities involved, I don’t think this is a bad thing at all – and would bring enormous improvements to not just our land, soils, water and climate, but also to the mental, physical and social health of society at large. It would also create more equality and increase community cohesion and resiliency. But, the reality is that, not only for biological reasons, but also for other resource reasons – primarily being the impending dramatic declines in fossil fuel ‘production’ (they actually mine it – they don’t produce it), not to mention the scarcely appreciated peak phosphorus issue – many more of us need to be producing our own food, and working in closed loop systems, whether we like it or not.

While Monsanto may choose to ignore it (looking through spectacles with dollar signs engraved over the lenses does tend to obscure one’s view), the peak oil message is no longer a ‘conspiracy theory’. (How one could ever give such a label to an observation that a finite resource is, in fact, a finite resource, is beyond me – but there you go.) The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2009 report was based on studying more than 800 of the world’s largest oil fields – their production and decline rates – and it came to some rather astonishing conclusions, ones that caused a virtual u-turn in the IEA’s outlook on the future, which had until then had been based purely on serious optimism alone.

Now almost at every turn we’re seeing acknowledgements that peak oil is not only a reality, but that it’s either already occurred, or is damned close to hitting town. Even governments can no longer hide their fears that the well has run dry. The latest being a peak oil study by the German military (PDF), which was leaked to Spiegel just over a week ago:

A study by a German military think tank has analyzed how "peak oil" might change the global economy. The internal draft document — leaked on the Internet — shows for the first time how carefully the German government has considered a potential energy crisis. – Spiegel

And they’re not talking about an energy crisis at some distant date in the future:

According to the German report, there is “some probability that peak oil will occur around the year 2010….” – Spiegel

Their overview of the contents of the study highlight some rather interesting/alarming consequences, including shifts in inter-country political allegiances as governments prioritise better relationships with those nations still possessing oil and gas (in this instance, Germany would need to huddle a lot closer to Russia) and the potential for countries to begin to stockpile their reserves to minimise internal upheaval as they transition to a post-carbon world – with significant impacts on importing countries. (The majority of the world’s economies are importing countries – with a full 60% of the 21 million barrels of oil the USA consumes every day imported, as an example.)

Economically, we’re looking at complete collapse:

The authors paint a bleak picture of the consequences resulting from a shortage of petroleum. As the transportation of goods depends on crude oil, international trade could be subject to colossal tax hikes. "Shortages in the supply of vital goods could arise" as a result, for example in food supplies. Oil is used directly or indirectly in the production of 95 percent of all industrial goods. Price shocks could therefore be seen in almost any industry and throughout all stages of the industrial supply chain. "In the medium term the global economic system and every market-oriented national economy would collapse." – Spiegel

The Oil Drum has an english translation of the main points of the document as well.

Similar is being seen from the UK government, who, while publically presenting an ‘all is well’ face to the public, are secretly panicking:

Speculation that government ministers are far more concerned about a future supply crunch than they have admitted has been fuelled by the revelation that they are canvassing views from industry and the scientific community about "peak oil".

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is also refusing to hand over policy documents about "peak oil" – the point at which oil production reaches its maximum and then declines – under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, despite releasing others in which it admits "secrecy around the topic is probably not good". – The Guardian

Without cheap oil and gas, our present monocrop system is wholly impossible – think tractors, harvesters, pesticides, herbicides, fertilisers, processing, refrigeration, transport, distribution and retailing – as are the international food swap stupidities occurring everywhere.

On top of all this the United Nations has just had to make a special meeting to discuss food price concerns as Russia extends its ban on wheat exports. Climate change is creating mayhem for farmers worldwide. The result is we’re starting to see stockpiling and trade restrictions as nations try to bolster their national food security, while others are frantically buying up land in other countries for the same reason. The era of cheap food is well and truly over – with immense sociopolitical implications.

Monsanto – your ignoring the fact that monocrop farming is destructive in every way has helped force our world populations out onto a rather slender gangplank. To ignore peak oil is to give us that final push. The only ‘large scale’ we’ll see in our future is large scale mayhem if we don’t retreat from this precarious position as soon as possible. The only ‘advocacy campaigns’ we need are those that scream for a shift in economic incentives and rural and residential regulations to favour small scale, biodiverse, low input (ideally closed loop), soil building, water conserving, food production. These are called permaculture and organic systems….

Oh, before I close…. It’s been proven that GM technology can actually reduce yields:

Genetic modification actually cuts the productivity of crops, an authoritative new study shows, undermining repeated claims that a switch to the controversial technology is needed to solve the growing world food crisis.

… The Nebraska study suggested that two factors are at work. First, it takes time to modify a plant and, while this is being done, better conventional ones are being developed. This is acknowledged even by the fervently pro-GM US Department of Agriculture, which has admitted that the time lag could lead to a “decrease” in yields.

But the fact that GM crops did worse than their near-identical non-GM counterparts suggest that a second factor is also at work, and that the very process of modification depresses productivity. The new Kansas study both confirms this and suggests how it is happening. — Independent

And, amongst other things, rather than the supposed drought tolerance Monsanto keeps promising but never achieving, it’s the high water demands of GM crops, amongst other related issues with them, that are contributing to massive farmer suicide rates in India:

Far from being magic seeds, the GM crops were devastated by bollworms. They also required double the amount of water.

When rains failed for the past two years, many GM crops simply withered and died. – Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

And Indians are not the only one’s noticing that GM crops require more water:

The Network of Concerned Farmers, an alliance of farmers with concerns regarding genetically modified crops, are calling for research to determine why GM crops perform worse during droughts.

"There is more than enough evidence to reveal that GM crops perform worse than non-GM crops during drought conditions but this vital information is being ignored," said Julie Newman, National Spokesperson for the Network of Concerned Farmers.

"Farmers worldwide have complained that GM crops perform worse than non-GM crops during drought including GM cotton in India and Indonesia, GM soy in the United States and Brazil and GM canola in Canada. Australian farmers have even stated that they use an additional irrigation for GM cotton so it appears there is evidence that GM crops need more water," she said. – Network of Concerned Farmers

Monsanto – the public is increasingly aware. Your days are numbered. We’re on to you.

11 Responses to “Monsanto Has Us Walking the Gangplank, and Wants to Give That Final Push”

  1. Øyvind Holmstad

    The following lists some of the results of studies conducted around the world on the impact of introducing ecological farming in smallholder systems.

    llustrative scientific research conducted in 57 countries found resource-conserving agriculture could increase the average crop yield by 79 percent (Pretty et al., 2006).

    The average crop yield increases were 116 percent increase for all African projects and 128 percent increase for the projects in East Africa (UNEP-UNCTAD, 2008).

    Overall, the world average organic yields are calculated to be 132 percent more than current food production levels.(Organic Agriculture and Food Security, FAO. 2007).

    Maize yields increased between 20 and 50% in Brazil by using green manure (Parrot et al., 2002).

    Farmers in Nepal increased yields 175 percent by using agro-ecological management practices (Parrot et al., 2002).

    In Tigray, Ethiopia, composted plots had yields three to five times higher than those treated only with chemicals (Parrot et al., 2002).

    Farmers throughout the developing world have consistently high yield ratios when they incorporated intensive agroecological techniques, such as crop rotation, cover cropping,agroforestry, addition of organic fertilizers or more efficient water management (Badgley et al., 2007).

    Farmers throughout the developing world today and have a huge potential for increasing this production even more.

    Large-scale studies show potential production increases from 79 to 132 percent, whilesmall-scale studies have shown the potential for a fivefold increase in production.

    Hans Herren, co-chair of IAASTD, states very clearly there should be no doubt about the capacity for ecological farmers to feed the world:

    “The evidence in support of low input, ecological or “conservation” agriculture is undeniable, from the IAASTD, to the Union of Concerned Scientists to a recent UNCTAD report that states ‘organic agriculture can be more conducive to food security in Africa than most conventional productive systems, and is more likely to be sustainable in the long term.’ And evidence that sustainable, ecologically based agriculture can provide the nutrition and income to the billion plus poor and hungry of today, and the 2 billion newcomers by 2050, is now well proven.”

    This premise is usually overlooked in discussions on how to end hunger and feed future generations, even though it has been tirelessly repeated by the small-scalefarmers themselves, as well as many NGOs and scientists. The fact that increasedsupport to ecological agriculture can substantially increase food production has to be the principal strategy of any move from unsustainable industrial agriculture to a viable, multifaceted small-scale agriculture that can feed future populations.

    Can industrial agriculture also feed us? Large-scale industrial agriculture produces only around 30 percent of the food consumed globally, while small-scale food producers produce at least 70 percent(ETC-group. Who will feed us?).

    Expansion of industrial food production on a scale necessary for meeting the current demand of the majority of the world’s population, not to mention the extra 2.2 billion who will join the ranks by 2050, will cause enormous environmental problems. This is explained in the next chapter.

    RESULTS: INCREASED PRODUCTION WITH ECOLOGICAL FARMING

    See:

    http://www.utviklingsfondet.no/filestore/ViableFuture-web.pdf

    Reply
  2. Adam T

    Øyvind that was eloquently said. There is no mine on earth that can extract resources without running dry, and if Monsanto think a genetically engineered crop can grow well and mine nutrients from rocks and degraded soil it shows how ignorant they are. Farmers! Why not just plant a nonmodified crop on BETTER SOIL? With better practices soil is improved by how nature intended. Its cheaper and the farm can last generations!

    If people think fertility comes out of a factory bag written, N, C, K, P complete fertilizer, then they fail to realize that soil is a complicated mix of other elements from the periodic table.

    The Monsanto solution is cumbersome. It is conceived and maintained on a foul mix of laziness, ignorance and greed. They may make a quick profit from this short sightedness, but inevitably they will destroy their customer base. Those people who continue to farm the Monsanto way will fail financially. This is why sustainable farming under the permaculture or natural sequence banner must expand onto large scale agriculture. Geoff Lawton is doing the best thing for permaculture by showing its merits on large scale farms in Jordan now. Companies that follow Geoff’s sustainable, large scale farming will out-compete Monsanto and silence them for good.

    Reply
  3. Isaac

    Right on Craig, great links and references. This succinctly puts things in an article that anyone can grasp given a little reflection. Oyvind, thank you for the excellent statistics, I agree this is an extremely important point to be making about yields as it contradicts the false propaganda of the agrobusiness multinationals.

    And I would like to say to anyone who works for Monsanto directly that you really need to look at the facts and seriously consider what you are a part of. If you don´t want to and only care about your fancy car and house, well, I rest assured that if things continue as they are, aka ‘your way’ you will be some of the first to go when the SHTF.

    Reply
  4. Leanne

    Great article.

    Monsanto understand profits really well, and their view of the world is neatly packaged and sold as an easy way to make huge profits. And it’s easy enough to fake a few studies to make it look real enough to sell the view to foolish governments (with a golden handshake to sweeten the deal) and farmers.

    However, as anyone who has worked the soil can tell you, there is no such thing as a free lunch. You must build great soil to get great yields. Working with – instead of against – nature is the only way to get permanent great returns.

    We’re living on a small permaculture farm in New Zealand, and are finding that the more we diversify, the easier the workload and the better the returns. Our yields increase, our workload decreases, just by working with nature and using our brains.

    If only Monsanto would do the same, what a powerful force for good they could be.

    Reply

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