– Letter to the Editor of Farmer’s Independent Weekly – Dec. 04
Shayne Murphy, in your letter to the editor in the 02 Dec issue, you ask the question: “. . . what other alternatives (to GMO seed development) are being offered to satisfy the increased demand for viable food crops?” I hope I can encourage you and your classmates to look into the alternatives as part of your diploma in agriculture studies.
As I was growing up my father and the farmers around us were being courted by the post WWII agro-chemical companies. There was much excitement about how technological advancements were revolutionizing agriculture and about how these advancements would improve rural life. Although my parents wouldn’t complain, their mid-sized (for its day) conventional farm failed to support them. My mother had to find off-farm work, then my father did as well and there wasn’t enough income to offer me a place to learn and take over the farm. Our community has since lost half of its population. Yes, our production has increased but our ability to sustain ourselves has decreased.
About that same time it became clear that the farmers who kept up with the old ways of feeding the soil with compost, keeping their incomes diversified, keep growing as much of their own food as possible and who were learning new techniques like crop rotations and green manure plow downs, were able to hold on to their farms. These farmers began to band together to form organic certifying bodies. There was demand for the synthetic-chemical free food they were growing and they needed to standardize their growing and labeling methods. Earlier this year Newsweek reported on a 19 year Farming Systems Trial conducted by Rodale Institute and the US Department of Agriculture contrasting a highly productive corn/soybean system under conventional as well as organic management. They demonstrated that organic practices are as efficient, cost-effective and financially competitive as are conventional approaches – plus better for the soil and the environment.
Organic farmers cannot use GM seeds, they don’t enjoy support from very many research facilities or governments and still they find solutions to agronomic challenges. There is beauty in this, in particular because they are being rewarded now by a market that is clearly the leader in food sales. Wise farmers and researchers are perking up their ears when they hear that for the past 15 years organic markets in North America and Europe have been growing by 20% while the conventional food market has grown by 3%. Europeans have figured this out and are unwilling to let in GM seed and food – a move that protects the organic industry/movement. I suggest this phenomenon is worth looking into. Dr Martin Entz and Dr Rene Van Acker in your Agriculture Department could help you.
Another system that includes organic farmers but is open to all is the Holistic Management method. They are also concerned about the long term health of the soil and the sustainability of the family farm. The added benefit of HM is that the farmers associated to it get together socially and to help each other make decisions; to keep from getting distracted by influences that are not rural, community based. The nearest HM teachers are Don and Bev Campbell in Meadow Lake, SK. 306-236-6088
Please do not get too attached to the argument that we need to feed a hungry world. First of all there is plenty of food to feed everyone. Our problems are 1. ensuring everyone can grow and get compensated adequately for growing food that is needed by the people nearest to them and 2. getting temporary food to people when they can’t produce what they need locally. Our governments, transportation interests and agro-corporations have over the years separated the consumer interests from the grower interests. What we need to do more diligently is reconnect these two primary players in the food system. We have people all over the world growing food they can’t eat, exporting to people who are also growing food they don’t eat. Yes, it’s great to eat food from other areas of the world, but if the cost to us is poor nutrition and rural economies falling through the floor, perhaps we should look a bit more critically for solutions before we once again tie ourselves to an agro-corporate, global-transportation-of-goods agenda.
If we decide that we don’t have enough food to feed the people on this earth, we should first look for the places where we are most inefficient. We would soon see that our grain-fed beef industry and our demand for coffee, tea, bananas, sugar, etc. from poor countries could easily be reduced to free up land for the food that is actually needed.
Let’s not keep the wheels spinning ever faster just because we are being told our participation is needed. We can slow down, look around and assess the situation for ourselves. What life do we want? Who do we want to feed? What food do we feel best satisfies human, animal and plant life needs? I’ve seen plenty of research and experiential evidence to say alternatives are all around us. What we need more of, in my opinion, is the courage and curiosity to explore. I wish you and your university well in this.
Feel free to contact me as well if you need someone with whom to bounce around ideas. David M Neufeld (204) 534-2303, <email@example.com> Enjoy.