[permaculture] Africa: UN Scientists Say Industrial Agriculture Has Failed
Wesley Roe and Santa Barbara Permaculture Network
lakinroe at silcom.com
Wed Apr 16 11:03:33 EDT 2008
Africa: UN Scientists Say Industrial Agriculture Has Failed
The East African (Nairobi)
15 April 2008
Posted to the web 15 April 2008
As Africa prepares for its own version of the "green revolution"
being championed by US-based foundations, a new UN report paints a
gloomy future for industrial farming.
The report, titled The International Assessment of Agricultural
Science and Technology for Development www.agassessment.org
do decries the current tendency to emphasise agricultural research
into variety improvement, biotechnology and productivity, saying such
research ought to be redirected towards addressing social inequities
and environmental problems. It is also apparent that the report
recognises that indigenous knowledge has something to offer to
Most importantly for the development of agriculture in East Africa
and elsewhere on the continent, the report cautions against exposing
developing countries to unregulated international competition as is
about to happen once the European Union and the Africa, Carribbean
and Pacific (ACP) countries adopt the Economic Partnership Agreements.
The report says that such competition is likely to have long-term
negative effects on food security, poverty alleviation and the
environment. The future of farming lies in making agriculture
sensitive to the world's environment, it says.
Prepared by a panel of scientists, the report was released last week
during a UN conference in South Africa. The conference was attended
by scientists and government representatives from all over the world
to discuss the final UN report.
In his address, Achim Steiner, the executive director of Unep said;
"Agriculture is not just about putting things in the ground and then
harvesting them." He argued that growth in agriculture has continued
to depend largely on increasing use of social and environmental
resources, which will determine its future capacity to provide for
billions of people.
The report is the culmination of a three-year assessment carried out
by several hundred scientists who have been taking stock of the
current state of farming in the world. The report has unflattering
things to say about large-scale commercial agriculture, which it
claims has failed, and calls for a systematic reassessment of past
and ongoing agricultural research, with a view to steering it towards
addressing hunger, severe social inequities and contradictions as
well as environmental problems.
If adopted, it will largely inform the future of global agriculture
and could be the death knell of large-scale commercial agriculture.
But though there is optimism that it will be formally adopted by UN
member states, there are also fears that powerful Western governments
might employ muscle to water down its scientific findings and tailor
it to suit their interests.
The report challenges the basic tenets of the green revolution, which
are based on the use of increasingly aggressive and expensive
chemicals that seem to not only threaten the very soils they are
supposed to protect but also water resources, the air and even the
farmers themselves. To the authors of the report, "the ecological
footprint of industrial agriculture is already too large to be ignored."
Owing to such radical thinking, it has come under criticism by the
US, the World Bank, the global genetic engineering industry and other
supporters of the green revolution who term it "unbalanced and one-sided."
However, all those criticising the report were involved in the
process of selecting the participating scientists and editors of the report.
The latter were selected by a multi-stakeholder bureau comprising
industry, governments and international organisations, to guarantee a
balanced selection of the scientists. The US is particularly
criticised for crying foul allegedly because it was unable to
handpick its own spin-doctors.
The import of the report is that it provides an opportunity for the
world to debate the need for a fundamental change in the way farming
is handled. That the future of agriculture lies in securing
biological diversity and in adopting labour-intensive farming that
works with nature and the people, not against them.
However, Africa is generally catching up with the rest of the world
in embracing chemical-intensive agriculture. The report equates such
farming to mining since it extracts as much economic value as
possible from each piece of land.
It argues that while such farming may provide short-term gains in
production, it is not sustainable and compromises the dwindling
agricultural area upon which global future food supply depends.
Besides, it fails to fails to offer food security and a healthy,
diverse diet to local communities.
The report is also an indictment on what some of the participants at
the Johannesburg conference termed the "false promise" of genetic
engineering. Without saying so, the report asks all concerned parties
to support a real revolution in farming if agriculture is to meet the
needs of local communities and the environment, restore the largely
degraded land (particularly in Africa) and enable the poor to combat
hunger, displacement and depletion of their resources and culture.
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