[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

John Mbaria

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 
agricultural progress.

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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