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[Duurzaamlijst] Organic Farming Will Feed the World

The article presents scientific observations that effectively contradict the key arguments
for agribiotech. The research presented below indicates that organic farming is even
superior to non-organic farming regarding yields in addition to being greatly superior
regarding friendliness to the environment. In addition, it is environmentally sustainable.


Organic Farming Will Feed the World
Astonishingly, it's more productive than high-tech agriculture
By George Monbiot.

Published in the Guardian, UK 24th August 2000.

(Republished here with the permission of the author who also provided the references which
were not included in the original article. Editings in bold and italics were added by

The advice could scarcely have come from a more surprising source. "If anyone tells you
that GM is going to feed the world," Steve Smith, a director of the world's biggest
biotechnology company, Novartis, insisted, "tell them that it is not. - To feed the world
takes political and financial will - it's not about production and distribution." (1)

Mr Smith was voicing a truth which most of his colleagues in the biotechnology companies
have gone to great lengths to deny. On a planet wallowing in surfeit, people starve
because they have neither the land on which to grow food for themselves nor the money with
which to buy it. There is no question that, as population increases, the world will have
to grow more, but if this task is left to the rich and powerful - big farmers and big
business - then, irrespective of how much is grown, people will become progressively
hungrier. Only a redistribution of both land and wealth can save the world from mass

But in one respect Mr Smith is wrong. It is - in part - about production. A series of
remarkable experimental results has shown that the growing techniques which his company
and many others have sought to impose upon the world are, in contradiction to everything
we have been brought up to believe, actually less productive than some of the methods
developed by traditional farmers over the past 10,000 years.

Last week, Nature magazine reported the results of one of the biggest agricultural
experiments ever conducted (2). A team of Chinese scientists had tested the key principle
of modern rice-growing - planting a single, high-tech variety across hundreds of
hectares - against a much older technique: planting several breeds in one field. They
found, to the astonishment of the farmers who had been drilled for years in the benefits
of "monoculture", that reverting to the old method resulted in spectacular increases in
yield. Rice blast - a devastating fungus which normally requires repeated applications of
poison to control - decreased by 94 per cent. The farmers planting a mixture of strains
were able to stop applying their poisons altogether, while producing 18 per cent more rice
per acre than they were growing before.

Two years ago, another paper published in Nature showed that yields of organic maize are
identical to yields of maize grown with fertilisers and pesticides, while soil quality in
the organic fields dramatically improves (3). In trials in Hertfordshire, wheat grown with
manure has produced consistently higher yields for the past 150 years than wheat grown
with artificial nutrients.

Professor Jules Pretty of Essex University has shown how farmers in India, Kenya, Brazil,
Guatemala and Honduras have doubled or tripled their yields by switching to organic or
semi-organic techniques(4). A study in the United States reveals that small farmers
growing a wide range of plants can produce ten times as much money per acre as big farmers
growing single crops (5). Cuba, forced into organic farming by the economic blockade, has
now adopted it as policy, having discovered that it improves both the productivity and the
quality of the crops its farmers grow (6).

High-tech farming, by contrast, is sowing ever graver problems. This year, food production
in Punjab and Haryana, the Indian states long celebrated as the great success stories of
modern, intensive cultivation has all but collapsed (7). The new crops the farmers there
have been encouraged to grow demand far more water and nutrients than the old ones, with
the result that, in many places, both the ground water and the soil have been exhausted.

We have, in other words, been deceived. Traditional farming has been stamped out all over
the world not because it is less productive than monoculture, but because it is, in some
respects, more productive. Organic cultivation has been characterised as an enemy of
progress for the simple reason that it cannot be monopolised: it can be adopted by any
farmer anywhere on earth, without the help of multinational companies. Though it is more
productive to grow several species or several varieties of crops in one field, the biotech
companies must reduce diversity in order to make money, leaving farmers with no choice but
to purchase their most profitable seeds. This is why they have spent the last ten years
buying up seed breeding institutes and lobbying governments to do what ours has done:
banning the sale of any seed which has not been officially - and expensively - registered
and approved.

All this requires an unrelenting propaganda war against the tried and tested techniques of
traditional farming, as the big companies and their biddable scientists dismiss them as
unproductive, unsophisticated and unsafe. The truth, so effectively suppressed that it is
now almost impossible to believe, is that organic farming is the key to feeding the world.

1. Steve Smith, head of Novartis Seeds, speaking at a Public Meeting, Tittleshall,
Norfolk, March 2000

CHRISTOPHER C. MUNDT Genetic diversity and disease control in rice Nature 406, 718 - 722
(2000) © Macmillan Publishers Ltd.

3. David Tilman. The Greening of the Green Revolution. Nature 396 pp 211-212, 19th Nov

4. Jules Pretty, Feeding the world? 'SPLICE', the magazine of the Genetics Forum.
August/September 1998 Volume 4 Issue 6.

5. Peter M. Rosset, The Multiple Functions and Benefits of Small Farm Agriculture In the
Context of Global Trade Negotiations. Policy Brief prepared for "Cultivating Our Futures,"
the FAO/Netherlands Conference on the Multifunctional Character of Agriculture and Land,
12-17 September 1999, Maastricht, The Netherlands. Co-published by: Transnational
Institute, Paulus Potterstraat 20, 1071 DA, Amsterdam.

6. Renee Kjartan, Castro Topples Pesticide in Cuba. Washington Free Press. August 7, 2000

7. Devinder Sharma, Green Revolution turns sour. New Scientist, July 8, 2000


Related articles
"FAO report reveals GM crops not needed to feed the world" [EL]. "...for the world as a
whole there is enough, or more than enough, food production potential to meet the growth
of effective demand..." This progonosis is based on the application of conventional
agriculture only.
The claim that GE will help reduce world hunger is not supported by scientific evidence
World hunger is not due to lack of food but to poverty [EL].
"Sustainability and Ag Biotech". An analysis of agricultural economist Charles Benbrook
concluding that GE agriculture brings US agriculture even further away from sustainability
than presently.
Genetically Engineered Roundup Ready Soy crops less profitable than conventionally bred
varietes  [EL] A scientific report based on over 8000 university-based field studies finds
lower yields and increased use of herbicide compared to conventionally bred soy.
Disappointing Biotech Crops  [EL]
"Is there sufficient knowledge about environmental effects to justify release of GE
organisms?" [ML]


                      Comment by PSRAST
The article presents scientific observations that, along with the related articles listed
in the end of this document, effectively contradict the key arguments for agribiotech.
These have been that agribiotech (non-organic & GE) farming gives better yields and is
more friendly to the environment than other forms of agriculture. As found in the related
articles, recent reseach has not been able to confirm that GE crops give superior yields.
And their environmental safety has not been established. Furthermore, agribiotech farming
is not environmentally sustainable.

The research presented below indicates that organic farming is even superior to
non-organic farming regarding yields in addition to being greatly superior regarding
friendliness to the environment. In addition, it is environmentally sustainable.

Considering this and that the environmental safety of GE crops has not been established,
there remains no justification for the use of GE crops. They should be withdrawn from the

There appears to be good reasons for the US, Canada, EU and other countries, to consider
diverting the large sums now spent on agribiotech to the development of organic farming.

"Genetically Engineered Food - Safety Problems"
Published by PSRAST

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