Read

Search form

Wake Up Before It Is Too Late: Lessons From a U.N. Sustainability Report

Wake Up Before It Is Too Late: Lessons From a U.N. Sustainability Report
Thu, 1/23/2014 - by Paromita Pain

Last September, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development brought out an interesting report entitled, "Wake up Before it is Too Late: Make Agriculture Truly Sustainable Now for Food Security in a Changing Climate.” The report said that developing and developed countries alike need a paradigm shift in agricultural development: from a "green revolution" to a "truly ecological intensification" approach.

Compiled using the views of more than 60 international experts, the report offered a comprehensive analysis of the challenges and most suitable, strategic approaches for dealing with inter-related problems of hunger and poverty, poor health and nutrition, climate change and environmental sustainability.

The question of sustainability remains an interesting and challenging subject, particularly concerning how to grow more food in the developing world. In countries battling companies like Monsanto, and haunted by the specter of GMO seeds and contaminated food, the report is of special significance – with news that we ignore at our peril.

Take India, for example. The country first fell victim to agricultural methods practiced during last century's "Green Revolution," touted as a way to increase food production to feed an ever increasing population. More recently, the battle to increase food supply has seen the introduction of high-yielding varieties of seeds and the growing use of chemical fertilizers that today have brought the country's agriculture to the brink of disaster.

Farmer suicides in India have risen exponentially, into the many tens of thousands, thanks to an indiscriminate use of pesticides and GMOs across the country, as soils get dangerously depleted of nutrients and crop failures increase.

Agriculture is the Solution

According to the UN study, the solutions can be found in the structures of agriculture itself, where problems of climate change, hunger, poverty, social and economic inequity, poor health and nutrition can all be addressed by leveraging “agriculture's multi-functionality.”

The Trade and Environment Report recommends a rapid and significant shift away from “conventional, monoculture-based… industrial production” of food that depends heavily on external inputs such as fertilizer, agro-chemicals and concentrate feed. It says the goal should instead be “mosaics of sustainable regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers and foster rural development.”

The report isn’t alone in advising humans to move away from pesticide-based agriculture to organic farming. Dr. Vandana Shiva, the winner of the 1993 Right Livelihood Award, says we are living in a moment that demands an “emergency saving of seeds,” as plants become ever more appropriated and colonized by corporations in the form of intellectual property.

In a recent study titled “Seed Freedom: A Global Citizens Report," Shiva’s research showed the ways that genetic contamination is rapidly spreading – and specifically, how India has lost organic cotton seed varieties due to contamination by Bt Cotton. The report also points to other places like Mexico that are facing similar challenges. The historic cradle of corn, Mexico has now lost 80 percent of its corn varieties due to the rapid spread of GMO technology.

New Fighting Grounds

Food, our most basic substance for survival, has thus become the battleground for control by governments selling out to influential companies like Monsanto. Mexico is now fighting back, as Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer and others will no longer be allowed to grow or sell GM corn within the country’s borders.

And in January of last year, eight governments in the European Union banned Monsanto's MON810 maize and other forms of GMO cultivation. As Occupy.com reported, “Violation of the ban is sanctioned with fines of 200 percent of the value of GM seeds, with government ordinance to destroy any GMO fields.”

But a lot more pushback is required, especially in the U.S. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents food and beverage leaders like ConAgra, PepsiCo and Kraft, is advocating an industry-friendly law with a voluntary federal standard — “a move that food activists see as a power grab by an industry that has tried to kill GMO labeling initiatives every step of the way.”

Next week, anti-GMO activists will converge on Monsanto's annual shareholders meeting in Creve Couer, Missouri, to support a shareholder resolution for GMO labeling.

A Big Role for Governments

The UN report stresses that governments must find ways to factor in and reward farmers for the currently unpaid public good that their practices help conserve – like clean water, soil and landscape preservation, protection of biodiversity, and recreation.

Besides rewarding farmers, the study asserts it is also government’s role to ensure that people have the requisite means to buy safe food. Monoculture and industrial farming methods aren't providing enough affordable food where it is needed, the report says; meanwhile, the environmental damage is mounting and unsustainable.

To date, international agreements between governments have amounted to short-sighted and harmful agricultural policies. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), signed into law in 1993 by Canada, Mexico and the United States, created a trilateral rules-based trade bloc that favored corporate profits, shipped U.S. jobs south and lowered wages in Mexico, where the annual per capita growth hasn’t risen above 1.2 percent since.

Current efforts to fast track the Trans-Pacific Partnership would cause much vaster harm to the environment and people, enabling corporations to rule our agricultural systems even more than they do today.

As a solution, to enhance more healthy, sustainable, human-based agriculture, the UN report says that links between traditional farming and modern scientific knowledge must be sought to provide a profound shift in the way we grow and consume our food. Our future, as a species, may depend on it.

Follow the author Paromita Pain on the Commons or on twitter at @ParoP

 

Add new comment

Sign Up

Article Tabs

climate change denial, Carbon Washington, American Legislative Exchange Council, carbon tax, solar subsidies, solar tax breaks, fracking bans

These ballot measures are noteworthy because they don’t just regulate emissions or mandate transitions – they help the economically insecure, create incentives for individual change, and reassert local authority over corporate polluters.

Black Lives Matter, Movement for Black Lives, Black Panthers, Black Panther Party, Organization for Black Struggle, food pantries, community service, Michael Brown, Ferguson protests, Black Power Movement, OurStory, Black Youth Project 100, racial justice

Nearly two years after people took to the streets in Ferguson to protest the killing of Michael Brown, the nationwide movement has broadened its focus to community empowerment in ways reminiscent of the Black Panthers of the 60s.

water privatization, Nestlé, water grabs, Community Water Justice, water conflict, Fryeburg, Maine, Peter Gleick, water bottling, Cascade Locks

The Swiss corporation Nestlé has a penchant for gobbling up huge areas of freshwater across the planet and bottling it for profit – even as judges, courts, cities and entire regions try to stand in their way.

Take On Wall Street, break up the banks, too big to fail, financial transactions tax, 21st century Glass-Steagall, carried interest tax loophole, Dodd-Frank Act,

In launching a new coalition to reign in the power of the big banks, Warren warned said taxpayers still may have to bail them out: “Dodd-Frank imposed some discipline, but let’s get real. Dodd-Frank did not end too big to fail.”

Some of the biggest issues facing our country are forgotten once the cameras switch off, but our ADD news cycle only makes us more vulnerable to repeat disasters like the Flint water crisis.

climate change, global warming, Break Free from Fossil Fuels, climate protests, global climate movement, Carbon Brief, carbon emissions, climate arrests, British Petroleum, BP, Enbridge, Flood Wall Street, People's Climate March, risking arrest, civil dis

My arrest didn’t feel like a risk, it felt like a transaction. I’ve found freedom in facing my fears and dispensing with false choices.

Posted 4 days 22 hours ago
Nestle water grab, water privatization, Columbia River Gorge, Cascade Locks

Voters in one Oregon county last week approved a ban on commercial bottled water production, stopping a years-long effort by Swiss transnational Nestle to sell over 100 million gallons of water a year from the Columbia River Gorge.

Posted 4 days 23 hours ago

Some of the biggest issues facing our country are forgotten once the cameras switch off, but our ADD news cycle only makes us more vulnerable to repeat disasters like the Flint water crisis.

Posted 2 days 19 hours ago
water privatization, Nestlé, water grabs, Community Water Justice, water conflict, Fryeburg, Maine, Peter Gleick, water bottling, Cascade Locks

The Swiss corporation Nestlé has a penchant for gobbling up huge areas of freshwater across the planet and bottling it for profit – even as judges, courts, cities and entire regions try to stand in their way.

Posted 1 day 13 hours ago
wealth inequality, income inequality, wealth gap, growing poverty, growing disparity

After 35 years of wealth distribution to the super-rich, inequality has forced much of the middle class towards the bottom, to near-poverty levels, and to a state of helplessness in which they find themselves being blamed for their own misfortunes.

Posted 2 days 19 hours ago
Austrian elections, Alexander Van der Bellen, Austrian Green Party, far-right governments, Norbert Hofer, Freedom Party, anti-immigrant sentiment, xenophobia, migrant crisis

Alexander Van der Bellen, an independent candidate backed by the Austrian Green Party, fought neck and neck with far-right Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer and scratched out a narrow victory in the historic election.

Some of the biggest issues facing our country are forgotten once the cameras switch off, but our ADD news cycle only makes us more vulnerable to repeat disasters like the Flint water crisis.

water privatization, Nestlé, water grabs, Community Water Justice, water conflict, Fryeburg, Maine, Peter Gleick, water bottling, Cascade Locks

The Swiss corporation Nestlé has a penchant for gobbling up huge areas of freshwater across the planet and bottling it for profit – even as judges, courts, cities and entire regions try to stand in their way.

climate change, global warming, Break Free from Fossil Fuels, climate protests, global climate movement, Carbon Brief, carbon emissions, climate arrests, British Petroleum, BP, Enbridge, Flood Wall Street, People's Climate March, risking arrest, civil dis

My arrest didn’t feel like a risk, it felt like a transaction. I’ve found freedom in facing my fears and dispensing with false choices.

Take On Wall Street, break up the banks, too big to fail, financial transactions tax, 21st century Glass-Steagall, carried interest tax loophole, Dodd-Frank Act,

In launching a new coalition to reign in the power of the big banks, Warren warned said taxpayers still may have to bail them out: “Dodd-Frank imposed some discipline, but let’s get real. Dodd-Frank did not end too big to fail.”