sustainable agriculture

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Feb 27, 2014 - His opening statement takes aim at the commonly ... He then mounts a robust defense of the Green Revolution, pointing .... His principal research interests are in international agriculture and biotechnology, and he is author of ... India's wheat farmers began planting the new seed varieties in 1964, and by ...

2/27/2014

Food Fight, Round 1 § SEEDMAGAZINE.COM SEEDMAGAZINE.COM FEBRUARY 27, 2014

WHAT DOES "SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE" TRULY MEAN—AND WHAT SHOULD IT LOOK LIKE? IN ROUND ONE OF OUR DEBATE, TWO EXPERTS SQUARE OFF ON THE TRUE CAUSES OF FOOD INSECURITY. Food Fight, Round 1 SEED DEBATE BY MAYWA MONTENEGRO / MAY 12, 2010

What does “sustainable agriculture” truly mean—and what should it look like? The outlines of this long-running debate will be familiar to many. One side argues that modern, industrialized farming, for all its flaws, has mostly been a force for good, vastly improving yield, reducing food-borne illness, and saving the world from Malthusian disaster. Building upon this foundation, modern farming should be sciencebased and highly capitalized, employing the arsenal of innovations in chemistry, biotechnology, and satellite systems—from biotech seeds to laser-leveled fields. The other side rebuts that given the enormous environmental and social costs of intensified agriculture, a paradigm shift is needed: one that takes a whole-systems approach based on traditional knowledge, alternative agriculture, and local food system experience.

What does “sustainable agriculture” truly mean—and what should it look like?

Thankfully, the two sides in Seed’s debate have gotten beyond these vast generalizations towards a more nuanced discussion. Arguing in favor of the motion that food insecurity is only partially caused by crop yield—and therefore, that alternative farming can meet future demand—is M. Jahi Chappell, an ecologist and post-doctoral researcher at Cornell University. His opening statement takes aim at the commonly held view that food scarcity is the primary cause of malnutrition. The majority of underfed children in the developing world, he points out, live in countries where a dearth of calories isn’t the primary problem. Rather, it is access, adequacy, acceptability, and lack of food rights that, synergistically, contribute to the problem of entrenched hunger.

M. Jahi Chappell, ecologist and postdoctoral researcher Robert Paarlberg, professor of political science Previous rounds: Introduction: Two experts debate the causes of hunger and the meaning of “sustainable agriculture.”

Given that production, per se, isn’t the primary problem, Chappell then argues that low-input agroecological farming (an umbrella term that includes organic) could boost food production in the developing world to meet global consumption needs. With the important caveat that “banning all pesticides tomorrow would be as much folly as any other sweeping and draconian measure,” he contends that the answer to the question “industrial vs. organic” is between the two…in the same way that Philadelphia lies between New York and Los Angeles. Robert Paarlberg, author of Food Politics and professor of political science at Wellesley College, has no bone to pick with Chappell on one point: Poverty and hunger are intimately linked. But the majority of the world’s poor majority are farmers, Paarlberg argues, so it is “a dangerous error” to separate food production from undernutrition. He then mounts a robust defense of the Green Revolution, pointing out that only by virtue of improved seeds and fertilizer inputs were China and India saved from devastating famine. Paarlberg writes that the organic community’s wishes for farmers to abandon the use of synthetic chemicals, would force farmers to use not only more labor but also much more land. Such a change would, in effect, push “them back into 19th century practices.” He dismisses such “all-natural” approaches as the products of romanticized views of old agrarian lifestyles. He points out that Europe and America have largely rejected “organic dogmas,” which is precisely why they have enough food. Africa, on the other hand, has a de-facto organic system—local, low-input, and slow. You can judge for yourself how that is working out. Are you champing at the bit to see how Chappell replies to Paarlberg’s organic smackdown? And what rejoinder Paarlberg will have for the food-availability jab? Who is developing the stronger case? Drop us line by email here, or send us a tweet at @seedmag. Opening Statements:

http://seedmagazine.com/content/print/food_fight_round_1/

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Production Isn’t the Core Problem Ecologist M. Jahi Chappell is currently a postdoctoral associate and provost’s academic diversity fellow in science & technology studies at Cornell University. His research focuses on examining the effects of and interplay between food security policy, biodiversity, and sustainability in mixed agricultural and natural landscapes. Starting in July 2010, he will be assistant professor of environmental science and justice at Washington State University-Vancouver.

This House believes the two following related propositions: 1) Hunger and food insecurity’s primary cause is rooted in poverty and lack of socioeconomic access to food, not insufficient food production or overpopulation; this is reflected in the history of the past several centuries and the present, and will likely continue to be true in the future. 2) Insofar as food production is an important aspect of food security, alternative agriculture (agroecology, organic, etc.) can provide sufficient food for the world now and into the future in a more sustainable manner than capital-intensive, industrial agriculture. The first proposition The piece you’re reading now started, to an extent, as a discussion of whether or not organic agriculture could “feed the world.” However, starting the discussion at that point means missing a lot—perhaps the majority—of what’s important in answering the question of exactly how to feed the world. The starting point must be understanding that food production has, at best, an indirect relationship with feeding people. Indeed, in a series of comprehensive analyses conducted for the International Food Policy Research Institute, Lisa Smith and colleagues found that 55 percent of the decrease in infant malnutrition in developing countries between 1975 and 1990 was tied to women’s education and status; food availability contributed to around 27 percent of the decrease, with health environment and services accounting for the remainder. Within Sub-Saharan Africa, the results are skewed even more towards non-food-availabilityrelated measures, where they found that ~99 percent of the (small) decrease in infant malnutrition was due to improvements in women’s education and health environment. (This is chiefly because food availability in this period increased only very slightly while much more progress was made in women’s education. The potential effect of increasing food availability in her data appears to be roughly equal to that of increasing women’s education.) In a similar study, they found that around 78 percent of malnourished children in the developing world live in countries with sufficient national food availabilities. These results would come as no surprise to one of the modern pioneers in the study of hunger, Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen. Sen observed, a little less than 30 years ago, that starvation “is the characteristic of some people not having enough to eat. It is not the characteristic of there being not enough to eat. While the latter can be a cause of the former, it is but one of many possible causes.” Hunger’s primary cause is widely summarized as poverty, but as Smith’s data shows us, poverty isn’t precisely correct. It would perhaps be more precise to term hunger’s primary cause to be a lack of socioeconomic or sociocultural access. That is, poverty can be one cause, but discrimination, poor health care, and a lack of food rights or a government capable of providing them are others. The framework I therefore favor to analyze hunger has been called “The Five A’s of Food Security” by Cecilia Rocha, the director of Ryerson University’s Centre for Studies in Food Security. The “A’s” are Availability (sufficient food), Accessibility (consistent physical and economic access to food), Adequacy (nutritious, safe, and environmentally sustainable food), Acceptability (food in accordance with people’s culture and beliefs), and perhaps most importantly, Agency (political policies, processes, and rights that allow people to achieve food security). So while availability is a prerequisite for food security, history and common sense tells us that the other four “A’s” are no less so in the long run. (I prefer the term “food security” to “hunger” because it better incorporates these multiple elements, though it is also a less intuitive term.) Reflecting this, histories of famine by political ecologist Mike Davis and more recently economist Cormac Ó Gráda have focused on the complex interplay between government, economy, environment and famine, such that famines are not “food shortages per se” according to Davis. Ó Gráda quotes Liu Shaoqi (Chinese leader during the Great Leap Forward) as saying their disastrous famine was “three parts nature and seven parts man”, referring to the dominant role sociocultural factors have even when natural factors like drought and flooding intercede. The second proposition Food production from organic agriculture is currently the subject of intense debate. Many, however, tend to agree that the answer lies somewhere in the middle of the dichotomy between “industrial vs. organic food production.” I count as one of these “many”, with the stipulation that I think the answer lies somewhere between the two models in the same way that Philadelphia is somewhere between New York City and Los Angeles—that is, much closer to one than the other. I was one of the authors of a paper called “Organic agriculture and the global food supply,” led by Catherine Badgley and published in 2007 in the scientific journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. We found, reviewing over 91 studies with 293 examples comparing organic and non-organic production systems, that organic agriculture could produce sufficient food to feed the world, now and for the future projected population of 9-10 billion people. (“Organic” in our paper was used broadly and not specifically for certified systems. Page 8 of this report gives a good review of this idea.) The two points that are important here are that we do not claim an absolute advantage over intensified, high-input industrial http://seedmagazine.com/content/print/food_fight_round_1/

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methods—that organic can produce more food than any other alternative—and, that indeed some synthetic inputs may be necessary in the short-term or even long-term in some systems. To the first point, we calculate that organic agriculture could increase yields an average of 80 percent in developing countries based on 133 cases. Considering that such an increase would generate more than sufficient food to feed people in the Global South, it would seem then logical to prefer organic approaches to industrial ones, considering the high energy costs and negative effects of industrial agriculture on climate, the environment, and biodiversity. A recent report issued by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and headed by Rachel Hine and acclaimed British ecologist Jules Pretty reanalyzed preexisting data from 114 projects in Africa and found even higher potential increases in yield from organic agriculture for Africa than in developing countries generally. Numerous critiques can, and have, been made of these studies, and Dr. Paarlberg has already done so in at least one forum. For the time being, I refer the reader to my reply to address these. We may get into these in more detail in subsequent posts, so for now I’ll only observe that I have not seen any updated, comprehensive studies or meta-analyses of the literature since our 2007 paper. As such, in my view it remains the best overall picture we have of research in this highly contentious area; critiques of its elements, however apposite, nevertheless don’t offer a new or more comprehensive analysis and are inevitably based therefore on less data. (I say this aware that data quality is a major issue of debate.) However, the evidence we have today seems sufficient to go forward, with all appropriate caution—banning all synthetic pesticides tomorrow would be as much folly as any other sweeping and draconian measure. Rather, support for small farmers and the disadvantaged more generally is necessary—a point on which I believe Dr. Paarlberg and I agree, even if we disagree on the precise forms of such support. Hunger is most severe in Africa, but affectsmore than twice as many South Asians. Over half of the malnourished are in rural areas, but that still leaves many food insecure people in the cities. Yet despite these disparate issues, we know that providing education, health, and other social support to people, especially women, can dramatically lower hunger, inequality and poverty. Frankly, those of us concerned with food security should possibly be more concerned with addressing these issues, issues with little direct relationship to production method per se, most of all.

Don’t Ignore the Successes of the Green Revolution Robert Paarlberg is a political scientist at Wellesley College and an associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. His principal research interests are in international agriculture and biotechnology, and he is author of numerous books, including Starved for Science: How Biotechnology Is Being Kept out of Africa and Food Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know.

I agree with one part of this motion. Hunger is indeed rooted in poverty, rather than in over-population or in any global shortage of food. Nonetheless, a majority of all hunger still comes from inadequate food production—because most of the world’s poor and hungry people are farmers. In Africa, roughly 80 percent of the poor are farmers. They are poor, and hence hungry, because their hard labor as farmers is not productive. Hundreds of millions of poor farmers in Africa and in the drylands of South Asia still lack all of the things farmers elsewhere have used to escape poverty: They lack seed varieties improved by scientific crop breeding, they have no irrigation, and they use almost no chemical fertilizers. As a result their cereal crop yields are less than one fifth as high as in other parts of the world, they earn less than a dollar a day, and they stand a one in three chance of being chronically malnourished. Over the last 25 years in Africa, crop yields per hectare have barely increased while population has doubled, so the total number of malnourished farmers has doubled as well. Under a business as usual scenario over the next decade, if there is no significant improvement in farming productivity, the number of hungry people in Africa will increase by another 30 percent. It is therefore a dangerous error to separate the problem of hunger from the problem of low farm productivity. Consider how the two biggest countries in Asia—China and India—managed to overcome their own monumental hunger problems. They did so by making investments in the productivity of small farmers. In India, investments in improved seeds and fertilizers in the 1960s and 70s led to a “Green Revolution” that finally ended that country’s struggle with famine and cut the rural poverty rate from 60 percent down to 27 percent today. India’s wheat farmers began planting the new seed varieties in 1964, and by 1970 production had nearly doubled. Rice farmers in the states of Punjab and Haryana began planting new varieties in 1971 and production doubled there in just 5 years time. Small farmers as well as large farmers took up the new seeds, and even landless laborers profited because there was a larger crop and hence more work at harvest time, which pushed up rural wages. Likewise in China, where improved farming technologies were key to reducing rural poverty and hunger. China’s crop scientists developed their own high yielding seed varieties in the 1960s and 70s, including the world’s first hybrid varieties of rice. When Chinese farmers were then offered adequate incentives to embrace these new technologies, they did so with enthusiasm. Between 1978 and 1999 total grain output in China increased 65 percent. As a result of this farm productivity surge and the economic activity it supported, average per capita income in rural China increased more than tenfold. Roughly 250 million people in China escaped poverty, causing hunger to decline.

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Hunger is worsening in Africa today because farmers there have not yet experienced a comparable upgrade in their farming techniques. One reason has been diminished assistance to agricultural development from international donors in recent years. Even as hunger in Africa was doubling, US assistance to African agricultural development fell by 86 percent between 1980 and 2006. One reason for this evaporation of assistance to agriculture was the mistaken argument (repeated in the first part of this motion) that hunger problems can somehow be solved without focusing on improvements in farm productivity. The second part of this motion is equally misguided, stating that agroecology and organic farming can do a better job of providing food for the world than “capital-intensive, industrial agriculture.” I’m not happy with the framing of this statement, as it appears to leave no room for the intermediate farm upgrades of the “Green Revolution” that produced such success in China and India. The Green Revolution in Asia was neither capital-intensive nor industrial; small rice farms in Bangladesh get higher yields by planting improved seeds and adding nitrogen fertilizer, but they are still labor-intensive, rather than capital intensive. The larger problem with this second half of the proposition is that organic techniques and agroecology have long been available to farmers, yet we still have no example of any modern society feeding itself adequately using only these methods. We have many examples of countries that have increased their food production to keep pace with population and income growth by using either green revolution techniques (e.g., the countries of developing Asia) or genuinely capital-intensive and industrial techniques (e.g., conventional farming in today’s advanced industrial countries), yet we have no examples of countries using only agroecology or organic farming to do this important job. Advocates for agroecology can point to a long list of farming techniques that do work well (biological controls for pests, crop rotations and manuring, mulching and water-harvesting), yet these techniques always work best when combined with scientifically improved seed varieties and nitrogen fertilizer. If agroecology is employed by itself without modern seeds or fertilizer, too much human labor will be required and the results will often still be inadequate. Smallholder African farmers today use a wide range of agroecology techniques: they plant in polycultures rather than monocultures, they contour the land to capture rainfall, they employ traditional seeds and local knowledge, and they also work from dawn to dusk. Yet their cereal yields are only 20 percent the level of the United States or Europe, and in many African countries these yields per hectare are actually falling rather than rising. The strict rules of organic farming go even farther than agroecology in telling farmers what they cannot do. Organic farmers cannot use any synthetic chemicals at all, not even nitrogen fertilizer. This pushes them back into 19th century practices and rules out even some agroecological practices such as integrated pest management (IPM) and no-till farming. It forces them to use not just more labor (weeding, and composting animal manure) but also much more land (needed to plant cover crops and legumes for soil restoration, and to graze the animals needed to produce the manure). This is why organic foods cost so much more than conventionally grown products. The organic farming standard did not evolve from any scientific inquiry into what works best; the originator of the standard was an Austrian named Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) who was neither a farmer nor a scientist. He was a mystic philosopher, and he also believed in human reincarnation and the lost city of Atlantis. Advocates like to assert that organic products are more nutritious and safer to eat. There is no scientific evidence to support these views. Take a careful look at what the Mayo Clinic has to say on this question. Nor is organic farming better for the environment, given its much larger land-use requirements per bushel of production. If the United States were to convert its entire farming system to organic, it would need to increase its cattle herds fivefold to generate enough composted manure to provide the needed nitrogen for its crops. There are no examples today of well-fed societies relying only on organic methods. European governments promote organic farming with generous subsidies, yet only 4 percent of cropland in Europe is farmed organically. In the United States, less than 1 percent of cropland is certified organic. Europeans and Americans have an abundant food supply precisely because they have rejected organic dogmas. The one part of the world that comes closest to feeding itself organically is actually Africa, where farmers are too poor to purchase any synthetic fertilizers, and Africa is the worst-fed continent on earth.

http://seedmagazine.com/content/print/food_fight_round_1/

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Food Fight, Round 2 § SEEDMAGAZINE.COM SEEDMAGAZINE.COM FEBRUARY 27, 2014

OUR REBUTTAL ROUND BRINGS CLASHES OVER FOOD PRODUCTION AND HUNGER, MERITS OF THE GREEN REVOLUTION, AND EFFICIENCY VERSUS DIVERSITY IN SUSTAINABLE FARMING. Food Fight, Round 2 SEED DEBATE BY MAYWA MONTENEGRO / MAY 14, 2010

Greetings, reader, and welcome to the Rebuttals Round of the Food Debate, in which our experts each respond to one another’s opening statements. As you’ll likely recall, when we left the conversation, Dr. Chappell presented a two part-motion: 1) poverty and access to food are more directly related to hunger than food production. 2) Therefore, agroecological methods of farming, even if somewhat lower-yielding, are the more sustainable approach to long-term food security. Paarlberg mounted a strong defense for the Green Revolution, arguing that advocating for agroecological—and especially its strictest form, organic—farming in the developing world is foolhardy. First world elite tastes, he argued, should not confine African farmers to 19th century labor.

What does “sustainable agriculture” truly mean—and what should it look

Now we reach the rebuttal stage, where the arguments on either side have heated up. Paarlberg, as you’ll see, is clearly miffed by Chappell’s use of data indicating that malnutrition has little correlation with food production: “[Lisa] Smith herself never drew this inference from the work…for good reason.” He goes on to offer India and China as near irrefutable evidence for success of Green Revolution farming—a revolution that bypassed Africa, with self-evident results. For his part, Chappell appears equally frustrated with Paarlberg, in particular his opening-statement-avowal that India overcame its hunger problem. “His statement that the rural poverty rate has decreased from 60 to 27 percent is very controversial within scientific circles,” he writes, citing an economist who puts the Indian poverty rate today closer to 70 percent. While acknowledging that this figure, too, remains hotly contested, he underscores the an important point: getting the facts straight about the impact of Green Revolution on India is critical if we are going use it as a model for African development.

like? M. Jahi Chappell, ecologist and postdoctoral researcher Robert Paarlberg, professor of political science Previous rounds: Introduction: Two experts debate the causes of hunger and the meaning of “sustainable agriculture.” Round 1: Opening statements in the food debate. A Must-Read:

Much of what Paarlberg argues is undeniable: Yes, Asia had a Green Revolution while Both Sides Now [pdf]: Fallacies in the Africa did not. Yes, the majority of Africans are farmers. And yes, on a per capita basis Genetic-Modification Wars, Implications for maize production actually fell in Africa by 14 percent between 1980 and 2006. But given Developing Countries, and Anthropological that Chappell’s central argument, in the opening round, hinged on food availability not Perspectives. By Glenn Davis Stone. being the premier cause of hunger, we had hoped to see Paarlberg challenge that argument in an African context. Instead, he offers it as matter-of-fact: “This lack of agricultural productivity is what has kept Africans poor, and hence hungry.” He also criticizes his opponent for constructing a list of Five A’s for food security, but leaving out “the first and most obvious A of all: Agriculture.” We find it worth pointing out that Chappell never claimed to have constructed the “Five A’s”—he attributed that framework to Cecilia Rocha. And we are quite certain that the first “A,” availability, refers to the sufficiency of a food supply to meet people’s need, encompassing both internal food production (i.e., agriculture) and external food aid. Chappell’s arguments, too, have both strengths and weaknesses. India’s Green Revolution history is an instructive one, but he might have acknowledged that the Asian model needn’t be imported to Africa whole cloth. We recognize that biotechnology without dramatic reforms to infrastructure, grain-marketing systems, subsidies, and food security policies will not go far—much like solar panels, hybrid cars, and CFLs will have little effect without an economy-wide carbon price. Yet biotechnology, particularly if developed in the public sector, could bring substantial benefits to smallholding farmers. Virus-resistant cassava, drought-tolerant wheat, and stress-tolerant rice, chickpea, and pearl millet are among the many varieties of crops in incubation at not-for-profit agricultural research institutions around the world. To be skeptical of biotechnology’s prospects for boosting nutrition and alleviating poverty and is not unreasonable, given its track record to date, but to us, an indiscriminate dismissal would (forgive us), be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. http://seedmagazine.com/content/print/food_fight_round_2/

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We find Chappell’s supporting claims for agroecology compelling. Rather than further wrestle with what he calls Paarlberg’s “Russian Dolls of food security theory,” we hope that in his closing statement, he responds to some of the environmental challenges that Paarlberg raised in his opening statement, namely the land- and labor requirements of organic farming. But that is merely our take—We would like to hear from you: Who presents the more convincing argument? How does your experience —as a farmer, a scientist, or simply as a human who eats—inform your views of sustainable farming? Read on, and then send us your thoughtful commentary: by email here, or via Twitter @seedmag. Please use the hashtag #seeddebate. Rebuttals: No Country Actually Embraces Organic Farming—Why? Robert Paarlberg is a political scientist at Wellesley College and an associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. His principal research interests are in international agriculture and biotechnology, and he is author of numerous books, including Starved for Science: How Biotechnology Is Being Kept out of Africa and Food Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know.

The opening statement from Dr. Chappell was based largely on calculations from two quantitative studies. I welcome the chance to say a bit more about those studies. Calculations were first cited from a study by Lisa Smith and colleagues, implying that increased food production in developing countries had done little to reduce the rate of child malnutrition. In fact, Smith herself never drew this inference from the work, and for good reason since her study did not even include a food production variable. One part of the study did consider “food availability at the national level” as a variable, but this included imports and food aid so it cannot serve as a proxy for food production or agricultural productivity. The key driver for hunger reduction in poor agricultural societies is productivity growth on the farm, not food on the market supplied by foreign producers. Invoking the Smith study was misleading in another respect as well, because Smith arbitrarily excluded income growth (a basic variable which she found elsewhere to be vitally important) from the pie chart of only four so-called “underlying” variables that generated high influence numbers for women’s education and status. Since this pie chart excluded both agricultural productivity and income growth, it can’t be used to draw comprehensive inferences. The inappropriate use of Smith’s socalled underlying variables becomes particularly obvious with the claim that 99 percent of all decreases in child malnutrition in Africa were linked to improvements in women’s education and health. This is clearly nonsensical since in Africa the prevalence of child malnutrition was increasing rather than decreasing over the years covered by the Smith study. In a separate boxed comment, Smith links these deteriorating food circumstances in Africa, as I would, to worsening poverty. Why were poverty and hunger increasing in Africa when they were in steep decline in Asia? Because Asia had a Green Revolution and Africa did not. In Africa, where 60 percent of all citizens are farmers, the productivity of agriculture was low so poverty remained high. Income remained at only $1 a day because farmers had no improved technologies and grain yields were only 20 percent the level in rich countries. On a per capita basis maize production actually fell in Africa by 14 percent between 1980 and 2006. This lack of agricultural productivity is what has kept Africans poor, and hence hungry. Dr. Chappell strains his arguments to deny the centrality of farm productivity, perhaps to facilitate his later endorsement of agricultural techniques that are not very productive. He even constructs a list of “Five A’s for food security” but then omits the first and most obvious A of all: Agriculture. Farming is fundamental to food security because it is the work that most poor and hungry people do all day. Until their work as farmers is made more productive, they will remain poor. And as long as they remain poor they will also suffer from chronic malnutrition. Dr. Chappell also undervalues productive farming when he moves on to his second claim that “more than sufficient food to feed people in the Global South” could be produced without turning to green revolution methods, relying instead on minimal synthetic nitrogen or even on fully organic systems with zero synthetic nitrogen. He provides no example of an actual country embracing this strategy successfully – because there aren’t any. Instead he points to a 2007 meta-study by Badgley and others, which he helped to co-author. Table 1 in this Badgley study, based on author calculations, claims that grain yields on organic farms in developing countries average 57 percent higher than yields on non-organic farms. Oh? This would come as a great surprise to the green revolution farmers in India and China who have boosted their grain yields not through organic farming but through nitrogen fertilizer use. Wheat farmers in India used fertilizer applications to increase their average yield per hectare four-fold between 1964 and 2008 (FAO data). It seems that the Badgley study derived its claim of a 57 percent yield advantage for organic not by comparing organic to Green Revolution farming, but by comparing organic to resource-poor subsistence farming, where no soil improvements have been made at all. Yet even here we must be suspicious, since much of the data comes from organic advocacy groups such as the Institute for Biodynamic Research, and because the organic yield data do not reveal the much higher labor costs required for organic productivity. Backyard vegetable gardeners in Europe and the United States may find the more demanding organic methods a labor of love, but the labor of impoverished farmers in the developing world (mostly women, in Africa) should not be treated so casually as a free good. http://seedmagazine.com/content/print/food_fight_round_2/

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For reasons such as these, the Badgley study has been dismissed by mainstream crop scientists. One academic commentator writing in the same journal (Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems) said the Badgley study had been based on methods that “do not meet the minimum scientific requirements for comparing food production capacity in different crop production systems.” Goulding and Trewavas (from Rothamsted Research and the University of Edinburgh) summarize the shortcomings of the Badgley study: “There are many omitted references that indicate organic yields are substantially lower…There are calculation errors…There would be insufficient food for the world population provided by global organic farming.” A final claim made for organic farming and for agroecology by Dr. Chappell is its avoidance of the “high energy costs” associated with green revolution or industrial farming. This again skips over the much higher labor and land use costs of organic, but it also exaggerates the energy costs of today’s conventional farmers. Energy use by conventional farmers in the industrial world has for some time now been declining on a per-bushel-of-production basis. Between 1990 and 2004 the total volume of agricultural production was increasing by more than 15 percent in the United States, but total direct farm energy use increased by only 2 percent, so the energy intensity of farming was in significant decline. Off-farm energy consumption was also coming under control, as fertilizer use per-bushel-ofproduction declined (thanks to more precise applications). Taking the OECD countries as a whole, excess nitrogen use in agriculture actually fell by 17 percent between 1990 and 2004, and total agricultural greenhouse gas emissions in these same OECD countries declined by 3 percent. If only the non-farm part of the economy had been doing this well. Many of those who criticize the energy dependence of modern farming haven’t looked at these most recent data, and have not visited a modern farm. Thanks to continued technology innovations (GIS mapping, GPS auto-steered tractors, drip irrigation, infrared sensors, laser-leveled fields, no-till seeding) agriculture in today’s advanced countries is evolving away from its energy-intense polluting past toward what is known as “precision farming,” where high productivity can be joined with greater sustainability. If we reject modern science in favor of organic approaches, or agroecology-only approaches, both productivity and sustainability will be compromised.

Let’s Examine the Indian “Success Story” Ecologist M. Jahi Chappell is currently a postdoctoral associate and provost’s academic diversity fellow in science & technology studies at Cornell University. His research focuses on examining the effects of and interplay between food security policy, biodiversity, and sustainability in mixed agricultural and natural landscapes. Starting in July 2010, he will be assistant professor of environmental science and justice at Washington State University-Vancouver.

In his opening piece, Dr. Paarlberg nimbly pivots from agreeing that hunger is rooted in poverty and not a shortage of food to the position that a majority of hunger really is rooted in (locally) inadequate food production. He doesn’t, as far as I can see, cite any given source or authority, apparently viewing it as self-apparent. The hard thing is that he’s not entirely wrong in this—he’s not entirely wrong in most of his remarks—but he subsequently comes to larger conclusions that end up being wrong in rather contorted ways. In what follows, I will try to unravel them. His basic premises seem to be as follows: 1) Hunger comes from inadequate food production—not because insufficient food is produced to feed people but because 2) Most hungry and poor people are farmers, so 3) Increasing their levels of agricultural production will increase income, decrease poverty and 4) Therefore decrease hunger. Each of these premises is correct as far as they go, but on inspection, they don’t go very far. It’s a sort of perverse Russian Doll of food security theory, with each layer containing a smaller and smaller total portion of the truth until you get to something rather unrecognizable. Perhaps the easiest thing to do in the space here would be to examine this concretely in the context of one of his examples of a country that overcame “their own monumental hunger problems”: India. His use of India’s example seems to be a bit of sleight-of-hand, inadvertently or purposefully. To wit: the Green Revolution “ended [India’s] struggle with famine and cut the rural poverty rate.” Astute readers will notice that nowhere in his piece does he say that India has ended hunger—because saying such a thing would be a significant error. Today, India alone has more hungry people than all of SubSaharan Africa (and indeed, more than the entire African continent). The severity of the hunger suffered, as I said in my previous piece, tends to be higher in Africa. But the conclusion that 250 million malnourished (India’s total) are in fact, more numerous than 212 million malnourished people (all of Sub-Saharan Africa) is unavoidable, as far as I can see. South Asia as a whole has 336 million malnourished, and “despite increases in income and remarkable improvements in child malnutrition, the region still has the highest prevalence of underweight children in the world”—higher even than in poorer Sub-Saharan Africa (my emphasis). About half of child deaths in South Asia are tied to malnutrition, and child malnutrition may be responsible for 22 percent of India’s burden of disease. India has been called “an economic powerhouse and a nutritional weakling.” His statement that the rural poverty rate has decreased from 60 to 27 percent is very controversial within scientific circles. Indian economist Utsa Patnaik argues that the poverty line used by Indian officials http://seedmagazine.com/content/print/food_fight_round_2/

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(and here by Paarlberg) is improperly calculated, essentially defining poverty lower and lower, such that a person at the poverty line today has access to 400 calories less than a person in the same position in 1973 (1800 vs. 2200 kcal/day). Her adjustments to the data imply that today’s level of rural poverty in India is around 70% if one applies the 2200 kcal/day standard. Although there’s a pretty vigorous debate around Patnaik’s analysis, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)’s massive work “The Poorest and the Hungry” partially concurs on the mismatch between official (monetary) poverty and nutrition poverty, noting that a 2003 study reported that only around half of Indians who were identified as nutrition-poor also counted as monetarily poor (that is, half of all foodinsecure Indians were above the official poverty line). The fact that his premises and conclusions are incredibly scientifically contentious doesn’t appear to have made it into his piece. This is important, because if we are going to use India as a model and from that model project policy for Africa, we should have a model that that aligns with the facts. All this is rather bothersome to point out (though hopefully, less so to read), because I want to reiterate that these ideas aren’t altogether wrong. However, as presented they do represent a hodgepodge of ideas presented with much more certainty than is warranted. Let me belabor this a moment more—Patnaik’s conclusions on the actual increase in rural poverty, for example, are not universally accepted, and one can quickly trot down a rabbithole of critiques and counter-critiques there. Similarly, the role of the Green Revolution (GR) in improving small farmers’ lives is deeply contested; “At best,” Patel et al. wrote last year, “it was an ambiguous success.” (Scholar-activist-academic Patel, an Oxford, London School of Economics, and Cornell University graduate, briefly commented on food issues in Seed last year.) In a detailed empirical and theoretical analysis, University of Dundee geographer Raju Das concluded “there seems to be no association between the GR and the important issue of poverty-reduction.” It is not my intent to claim Das’ analysis as the ultimately correct one—as with the above issues, the scientific conversation here can be fractious and high-volume, and good science dictates that we acknowledge, and even-handedly discuss the conflicting propositions to the best of our abilities, even if we favor one set of propositions over the others. Presuming all science that disagrees with you is incorrectly done is common, but not necessarily helpful. This is expressly the problem with Paarlberg’s arguments: he repeatedly takes contentious or equivocal points being actively debated in the scientific literature, and asserts that the evidence supports his point of view—it appears that any split decision goes to the Wellesley Blue. Quickly reviewing his conclusions about organic production, they rest on equally questionable ground. It’s true that much low-input African agriculture is effectively low- or no-synthetic input because, as he’s pointed out, many African farmers are too poor or isolated to improve their practices. The poor “organic” African farmers who are using some of the agroecological techniques Paarlberg mentions, but who lack support for education, market access, and organic inputs (which may range from manure to pest predators to the newest locally-adapted crop varieties and more) have an exact corollary in Africa: their counterparts who are using an average of 9 kg of fertilizer per hectare (compared to the gratuitous average of 117 kg per hectare in industrialized countries). They’re using fertilizers, right? Some of them may even use elements of other Green Revolution practices. Clearly, because farmers who use 9 kg of fertilizer per hectare aren’t doing well, fertilizers don’t work. This is transparently silly. We know fertilizers certainly can work to increase yields (whether it’s always a sustainable or wise way to do so is a different question). Similarly, we know organic methods—the modern, scientific, vibrant expanding and changing body of knowledge that is organic agriculture—can work to increase yields. Paarlberg’s consistent argument that bad results from low-intensity poorly supported “organic” agriculture disproves all organic agriculture is just as silly as the the 9 kg-synthethic-N-per-hectareindustrial farmer. For example, if you search for articles on organic agriculture and agroecology on the scholarly database ISI, as of this morning it will return 13,509 articles. You will find over 50 university programs, departments, and academic centers and over 350 organizations around the world focusing on agroecology, sustainable, or organic agriculture. I also happen to personally know a number of agroecologists; I can assure you that these articles, centers, and people are not advising farmers to put some seeds in the ground, maybe add a companion crop, stir vigorously, and wait. (Nor do they come upon struggling, marginalized low-input farmers and say “Doing good! Keep it up!”) The reason all this stuff is out there is because organic agriculture, even the strictest-no-synthetic-input-ever form of it, is not as easy or simple, nor defined only by using low or no synthetic inputs, as Paarlberg implies. Once you realize that, the possibility of intensive, productive organic agriculture becomes clearly more realistic. In closing, let’s turn briefly to a point of agreement between Dr. Paarlberg and myself—I absolutely agree that we need to support small farmers, in Africa and elsewhere, and indeed helping them be more productive will be a vital part of this. But his critiques of organic agriculture in this regard are misguided. Paraphrasing a message to the “COMFOOD” listserve by Dr. Richard Wilk, director of food studies at Indiana University: “Paarlberg is right that better infrastructure—particularly roads, electricity and water systems—are urgently needed in poor rural areas. But then turning around and blaming this lack on organic supporters, rather than structural adjustment programs, corruption at all levels of government (including bilateral aid agreements), and the influence of those who think that bioengineered seeds will just themselves solve problems of hunger—this is not an honest approach.” http://seedmagazine.com/content/print/food_fight_round_2/

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(I guess that agreement didn’t last long.) That is to say, there are many and complex contributing causes to, say, the poverty of rural African farmers and widespread food insecurity. Choose any one of a number of major reports by international authorities on the issue, and you will find poverty, remoteness, gender, ethnic, political and religious discrimination, education, land tenure, governmental stance on redistribution, and quite certainly, food production are important factors. If you spend an afternoon looking around, actually, you’ll find that different factors are important in different places—and you’ll find that the contention that inadequate production is the chief or root problem of hunger in the majority of cases is not supported. It is, to paraphrase Amartya Sen, “but one of many possible causes.” We do a disservice to those we hope to work with and help when we ignore all of these complexities and push simply for our vision of what they need—be that biotech, strict organic, higher exports or more localized economies. We must work with them, with the humility of talking to a co-equal human being, and negotiate solutions based on the many different local needs and wants. We have seen the results of the opposite approach—250 million malnourished in green revolutionized-India, and 45 million food insecure people in the United States, where farmers suffer from a number of dilemmas, but inadequate production is not, in any straightforward way, one of them.

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WHAT'S THE SUREST PATH TO SUSTAINABLE FOOD SECURITY? HIGHLY EFFICIENT FARMING THAT DRAWS ON THE ARSENAL OF MODERN TECHNOLOGY? DIVERSIFIED AGRICULTURE DRIVEN BY THE CONSERVATION OF NATURE AND CULTURE?IN THEIR CLOSING STATEMENTS, OUR DEBATERS REMAIN STEADFAST IN THEIR OPPOSING STANCES. Food Fight, Conclusion SEED DEBATE BY MAYWA MONTENEGRO / JUNE 4, 2010

Greetings readers, and welcome to the final round in our Seed Debate: Food Fight. If you are just now joining the conversation, please visit the links at right for the prior rounds of discussion. Even if you’ve been following along, let us briefly recap where we began. Exhausted by what we regard as the exceptionally low quality arguments on both sides of the debate about the sustainable agriculture—variously characterized as capital-intensive vs. lowinput, organic vs. biotech-fortified, intensive vs. extensive, globalized vs. local—we invited ecologist M. Jahi Chappell and political scientist Robert Paarlberg to participate in an Oxford-style debate. To kick things off, Chappell proposed a two-part motion: 1) Hunger and food insecurity’s primary cause is rooted in poverty and lack of socioeconomic access to food, not insufficient food production or overpopulation; this is reflected in the history of the past several centuries and the present, and will likely continue to be true in the future. 2) Insofar as food production is an important aspect of food security, alternative agriculture (agroecology, organic, etc.) can provide sufficient food for the world now and into the future in a more sustainable manner than capital-intensive, industrial agriculture. Political scientist Robert Paarlberg agreed with roughly one-quarter of Chappell’s motion: while granting that “hunger is indeed rooted in poverty,” he argued fiercely that “a majority of all hunger still comes from inadequate food production—because most of the world’s poor and hungry people are farmers.” As for the second part of Chappell’s motion, Paarlberg was much less charitable, “Europeans and Americans have an abundant food supply precisely because they have rejected organic dogmas. The one part of the world that comes closest to feeding itself organically is actually Africa, where farmers are too poor to purchase any synthetic fertilizers, and Africa is the worst-fed continent on earth.”

What does “sustainable agriculture” truly mean—and what should it look like? M. Jahi Chappell, ecologist and postdoctoral researcher Robert Paarlberg, professor of political science Previous rounds: Introduction: Two experts debate the causes of hunger and the meaning of “sustainable agriculture.” Round 1: Opening statements in the food debate. Round 2: Rebuttals in the food debate. A Must-Read: Both Sides Now [pdf]: Fallacies in the Genetic-Modification Wars, Implications for Developing Countries, and Anthropological Perspectives. By Glenn Davis Stone.

Throughout Rounds 1 and 2, Paarlberg and Chappell have been at loggerheads over the statistical evidence for arguments on either side: They have debated the merits of the Green Revolution, its impact on poverty and hunger levels in Asia, and the broad applicability of capital-intensive agriculture in poor, developing nations. To summarize, Paarlberg has mostly argued in favor of technology-intensive agriculture, going as far as to argue that elitist foodies in wealthy nations imperil Africa by spreading their anti-biotech sentiments. In Paarlberg’s opinion, to deny small-scale farmers the means—whether fertilizers, GPS mapping tools, or genetically engineered seeds—to boost production, is effectively to sentence them to lives of poverty and undernourishment. Chappell has vociferously countered this claim with reams of data to the contrary (which, unsurprisingly, Paarlberg finds suspect in provenance). While there may be bones to pick with the Whole Foods crowd, according to Chappell, an elitist ethic is neither representative of nor intrinsic to the sustainable food movement. Further, he argues, the scientific foundations of organic and agrohttp://seedmagazine.com/content/print/food_fight_conclusion/

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ecological farming are sound, though based on modern systems thinking inherent to ecology, rather than on reductionist approaches more characteristic of the conventional agricultural sciences. Agroecology empowers local small-scale farmers, he argues, and by shrinking farming’s outsized ecological footprint—including its impact on wild biodiversity—conserves the public goods that benefit us all. At the crux of their arguments appears to be the primacy of “yield.” Just how important is boosting crop production in the overall scheme of food security? To generalize a bit, those in Paarlberg’s camp have been focusing on a single question: “How can we maximize food output?” Those in Chappell’s camp have concluded that other factors—ecological sustainability, social cohesion, cultural survival— are equally, if not more important. Our debate has attracted the interest of many of our readers. Dr. David Tribe of the Agriculture and Food Systems department at the University of Melbourne found himself almost wholly sympathetic to Paarlberg’s views: “The difficulty with the first proposition put forward by Jahi Chappell is that it is half true: hunger and food insecurity’s primary cause is indeed rooted in poverty and lack of socioeconomic access to food.” But, he said, “Poverty and lack of access are linked to uncompetitive and unproductive farming methods. If we are to meddle with a proven supply system that’s fed billions of extra people since 1960, we should think very carefully before jumping on an alternative agriculture bandwagon.” Another of our readers, who wrote to us very early in the debate, seemed flummoxed by Paarlberg’s Green Revolution proselytizing. “I’m not sure how your debate is going to proceed,” said James Norman, a PhD student in chemical engineering at the University of Georgia, “but I hope that Dr. Chappell will be able to directly deal with Dr. Paarlberg’s fallacious arguments. I’m at work and do not have the time to dissect them all, but many of his arguments either 1) dodge the real issue at hand, or 2) identify something that has a separate and larger cause. If he’s allowed to make these types of errors without correction, this food fight isn’t really any different from watching Glenn Beck’s program.” We hope the ensuing conversation has bumped us beyond any possible conflation with Beck. Thank you readers, for your active participation in the debate. And thank you Dr. Paarlberg and Dr. Chappell for your time, thoughts, and carefully articulated arguments. Without further ado, the closing comments. Closing Statements: For Poverty Reduction, There’s No Alternative To Productivity

Robert Paarlberg is a political scientist at Wellesley College and an associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. His principal research interests are in international agriculture and biotechnology, and he is author of numerous books, including Starved for Science: How Biotechnology Is Being Kept out of Africa and Food Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know.

We are starting to repeat ourselves. And the longer the debate continues, the more I fear we will be driven toward narrowly defensive statements. But on the issue of India, which I first visited in 1967, I would defend strongly my previous statement that green revolution farming has reduced poverty in India. Chappell’s only evidence against this assertion – evidence that not even he appears to fully credit – comes from a Marxist journal that has practiced progress-denial on a regular basis. In India, science-based agricultural growth has done a far better job of reducing poverty than manufacturing growth. Ravallion and Datt (1996) found that every 1 percent gain in the agricultural sector in India reduced poverty nation-wide by a range of 1.2 to 1.9 percent, while growth in the secondary manufacturing sector had no clear poverty-reducing impact at all. For poverty reduction, then, there has been no alternative to agricultural productivity. The nutrition gains from poverty reduction in India have been real as well, although disappointingly small as Chappell points out. He would probably assert, and I would agree, that this reflects the unusually disadvantaged status of women in India, causing a persistent misallocation of household food resources away from nursing women and very young girls. India is undeniably a hard case in this regard, but state-level data show that where Green Revolution farming caught hold (i.e., in states with adequate irrigation) women were able to gain status relative to men through increased participation in the wage labor force. Farm productivity increased demands for rural labor and drove up rural wages, and more of those wages went to women. UNDP found that from 1971 to 1981, the gender ratio (females per 100 males) of agricultural workers in rural India increased from 25 percent to almost 35 percent. I’m not aware of any evidence that practicing agroecology or organic farming has ever provided similar income or status gains for rural women. Dr. Chappell also makes in his rebuttal a reference to what he sees as persistent hunger in the United States, despite abundant food http://seedmagazine.com/content/print/food_fight_conclusion/

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production. Here his evidence is survey data from the Department of Agriculture showing 45 million Americans are “food insecure.” The questions asked in the survey, however, set an unusually low standard for what qualifies as food insecurity. For example, if respondents say they “worry” about running out of food, that is counted as evidence of food insecurity. If parents report that they “cut” their child’s food portions at any point in the previous year – without specifying how often they did so, or what the portions were before or after – that also counted as “food insecurity.” The USDA researcher who wrote this report later conceded, “Persistent undernutrition in terms of adequate calorie and protein intake is extremely rare in the United States.” How rare? The USDA survey revealed that only ½ of 1 percent of American families contained one or more household members unable on an average day to afford enough food. High agricultural productivity has been a part of this success against hunger in America. Thanks to a combination of increased food production plus income growth the price of food relative to income has finally fallen to a safer level. The share of income spent on food in America has decreased from 41 percent a century ago, when hunger was a serious problem in America, to just 10 percent today. If we look at actual patterns of food consumption in the United States the poor as well as non-poor are no longer suffering from any significant undernutrition. In fact, a growing number are suffering from over-nutrition relative to energy use, but the obesity crisis would be the subject of another debate! All of the issues opened up in this debate deserve more extensive treatment. For those interested in how I might frame such a discussion, take a look at my new book just published from Oxford University Press, Food Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know. Even in this abbreviated format, however, I have enjoyed sparring with Jahi Chappell since it gave me a chance to share with a wider audience the positions taken on food and farming concerns by a preponderance of the best trained and most well-informed specialists, including farmers, economists, and agricultural scientists. These experts are too often ignored in popular media that carelessly turn for their information to food writers or advocacy organizations. I congratulate Jahi Chappell for linking so many of his arguments to scholarly sources. I have responded by showing why I found those sources unconvincing. The result, nonetheless, was something closer to a responsible debate. This debate is important because (as I pointed out in my opening statement) if the proven success of science-based agriculture is kept away from farmers in Africa, and from the lagging dry lands of South Asia, these regions will remain non-productive, and hence poor, and hence undernourished. The views that Dr. Chappell and his colleagues endorse are championed mostly by advocates from rich countries, where they remain marginalized in professional circles because the benefits of science-based farming have already been realized, making a return to the pre-industrial alternative deeply unappealing. This is why only 4 percent of agricultural land in Europe is farmed organically today, despite extra subsidies European governments offer farmers to convert to organic, and why only 1 percent of agricultural land in the United States is organic. Dr. Chappell’s views are more likely, unfortunately, to be persuasive among policy elites in some developing countries that have not yet experienced the benefits of science-based farming, particularly in Africa. Governments in Africa have been under-investing in agriculture for decades, with disastrous results, and the arguments endorsed by Chappell will only encourage further under-investment. Chappell is in effect telling governments in Africa that they don’t need to make any investments in modern fertilizers or improved seeds. This is dangerous because so far there is no example of an agricultural society that has reduced rural poverty and fed its people without these technologies. Citizens from rich and well-fed countries that attained their status by using these technologies should think twice before advising poor countries not to follow the same path. But now I’m repeating myself! So, to Seed Magazine, many thanks for making this debate possible. And to my worthy debating partner Jahi Chappell, I thank you sincerely for the time and care you took to prepare and present your views. This has been stimulating. Let’s hope we will have a chance in the future to continue our spirited exchange.

True Agroecology is By and For the People Ecologist M. Jahi Chappell is currently a postdoctoral associate and provost’s academic diversity fellow in science & technology studies at Cornell University. His research focuses on examining the effects of and interplay between food security policy, biodiversity, and sustainability in mixed agricultural and natural landscapes. Starting in July 2010, he will be assistant professor of environmental science and justice at Washington State University-Vancouver.

In wrapping up this “Food Fight”, I want to try and step away from what I consider to be Dr. Paarlberg’s numerous errors of fact and broad and simplistic assertions that ignore or trivialize contradictory analyses. Instead, I will try to succinctly offer a concluding piece that balances critique with an explanation of my vision of how agroecological methods offer not only the most effective, but also the only plausible approach to the challenges of promoting universal food security, and in establishing an agricultural system that will help us sustain, rather than destroy our environment. The GR: Green Reductionism http://seedmagazine.com/content/print/food_fight_conclusion/

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One needn’t be one of the Green Revolution’s (GR) numerous critics to observe that it was obviously completely insufficient to solve poverty or hunger. Raju Das’s analysis, which I previously cited, specifically and carefully compares poverty in various Indian states, concluding that any claim of a “necessary relation” between the Green Revolution and poverty levels are “conceptually indefensible”. Other researchers taking a close and careful look at the Green Revolution more broadly have reinforced his conclusion: “From 1970 to 1990, the two decades of major Green Revolution expansion, the total food available per person in the world rose by 11 percent, while the estimated number of hungry people fell from 942 million to 786 million, a 16 percent drop. In South America, however, where per capita food supplies rose almost 8 percent, the number of hungry people went up by 19 percent. In South Asia there was a 9 percent increase in food per capita by 1990, but there were also 9 percent more hungry people. Eliminate China from the global equation – where the number of hungry dropped from 406 million to 189 million – and the number of hungry people in the rest of the world actually increased by more than 11 percent – from 536 to 597 million.” So why was China, and practically only China, different in this period? Researchers from the FAO and IFPRI have pointed to key roles from its egalitarian redistribution of land in the late 70s and government programs [pdf] in the 1990s that have decreased inequality: “government expenditure on education had the largest impact on reducing both rural poverty and regional inequality, and a significant impact on boosting production” (my emphasis). Returning to Das, he points out that “the very fact that the [Indian] state could not rely on the GR for poverty-reduction and thus started a ‘direct attack’ on poverty through [other] policies is an indirect indicator of the limited impact of the GR… If the lack of technology was a necessary cause of poverty, one in seven people in the United States of America would not have to live below the line of absolute poverty.” (See i.e., 2007-2008 survey data [pdf].) This is in line with conclusions by the FAO, the IAASTD (a major international report on world agriculture composed by hundreds of scientists [pdf], and is well illustrated in this graphic by prominent agricultural economist Chris Barrett, showing the continued increases in per capita production of the last 20 years side by side with stagnant levels of absolute poverty and hunger. Thus while Paarlberg would have us believe that technology will fight poverty outside of a context of other supportive policies, an examination of the evidence shows the exact opposite: although GR technology presents many potentially useful tools, it is neither necessary nor sufficient in itself to fight poverty and food insecurity. Paarlberg’s approach represents business as usual, yet “business as usual is not an option”—we can no longer afford the luxury of thoughtlessly expanding the GR model that has proved environmentally unsustainable while simultaneously permitting hunger and surplus. Agroecology’s “High technology” Paarlberg is among a cadre of commentators who accuse agroecologists of being anti-modern or anti-science. This is exceedingly odd, as the broader field of ecology itself is a young (~100 years old) and “cutting edge” science. Agroecology, a subfield that is younger still [pdf].), seeks to apply this growing understanding of earth’s ecosystems to agriculture. It is thus passing strange to me to set up agroecology and “modern” or “scientific” approaches as antithetical—considering that the majority of people who call themselves agroecologists are scientists, AKA, the people who have published more than 13,509 academic articles on the subject. Agroecology draws on traditional practices and modern science both; calling it romanticism to learn from old knowledge is like discarding democracy as quaint because we may partly draw its provenance from Ancient Greece. There is a reason we question attempts to “reinvent the wheel.” We must therefore be careful not to conflate specific practices (like GR technology, including genetic engineering) with all cutting edge science generally. No less a leading light than Dr. Hans Herren advocates the modern, science-based field of organic agriculture, saying that it “can easily double or even quadruple food production in [developing] countries.” Why should we particularly listen to Dr. Herren? Well, besides being Vice chair of the groundbreaking IAASTD report, he is also a World Food Prize winner credited with saving as many as 20 million lives with his development of a method to control a major African agricultural pest. The method, a form of what is called “biocontrol” because it utilizes a natural (biological) pest predator rather than synthetic chemicals, is just one example of the “high tech” or “cutting edge” methods available to agroecologists. Using such methods takes great care, research, and collaboration—all hallmarks of modern, cutting-edge science. True Agroecology: By and For The People Let’s step back a moment and consider the oddity of labeling as “elitist” those who question whether or not mega-corporations like Monsanto truly have the best interests of the poorest people in the world at heart. We needn’t believe corporations are evil to understand that they are not primarily looking out for the poor, and many promoters of genetic engineering are extremely worried [pdf about corporate domination of biotechnology (a topic Paarlberg, a 2007 member of Monsanto’s Advisory Council [pdf], seldom raises). But let me go further in defending us agroecologists against charges of elitism. I said earlier that most people who call themselves agroecologists are scientists—but most of the people who support and practice agroecology are farmers themselves. Indeed, one of today’s largest and most prominent international social movements is La Via Campesina, the umbrella organization for nearly 150 small farmers’ groups in 69 countries. Via Campesina alone represents millions of small farmers and farm laborers (consider that two of its members, Brazil’s MST and Mexico’s UNORCA have an estimated 1.5 million and 200,000 members, respectively). Originated, organized and led by small farmers from around the world, Via Campesina is fiercely independent of academics, NGOs, foundations and political parties. Yet two of Via Campesina’s main issues are agroecology/organic agriculture and women’s rights—because, by their own http://seedmagazine.com/content/print/food_fight_conclusion/

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analysis, these farmers believe that both of these issues are vital to supporting sufficient, sustainable production and equitable distribution. While it’s easy to charge “Whole Foods Shoppers” with elitism, such a charge leveled against the farmers themselves, who demand and have taken their own “seat at the table”, is nonsensical. Food sovereignty and the problem of how to help Prominent agroecologist Miguel Altieri has directly addressed what is a real tension between “organic” in the wealthier countries and organic as part of a genuinely alternative system that helps small and poor farmers. The problem is not biotechnology vs. agroecology, either of which can be advocated or used by elites ignorant of or indifferent to the poor. The key issue rather is how we choose to approach and engage those we nominally wish to help—it behooves us to work with and for local communities, rather than sticking to telling them what we think they need. Such a negotiated process is difficult, time-consuming, and not very flashy, but it is the only way to provide for a sustainable, dignified agricultural system that also provides for a healthy, food-secure population. Via Campesina calls this approach food sovereignty. I would call it the only rational way forward from here. We would like to hear from you: Who’s perspective do you find yourself tilting towards? Did you begin this debate on one side and shift to the other? Shall we call it a draw? Send your thoughts and comments by email here, or via Twitter @seedmag. Please use the hashtag #seeddebate.

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