Not every poor person in impoverished places around the world aspires to the modern living standards they see and hear about: indoor plumbing, electricity for lights, a refrigerator and stove, a paucity of disease-carrying insects, top-notch schools and hospitals, their children living past age five. But many do.
Not every poor African, Asian or Latin American farmer wants to give up his backbreaking, dawn to dusk traditional agricultural practices, guiding his ox and plow, laying down meager supplies of manure to fertilize crops, surviving droughts, repeatedly hand spraying pesticides to battle ravenous insects – to reap harvests that often barely feed his family, much less leave produce to sell locally. But many do.
Unfortunately, they often face formidable foes. An absence of electricity, roads and other infrastructure. Corrupt, kleptocratic governments. Nonexistent property rights and other collateral to secure loans. Powerful, well-financed eco-imperialists whose policies perpetuate poverty, malnutrition and disease.
Banks and other carbon colonialists glorify limited wind and solar energy for poor villages, while denying financial support for fossil fuel electricity generation. Anti-chemical fanatics promote bed nets and narrowly defined “integrated pest management,” but bitterly oppose chemical pesticides and the spatial repellant DDT to kill mosquitoes, keep them out of homes and prevent deadly malaria.
Radical organic food groups battle any use of genetically engineered crops that multiply crop yields, survive droughts and slash pesticide spraying by 75% or more. They even vilify Golden Rice, which enables malnourished children to avoid Vitamin A Deficiency, blindness and death.
Now their struggles are getting worse, as a coalition of well-financed malcontents, agitators and pressure groups once again prove the adage that power politics makes strange bedfellows. Coalition members share a deep distaste for fossil fuels, petrochemicals (including chemical pesticides and fertilizers), modern agriculture, biotechnology, corporations and capitalism.
Their growing social-political movement is called “AgroEcology.” While the concept is studiously vague, it essentially asserts that indigenous, traditional farmers must be shielded from market forces and modern technologies, so that they can continue using ancient, primitive, “culturally appropriate” methods.
AgroEcology is anti-GMO organic food activism on steroids. It rejects virtually everything that has enabled modern agriculture to feed billions more people from less and less acreage and, given the chance, could eliminate hunger and malnutrition worldwide. It is rabidly opposed to biotechnology, monoculture farming, non-organic fertilizers and chemical insecticides – and even despises mechanized equipment like tractors, and the hybrid seeds and other advances developed by Dr. Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution.
AgroEcology advocates tortured but clever concepts like “food sovereignty” and the “right to subsistence farming by indigenous people.” It promotes “indigenous agricultural knowledge and practices,” thus excluding the vast storehouse of non-indigenous learning, practices and technologies that were developed in recent centuries – and are readily available to anyone with access to a library or internet connection.
Or as they put it: “Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies, rather than the demands of markets and corporations.” Food sovereignty also “focuses on production and harvesting methods that maximize the contribution of ecosystems, avoid costly and toxic inputs, and improve the resiliency of local food systems in the face of climate change.” (The 2007 Declaration of Nyéléni, the first global forum on food sovereignty. In Mali!)
Some adherents even seek the “re-peasantization” of Latin American society!
AgroEcology has the financial backing of far-left foundations like the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, which collectively have committed more than $500 million to a raft of like-minded NGOs.
Its precepts and policies are approved and actively promoted by the Food and Agriculture Organization, World Bank and other UN agencies at their taxpayer-funded international conferences. These agencies are even beginning to demand adherence to über-organic practices as a condition for receiving taxpayer funding for agricultural development programs in Africa, Asia and Latin America. (But taxpayers and even their legislators who provide the funding have been provided little input on any of this.)
It’s all justified – and often accepted without question in government agencies and universities – by reference to the politically correct, virtue-signaling terminology of our era: sustainability, sustainable farming, dangerous manmade climate change, social justice, indigenous rights, self-determination.
But anyone opposing these ideologies, policies and demands is vilified as a “willful supporter” of violence against women, “land-grabbing” by multinational corporations, peasant farmer suicides, “mass expropriation and genocide” of indigenous people, and crimes against humanity.
Imagine how intolerant AgroEcology ideologues would react if a farmer wanted to assert his or her food sovereignty and self-determination – by planting hybrid corn, using modern synthetic fertilizers or (heaven forbid) planting Bt corn (maize), to get higher yields, spend less time in the field, spray fewer pesticides, or improve the family’s living standards by selling surplus crops. And yet many want to do exactly that.
“By planting the new Bt cotton on my six hectares [15 acres], I was able to build a house and give it a solar panel,” Bethuel Gumede told the late Roy Innis, then chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality, during a trip to South Africa. “I also bought a TV and fridge. My wife can buy healthy food, and we can afford to send the kids to school. My life has changed completely.”
“I grow maize on a half hectare,” Elizabeth Ajele told him. “The old plants would be destroyed by insects, but not the new biotech plants. With the profits I get from the new Bt maize, I can grow onions, spinach and tomatoes, and sell them for extra money to buy fertilizer. We were struggling to keep hunger out of our house. Now the future looks good.”
Equally relevant, how can agricultural practices that barely sustained families and villages before the advent of modern agriculture possibly feed the world? As Dr. Borlaug said in 2006: “Our planet has 6.5 billion people. If we use only organic fertilizers and methods on existing farmland, we can only feed 4 billion. I don’t see 2.5 billion people volunteering to disappear.”
AgroEcology promoters like Greenpeace, Food & Water Watch, Pesticide Action Network, Union of Concerned Scientists, and La Via Campesina (The Peasant Way) pay little attention to any of this. They’re too busy “saving people” from “dangerous” hybrid seeds, GMOs, agribusiness, farm machinery and chemicals.
Greenpeace frightens Africans by claiming “some researchers think DDT and DDE could be inhibiting lactation” in nursing mothers. So families are afraid to use DDT, and millions die from preventable malaria, while still more millions suffer permanent brain or liver damage from the disease. Would it also oppose cancer-curing chemotherapy because it causes hair loss and reduced resistance to infections?
Modern instruments can detect chemicals in mere parts per billion (the equivalent of a few seconds in 32 years) or even parts per trillion (a few seconds in 32,000 years). That’s hardly a threat to human health.
But Luddite eco-imperialists and über-organic food activists stridently oppose any manmade fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, while saying “natural” pesticides commonly used by organic farmers are safe. In reality, copper sulfate can kill humans in lower doses per kilogram of body weight than aspirin, and exposure to rotenone causes Parkinson's Disease-like symptoms in rats and can also kill humans.
UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, US and EU government agencies, and real human rights advocates should challenge and denounce AgroEcology agitators and their financial enablers for advancing fraudulent claims that perpetuate malnutrition, poverty and human rights abuses in the world’s poorest countries.
Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and author of books and articles on energy, climate change and economic development. David Wojick is an independent analyst specializing in science and logic in public policy.