Will the geeks ever feed us?
How do you stop a misguided philanthropist like Bill Gates wrecking the life chances of millions of poor people? With great difficulty it seems. His gift of ÂŁ6 million plus to the gene splicers appears to have taken everyone in. Most of the media commentators have given it the thumbs up.
The aim, says the UK-based John Innes Centre – recipient of the Gates largess – is to develop GM varieties of annual grain crops that â€śfixâ€ť their own nitrogen in the way that legume plants do. Poor farmers in Africa and elsewhere would be able to grow these crops without the need to buy costly chemical fertilizers. Thatâ€™s the theory. But you donâ€™t have to drill down deeply to find the argumentâ€™s bogus.
The fertility-building benefits of nitrogen-fixing legumes are already available. Around the world small-scale mixed farming systems incorporating legumes – and often grazing animals â€“ allow farmers to grow plenty of food without relying on expensive bought-in fertilizers and chemicals. This is why the biggest ever study of global agriculture concluded that GM crops had little part to play in feeding a growing world population. (IAASTD, 2008).Â Small-scale mixed farming can produce all the food we need.
Blowing millions on research into an un-needed technology is like blowing the household food budget on a 100-to-one outsider in the hope of winning enough to keep everyone living on caviar.
The whole GM food project is a clear demonstration of how farming in the west has been hijacked by large corporations. Theyâ€™ve duped democratic countries into adopting high-input grain growing on the grounds that this represents â€śscientific agriculture.â€ť In reality itâ€™s a journey to nowhere. It wrecks soils, squanders water, degrades our food and pushes family farmers off the land. Those same agribusiness corporations now want the world to adopt GM crops, in part as a remedy to the very problems they themselves have created.
For someone with Bill Gatesâ€™s background itâ€™s no surprise that he should be drawn to what looks like cutting edge technology. But GM can never feed the world. Only good farming can do that. Sadly good farming is something that holds no interest for geeks. Whatâ€™s alarming is the geeks seem to have taken over agricultural research. We should all be very afraid about that.