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Resistance Is Fertile: It's Time To Prioritize Agroecology

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Food is becoming unhealthy and poisoned with chemicals, while diets are becoming less diverse. There is a loss of plant and insect diversity, which threatens food security, soils are being degraded, water tables polluted and depleted and smallholder farmers, so vital to global food production, are being squeezed off their land and out of farming.

Over the last 60 years or so, Washington's plan has been to restructure indigenous agriculture across the world. And this plan has involved subjugating nations by getting them to rely more on U.S. imports and grow less of their own food. Agriculture and food production and distribution have become globalized and tied to an international system of trade based on export-oriented mono-cropping, commodity production for the international market, indebtedness to international financial institutions (IMF/World Bank) and the need for nations to boost foreign exchange (U.S. dollar) reserves to repay debt.

This has resulted in food surplus and food deficit areas, of which the latter have become dependent on agricultural imports and strings-attached aid. Food deficits in the global South mirror food surpluses in the West.

Whether through IMF-World Bank structural adjustment programs, as occurred in Africa, trade agreements like NAFTA and its impact on Mexico or, more generally, deregulated global trade rules, the outcome has been similar: the devastation of traditional, indigenous agriculture.

The corporate-led, chemical-laden Green Revolution has adversely impacted the nature of food, soil, human health and the environment. Sold on the promise of increased yields, this has been overstated. And the often stated 'humanitarian' intent and outcome ('millions of lives saved') has had more to do with PR and the reality of cold commercial interest.

In an open letter written in 2006 to policy makers in India (which I urge everyone to read), farmer and campaigner Bhaskar Save summarized some of the impacts of Green Revolution farming in India, not least the creation of artificial drought in a land of rain. If Bhaskar Save helped open people's eyes to what has happened on the farm and to ecology as a result of the Green Revolution, a 2015 report by GRAIN provides a wider overview of how U.S. agribusiness has hijacked an entire nation's food and agriculture under the banner of 'free trade' to the detriment of the environment, health and farmers. In effect, the all-American obesity diet is now a reality in Mexico.

Agroecology challenges top-down approaches to research and policy making.

The misrepresentation of the plight of the indigenous edible oils sector in India encapsulates the duplicity at work currently surrounding GM crops, an extension of the Green Revolution paradigm. After trade rules and cheap imports conspired to destroy farmers and the jobs of people involved in local food processing activities for the benefit of global agribusiness, including commodity trading and food processer companies ADM and Cargill, the same interests are now leading a campaign to force GM into India on the basis of the falsehood that Indian agriculture is unproductive and thus the country has to rely on imports.

Today, governments continue to collude with big agribusiness corporations, which seek to eradicate the small farmer and subject countries to the vagaries of rigged global markets. Agritech corporations are being allowed to shape government policy by being granted a strategic role in trade negotiations and are increasingly framing the policy/knowledge agenda by funding and determining the nature of research carried out in public universities and institutes.

Across the world, however, we are seeing farmers and communities resisting the corporate takeover of seeds, soils, water and food. And we are also witnessing inspiring stories about the successes of agroecology: a model of agriculture based on traditional knowledge and modern agricultural research utilising elements of contemporary ecology, soil biology and the biological control of pests.

This system combines sound ecological management, including minimizing the use of toxic inputs, by using on-farm renewable resources and privileging endogenous solutions to manage pests and disease.

Agroecology challenges top-down approaches to research and policy making. It can also involve moving beyond the dynamics of the farm itself to become part of a wider political agenda, which addresses the broader social and economic issues that impact farmers and agriculture (see this description of what agroecology entails).

Small farms are per area more productive than large-scale industrial farms and create a more resilient, diverse food system.

Last year the Oakland Institute released a report on 33 case studies which highlighted the success of agroecological agriculture across Africa in the face of climate change, hunger and poverty. The studies provide facts and figures on how agricultural transformation can yield immense economic, social, and food security benefits while ensuring climate justice and restoring soils and the environment.

There are many other examples of successful agroecology and of farmers abandoning Green Revolution thought and practices to embrace it (see this report about El Salvador and this interview from South India).

Various official reports have argued that to feed the hungry and secure food security in low income regions we need to support small farms and diverse, sustainable agro-ecological methods of farming and strengthen local food economies (see this report by the former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food and this too).

Proponents of agroecology appreciate that a decentralized system of domestic food production with access to local rural markets supported by proper roads, storage and other infrastructure must take priority ahead of exploitative international markets dominated and designed to serve the needs of global capital.

Small farms are per area more productive than large-scale industrial farms and create a more resilient, diverse food system. If policy makers were to prioritize this sector and promote agroecology to the extent Green Revolution practices and technology have been pushed, many of the problems surrounding poverty, unemployment, rising population and urban migration could be solved.

But as long as politicians at national and regional levels are co-opted by the U.S. and its corporations, seeds will continue to be appropriated, lands taken, water diverted, legislation enacted, research institutes funded and policy devised to benefit global agribusiness.

Only a broad-based, global movement of peoples, spanning continents and nations, countryside and cities, farmers and consumers, can take on these vested interests to secure an ultimate victory.

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