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Date:

January 20, 2010

Subject:

Green Godfather Says GM Way to Go; Lack of GMOs Costs Lives; Can They Feed The Hungry? Tackling Malnutrition; More Vandana

 

* Green Godfather Delivers Shocking and Heretical Message for the Future
* Lack of GMOs Costs Lives, Claims Leading Scientist
* Biotechnology is Key to Food Security in Africa
* Can GM Crops Feed The Hungry?
* Using Genetics to Tackle Malnutrition
* IITA Gets $2.4M for Cassava Research from Gates Foundation
* Nominate A Candidate for the Science and Public Leadership Fellows Program
* More on Vandana Shiva by Dr Noel Kingsbury
* International Conference on Biotechnology and Food Science
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Green Godfather Delivers Shocking and Heretical Message for the Future

- Susie Weldon, Bristol 24-7 (UK), Jan 20, 2010 http://www.bristol247.com/

One of the “godfathers of environmentalism” was in Bristol on Monday with a message that most greens will find both shocking and heretical. Stewart Brand told a 400-strong audience at St George’s, Bristol:

* There was “no hope” of mitigating against climate change;
* Nuclear power was the only way we could provide enough clean energy for the world;
* Cities were greener than the countryside;
* Genetically modified crops were necessary to feed the world’s growing population.

Brand is widely regarded as one of the great visionaries of the environmental movement. Now aged over 70, the American was invited to Bristol as part of the city’s Festival of Ideas. He outlined the thesis of his latest book, Whole Earth Discipline, in a fascinating and disturbing discussion with the musician and cultural critic Brian Eno at St George’s.

Brand was himself once opposed to nuclear energy and the use of GM. But he says the climate threat is so enormous that we have no choice but to embrace these technologies if we are to avoid a cataclysmic deterioration of the earth’s resources.

On GM, Brand said he was persuaded it was “absolutely the way to go. GM food crops have been the most successful breakthrough in agriculture, maybe ever, and are being adopted everywhere except Europe”.

GM was the only way we could achieve serious gains in yields to feed the world’s growing population, he said, but also brought other benefits such as peanuts which did not create allergies, rice which contained cholera vaccine and carrots with as much calcium as dairy products.

Brand’s message may have been heretical to many members of the Bristol audience, who were clearly a well-informed and concerned bunch. But it was impossible not to be horrified by his devastating analysis of the crisis facing us.
--
Whole Earth Discipline by Stewart Brand, £19.99, is published by Atlantic Books.

================

Lack of GMOs Costs Lives, Claims Leading Scientist

- Philip Clarke, Farmers Weekly (UK), January 20, 2010 http://www.fwi.co.uk/Articles/2010/01/20/119600/Lack-of-GMOs-costs-lives-claims-leading-scientist.htm

Many human lives have been lost due to the reluctance of some countries to accept genetically modified crops, former government chief scientific adviser, Sir David King has claimed.

Addressing the annual City Food Lecture in London's Guildhall this week, Sir David cited the example of flood-resistant rice which had taken over five years to develop using conventional breeding techniques and genetic markers, when it could have been done in two using GM technology.

The drop in rice production in 2007, due to flooding just after planting, was a major factor behind the price hike in 2008 that led to food riots and starvation in some parts of the world, he said.

Yet the "submergence-tolerant" rice gene had been known about for years. Had gene-splicing been used to insert this into commercial varieties, it would have been available within two years.

But because of sensitivities about GM crops, the International Rice Research Institute had opted for conventional breeding, and the first commercial strains were only just becoming available.

"I suggest a large number of people have lost their lives because of the unavailability of this flood-resistant rice. It is a wonder to me that it is unacceptable for one rice gene to be transferred into another rice plant."

Sir David said there was a "desperate need" for biotechnology if the world was to meet the challenge of raising food production 50% by 2030.

But this was rejected by Soil Association director Patrick Holden, who described the dominance of a small number of GM maize and soya varieties in North America as "dangerous".

GM technology had not achieved significant yield gains and had, in some cases, led to increased pesticide use. "And we don't know how many people have been damaged by GM foods, because the tests have never been done."

===================

Biotechnology is Key to Food Security in Africa

- Newstime Africa, Jan 20, 2010 http://www.newstimeafrica.com

Africa missed on the “Green Revolution” that drove Asia; the West and the larger America out of food insecurity five decades ago, but Agricultural Scientists in Kenya say, it should not miss out on the “Gene Revolution” seen to transform food production policy in the continent.

First, the statement marks the progress Agriculture Science has made for the last 15 years in terms of new technologies required to improve food productivity in Kenya and Africa in general. Secondly, it represents certain steps scientists are taking towards placing the region and Africa at large under food sufficiency. Water harvesting and soil conservation technologies have resulted in a tenfold increase in land productivity.

For over a decade farming has witnessed some transformations through; soil and water conservation, minimum tillage, improved crop varieties such as the Drought Resistant varieties, and agro forestry, farmers have efficiently utilized the scarce rainfall to increase land productivity. The agriculture experts led by Kenya’s Agriculture Secretary; Dr. Wilson Songa and Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) director, Dr. Ephraim Mukisira have called on Kenyans to embrace the available new technologies to curb hunger.

Last week, during the East African Science Reporting Workshop for journalists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, Africa Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) Executive Director, Dr. Daniel Mataruka warned that, Africa will not develop if its national governments and citizens cannot modernize agriculture for sustainable food production. He expressed concern; why as a continent, Africa cannot embrace agricultural technologies despite; the presence of a variety of negative climatic conditions and while 265 million of its populations and still increasing in number; are poor and food insecure.

He said new technologies like biotechnology are key to food security and nutrition. In a presentation: Overcoming challenges in the African Agricultural Sector: What chance for technology?, Mataruka said the continent must change her food production policies. “America in the 1930s was poorer than Africa is now but they changed their food production policies- improvements in agriculture technology through; improved seeds, improvement in crop management and mechanisation were the sources of economic growth in this country,” said Mataruka.

According to Mataruka, this was achieved basically by the US transforming her war weaponry factories into farm input; equipment and chemical production facilities after the Second World War. Asia, Latin America and the West followed suit in the 1950s-60s. He said the gene revolution is in Africa to stay and for those who are opposed to it; they are enemies of the continent that has been dogged by disease epidemics – HIV and AIDS, Malaria, Tuberculosis; name them – armed conflicts, poverty, droughts among others. The “Gene Revolution” according to Dr. Mataruka as with other scientists, is the ultimate answer to the perennial epidemics related to hunger and poverty. “Let us empower African farmers with the little available technologies in order to boost their food production,” he said.

Over five decades ago, the world experienced a striking breakthrough in Agriculture through the Green Revolution, which saved at least a billion lives from starvation in Asia and Latin America but, incidentally, Africa, then largely fed through subsistence farming, missed out and the consequences have left the continent begging for food relief since. But again despite the emergence of advanced agricultural technologies, notably modern biotechnology, Africa with over 200 million starving people, is still watching as Asia; Latin America and the West are riding on the top. “But again as I have said this is sad for food productivity is low and poverty high due to too little application of science into farming,” added Mataruka.

In his book; Starved for Science: How Biotechnology Is Being Kept Out of Africa, Political Scientist, Prof. Robert Paarlberg, confronts the sad fact that people in Africa are poor because their labour as farmers has not yet been improved by science, including modern biotechnology. “Only 4 per cent of Africa’s farmland is irrigated, less than 30 per cent is planted to improved seeds, while average fertilizer in use is only 9Kg per hectare, compared to 117 kg per hectare in the industrial world,” says Paarlberg.

And during this week at KARI headquarters, agricultural research scientists attending a Stakeholders Consultation Forum on Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA)- Kenya, unanimously agreed that farmers in Africa needs intervention from science and technology tools and products to increase productivity in order to enhance food security. “Such tools and products are urgently needed to reduce poverty and food insecurity,” said Dr. Songa who urged stakeholders to work in transparent synergies if they hoped to succeed in providing the farmer with alternatives towards improving their food production.

“If we are going to work together as a synergy, it is important to know what each of us is doing out there for farmers. Therefore, we need to organise ourselves in order to plan better, avail farm inputs to farmers,” said Songa. However, he stressed the need for stakeholders to recognise that for the WEMA project to succeed; all the processes involved must be addressed through public-private partnerships. “Just to ensure that, inclusivity is addressed by all. We are saying that, every stakeholder must contribute to the WEMA Project,” he added.

The WEMA Project which enhances other varieties for high yields also integrates the utilisation of traditional methods with Marker Assisted Selection (MAS) – a tool for genetic improvement – and transgenic methods. On his part, Dr. Mukisira said that in the process of transforming agriculture, KARI must come up with projects that are consistent with the erratic weather presently faced by Kenya to optimise productivity. He effectively identified WEMA as the kind of project that can achieve such a goal. However, he cautioned that WEMA may not achieve its goals without working together with the various multi-disciplinary sectors.

“Lone ranging hampers success of such projects,” added Mukisira at KARI. In his research: Why we need a new agenda for agriculture; what impact can higher agricultural sector productivity have on reducing poverty? published in 2001 Prof. Collin Thirtle, said; “Each 1 percent increase in agricultural productivity reduces poverty by 0.6 percent.” and “A yield increase of 1 per cent decreases the number of people living with less than US 1 per day by 6 million.”

Despite its spirited campaign against Africa embracing Genetically Modified materials, Europe has approved 87 recombinant [GM] drugs through the European Medicines Agency since 1982 says, Prof. Paarlberg is 2009. According to him Europeans will die of diabetes and related ailments if they do not administer Humulin N (GM Insulin) for treatment of Diabetes Hepatitis B virus vaccine. “Responsible biotechnology is not the enemy, but starvation is the enemy.”

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, late Prof. Norman E. Borlaug wrote in 1970. To crown it, Dr. Mataruka said, “It is high time farmers who are still using their “grandmothers” planting material to shift their focus to hybrid seeds because the inherited materials are prone to; drought, pests, insects, and diseases.”

================

Can GM Crops Feed The Hungry?

- Carol Campbell, Scidev.net, Jan. 20, 2010

'GM crops were supposed to rescue the world's one billion undernourished people. Carol Campbell discusses whether they will ever curb hunger.'

Golden Rice burst into the public imagination a decade ago, in the form of a cover article in Time magazine that claimed the genetically modified (GM) rice could "save a million kids a year". The rice gets its golden hue from an excess of beta carotene, a precursor to vitamin A that could help half a million children who go blind each year from an often-fatal vitamin A deficiency. But ten years later, Golden Rice is yet to cure blindness — and some believe it never will.

The public versus GM
Co-inventor Ingo Potrykus points to resistance to GM technology from pressure groups such as Greenpeace that has resulted in public and governmental resistance — including fears that rogue GM genes may contaminate wild varieties or that GM technology services corporate greed and will never help the poor.

This has led to "excessive" regulations that have choked efforts to roll out GM crops that might feed the poor, he says. And there are other concerns — the cost; the slowness of the research; even the idea that a "magic bullet" approach to nutrition can provide the answer to what is, some argue, a social, cultural and economic problem.

Does this mean that all GM foods are fated never to solve the undernutrition of the poor? If public resistance dwindles, will the crops live up to their promise to help feed the world's undernourished (estimated by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to number one billion in 2009)?

Rowan Sage, one of the scientists working on the creation of 'C4 rice' — another engineered rice that could one day produce a radically improved yield — says it is crucial to get public approval if GM is to tackle malnutrition. The social obstacles are huge, he says, and acceptance is "critical" for C4 rice's success.

"We have got to get buy-in because they [the hungry poor] could easily just say they don't want it," says Sage, an ecological and evolutionary biologist at the University of Toronto, Canada, working with the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) on the project.

Guillaume Gruere, a research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) believes that most of the reasons behind the fact that there are no publicly-developed GM food crops available for the poor can be traced back to resistance.

Many of the obstacles in developing countries have "in large part resulted from influences from countries and organisations opposed to the use of GM food", Gruere says. Some GM proponents are pessimistic that these issues will be resolved anytime soon. For example, HarvestPlus, a global programme aimed at creating more nutritious staple crops, is avoiding GM technology almost entirely and using conventional breeding instead.

But many people believe resistance will eventually wane. Robert Ziegler, director-general of IRRI, says it's unlikely that those opposing GM will be able to hold back the technology forever. "In general the issue in many developing countries is that they don't have a regulatory framework to handle them [GM crops]," Ziegler told a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Chicago last year (2009).

"There are pretty strong, mostly Europe-based, lobbies who oppose their use in Sub-Saharan Africa. I think that as crops that have direct benefit to consumers come on board they will eventually be accepted." Even Golden Rice is making some progress, he said. It is being field tested in the Philippines and the first batches may be commercially available by 2011–12.

A balanced diet
But even if opposition evaporates, there are other reasons why GM crops may fail to solve the problem of malnutrition — will tackling one particular nutritional deficiency ever bring broad success in a war that concerns so many nutrients?

For Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist in the Food & Environment Program at the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists, introducing genetically-engineered crops into a developing world environment is a piecemeal approach.

"Nutritional deficiency in an impoverished community would be better addressed by encouraging and helping people eat a balanced diet that includes green leafy vegetables and protein rather than trying to pack everything into cassava or rice," he says.

People with one deficiency often also have other nutrient deficiencies that will not be addressed by this kind of single-nutrient approach, he argues. "I am not opposed to Golden Rice, if it works and is shown to be safe. But is it really a good use of development resources?"

Using GM to tackling a range of deficiencies in one go is the goal of the BioCassava Plus project, which aims to pack almost a full meal into cassava, a staple for 250 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Turning cassava into a square meal
Cassava is a staple for 250 million people in sub-Saharan Africa but it has a short shelf life, is plagued by disease and is not nutritious. The GM cassava is engineered to be more nutritious on several counts and to have a longer shelf life, disease resistance and lower cyanide levels. Early versions of the plant, with one or two characteristics introduced, are undergoing field trials in Nigeria and Puerto Rico, and is set to be tested in Kenya.

The initiative is under the supervision of Richard Sayre from the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in the United States. Sayre rejects Gurian-Sherman's argument: "We know our cassava can help people," he says. "Initial estimates are that, in the first round of production, 35,000 lives will be saved in Nigeria. The long term impact is millions of lives saved."

Such claims are beguiling, but what about the cost when there's a limited international pot from which to fund nutrition? Gurian-Sherman argues that the costs are so high that efforts should go elsewhere. A new biotechnology crop, he says, could cost up to US$100 million to produce (excluding regulatory costs) while the same crop improved through traditional methods would cost US$1 million.

In the case of C4 rice, the development costs are vast, says Sage. "It is extremely expensive work," he told the AAAS meeting. "In order to create a sustained programme it needs US$10 million a year." But, he argued, "it's cheap compared with the benefits". C4 rice could, he says, increase yield by 50 per cent — and the benefits of that are in the trillions of dollars.

The C4 project must therefore be viewed in the long term to understand its benefits. It will take two to three decades to come to fruition but could help solve the food challenges of 2050, he said. So perhaps by 2050, with biosafety frameworks in place, resistance to GM subdued by the growing trouble of world hunger, and comprehensive GM solutions that solve a host of deficiencies in a single plant, GM might solve the problem of malnutrition?

Is GM a crude solution?
But there is still one major objection — that the problem of poor nutrition is so complex that it is crude to think it can be solved by GM.

The poor don't get enough food for a number of reasons: infrastructure, such as poor roads along which to take their goods to market; lack of fertiliser; lack of training in farming methods. The rise of monocultures has reduced the variety of their diets. Land is distributed inefficiently or unfairly with the poor pushed onto unproductive land — and this requires legal reform followed by implementation. Popping a gene into a tomato is not going to solve these problems, it is argued.

Andrea Roberto Sonnino, a senior agricultural research officer at the Research and Extension Unit of the FAO in Italy, says: "GM can contribute to improved nutrition but we have to consider that nutrition is a result of many social, cultural, economic and political factors". To improve the nutrition of the poor, action cannot be limited to the improvement of the nutritional quality of a particular crop, he says.

"The enormity and complexity of the problem means we need [many] solutions to be made available, including diversifying diets, commercially fortifying foods, administering nutrition supplements, and breeding crops to be rich in vitamins and minerals," she says. "While the amounts of desired nutrient in food crops can be enhanced through conventional breeding, where these nutrients are not found in parent breeding lines, or cannot be increased in the amount needed to improve nutrition, GM foods can be seen as part of the solution."

"GM technology may well be able to go beyond where conventional plant breeding can take us."

Perhaps, as with the approach to climate change, the solution lies in a web of interventions of which GM may be one. And, like climate change, it may be foolhardy to ignore any of them.
---
Carol Campbell is a freelance science journalist based in Oudtshoorn, South Africa

============

Using Genetics to Tackle Malnutrition

- Jim Kaput, Scidev.net, Jan 20, 2010 |

'Jim Kaput explains why efforts to tackle malnutrition should consider nutrigenomics — the interplay between food and genetic make-up.'

Starving people do not just need food. They need the right nutrients to maintain and promote good health. Food aid can help prevent starvation but if it is not nutritionally balanced it could also contribute to chronic diseases and premature death.

Supplying key nutrients — through either whole foods, fortified foods or supplements — is especially important in developing countries, where malnutrition contributes to about 60 per cent of deaths among children under the age of five each year, according to Médecins Sans Frontières.

But what levels of nutrients are needed to maintain good health and prevent disease? To answer that, we must turn to nutrigenomics — the study of how nutrients interact with genes to alter metabolism.

Genetic variation
A person's genes determine how their body absorbs and uses nutrients. Because each person is genetically unique, the amounts and types of nutrients needed to maintain good health may differ among individuals.

They can also differ between historically separated populations that have genetically adapted to cope with different local environments.

The most visible difference caused by this adaptation is skin colour. The variation from pink to brown not only helps to prevent sunburn but also allows appropriate amounts of sunlight to penetrate the skin to create the vitamin D3 from its inactive precursors.

A less obvious genetic adaptation is lactose persistence, which describes the continued production into adulthood of the enzyme lactase that metabolises lactose, the sugar found in milk. Most mammals stop producing lactase after weaning but those humans who could drink milk had access to protein, calcium and water, helping them survive the harsh climates of northern Europe and central Africa.

As a consequence, more of their descendents survived and bore the variant lactase gene. Many northern Europeans and central Africans retain the ability to drink milk, whereas about 70 per cent of the world's population are lactose intolerant.

Differences in population genetics can also result from historical deficiencies or excesses of nutrients in soils, plants and animals. For example, the lack of iron, selenium or other micronutrients in the diet may have selected for genes that aid the uptake, storage and use of these essential nutrients.

Similar forces acted on domesticated plants and animals. For example, rice grown in the delta region of Arkansas is chemically and nutritionally different to rice grown in India because the local soils, rainfall, temperature and other conditions affect the plants' growth, maturation and chemical make-up.

Getting the balance right
The main implication of this genetic variation in the developing world is that food alone is not enough. The wrong kind of food can be just as damaging to people's health as a lack of food.

Consider, for example, the epidemic of obesity and chronic diseases that affects not only food-secure countries but also urban areas of developing countries, such as China, where one in six people (215 million individuals) are overweight, according to the WHO definition.

Excess calories and fat undoubtedly contribute to this epidemic but another factor is that many manufactured or processed foods are not nutritionally balanced. Industrialised nations are facing health and financial crises from this nutrient imbalance and developing countries must cope with the dual burdens of undernutrition in rural areas and overnutrition in urban centres.

Paradoxically, both forms of malnutrition may act through a similar molecular process of modifying DNA, called epigenetics, to cause stable, but non-heritable, changes to the way genes are used. Both undernutrition and overnutrition, particularly in the womb, can cause these epigenetic programs to create a mismatch between the 'expected' food environment and the actual one.

Supplying women of childbearing age and their children with sufficient calories is necessary but is not enough to optimise the epigenetic programming — the proper balance of micronutrients is essential for both short- and long-term health.

Of course, it is not enough to provide proper nutrition to young women — providing adequate nutrients to their children is also crucial for maintaining a food environment that promotes optimal health through adulthood. These well-established concepts need to inform public policy and food fortification programs.

Tailoring nutrition
Nutrigenomic science is still in its infancy and little is yet known about how to tailor nutrition interventions according to population genetics.

Progress has been slow because many studies have focused on local, relatively homogeneous populations using dissimilar experimental designs. But an international group of nutrigenomic scientists called the Micronutrient Genomics Projecthas started coordinating efforts to develop harmonised protocols and databases for comparing how individuals in different geographical and culturally distinct populations respond to food.

Such efforts are essential to provide food-policy experts and national and international agencies with the knowledge base for addressing malnutrition in the developing world.

The study of the interactions between genes and nutrients has begun but it requires significantly more investment in basic and applied research in genetically and culturally diverse populations. Such studies, if properly designed, can quickly convert the basic science into action to help alleviate nutrition insecurity.
---
Jim Kaput is director of the Division of Personalized Nutrition and Medicine at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The views expressed in this article do not reflect the official policy of the FDA.

=============

IITA to Intensify Fight Against Deadly Cassava Disease In Sub-Saharan Africa Supported by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

- IITA, Nigeria; January 13, 2010 http://www.iita.org

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and its partners the Agricultural Research Institute (ARI), Tanzania, and the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), Uganda, have received a US$2.4 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to identify and use molecular markers for faster and more accurate breeding of cassava varieties resistant to Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD).

The disease, which is caused by the Cassava Brown Streak Virus (CBSV) and results in a dry rot in the tuberous roots rendering them inedible, is one of greatest threats to food security in sub-Saharan Africa.

Cassava is an important staple food from which over 200 million people derive over 50% of their carbohydrate intake. It is a hardy crop that does well during times of drought and in poor soils. It requires little inputs such as fertilizer and the whole plant is useful from the leaves to the roots.

IITA and ARI have identified a few varieties with some level of resistance to the disease. The four-year project aims to identify the DNA markers associated with the resistance genes in these varieties and integrate marker-assisted selection into cassava breeding programs.

Marker-assisted breeding will enable the breeders to determine whether or not the desired genes of CBSD resistance have been successfully transferred from the parents to the offspring at the seedling stage using DNA testing. This will dramatically reduce the size of the working populations and the time taken to develop improved varieties.

According to Dr. Morag Ferguson, IITA Plant Molecular Geneticist and team project leader, breeding for disease-resistant cassava is the most cost-effective and sustainable way to control the devastating effects of the virus. However, conventional breeding takes 8 to 12 years to produce improved varieties. "The use of molecular markers can reduce this time by allowing selection earlier on in the breeding cycle and by increasing the accuracy of selection. It is like using a magnet in a game of 'find the needle in the haystack'!" she said.

This grant is part of the foundation's Agricultural Development Initiative, which is working with a wide range of partners in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia to provide millions of small farmers in the developing world with tools and opportunities to boost their yields, increase their incomes, and build better lives for themselves and their families. The foundation is working to strengthen the entire agricultural value chain-from seeds and soil to farm management and market access-so that progress against hunger and poverty is sustainable over the long term.

=======================

Nominate A Candidate for the Science and Public Leadership Fellows Program

http://poptech.org/sciencenominations

Each year, with the assistance of members of our advisory network, PopTech will select up to twenty high-potential early-to-mid-career working scientists from accredited academic institutions around the world.

Candidates are eligible if they meet the following criteria: * Field of Research: Institutionally affiliated candidates from any field of study are eligible, but strong preference is given to candidates who are working in fields with significant interest to the nation or the planet, such as biomedical research, public health, energy, green chemistry, material science, Earth and life sciences, agriculture, ecology, oceans, behavioral and social science, computer science and national security.

Evaluation of candidates is rolling, and nominations will be accepted for the inaugural class until April 1, 2010. The formal training component of the program will take place in summer 2010.

=========

More on Vandana Shiva

- Dr Noel Kingsbury, University of Sheffield, UK http://www.noelkingsbury.com -
Excerpted from "Hybrid: The History and Science of Plant Breeding"; 2009 The University of Chicago Press. http://www.seedquest.com/forum/bookexcerpts/hybrid/chapter12.htm

Of all the critics of scientific plant breeding, indeed of modern agriculture generally, none is more vociferous or influential, than Vandana Shiva. [1] There is no doubting the injustices or the environmental damage she recounts – her solution though is to return to the past, to an India of village communities farming with traditional methods and landrace crops. Her politics are very much within the Gandhian tradition of village-based development, but the original Gandhians as we have seen with regard to cotton, were not afraid of engaging with science (see Chapter 5).

Shiva’s voluminous writings and public lectures (critics describe her as jetting around the world telling us all to be peasants) encapsulate better than anyone else a position which has become disturbingly influential with many educated liberal-minded people. Science is accused of being reductionist, of dividing humanity from nature, intrinsically linked to the exploitation and oppression of third world people and of women, part of a brutal western attempt at world domination. Criticism of the Green Revolution, which has segued into an outright and total opposition to GM technology, is a central plank of this particular brand of political philosophy.

There is a dark side to this philosophy. In attacking globalization and scientific rationality, its proponents have a tendency to idealize and romanticize the traditional and local; indeed the extreme cultural relativism of postmodernism has merged with leftwing post-colonial politics to support assertions of nativist and identity politics.

However, as Meera Nanda, a leading Indian critic of what she calls ‘reactionary post-modernism’, points out, “the populist left opposition to the Green Revolution, GM crops and other science intensive initiatives, is routinely co-opted by the ultra-nationalist, autarkic, elements of the Hindu right”. Shiva has been interviewed and favorably quoted by The Organiser, the journal of the Rashtriya Swayamsavak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist organization, the sight of whose members marching in formation wearing khaki shorts, is a powerful and frightening reminder of its original inspiration – Hitler’s brownshirts. [2] Identity politics is the natural playground of the political Far Right. In rejecting the universality of Enlightenment values, anti-science critics on the Left have found themselves sharing a bed with those on the opposite end of the political spectrum.

The traditional agricultural systems favored by Shiva would never be able to provide enough food for a country or a world that is rapidly urbanizing. In addition, there is another powerful reason why high-yielding crops and the science-based industries behind them are needed – they enable more to be grown per unit of land. This reduces the amount of forest, savannah and other land, currently occupied by pastoralists, tribal peoples or by wild nature, which needs to be converted to arable.

It should not forgotten that throughout history, agricultural output was increased primarily through felling forests, draining wetlands and plowing wild landscapes. Lovers of nature should not forget that the greatest destroyer of what they love is agriculture – the sight of well-tended fields of scientifically created and scientifically managed crops should be welcomed, for it is they that allow the forests to remain standing and the wetlands stay undrained. There is a powerful environmental argument for sustaining the momentum of the Green Revolution and its high productivity crops.

Failure to invest in plant breeding for the future, which inevitably includes a big dose of GM technology, risks the human race hitting its Malthusian limits. Graeme Snooks, the historian discussed earlier with regard to technological progress, indeed ventures to suggest that a civilization that fails to invest in technology is doomed to collapse. [3] Rwanda provides a possible, and terrible warning. Although its genocide was ethnic in character, extreme population pressure was undoubtedly the major factor in setting off this country’s slide into civil war. Densely populated, with farmers tilling ever-smaller plots, often on land only marginally suitable for crops, Rwanda had only received very belated assistance with crop breeding and agricultural development.

There is nothing inefficient about small farms – indeed quite the contrary, many studies have shown that small farms are often more efficient than larger ones; a 1977 International Labour Organisation study for example having showed that in east and SE Asia, yield, employment and added value per hectare increases as average farm size decreases. [4] But Rwanda’s traditional agriculture, whilst undoubtedly rich in knowledge and techniques, lacked the modern varieties and scientific back up needed to support the higher productivities needed by its increasing population. What happened there serves as a terrible warning to those who would wish to turn their back on science.

[1] An example of her influence is her giving a 2000 BBC Reith lecture, one of the most highly regarded annual lecturing slots in Britain.
[2] Nanda 2003, p.30.
[3] Snooks 1996
[4] Sneep & Hendriksen 1979

=========

International Conference on Biotechnology and Food Science

- Bangalore, India, February 9-10, 2010 http://www.iacsit.org/icbfs/index.htm

The 2010 International Conference on Biotechnology and Food Science (ICBFS 2010) will be held in Bangalore, India during February 9-10, 2010. The aim objective of ICBFS 2010 is to provide a platform for researchers, engineers, academicians as well as industrial professionals from all over the world to present their research results and development activities in Biotechnology and Food Science. This conference provides opportunities for the delegates to exchange new ideas and application experiences face to face, to establish business or research relations and to find global partners for future collaboration.