Intensive agriculture, Lectures de sociologie. Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po)
GiuliaSantero
GiuliaSantero

Intensive agriculture, Lectures de sociologie. Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po)

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How intensive agriculture is not sustainable
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Giulia Santero 100059374 Master 1 OMRH Midterm essay

Intensive agriculture and GMOs

Sustainability has been defined building upon the earlier interpretation of the WCED as the “strategy for harmoniously combining the goals of socio-economic development and environmental conservation” (Whitehead, 2014). Consequently, it does not simply regard the environment, but it concerns also the relationship between society and the economy. Indeed, in the Brundtland Report of 1987 the commission highlighted that sustainability indicates the “connection between human welfare and environmental justice” (2014). Human welfare depends on ecosystem services, which in turn are majorly impacted by our means of production such as agricultural practices and the use of GMOs, but as well by our choices of consumption as highlighted by the Slow food Movement started by Carlo Petrini. Hence, we may wonder to what extent should GMOs and intensive agriculture be limited to foster sustainability and protect biodiversity? This debate is a prism characterized by two main facets: the relationship with the environment and secondly the economy and society. The report will develop on these axes by highlighting the different arguments and their consequences. Finally, it will conclude with an overall assessment of the diverse opinions.

I. The practice of agriculture impacts the environment primarily in two ways: through

land-use and with the combustion of fuel, which produces anthropogenic nitrogen emissions. Indeed, today, land-grab represents one of the greatest menaces to biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. In fact, it has a detrimental effect on habitat availability and it influences the survival or the extinction of species (Heinrich, 2016). Furthermore, the emissions coming from the burning of fuel represent the third worst threat to biodiversity, because they restrain the efficiency and the competition among plant species and the ones unable to adapt end up extinct (2016). Land-use creates overexploitation of water, fish and it causes soil erosion. As a consequence, intensive agricultural practices lead to a loss of biodiversity and they deteriorate ecosystem services (Vries, 2013). As reported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) on the planet already 70% of edible plant have disappeared (Slow Food, 2008). Wheat, rice, corn and soy represent the basic nutrition of the world’s population today and its varieties are vanishing. At the same time, corporations such as Monsanto produce GMOs and pesticides at prices that exclude small scale farmers leading them to either adapt or exit the market, whereas according to Slow Food they represent the “real keepers of a social environmental equilibrium” (2008). Slow Food has also voiced its concerns with regards to this type of production saying that: “it has no time for the rhythms of nature. It has no season and no patience. It must always mass produce, in large quantities as quickly as possible” (2008). Indeed, for instance in Mexico civil society has organized a protest “Sin maíz no hay país” against agro-industrial monopolies such as Monsanto because their transgenic corn beans and the growing consumption from the United States menaced the quality, quantity and the price, thus endangering the nutrition and the soil of this country.

Nevertheless, there exists another side of this debate that supports intensive agriculture and GMOs as not threatening biodiversity. For instance, according to Matson, professor at Berkeley, intensive agriculture is necessary to keep livelihood stable and increase the production of food, but it is necessary to exploit inputs efficiently while avoiding pollution

Giulia Santero 100059374 Master 1 OMRH Midterm essay

(2016). Yet, her study is limited to one region namely the Yaqui Valley. While regarding intensive agriculture there exists a fairly strong consensus of its negative impact on biodiversity, with regards to GMOs the discourse is more fractured. Indeed, for instance the National Academy of Sciences Engineering and Medicine in 2016 has diffused a report on genetically engineered crops stating that they have found no “conclusive cause and effect evidence of environment problems from the GE crops”. As well, prof. Chern expert in agricultural, environmental economics argues that GM technology plays a key role in agricultural sustainability because it “produces varieties of crops which can resist to pest or drought and increase yield”. In addition he stated that “biotechnology such as GMOs holds the best promise to deliver the next Green Revolution” (2006).

II. The second dimension of this debate regards the more social economical aspect.

According to the Slow Food movement to achieve agro-sustainability it is necessary to set prices and then salaries that reflect the effort and the worth of small producers and especially farmers in developing countries. However, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development has remarked that there has been a significant escalation in the concentration of the agrochemical industry showing that there exists only three leading companies, which account for basically half of the whole market (2006). Moreover, some of the biggest agrochemical firms have managed to successfully link biotechnology and the seed business thus moving towards “unprecedented convergence between the key segments of the agriculture market” (2006). Consequently, it becomes increasingly more difficult for small producers to have an alternative to the seeds produced by these companies and they are under the yoke of the price set by the latter. Indeed, there is even evidence as provided by the UNCTAD that after some mergers and acquisitions done by these multinationals “coordination” increased among them specifically with “contractual arrangements, alliances and tacit collusive practices”, thus demonstrating a strategic cooperation (2006). As an illustration of the social impact and the responsibility of these companies in India more than 200,000 farmers have committed suicide since 1997 (Shiva, 2009). Global corporations such as Monsanto and Syngenta replaced the local seeds with GM ones, which needed fertilisers and pesticides. The seeds were non-renewable and consequently the poor farmers had to rebuy them, thus increasing the level of indebtedness. Moreover, the change from the saved seeds to the GM ones also mirrors a shift from biodiversity to monoculture. Indeed, in the district of Warangal in Andhra Pradesh they used to grow different millets and oilseeds but the imposition of the cotton monocultures led the farmers to lose the wealth attached to breeding. When Monsanto introduced Bt cotton 15 years ago in India the farmers lost money due to crop failure caused by monoculture. Indeed, the poor indigent farmers could not stay afloat with the seed monopolies (2009). This crisis exemplifies Slow food’s argument that small farmers especially in developing countries are incongruous with seed monopolies. Slow Food proposed as a solution to empower the consumer and the farmer by promoting a new model of consumption, which linked the two closer together. Indeed they argue that the act of buying a product is a political choice and consumers should first be more aware of it and consequently choose to consume less, but of better quality. Slow food argues that consumers need to be re-educated to buy seasonal food produced fairly and especially by small scale farmers. For instance one initiative in this

Giulia Santero 100059374 Master 1 OMRH Midterm essay

direction is the 10,000 gardens in Africa. They created gardens in schools and communities to raise awareness and to grow traditional products using sustainable techniques, involving new generations by transmitting the knowledge of the elderly thus fostering as well, inter- generational equilibrium (Slow Food, 2013).

However, it is important to highlight as well the other side of the argument. Indeed, consumers tend to buy the cheapest product on the market and usually it is produced by large multinationals. Even if there are more and more people willing to pay a premium price to have local/organic food, there is still a large part of the population who cannot afford it (Chern, 2006). In addition, as Monsanto asserts by 2050 there will likely be 9 billion people and it is necessary to think ahead and produce enough to cover this increase in global population. Here is the main difference in the two arguments, Monsanto insists more on the growing demand and consequently supply, whereas Slow Food appeals to reduce consumption and change the means of production (Monsanto.com).

III. The overall evaluation of this debate is that sustainable agriculture stands at the

crossroad between the environment, society and the economy. Sustainable agriculture should not discredit technology, but instead it should engage itself to use better the present resources and to facilitate the work of farmers. It is important not to lose the traditions attached to certain agricultural practices, which are part of our cultural background and as well support farmers to keep alive the growing of certain products and defend their identity. However, the methods to implement this process are expensive and so are the prices of the products. Hence, it would be necessary to connect downstream buyers with the farmers so that consumers by becoming more aware of the costs and timing of agriculture would also be more and more willing to pay a premium price. An illustration of a cross industry relation is the Sustainable agriculture Initiative (SAI) platform that offers networking opportunities to encourage sustainable agriculture. With regards to the issue of growing population it is true that it is necessary to think ahead, but producing more does not represent a sustainable solution, rather empowering and educating the consumer to buy less and of better quality.

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Giulia Santero 100059374 Master 1 OMRH Midterm essay

Bibliography

Chern, Wen. “Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and Sustainability in Agriculture.” 12 Aug. 2006, Dordrecht: Springer, 2012. 61. Print. Heinrichs H., Martens P., Michelsen G., Wiek A., Eds. Sustainability Science: An Introduction: Springer 2016. Ch 2, 4 & 5. Komiyama, Hiroshi, and Mitsuru Osaki. "Science for Sustainable Agriculture. “Sustainability Science: A Multidisciplinary Approach. New York: United Nations U, 2011. 272-92. Print. Matson, P. A. "Ecosystems and Land-use Change in the Yaqui Valley." Seeds of November 2013of the Agricultural Input Industry .” 20 Apr. 2006. Shiva, Vandana. “From Seeds of Suicide to Seeds of Hope: Why Are Indian Farmers Committing Suicide and How Can We Stop This Tragedy?” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 28 Apr. 2009. Slow Food Contribution to the debate on the Sustainability of the Food System Sustainability Lessons from the Birthplace of the Green Revolution in Agriculture. UNCTAD Matringe, Olivier, and Irene Moretti. “Tracking the Trend towards Market Concentration: the Case of the agricultural input industry” 2006. Vries, Bert De. "Sustainability: Concerns, Definitions, Indicators, Land and Nature, Agro – Food Systems." Sustainability Science. New York, NY: Cambridge UP, 2013. 143+. Print. Whitehead, Marc. “Sustainability.” Critical Environmental Politics, edited by Carl Death, Routledge, 2014, pp. 256–258. www.fondazioneSlow Food .com/en/ www.monsanto.com www.sinmaiznohaypais.org

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