Recently, I was visiting Bhatinda in Punjab because of an epidemic of
farmers suicides. Punjab used to be the most prosperous agricultural region
in India. Today every farmer is in debt and despair. Vast stretches of land
have become water-logged desert. And as an old farmer pointed out, even the
trees have stopped bearing fruit because heavy use of pesticides have
killed the pollinators - the bees and butterflies.

And Punjab is not alone in experiencing this ecological and social
disaster. Last year I was in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh where farmers have
also been committing suicide. Farmers who traditionally grew pulses and
millets and paddy have been lured by seed companies to buy hybrid cotton
seeds referred to by the seed merchants as "white gold", which were
supposed to make them millionaires. Instead they became paupers. Their
native seeds have been displaced with new hybrids which cannot be saved and
need to be purchased every year at high cost. Hybrids are also very
vulnerable to pest attacks. Spending on pesticides in Warangal has shot up
2000 per cent from $2.5 million in the 1980s to $50 million in 1997. Now
farmers are consuming the same pesticides as a way of killing themselves so
that they can escape permanently from unpayable debt. The corporations are
now trying to introduce genetically engineered seed which will further
increase costs and ecological risks. That is why farmers like Malla Reddy
of the Andhra Pradesh Farmers' Union had uprooted Monsanto's genetically
engineered Bollgard cotton in Warangal. On March 27th, 25 year old Betavati
Ratan took his life because he could not pay pack debts for drilling a deep
tube well on his two-acre farm. The wells are now dry, as are the wells in
Gujarat and Rajasthan where more than 50 million people face a water famine. 

The drought is not a "natural disaster". It is "man-made". It is the result
of mining of scarce ground water in arid regions to grow thirsty cash crops
for exports instead of water prudent food crops for local needs. It is
experiences such as these which tell me that we are so wrong to be smug
about the new global economy. I will argue in this lecture that it is time
to stop and think about the impact of globalisation on the lives of
ordinary people. This is vital to achieve sustainability.
 Seattle and the World Trade Organisation protests last year have forced
everyone to think again. Throughout this lecture series people have
referred to different aspects of sustainable development taking
globalisation for granted. For me it is now time radically to re-evaluate
what we are doing. For what we are doing in the name of globalisation to
the poor is brutal and unforgivable. This is specially evident in India as
we witness the unfolding disasters of globalisation, especially in food and

Who feeds the world? My answer is very different to that given by most people.

It is women and small farmers working with biodiversity who are the primary
food providers in the Third World, and contrary to the dominant assumption,
their biodiversity based small farms are more productive than industrial

The rich diversity and sustainable systems of food production are being
destroyed in the name of increasing food production. However, with the
destruction of diversity, rich sources of nutrition disappear. When
measured in terms of nutrition per acre, and from the perspective
biodiversity, the so called "high yields" of industrial agriculture or
industrial fisheries do not imply more production of food and nutrition.
Yields usually refers to production per unit area of a single crop. Output
refers to the total production of diverse crops and products. Planting only
one crop in the entire field as a monoculture will of course increase its
individual yield. Planting multiple crops in a mixture will have low yields
of individual crops, but will have high total output of food. Yields have
been defined in such a way as to make the food production on small farms by
small farmers disappear. This hides the production by millions of women
farmers in the Third World - farmers like those in my native Himalaya who
fought against logging in the Chipko movement, who in their terraced fields
even today grow Jhangora (barnyard millet), Marsha (Amaranth), Tur (Pigeon
Pea), Urad (Black gram), Gahat (horse gram), Soya Bean (Glycine Max), Bhat
(Glycine Soya) - endless diversity in their fields. From the biodiversity
perspective, biodiversity based productivity is higher than monoculture
productivity. I call this blindness to the high productivity of diversity a
"Monoculture of the Mind", which creates monocultures in our fields and in
our world.

The Mayan peasants in the Chiapas are characterised as unproductive because
they produce only 2 tons of corn per acre. However, the overall food output
is 20 tons per acre when the diversity of their beans and squashes, their
vegetables their fruit trees are taken into account. 

In Java, small farmers cultivate 607 species in their home gardens. In
sub-Saharan Africa, women cultivate 120 different plants. A single home
garden in Thailand has 230 species, and African home gardens have more than
60 species of trees.

Rural families in the Congo eat leaves from more than 50 species of their
farm trees.

A study in eastern Nigeria found that home gardens occupying only 2 per
cent of a household's farmland accounted for half of the farm's total
output. In Indonesia 20 per cent of household income and 40 per cent of
domestic food supplies come from the home gardens managed by women.
Research done by FAO has shown that small biodiverse farms can produce
thousands of times more food than large, industrial monocultures. 

And diversity in addition to giving more food is the best strategy for
preventing drought and desertification.

What the world needs to feed a growing population sustainably is
biodiversity intensification, not the chemical intensification or the
intensification of genetic engineering. While women and small peasants feed
the world through biodiversity we are repeatedly told that without genetic
engineering and globalisation of agriculture the world will starve. In
spite of all empirical evidence showing that genetic engineering does not
produce more food and in fact often leads to a yield decline, it is
constantly promoted as the only alternative available for feeding the hungry.

Full test at:

Louis Proyect

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