A letter to Scientific American
Many farming organizations in Africa have, with comparatively little international support behind them, achieved amazing agricultural successes through endogenous innovation, biointensive farming, and other organic farming methods, without the use of genetically engineered seeds.
We disagree with your support of Green Revolution technologies as a solution for African farmers. Green Revolution packages of hybrid seed, mechanical instruments, and chemical inputs were previously introduced in much of Africa, and for the most part, they failed due to their incompatibility with place-specific agricultural production patterns. Elsewhere in the world, they have led to significant negative consequences --consolidation of farms, massive debt for smallholders, and subsequent suicide epidemics. They did not reduce global hunger.
High tech inputs may be suitable for large mechanized industrial farms (although even here they present significant problems), but they are completely inconsistent with the needs of smallholders in the Global South. For example, while these technologies benefited those large farmers who were well-connected, they failed to address the politics of class. Patented GE seeds can not be legally replanted, shared with neighbors, or crossed with other varieties-the techniques that enabled these people to feed themselves for millennia.
The recent report of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, prepared by the World Bank and the UN, refused to support the further industrialization and globalization of agriculture and, in particular, reliance on genetically engineered plants, because the analysis shows that this route is unlikely to achieve the goal of feeding a hungry world.
GE issues are intensely political, as are agricultural issues in general-hunger in Africa and elsewhere is at least partly attributable to problems with unequal global distribution of food, political instability, and international trade regimes. However, your article leaves out the various political and economic aspects of the problem; these will not be fixed by technological improvements in agriculture.
Given our concern with the global state of agriculture and food security, we encourage Scientific American to consider all factors contributing to world hunger and to feature non-genetically engineered approaches that combine agricultural science with social, political, and economic non-technological solutions in your pages.
Prof. Philip L. Bereano and Ashley Fent
on behalf of AGRA Watch, Seattle