domingo, abril 12, 2009

A couple of short items from GRAIN's Seedling magazine

Peasants, like pandas, are to be preserved

In a recent article in Foreign Affairs, (1) Paul Collier, professor of economics at Oxford University, wrote provocatively of the need to put an end to “the middle- and upper-class love affair with peasant agriculture”. Because of the near-total urbanisation of both these classes in the USA and Europe “rural simplicity has acquired a strange allure.… Peasants, like pandas, are to be preserved. But distressingly, peasants, like pandas, show little inclination to reproduce themselves. Given the chance, peasants seek local wage jobs, and their offspring head to the cities.” He goes on: “Reluctant peasants are right: their mode of production is ill suited to modern agricultural production, in which scale is helpful.… Far from being the answer to global poverty, organic self-sufficiency is a luxury lifestyle. It is appropriate for burnt-out investment bankers, not for hungry families.”

So, by constantly promoting peasant agriculture as the way forward, are we in GRAIN romantic idealists? Not everyone thinks so. In January 2009, two US professors (Carol Thompson and Lucy Jarosz), together with an activist, William Aal, wrote a stinging response to the Collier article. (2) “We disagree quite strongly with Collier’s derisive depiction of ‘peasant agriculture’.… This overly general category of ‘peasantry’ seems to include the very diversified category of small-scale farming, which comprises the majority of farm operations throughout the world. These smallholders (often female farmers) are highly entrepreneurial and innovative.” They continue: “Commercial agriculture, according to Collier, may increase yields 10–20 per cent. Yet long-term analyses from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) demonstrate, across the globe, that ‘best practices’ of smallholder agriculture will double yields. ‘Best practices’ include sharing of seeds (farmers’ rights), research following farmers’ requests, available and affordable credit and, yes, agricultural extension.” Very much the kind of thing we have been saying for years.

Now that the boot is on the other foot…

For many years the US authorities have been promoting Monsanto’s genetically modified crops around the world, insisting that there is no need for governments in the South to carry out their own independent health and environmental tests. But – surprise, surprise – the US authorities are not quite so keen to accept on trust imports of GE rice from China. A recent USDA audit report alerted:

“They [other nations] have also begun developing transgenic plants and animals of their own. Some of these new plants and animals will be unknown to, and therefore unapproved by, the U.S. regulatory system. As this trend continues, other nations could begin exporting – inadvertently or deliberately – unapproved transgenic plants or animals into the United States.”

It continued:

“While the consequences of the unapproved transgenic plants or animals entering the U.S. food supply are difficult to foresee, such an event could provoke health and environmental concerns and interfere with commerce.” China “has committed to investing US$500 million in biotechnology by 2010 and has recently announced the creation of a new transgenic rice. To mitigate any risks to the U.S. environment, agriculture, and commerce from unapproved transgenic plants and animals entering the U.S. food supply, USDA will need to monitor such developments closely.”

The full USDA Audit Report can be viewed at:


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