by Vandana Shiva
February 24, 2011
Activist and physicist Vandana
Shiva is founder and director of the Research Foundation for
Science, Technology, and Natural Resource Policy in New Delhi. She
is author of more than three hundred papers in leading journals and
numerous books, including Monocultures of the Mind: Biodiversity,
Biotechnology, and the Third World and Earth Democracy. Vandana is a
founding director of International Forum on Globalization.
Genetically engineered food and
industrial agriculture won't save us from climate change, droughts
and food insecurity - in fact, it's just the opposite.
Industrial globalised agriculture is heavily implicated in climate change.
It contributes to the three major greenhouse
carbon dioxide (CO2) from the
use of fossil fuels
nitrogen oxide (N2O) from the
use of chemical fertilizers
methane (CH4) from factory
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate change (IPCC),
atmospheric concentration of CO2 has increased from a
pre-industrial concentration of about 280 parts per million to 379 parts per
million in 2005.
The global atmospheric concentration of CH4
has increased from pre-industrial concentration of 715 parts per billion to
1774 parts per billion in 2005. The global atmospheric concentration of N2O,
largely due to use of chemical fertilizers in agriculture, increased from
about 270 parts per billion to 319 parts per billion in 2005.
Industrial agriculture is also more vulnerable to climate change which is
intensifying droughts and floods. Monocultures lead to more frequent crop
failure when rainfall does not come in time, or is too much or too little.
Chemically fertilized soils have no capacity to withstand a drought. And
cyclones and hurricanes make a food system dependent on long distance
transport highly vulnerable to disruption.
Genetic engineering is embedded in an industrial model of agriculture based
on fossil fuels. It is falsely being offered as a magic bullet for dealing
with climate change.
Monsanto claims that
Genetically Modified Organisms are a cure for both food
insecurity and climate change and has been putting the following
advertisement across the world in recent months.
9 billion people to feed.
A changing climate
Improving farmers lives
That’s sustainable agriculture
And that’s what Monsanto is all about.
All the claims this advertisement makes are
GM crops do not produce more. While Monsanto claims its GMO Bt cotton gives
1500 Kg/acre, the average is 300-400 Kg/acre.
The claim to increased yield is false because yield, like climate resilience
is a multi-genetic trait. Introducing toxins into a plant through herbicide
resistance or Bt. Toxin increases the “yield” of toxins, not of food or
Even the nutrition argument is manipulated. Golden rice genetically
engineered to increase Vitamin A produces 70 times less Vitamin A than
available alternatives such as coriander leaves and curry leaves.
The false claim of higher food production has been dislodged by a recent
Failure to Yield by Dr. Doug Gurian
Sherman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who was former
biotech specialist for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and former
adviser on GM to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“Let us be clear. There are no
commercialized GM crops that inherently increase yield. Similarly there
are no GM crops on the market that were engineered to resist drought,
reduce fertilizer pollution or save soil. Not one.”
There are currently two predominant applications
of genetic engineering: one is herbicide resistance, the other is crops with
Herbicides kill plants. Therefore they reduce
return of organic matter to the soil. Herbicide resistant crops, like
Round Up Ready Soya and Corn reduce soil carbon, they do not conserve
it. This is why Monsanto’s attempt to use the climate negotiations to
introduce Round Up and Round Up resistant crops as a climate solution is
scientifically and ecologically wrong.
Monsanto’s GMOs, which are either Round Up Ready crops or Bt toxin
crops do not conserve resources. They demand more water, they destroy
biodiversity and they increase toxics in farming. Pesticide use has
increased 13 times as a result of the use Bt cotton seeds in the region of
Monsanto’s GMOs do not improve farmers’ lives.
They have pushed farmers to
suicide. 200,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide in the last decade.
84% of the suicides in Vidharbha, the region with highest suicides are
linked to debt created by Bt-cotton. GMOs are non-renewable, while the open
pollinated varieties that farmers have bred are renewable and can be saved
year to year.
The price of cotton seed was Rs 7/kg. Bt cotton
seed price jumped to Rs 1,700/kg. This is neither ecological nor economic or
social sustainability. It is eco-cide and genocide.
Genetic engineering does not “create” climate resilience.
In a recent article titled, “GM
- Food for Thought” (August 26, 2009), Dr. M.S. Swaminathan
“we can isolate a gene responsible for
conferring drought tolerance, introduce that gene into a plant, and make
it drought tolerant.”
Drought tolerance is a polygenetic trait. It is
therefore scientifically flawed to talk of “isolating a gene for drought
Genetic engineering tools are so far only able
to transfer single gene traits. That is why in twenty years only two single
gene traits for herbicide resistance and Bt. toxin have been commercialized
through genetic engineering.
Navdanya’s recent report titled, “Biopiracy
of Climate Resilient Crops - Gene Giants are Stealing farmers’ innovation of
drought resistant, flood resistant and salt resistant varieties,”
shows that farmers have bred corps that are resistant to climate extremes.
And it is these traits which are the result of
millennia of farmers’ breeding which are now being patented and pirated by
the genetic engineering industry. Using farmers’ varieties as “genetic
material,” the biotechnology industry is playing genetic roulette to gamble
on which gene complexes are responsible for which trait.
This is not done through genetic engineering; it
is done through software programs like athlete.
As the report states,
“Athlete uses vast amounts of available
genomic data (mostly public) to rapidly reach a reliable limited list of
candidate key genes with high relevance to a target trait of choice.
Allegorically, the Athlete platform could be
viewed as a ‘machine’ that is able to choose 50-100 lottery tickets from
amongst hundreds of thousands of tickets, with the high likelihood that
the winning ticket will be included among them.”
Breeding is being replaced by gambling,
innovation is giving way to biopiracy, and science is being substituted by
propaganda. This cannot be the basis of food security in times of climate
While genetic engineering is a false solution, over the past 20 years, we
have built Navdanya, India’s biodiversity and organic farming movement.
We are increasingly realizing there is a
convergence between objectives of conservation of biodiversity, reduction of
climate change impact and alleviation of poverty. Biodiverse, local, organic
systems produce more food and higher farm incomes, while they also reduce
water use and risks of crop failure due to climate change.
Biodiversity offers resilience to recover from climate disasters. After the
Orissa Super Cyclone of 1998, and the Tsunami of 2004, Navdanya distributed
seeds of saline resistant rice varieties as “Seeds of Hope” to rejuvenate
agriculture in lands reentered saline by the sea.
We are now creating seed banks of drought
resistant, flood resistant and saline resistant seed varieties to respond to
Navdanya’s work over the past twenty years has shown that we can grow more
food and provide higher incomes to farmers without destroying the
environment and killing our peasants. Our study on “Biodiversity
based organic farming - A new paradigm for Food Security and Food Safety”
has established that small biodiverse organic farms produce more food and
provide higher incomes to farmers.
Biodiverse organic and local food systems contribute both to mitigation of
and adaptation to climate change.
Small, biodiverse, organic farms especially in
Third World countries are totally fossil fuel free. Energy for
farming operations comes from animal energy. Soil fertility is built by
feeding soil organisms by recycling organic matter. This reduces greenhouse
Biodiverse systems are also more resilient to
draughts and floods because they have higher water holding capacity and
hence contribute to adaption to climate change.
Navdanya’s study on climate change and organic
farming has indicated that organic farming increases carbon absorption by up
to 55% and water holding capacity by 10% thus contributing to both
mitigation and adaptation to climate change. Biodiverse organic farms
produce more food and higher incomes than industrial monocultures.
Mitigating climate change, conserving
biodiversity and increasing food security can thus go hand in hand.
The Future of Food and Seed
April 23, 2011