Change agriculture now, says biodiversity expert

“Agricultural sustainability is the single most important factor to influence climate change.” With that statement, UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) section head Dr. Ulrich Hoffmann set the tone for a workshop discussion on the current approach to agriculture and its threat to the planet.

“The current agricultural model is not about creating food, but commodities,” explained physicist Dr. Vandana Shiva. Shiva is a world renowned expert on biodiversity and founder of Navdanya in India, a movement to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources such as seeds. She pointed out that food, and futures on food, are traded on the commodity markets just as – via stock options in multinationals – the rights to seeds. By patenting seeds, she said, corporations are forcing farmers into buying an expensive product that the earth would normally provide for free. She stated that this drives people into poverty and destroys communities.

Panelist Dr. Hans R. Herren, scientist and founder of the Swiss Biovision Foundation for ecological development in Africa, called for a fundamental shift that needs to happen now. “The speed of change means we have to start to do things today,” he warned. “Business as usual is not an option.”

From left: Ulrich Hoffmann, Vandana Shiva and Hans Herren

Herren and Shiva pointed out that corporations and science working in the interest of corporations have over decades fed the public lies about the benefits of industrial agriculture and genetically modified foods (GMF). In fact, chemical farming deprives the earth of its natural resources, and creates other problems such as climate change, food insecurity, growing inequity, the destruction of indigenous farming and agriculture, and migration.

According to the experts, the solution lies in organic farming. “When we grow organic, we do not just grow healthy food,” Shiva said. “We grow communities who care for the earth and its people.”

Organic agriculture can also serve as an effective tool in controlling global warming. “The fertility of the soil and the quality of the land are directly linked to the changing climate,” UNCTAD’s Ulrich Hoffmann added.

The workshop concluded in the hopes that organic farming will become a part of the policy framework that will be passed at the Rio+20 Conference on Environment and Development next year.

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