National & Global Trends

National and Global Agriculture

Since the Green Revolution in the 1950s—a movement which industrialized farming under the guise of curing world hunger in third world countries—global agriculture has been moving away from traditional subsistence farming and toward mega mono crop farming. This trend has affected national and global agriculture as large chemical corporations began to dominate the market. Selling Genetically Engineered seeds that produce more quantity but changes the overall economy.

Dr. Robert Jessen in an interview for “The Shift of Land” explained how the green revolution changed traditional practices in India. The chemical companies brought wheat seeds to the people, who had a shorter stalk; the shorter stalk gave more energy to the seeds, which increased production. However, the stalks were traditionally used to feed to the live stock so without that stalk the people had to then buy feed for their animals making the traditionally self-sufficient communities more dependent on the market for animal feed and on the chemical companies for their hybrid seeds which could not be saved. Thus changing a traditional subsistence seed saving culture to one of outside dependence. Jessen explained that Dr. Vandana Sheva Physicist and Traditional Seed and Food Sovereignty activist termed this “shadow acres”—untold costs of the industrialization of farming.

These large chemical companies such as Monsanto and Cargill converted their war technologies to pesticides, herbicides and tractors. They needed some place to pour all of these poisons once the 2nd World War was over. They marketed the technology over time converting the small family farm into a large mono cropping industrial machine. In order to compete in the national and global economy farmers have had to get bigger and buy from what Gary Schwartz a Nebraska corn farm described as “the farmer’s Wal-Mart” or the Chemical companies Genetically Engineered seeds which offer a high yield with a high cost to the land.

Chemical Dependency

The seeds that the Chemical Corporations are marketing to farmers have been Genetically Engineered searching for traits that will withstand heat, cold, dry and pests. Originally seeds had developed certain traits after growing in an environment for many generations, later farmers would select the strongest traits and even marry some of these traits creating hybrids—or seeds that will not always reproduce. The chemical corporations took it a step farther selecting other species traits rather than traits from the same seeds. That’s how you wind up with tomatoes, which carry flounder fish genes to prevent them from freezing; or corn, which carries certain un-tasty bacteria to cutworms. To be clear no one knows what effects these Genetically Modified organisms have or can have on humans. Allergic reactions have been reported to the corn and certain antibacterial DNA have been found in humans after eating GE foods, this found through a study done by the British Food Safety Standards Agency (FAS).

Proponents of GE seeds claim that they are less dependent on herbicides and pesticides while other groups show that they use even more chemicals. There are a variety of common strains, some are resistant to herbicides and some to pesticides that’s one reason that they’re seen as more productive as they’re able to dump the pesticides and herbicides on the plants killing other plants and pests without fear of killing the commodity plant. Studies have shown that during the 1st few years of growing the GE crops there is a decline in the use of chemicals but after some time the farmers have had to use an amount comparable to their non-GE using counterparts. It seems that after protecting the plant from the bollworm, for example, other pests come to take their place. Water is another disputed factor in which proponents claim that less water is used and studies while other studies have shown that after a time the plants need more water.

National and Global effects

Farming has significantly changed in the past 50 years. With the introduction of the industrialized model the small farm was doomed. In an interview with large-scale chili farmer in La Mesa in Southern NM Dino Cervantes, he explained that for a farmer to survive in today’s global economy a farmer had to get bigger. There are however small farmers who continue to work to survive outside of the industrial model. These farms rely on alternative markets such as farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs). Though it’s still difficult.

Rodger Bowe a cow calf rancher near San Jon in Eastern NM explained that it was impossible to bring his son into the 100 year old family ranching business as its so hard to make ends meat. The land gives us our cultures but its difficult to maintain those cultures when the market will not allow it.

The people of the Ojibwe White Earth Reservation in Minnesota have been fighting the use of Genetically Engineered rice by the University of Minnesota and other groups who could potentially contaminate the traditional wild rice. The rice is apart of the people’s creation story and apart of the treaty that the nation made with the US government to define their territory. Winona LaDuke, journalist, politician and activist, explained that the tribe has used the wild rice for nourishment and ceremony for hundreds of years. They even sold it to a general population until other people outside of the area began selling what they called “wild rice,” this industrial scale wild rice production took their local market economy away. They were just recently able to protect the wild rice from any GE contamination by putting a moratorium on the experimentation and use of GE rice. The rice was seen as a natural resource rather than an agricultural crop as it was there before the people came. The tribe will now be notified after any GE rice is grown.

People around the country are working to protect their local economies and their traditional seeds. Several Counties in California have restricted the use of GE crops. In New Mexico the traditional Native American Farmers Association and the NM Acequia Association have been working together to protect their traditional crops by educating the state legislature on the effects of GE crops and the importance of traditional crops. On a state level the movement has faced opposition from large scale farming operations in the South Eastern part of the state that grow a large amount of GE crops, along with a campaign by large chemical companies to stress the benefits of GMOs. Nationally chemical corporations have worked with the USDA putting a protection in the 2007 Farm Bill that would prohibit any local government from limiting the growth of GE crops. The provision was taken out after loud public outcry. Globally the affects on local economy and culture have been seen more clearly.

Global agriculture is defined by trade agreements. Large financial Institutions such as the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund make programs seem very attractive to developing countries that need capital to build their economies and infrastructure. The Financial Institutions require development programs for these countries, which focus on debt repayment rather than State sustainability. As a result the countries must produce products for export. Some of these products are food in an agro-industrial system, which the financial institutions promote. People criticize this as developing countries produce a few staple crops for wealthier countries rather than for their own people—often times these few staple crops are items which have no place in the countries traditional farming practices. This creates a co-dependent cycle of trade. One aspect of this is the farm subsidies that the US and Europe and other developed nations give to over produce food. The subsidized cost of production is then less than the real cost of production creating a price, which is unrealistically low. Poor countries have none of these subsidies and so cannot afford to compete in the global market. The US will not cut their agro industrial subsidies. These false prices hurt not only developing counties but also they hurt small domestic farmers in the US as food prices are all falsely low.

Culture has been affected in many ways but one that Dr. Vandana Sheva Physicist and food and seed sovereignty activist talks about is the farmer suicides as over 40,000 farmers have committed suicide due to their desperation with their dependence on the Chemical Corporations hybridized seeds which unlike traditional seeds cant be saved and need for expensive chemical pesticides and herbicides.

With the trade agreements come new products such as canola oil, which was never apart of Indian culture. The cheap commodity has replaced traditional oils such as mustard making the locally produced oil impossible to sell. Change in diet also affects the health of a people, as we are more connected to the land than we sometimes realize what the land traditionally gives allows us to live more healthily with our environments.

Currently the market drives agriculture with businessmen and bankers determining what will be best for the land and the people. Profits are valued more than health and balance. Global Agriculture like National Agriculture continues in a dependent state rather than in one of self-sufficiency, where states must produce and trade commodities to meet agreements that do not take the people into account.