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climate change

extreme weather events - becoming the normWe have had millennial floods, millennial heat waves, millennial winters, millennial draughts and millenial hurricanes at the rate of every other year during the past decade, and they seem to be getting more frequent and more severe all the time. Climate change is happening. There is no doubt about it. Quite possibly there is more than one cause at the root of it and more than likely different contributing factors amplify the situation. One could also argue that it is kind of naïve to expect the weather to adhere to a predictable, stable pattern that perpetuates ad infinitum - everything we know about weather patterns from the geological climate record suggests the opposite.

However - whatever the cause may be, the facts remain. Global climate changes have BIG implications for food security and thus global security, as resources, such as water and arable land become scarcer and scarcer while hunger, poverty and disease spread around the globe like a heatwave. Politicians don't seem to be able to get a handle on this burning issue - they continue to drag their feet and refuse to face the facts in any kind of constructive way. In fact, it seems as though there are powers that actively obstruct dialogue, perhaps for their own ulterior motives.

the woes of climate change: starvation, poverty and diseaseFood security is a huge problem which we have not been able (or should I say, willing) to solve at the best of times - when climate conditions were no-where near as adverse as they are now, money was much more plentiful and development programs actually received real funding. So how will we be dealing with such issues now, when some countries literally are at risk of losing the very ground they stand on, funding as well as water are running dry and millions of people are facing starvation - not just this year, but quite likely next year and the year after and the year after that as well. We no longer have the luxury of time to ponder our options - we must act and adapt fast - or face the consequences, which may be catastrophic - if not for mother earth, in the long run (she may recover, given a few million years), but certainly for the human species, which may die out and disappear altogether, just like the hundreds of other species that are currently going extinct at an unprecendented speed.

Some argue that that scenario would not be all bad - at least for the surviving species, which would probably do better without us. But, personally I would think it a terrible shame if we collectively were not able to make use of our intelligence and empathy to save our own species - simply because our greed outweighs our compassion and common sense! And that means, that we - every one of us - have to adapt to the changing environment. We can't wait for politicians to get their act together.

All this worry about food security is currently en vogue as an argument for GM crops. 'If we want to feed the ever increasing numbers of starving people in the face of climate change we need SCIENTIFIC solutions: gene-manipulated draught resistent and round-up ready staple crops such as corn, soy and wheat. But in actual practice GM seeds have not kept the promise of higher yields. Quite to the contrary. There have been devastating crop losses among many farmers, most of whom could ill afford it.

The truth is that GM crops do not, as promised, produce higher yields. Nor do they need fewer applications of pesticides or herbicides. Quite to the contrary. Other round-up ready species become the new super-weeds. Engineered to withstand the most powerful and common pesticide there is nothing else that could possibly stand in their way. The only way to get rid of them is to eradicate them by hand! Furthermore, other species of weeds and bugs are becoming resistent to the chemicals and are adapting to the manipulated varieties, much as bacteria are becoming reistant to antibiotics. Science is not winning 'the war on weeds' or bugs, for that matter.

And this is where ethnobotany comes into the picture. Farmers have selected and experimented with seeds for thousands of years, developing a magnificent range of possible genetic traits within just about all our common food species. Yet, industrial agriculture focused on producing just a handful of varieties and only paying attention to a very limited range of traits - yield being the most important. Industrial agriculture, dominated by GM crops, with its dependence on intensive use of agrochemicals has, over time, not only poisoned the land and compromised human health (not least that of the workers that have to handle these toxic substances), but has also practically destroyed the traditional knowledge passed down through generations of farmers - and nowhere more so than in the developed world.

No GMOSeeds are BIG business. In order to persuade farmers to abandon their traditional practices and instead grow gene-manipulated crops, seed suppliers offer package deals, sweetened with cash incentives - and many other strings that further tie farmers to greedy seed giants and their hazardous chemicals. It is a road of delusion. It will not lead to food security. Instead, we need to seek security in diversity and in restoring the health of the soil through organic farming practices.

Traditional small scale farmers have always adhered to the wisdom of not putting all their 'eggs in one basket'. Crops can fail for any number of reasons and we cannot predict which weird turn the climate will take next. By planting a range of varieties, even of the same species, chances are that at least some will be able to deal with whatever challenges nature presents, thus preventing total crop failure.

Yet, governments, in collaboration with big seed companies, have legislated against seed diversity, especially with regards to commercial trade. It is ok for you and I to swap seeds - just about, but costs of listing heritage seeds on commercial registers are so prohibitive that they are edged out. Seeds that are not grown will eventually lose their viability and die. Thus dozens of varieties are lost and forgotten without much ado. Varieties that had been developed over thousands of years with very specific traits, perfectly adapted to a particular environment or ecosystem - lost forever. They never even make it onto an 'endangered species list', they just disappear.

In the face of climate change it is foolish to put faith into a technology whose failures and hazards are becoming ever more apparent. We may not be able to avert the total impact of climate change on food security, but choosing diversity and restoring health to our ecological systems will be the key to survival.

Farmer to Farmer: The Truth About GM Crops from Pete Speller on Vimeo.

Resources:

Global Gardening
Manifesto on the Future of Seeds, Vandana Shiva
Vandana Shiva on Agriculture and Climate Change
Manifesto on Climate Change and the Future of Food Security
Weather, Climate and Food Security


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