“Women And Biodiversity Feed The World” – Feminism Meets Environmentalism

The title of this entry is a part of the title of a piece published on Common Dreams ( Women And Biodiversity Feed The World, Not Corporations And GMO’S ). Though published 3 days ago, I could not pass this one up.

Surprisingly, I do not find anything much disagreeable in the first 7 paragraphs. Just an explanation of how the corporate profit driven industrial monoculture methodology of agriculture is affecting both the environment at large, and us. And of course, a dose of GMO precaution. This is the alternative media, after all.

Then there is this claim:

Secondly, monocultures undermine nutrition by displacing the biodiversity that provides nourishment and the diversity of nutrients our body needs. Herbicides like Roundup do not just kill the milkweed on which the monarch Butterfly larvae feed, they kill sources of nutrition for humans – the amaranth, the “bathua,” and the mixed cropping that produces more “Nutrition per Acre” than industrial monocultures (see Navdanya’s report on Health per Acre).

I have never heard of this before. Thank *Insert Deity Here* for the internet!

It seems that Amaranth and  Bathua (Chenopodium Album) are both considered weeds (at least in North America).  I guess the argument is that the nutritional value is diminished when such “weeds” are eliminated from a given monocultual crop.
I can understand the argument. But at the same time, its still up to the farmer if he wants to focus all his nutrients on a given crop, or a variety of others. It be  nice to have such a “mixed” harvest. But would it be salable on the open market?

That is, quite literally, the million dollar question.

Having destroyed our sources of nutrition by destroying biodiversity—and creating vitamin A, iron and other deficiencies—the same companies who created the crisis are promising a miracle solution: GMOs. Genetically engineered Golden Rice and GMO Bananas are being proposed by corporations hiding behind the cloak of academia as a solution to hunger and malnutrition in the Global South. But these are false miracles.

I again, don’t have much knowledge of either of these products. But lets have a look around.

Golden Rice is a strain of rice that was modified to biosynthesize beta-carotene into the edible parts of the plant. Being a precursor to vitamin A, it helps to alleviate the affects of deficiencies of the mineral in the diet of many in the developing world.

Many organizations (such as Greenpeace) are against the release and use of this crop, claiming affects to both health and environment (such as contamination into other rice crops).
As far as I can tell, there is nothing to back up this claim. Though it is a product of the  Syngenta laboratories, the company handed all the financial interests of the rice to a non-profit organization (in the name of removing much of the opposition of the rice). Which leaves the reasoning of the opposition (if not based on misinformation of ownership) simply on the fact that is is a product of genetic engineering.

You know what else has beta-carotene?

Carrots. How is eating this rice any different then eating a bowl of white rice, with some sliced carrots?

As for GMO Bananas, this one is amusing right off the bat. Like 95%+ percent of everything else in the first world supermarket, those yellow bananas we eat are not a “natural” variety. They are specially tailored just for us, with little or no seeds and a bulk of size. They are so much a product of human engineering, that they will likely go extinct along with us.

As for the “GMO bananas” in question, they also had beta-carotene added into the fruit (though from another banana variety, as opposed to from a carrot). Though the species of banana which is heavy in beta-carotene is available in many places, it is often to sweet for local populations taste. The new strain being developed however is less sweet and more suitable to the typical pallet of many locales.

But again, there is resistance. Because of the GMO aspect.

I am all for openness and learning all the facts before going full into something, but come on. BETA-CAROTENE!

Do these people opposing these feats of human engineering also stay away from carrots in their diet? I really hope so.
Because if they don’t, then I have to wonder why the the FUCK they are helping prevent this excellent nutritional tool from reaching the planets most needy.

Indigenous biodiverse varieties of food grown by women provide far more nutrition than the commodities produced by industrial agriculture. Since 1985 the false miracle of Golden Rice is being offered as a solution to vitamin A deficiency. But Golden rice is still under development. Billions of dollars have been wasted on a hoax.

This is certainly an interesting twist.  How can you make a fairly common sense ecological point/argument better (aka more progressive friendly)?  Throw in a dose of feminism.

Also, yes, golden rise is still under development. The newer version has the potential of biosynthesizing even more beta-carotene then its parent variety. That is called progress. Not a hoax.

On 20th of April, the White house gave an award to Syngenta which had tried to pirate India’s rice diversity, and owns most of the 80 patents related to Golden Rice. This is reminiscient of the Emperor who had no clothes. Golden Rice is 350% less efficient in providing vitanim A than the biodiversity alternatives that women grow.

Yep, you read that correctly. The author has gone beyond toeing the line of truth and fact, and burst onto the side of bullshit.

GMO ‘iron-rich’ Bananas have 3000% less iron than turmeric and 2000% less iron than amchur (mango powder).

How do they compare to regular bananas?

Or (for a more realistic comparison) to bananas available in the local areas where these bananas will be distributed?

Comparing the fruit to 2 different spices is the equivalent of comparing ANY banana to an orange, then dismissing the banana because it lacks the characteristics of the orange (such as high Vitamin C and citric acid content).

Apart from being nutritionally empty, GMOs are part of an industrial system of agriculture that is destroying the planet, depleting our water sources, increasing green houses gases, and driving farmers into debt and suicide through a greater dependence on chemical inputs.

1.) As shown before, at least the 2 GMO varieties in question (Bananas and Golden Rice) are far from “nutritionally empty”. Which is the whole point of distributing them to the worlds least nutritionally served!

2.) The parts about the harm of industrial agriculture is true, but that is not just GMO crops. Even feeding 7 billion people an all organic vegan diet will cause problems.

3.) The suicide thing is, a half truth at best. Many farmers in India are committing suicide, but not entirely due to reasons specified. Monsanto has a page devoted to the topic, but they are not the only source. Check out this excerpt from a piece on Issues.org .

The larger picture is not so rosy. India’s agricultural sector, which contributes only 21% of the country’s gross domestic product, is highly inefficient, wasteful, and hobbled by inconsistent government policies that, as The Economist pointed out several years ago, “still fixes prices and subsidizes inputs, when public money would be far better spent on infrastructure and research.” Lack of mechanization and irrigation, for example, are two key shortcomings. Many Indian farmers depend on erratic monsoonal rains.

As in much of the developing world, small-holder Indian farmers (those with less than two hectares of land) are most vulnerable to the vagaries of weather and climate change. They also have little access to institutional credit. As the World Bank has noted: “While India has a wide network of rural finance institutions, many of the rural poor remain excluded, due to inefficiencies in the formal finance institutions, the weak regulatory framework, high transaction costs, and risks associated with lending to agriculture.” Consequently, when purchasing seed, fertilizer, and other crop-related items, poor farmers often turn to private money lenders who charge high loan rates.

This financial burden is commonly cited for the wave of farmer suicides that the media—particularly in India—have been reporting the past decade. However, researchers studying the phenomenon also note that it has struck unevenly in cotton-growing regions of central and southern India, where the social and economic stressors vary. For example, a 2012 paper inThe Lancet that surveyed India’s suicide mortality rate noted: “Studies from south India have shown that the most common contributors to suicide are a combination of social problems, such as interpersonal and family problems and financial difficulties, and pre-existing mental illness.”

Still, this much is known: More than 270,000 Indian farmers have taken their own lives since the mid-1990s, according to India’s National Crime Records Bureau. And that number is believed to be higher, although firm data is hard to come by. These deaths are real and they are tragic for the surviving families.

In April of 2013, I attended a conference at Cornell (which Herring helped to organize) on Indian agricultural issues. Several of the panels examined the phenomenon of Indian farmer suicides, and one of them specifically addressed the question, “What do we know about the incidence, distribution, and causes of the personal tragedies?”

What we know is that many of the farmer suicides have been concentrated in five of India’s 28 states. (Anti-GMO activists call this the “suicide belt.”) At the conference, Anoop Sadanadan, a political economist at Syracuse University, identified the role of Indian banking policies, rather than the alleged GMO crop failure, in contributing to the suicides. In a paper forthcoming in the Journal of Developing Areas, he argues that “the increase in suicides among Indian farmers is an unanticipated consequence of the bank reforms the country undertook since the early-1990s. In particular, the entry of foreign and new generation private banks has made banking in India competitive and led to fewer loans to agriculture and farmers. With increased competition, banks saw lending to the farm sector as unprofitable and unreliable.”

Banking practices vary across India. Sadanadan found that states with the highest incidence of farmer suicides were those that offered the least institutional credit to farmers. This forced small farmers into the hands of private lenders who charge exorbitant interest rates (as high as 45%). In those states where farmers had better access to institutional credit and farm insurance, there were markedly fewer suicides. Indian banks also offer credit to farmers with irrigated land, as this makes farming more viable. “Irrigation does drive bank lending,” Sadanadan said at the panel. “In states where there is greater irrigation, they [banks] lend money to the farmer.”

In his upcoming paper, Sadanadan writes that he also found “no evidence to suggest that the cultivation of a particular crop was related to suicides in India.” Some states with high agrarian suicide rates do not include cotton farmers. “Further, cotton was cultivated in some 10 other states that did not witness high incidence of farmer suicides,” he writes.

I asked Sadanadan if there are sociocultural factors that might also explain why Indian farmers have taken their own lives? “So farmers have a choice,” he responded. “In America, a farmer could just default on a loan and say, ‘come after me.’ But in India, they commit suicide. Why? There has to be something cultural there. Is it shame?” But the proximate cause of many suicides, he reiterated, is the “debt burden” associated with the loan sharks, especially in states where farmer credit is tight.

There is also a larger context to the tragedy of these farmer suicides. Nearly 1 million people are reported to take their own lives each year worldwide. China and India account for almost half that total. According to Chinese government statistics, 80% of the 280,000 annual suicides in China occur in rural areas. Some of the main causes include social isolation, lack of economic opportunity, and inadequate access to mental health services.

There is almost always more then what meets the eye. But with this claim, I have to give a bit of leeway. Even such organizations as RT and Al Jazzera (among others) have referenced this myth in the past. Though I would hope that any journalist would have better standards then to make such a mistake, it can happen. Sometimes its hard to hear over the loudest voices within an issue (the Rolling Stone UVA scandal is an excellent example of this phenomenon).

Biodiverse ecological agriculture in women’s hands is a solution not just to the malnutrition crisis, but also the climate crisis.

Women have been the primary growers of food and nutrition throughout history, but today, food is being taken out of our hands and substituted for toxic commodities controlled by global corporations. Monoculture industrial farming has taken the quality, taste and nutrition out of our food.

It is true that the monocultures of recent times produce a food supply that is as bland and unflavored as many of the urban areas that said food is consumed in. My father has a green thumb and is an avid gardener, so I can tell you definitively that there is a HUGE difference between your average store bought vegetable, and  vegetables grown at home. Tomatoes imported to a restaurant I used to work at from California or Florida (though a food service vender) were nothing to the garden variety.

Despite this, I question how turning this into a feminist issue does anything to HELP the cause. Also, do I detect a hint of misandry?

The rest of the piece is about how going back to our roots in organic farming would be beneficial to not just our health and the health of the environment, but also in fighting the climate crisis (by helping to remove a lot of carbon  from the air and transferring it into the soil). This is something I can agree with.

Even though this piece seems to have been written for a good reason, I still can not overlook the half truths and flat out bullshit contained within. Particularly the false criticism of Golden Rice and Bananna’s.

The sprinkling of feminism in this article is out of place and unnecessary, but is nothing to dwell on (but a product of the fever pitch of feminism in todays culture).  But the propaganda about GMO’s is dangerous, and is not accomplishing anything more then actually HARMING the very cause that the author is apparently championing.

I can see how someone could come to such a conclusion. In the search results of many of my queries related to this piece, the various anti-GMO sources far out numbered the other side. And those on the flip side are not necessarily pro-GMO sources either. A source providing information backed up by facts is no more pro-GMO then a school text book explaining the process of reproduction is anti-Christian.

While I can appreciate that the author likely had only the best of intentions, I wish they would be a little more careful.

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