Climate Change and Agriculture

By Dr. Vandana Shiva
23 February, 2011

Biodiverse Ecological Farming is the Answer, not Genetic Engineering

Industrial globalised agriculture is heavily implicated in climate change. It contributes to the three major greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2) from the use of fossil fuels, nitrogen oxide (N2O) from the use of chemical fertilizers and methane (CH4) from factory farming. 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
Now what?
Producing more
Conserving more
Improving farmers lives
That’s sustainable agriculture
And that’s what Monsanto is all about.

All the claims this advertisement makes are false.

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 nutrition.

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 study titled, 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 U.S Food and Drug Administration. Sherman states, “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 Bt. toxin. 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.

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5 responses to “Climate Change and Agriculture

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Climate Change and Agriculture | Food Freedom --

  2. GM foods have made no improvement in crop yields to date, but they have resulted in much less residual pesticide & herbicide products being used on our soils. But please people, start to realize, small “ecological” farms will not feed the world population, even at today’s number, never mind the year 2025. I love a nice healthy soil ecosystem as much as anyone, but I also understand the demands of our planet for food.
    You can do a quick search, and find thousands, maybe millions of such articles, stressing the importance of growing your own food, sustainable, in your own little garden, or maybe on your building rooftop. Oh how lovely. But when the world cries out for foreign aid to feed millions and millions of people in under developed nations, how far will those urban grown carrots go?
    This globe looses more and more productive soil every year through urban sprawl and erosion. We can make more of everything you use on a daily basis….look around yourself…more cars, more computers, more furniture, more appliances, but we can not make more land. And that land is becoming more precious as our global population continues to grow. So? Wake up people…..yes grow your little veggie garden, enjoy the insects, smmell the flowers, but stop demanding more housing developements and urban spralw while your city core is relatively empty after rush hour. You do much more harm than farmers spreading fertilizers to grow grains and oilseeds, to supply the demand. Stip covering tillable land with asphalt!!!!! You will do much more benefit to the future of mankind, than pissing and moaning about the inputs we use, in our attempts to put adequate calories on the dinner table of tomorrow.
    By the way, there are 219,000 more people on the planet to feed tonight, than there were last night. Keep paving over our soil people, get those house in the suburbs, commute into the office again tomorrow.
    Richar Armitage

    • Scientific studies have shown that pesticide and herbicide use has increased since the introduction of GM crops. These biotech companies are chemical companies — their point is to sell chemicals (initially, altho it is patently clear they are now going for total control of the food supply).

      but I agree with you that consuming less and curbing urban sprawl would do much to protect arable land.

      Most of the world’s food is grown by peasants – not agribiz. We have plenty of food. People are going hungry because of poverty — address the income gap and the food problem is solved.

  3. Richard that was an interesting post, made me think. You seem somewhat knowledgeable or at least very passionate on the subject perhaps you can answer a question or two that your post has made me think of?

    Before mechanization a farmer could only cultivate so much land. Would you happened to know the ratio of cultivated land to the size of the population before mechanization? What would be the ratio now?

    What’s the maximum number of people a single family “ecological” farm could hope to feed in an average four season climate?

    How much food could be produced on the current amount of cultivatable land on the planet today using only “ecological” farming methods?

    Thanks again for your post and any help you can give on answering these questions.

  4. Pingback: March 26, 2011: Rally for the Right to Know! « Under The LobsterScope

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