Friday, April 16, 2010

Biodiversity and Reciprocity

Although the global system for producing and distributing food accounts for 1/3 of the total anthropogenic global warming effect[1], modifying this system can greatly help to mitigate climate change and also to re-claim social and cultural relationships that have been diminished as a result of agribusiness. The CNN article, “Feeding the Future: Saving Agricultural Biodiversity,” discusses a $116 million dollar fund through the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) to preserve agricultural biodiversity. Among eleven other communities worldwide, the Quechua Indians in the high mountains of Peru are being funded to maintain their diverse collection of rare potatoes in return for ensuring that these species will be available when the world faces future food crises. The article goes on to discuss how biodiversity is essential to the natural world but also to the resilience of agriculture in the face of climate change. Humans went from reliance on over 10,000 different plant species for food to today’s 150 species where only 12 species provide 80% of our total food needs! Secretary of the Treaty, Dr. Shakeel Bhatti, states:
"From a food security point of view this makes the world's farmers much more vulnerable to pests... and increases the vulnerability of some poor countries to price shocks in global commodity markets."
The ITPGRFA initiative seeks to prevent the loss of underused crops and ensure that common crop species are maintained. The treaty has provisions in its contracts to ensure that countries harnessing diversity in their agricultural crops will benefit when the species are used commercially by richer nations. This treaty allows these communities to maintain their traditional lifestyle while so many other communities of the global south are forced into cash crop production because of its pitched economic benefits that do not last long for many. For me, this article demonstrates the reciprocity that needs to happen between the developed world and indigenous populations. In order to sustain basic survival resources and food supply the globalized market must adapt to mitigate the climate change it has helped create and work in conjunction with producing nations, not at their expense.
There has been an ongoing discussion this semester of the way in which new problems are rapidly created through industrialized farming and responses to these problems are not solutions at the source, but instead “masks.” An example of this can be seen with the way in which monoculture in the agribusiness has made cash crops vulnerable to diseases outbreaks, changes in climate and market swings. Instead of re-introducing biodiversity in farming, the solution has been to use biotechnology (GMO’s), pesticides and fertilizers that make plants resilient to poor soil conditions, pests, changes in climate etc. This does not fix the source of the issue and instead increases profits to companies like Monsanto for coming up with “solutions” when they are the same companies that helped cause the initial problem. The capitalistic economic model to maximize profits and minimize costs makes it very difficult to carry out real solutions in our expanding globalized food system[2]. In looking at the way agriculture practices effect climate change and vice versa, it is important that holistic solutions are sought out to reverse these backwards cycles.
[1] Anna Lappe, “The Climate Crisis at the End of Our Fork” in Food, Inc.
[2] Terry Leahy, “Unsustainable Food Production: It’s Social Origins and Alternatives” in A Sociology of Food.

[1] Anna Lappe, “The Climate Crisis at the End of Our Fork” in Food, Inc.[1] Terry Leahy, “Unsustainable Food Production: It’s Social Origins and Alternatives” in A Sociology of Food.

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