It is tempting to convince oneself that the great power, prestige, and monetary giantism of corporate agri-business in America — and all of the Western world — holds the answer to the hunger and starvation in Africa and other countries around the world.
Howard Buffet via Ag Professional
Teaching improved farming techniques plus having the inputs available along with commitment of country leadership is key. Subsistence farmers aren’t doing something wrong; they just don’t have the answers, or they don’t have access to the answers.
It isn’t the question of whether biotechnology crops are an input for every country, but how such crops fit into specific situations, Buffett said. It will not be possible to bring biotechnology crops into the “really undeveloped countries” fast at all.
“Africa is 54 countries and 54 different decisions. It is not a continent-wide decision. You can pick countries and then places in those countries where the technology will transfer better than other areas. In the long run, I think it is foolish to not use it,” he said.
Buffett concluded by saying, “For all the people who are distracters to technology, GMO crops or whatever the technology, give us the solutions. When you walk out to a village and people are literally starving to death, give us the solutions. That [starvation] is a clear result of low productivity … So, what are the solutions if these aren’t the solutions?”
The opinions of Howard Buffet, in a message delivered at Monsanto headquarters recently, certainly echo the wisdom of experts worldwide who understand the great atrocities of soil erosion, tillage (those two go hand-in-hand), and the paving over of countless acres of rich U.S. farmland over the last decades. There is no question that Howard has hit the nail on the head for emphasizing the great importance of conquering these errors in our agricultural production system in order to assure future productivity for the next generations of Americans.
However, I raise a serious question while reading this discussion; while Western agriculture does indeed appear productive on the surface — perhaps even the envy of third-world societies — it is notoriously energy inefficient, and subject to the vagaries of energy disruptions that developing nations do not have to face, since much of their production is animal powered. Did not these problems of enhanced soil erosion and loss of land to cities, roads, and airports result from the very technology that Mr. Buffet (and other giant agri-business firms) is promoting to be exported to save the millions in Africa from starvation?
I agree that production can be, and should be, improved in all nations, and that country leadership needs to be committed to this goal. I raise a very serious question here, though. Who is going to direct this improved production, and on what basis is it going to be implemented? In order for farmers to utilize Western inputs they must buy them, and these farmers do not have the financial resources to purchase them except through credit … whether government subsidized or nor.
Enter the banks. Enter the Monsantos and other giants of the agribusiness world. Enter the chaos to the family and culture that these farmers have known for millennia, the inexorable movement of the rural population to the cities that history has shown always follows in the wake of industrialized agriculture. Above all, enter the very same problems that American agriculture has created within its own boundaries: the chemical treadmill, first hybridized crops and now GMO varieties, monoculture of crops in huge expanses powered by expensive farm machinery, and then the industries that process foods and the supermarkets that deliver them, devoid of good nutrition, to the supermarkets across the land.
Do African nations really want his model for their future? Is there not a better one that emphasizes small farms that recycle nutrients back to the land from a mixed crop and livestock system, which maintain nutrient levels and organic matter, and produce crops using judiciously selected open-pollinated varieties tailored to local climatic and soil conditions? We know now the toxic effects the current GMO varieties have on the vital organs of test mammals. Do these nations not want to retain a strong semblance of family ties to last through the generations, secure on the land and not blighted by the threat of debt to banks and taxation? Do they wish to avoid the chronic diseases of Western nations addicted to refined foods, fructose, aspartame, and pesticides in foods?
Is there a system of leadership in Africa, or anywhere else, that can assist farm families in implementing a truly sustainable, clean food production system that will not bring indebtedness and slavery to the people, and turn them into an urban culture? America was built upon the shoulders of free men who developed their own “kingdoms” on the prairies and in the forests of early America. I believe these leaders can be found — gentle and concerned people who truly wish to uplift their fellow citizens and not prey off of them — but if they will be given authority to implement their plans I wonder how long they will survive within today’s rough and tumble world of politics.
You have to decide, and so does Howard Buffet. I wish him the best, as I do everyone else who is concerned about building a better world. Is American agribusiness the model we should follow? You know my answer.
Paul W. Syltie, Ph.D., Soil Fertility