Monday, September 29, 2008

Green Revolution Version 2.0

Despite growing concerns over high food prices due to current agricultural practices unable to meet demand, can we ever redesign our global agricultural industry to be more Earth-friendly while increasing yields to meet future demands?

By: Ringo Bones

The first quarter of 2008 will probably forever be remembered for incidents of food riots that occurred in various parts of the world due to escalating food prices. A number of factors are to blame like the NYSE ‘s shift from futures trading of food crops to commodities trading which made food prices open to speculative trading “abuse”. Then there’s the recently increased food demand from China and India due to a growing middle class that’s recently blessed with increased purchasing power ready to outbid their poorer brethren. The largely ill conceived biofuels industry backed up by the vested interest of political lobbyist has also been diverting food crops from the world’s poor to the rich man’s car. Unfair and price distorting trade practices like agricultural subsidies are also to blame. But most of all, the root cause of our agricultural industry unable to meet growing demand and keeping food prices reasonable is the lack of farming investments since 1998. Agricultural science has since languished due to lack of investment funds, not to mention the funds just needed to upgrade the agricultural technology that we already have just to maintain global food security.

Farming and agricultural science has always been perceived as “unsexy”, that’s why scientists that had great contributions to the science of food production had been denied the fame they rightfully deserved despite getting accolades like Nobel Prizes and such. This is the reason why George Washington Carver (pioneering research made America one of the world’s largest potato producer) and Norman Borlaug (father of the post-WWII Green Revolution) are about as well known as Nikola Tesla (invented AC mains electricity) and Alfred Wegener (first to theorize about continental drift). Especially in most American public schools. But can we make our existing food production practices more Earth-friendly by making it less mechanized and dependent on agricultural chemicals while increasing yields? And the thorniest question of all, should we abandon genetically modified crops because they’re use is too risky for the environment despite their manufacturer’s claim of safety?

Maybe its high time for agricultural science to develop agricultural technologies that require little or no use of farm chemicals that have an adverse effect on the environment. Nutrient-bloom inducing fertilizers that contaminate rivers and groundwater tables are a case in point. Not to mention pesticides and weed killers that are lethal to both pests and symbiotic organisms. Though genetically engineered food crops might seem a sensible choice, it’s the company that’s presently has a monopoly on them – namely the Monsanto Company – that might prevent GM crops from ever becoming commonplace. The reason behind the overwhelming majority of people resisting GM crops is mostly due to Monsanto’s “sins committed during the Vietnam War” by producing the defoliant Agent Orange whose unforeseen side-effects on both people and the environment still linger till this day. Thus making Monsanto currently one of the most hated companies on the face of the planet.

Despite of the daunting obstacles, we can always be optimistic because science had always rescued us from impending doom, even ones that are of our own making. If we haven’t developed ways to extract heating oil from crude oil, whales would have been hunted virtually to extinction long ago. But now, the race is on to end our addiction to crude oil from ruining our delicate climate.

Without the first “Green Revolution” which was spearheaded by Norman Borlaug, billions of people would have died unnecessarily during the 20th Century. And yet the race to technologically develop the next Green Revolution that’s kinder and gentler to our environment while keeping the whole or humanity reasonably fed has just reluctantly been started. Like in the various organic agriculture / organic farming schemes throughout the world.

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