There is a common myth that genetically modified crops are more effective at feeding large populations. Yet there is just no evidence that GM crops are more effective than organic crops at yielding large harvests. GM crops are certainly not more sustainable or safer, so why is there an undercurrent of support for using these crops in developing countries?
One of the main justifications behind genetically modifying organisms is their potential to supposedly end world hunger. The appeal behind such a claim is obvious; GMOs will end world hunger. Not only has this claim been proven untrue, there is no evidence that organic farming can’t do the same. Since GMO technology first came to be in the 1970s the world has not seen an end to its hunger problems. In fact, the World Health Organization states that today hunger is the single gravest threat to the world’s public health.
While GM crops may have a role in a more sustainable future, the corporations behind their development are not partaking in sustainable practices. Presently, Monsanto is trying to make farmers in the developing world dependant on their seeds, herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. Monsanto’s products are dangerous to the environment and the Union of Concerned Scientists will vouch for how they fail at environmental responsibility. Check out these eight reasons Monsanto is unsustainable.
Increasingly, insects are becoming genetically resistant to pesticides. Resistance dulls the overall effectiveness of pesticides while the dangers of pesticides remain in food and in water run-off. Instead of inundating GM crops with the artificial fertilizers that they are entirely dependant upon, many have found alternative solutions to pest problems. There is no reason to continue using fertilizers that are toxic to the environment and pesticides that insects are becoming resistant to, all at the cost of our health and the health of the environment. There are sustainable, organic alternatives to pesticides and fertilizers that are healthier and safer for both humans and the environment.
For example, a major pest in most parts of Africa is the stem borer. Stem borers are moth larvae that feed on corn and dramatically reduce crop yields. During the 1990s a collaborative effort by Kenyan and British scientists generated a solution to these insects: the push-pull system. Push-pull is an integrated pest management (IPM) approach that uses permaculture to prevent stem borer damage. By planting corn alongside two other crops stem borer damage was greatly reduced. A wild perennial called Napier grass acts as the “pull,” because it attracts the stem borer moths to lay eggs and then produces a sticky gum that traps the larvae. The silverleaf desmodium acts as the “push,” because it repels the moths and attracts their natural predators. Silverleaf desmodium also kills striga, which is a parasitic witchweed that reduces corn yields. More so, silverleaf desmodium is leguminous, meaning it converts nitrogen from the air into the kind of nitrogen required for functioning plants. Leguminous plants also improve soil fertility, so the push-pull is a win-win.
In India, there has been a resurgence of a traditional technique called Panchakavya. Panchakavya consists of a mixture of five cow products: cow dung, urine, milk, curd, and ghee. The mixture depends on a proper ratio of each as well as yeast (to provoke fermentation) bananas, groundnut cake, and the water of tender coconut. Panchakavya acts as a natural pesticide and growth promoter, eliminating the need for artificial fertilizers and pesticides. Another non-pesticidal management strategy (NPM) used in India is neem. Neem is tree and its seeds are ground into powder, soaked overnight in water, and then sprayed on a crop. Neem’s effectiveness can easily wane, so spraying must happen at least every ten days. Neem does not kill insects, but acts as anti-feedant, repellant, and egg-laying deterrent.
In South America pheromone-baiting traps have effectively targeted the boll weevil. The boll weevil feeds strictly on the cotton plant and four or five generations may breed each season. After years of treating the boll weevil with government instituted pesticide spray programs, nonchemical solutions have been found to be effective. Alongside pheromone-baiting traps, the practice of clean culture has also proven successful. Clean culture is a process that carefully removes old cotton stalks so boll weevils have nowhere to hibernate during the winter.
Another technique used in Mexico and Africa is a process by which male insects become sterile. The process involves the introduction of factory-sterilized insects into the natural population. The insects are exposed to a small amount of gamma radiation to make them sterile, but not enough to damage their physical abilities. This process was carried out on the screwworm fly in Mexico during the late 1980s and was also used in Africa on the tsetse fly.
Growing food organically prevents the toxic run-off fertilizers produce. Fertilizers are also made by an energy-intensive process, which produces emissions that contribute to ozone depletion. To support organic farming in the developing world you can get involved with groups like the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). To learn more, check out their website.
Photo credit: earthdata.nasa.gov/featured-stories/featured-research/scorecard-environment