I-SIS miniseries - Hidden Lights at the Earth Summit, Sept 2002
The official World Summit on Sustainable Development has failed by all accounts, which is hardly surprising. But all is not lost. This miniseries brings you some of the many highlights overlooked by the mainstream media.
Dr. M. S. Swaminathan, distinguished plant geneticist and father of the Green Revolution in India, astonished and delighted his audience by turning his back on big agribusiness in favour of small farmers during his speech to the plenary session on agriculture at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho reports.
Swaminathan began by regretting that the needs of small farmers have had very low priority in research and development, which mainly served agribusiness.
"Progress in agriculture is the best safety net against hunger and poverty in many countries," he said. Unfortunately, there has been polarization between two models: agribusiness, or commodity farming with agrochemicals, supported by agricultural subsidies; and small-scale peasant farming. "Its production by the masses versus mass production farming systems."
Swaminathan believes micro-enterprises and micro-credit schemes are the way to achieve the millennium goal of eradicating poverty.
We must defend gains already made, and extend gains to marginal areas now under-utilised to restore nutritious crops, he told his audience. New gains can be made through processing of agricultural products, diversification, and value-added products. China has been exemplary in promoting rural enterprises.
New technologies are needed; but Swaminathan warned against the hasty adoption of biotechnology without first considering the risks.
His most important proposal is for farmers to trade marketable surpluses only. Livelihoods must be made secure with a livelihood box. Furthermore, restriction must be placed on imports if jobs are threatened or destroyed. "Transnational companies organizing chains stores destroy the livelihoods of small local vendors." Swaminathan said. "Export subsidies on goods must be phased out in order to protect local industries."
Swaminathan also suggested establishing community food banks to eradicate hunger, and to overcome the deficiencies of micronutrients brought on by intensive monoculture cropping.
There is a need to attract youth into farming, to replace the many farmers that have disappeared.
All in all, this once enthusiastic proponent of green revolution monoculture has "moved a long way", commented compatriot Dr. Vandana Shiva, celebrated scourge of big agribusiness, who is playing a very prominent role in the Earth Summit.
Article first published 06/09/02
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