Science in Society Archive

Corporate Hijack of Sustainable Agriculture Backfired to Moratorium on GMOs

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho tells how an attempted corporate takeover of the World Conservation Union turned into a moratorium on GMOs

I first heard the term ‘ecoagriculture' used by a Chinese scientist on Australia's Radio National to describe an approach combining the best that modern science has to offer, i.e., genetic modification of plants, with traditional sustainable agriculture.

A few days later, a motion to promote ecoagriculture appeared on the agenda of the upcoming 3 rd IUCN (World Conservation Union) World Conservation Congress in Bangkok, Thailand, (17-25 November 2004). Angry critics had described ecoagriculture as “an organic agriculture that is very friendly to agribusiness”. A protest letter from civil society participants at a recent ecoagriculture conference organised by IUCN in Nairobi maintained that, “ecoagriculture is fundamentally incompatible with food sovereignty” and hence unacceptable.

Suddenly, it seems, agribusiness is taking over ‘sustainable agriculture' in a big way. Biotech giants Syngenta (as Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture) and BayerCropscience, together with Croplife International, a global network representing the plant science industry, and another agribusiness, Sustainable Agriculture Initiative, have become members of ‘Ecoagriculture Partners', a consortium that includes 12 non-government organizations - among the listed were, IUCN, Rainforest Alliance, Stakeholder Forum for our Common Future and World Association of Soil and Water Conservation - 9 research and education organisations - among them, International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Management Collaborative Research Support Programme and M.W. Swaminathan Foundation - and 4 inter-government organizations, among which, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).It transpired later at the IUCN conference that the IUCN Council had not authorized joining up to the Ecoagriculture Partners consortium, and it was therefore declared invalid.

The Ecoagriculture Partners define ‘ecoagriculture' as “sustainable agriculture and associated natural resource management systems that embrace and simultaneously enhance productivity, rural livelihoods, ecosystem services and biodiversity.”

The ‘Nairobi Declaration', made by participants at the recent conference in Nairobi, Kenya, similarly, called for “a framework that seeks to simultaneously achieve improved livelihoods, conservation of biodiversity (genetic resources, ecosystem services and wild flora and fauna), and sustainable production at a landscape scale”; and to ensure “ that large-scale development and adoption of ecoagriculture contribute to achieving the Millennium Development Goals on hunger, poverty alleviation, gender equality, environmental sustainability and partnerships, and enhance implementation of global environmental conventions by all nations.”

As I was invited to attend the IUCN conference as a delegate of the Ecological Society of the Philippines, I alerted my hosts, Javier and Antonio Claparols, on this corporate takeover of sustainable agriculture; and circulated a paper from Prof. Miguel Altieri (see next article), which explains why ecoagriculture is miles away from agroecology that can truly deliver food security and sustainability, alleviate poverty and enhance biodiversity. It turned out that Miguel had already informed Dr. Taghi Farvar, who chaired the Commission on Environment, Economic and Social Policy of IUCN. The group completely demolished the ecoagriculture motion in a contact group meeting prior to the plenary.

But at the plenary, the ecoagriculture motion returned unexpectedly in another guise. There were some cliff-hanging moments when we thought it would get voted in by deception. Fortunately, it was again soundly defeated, thanks to delegates from Cenesta, Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Green Line and many others who spoke eloquently against it.

The plenary voted overwhelmingly, instead, for a moratorium on further environmental releases of GMOs “until this can be demonstrated to be safe for biodiversity, human and animal health beyond reasonable doubt ”. This resolution for a moratorium on GMOs by the biggest conservation union on earth was highly significant and widely reported in the popular media.

The motion was sponsored by the Ecological Society of the Philippines and cosponsored by The Environmental Foundation, Sri-Lanka; Center for Sustainable Development, Bangladesh; Wilderness Society, Australia; the Tibet Justice Center, USA; Zdruznie Narodnch Dnych Parkov a Chranenyeh Uzemi Slovenska, Slovenska Ekologicka Spolocnoest, DAPHNE-Institut Aplikovanej-Ekologie, and Statna Ochrna Prirody Slovenskej Republiky, Slovakia; Denmarks-Natuerfredningsforening, Denmark; and Al-khat Al Akhdar (Green Line Association), Lebanon.

It goes to show what critical, timely scientific information can achieve.

Article first published 04/02/05

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