Food Shortages

World Food Day? How about World Food Life?

Next Wednesday, October 16, sees the marking of a rather bizarrely-named festival, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) organised ‘World Food Day’.

The event is an annual one, which seems to highlight the rather curious focus of this festival: for if we are only celebrating food for one day of the year, what happens on the other 364?

The aim of the event is to highlight food security issues (1) and here is a clue to what World Food Day actually means. The idea of food security appears to be very popular among businesses, NGOs, international organisations, governments and even the general public, and its premise is basically that there is not enough food to go around, and we are in danger of running out.

It seems on this premise that, in the middle of the twentieth century, the man who went on to become the founder of the World Food Prize, Norman E. Borlaug, led the development of hybridised wheat to create varieties which were high-yield and disease resistant. Borlaug went on to be credited as “The man who saved a billion lives” (2) as these wheat varieties were introduced around the world, thus boosting economies and increasing food supply.

That Borlaug made more people able to eat is fantastic. However, his methods, though undoubtedly well-meaning, may not have turned out to be completely beneficial. Borlaug has helped make it possible for more wheat to be grown in more places and on a greater scale. This has made countries able to stockpile their wheat more abundantly, but has also helped in the development of monoculture farming, and with it destruction of eco-systems and landscapes, and facilitation of single companies to take control of large areas of farming.

One of these large companies is Monsanto, who are currently leading the way in genetic engineering of crops (3). Monsanto are known for various controversial actions including their strict patenting policy on seeds and breeding techniques (4) and their use and illegal dumping of poisonous chemicals (5) (6).

With such a dubiously notorious profile, there is no shortage of protests against Monsanto on the web. Resistance to actions which you feel are unjust is a fine way to help change your world for the better, and the internet makes it easy to contribute to this. With this in mind, I came across an intriguing petition created by the website Sum of Us, demanding that this year’s World Food Prize, scheduled to be handed out on World Food Day, should not be given to the nominees. One nominee is Robert Fraley, a worker for Monsanto (7). Two others, Marc Van Montagu and Mary-Dell Chilton, are linked to biotech companies including Bayer, another controversial company who some have blamed for accelerating the extinction of bees (8).

The petition claims that in nominating these people, the World Food Prize Foundation is “betraying its purpose”(9). However, manipulating crops to create new varieties is just what Monsanto specialises in: making members of this company perfect candidates for the recipient of a prize which was set up by a man famous for the same thing — manipulating crops to create new varieties.

It seems that petitions such as these are somewhat missing the point. The problem is not that Monsanto and Bayer are being recognised by the FAO as helping the world. The problem is this preconception of the FAO, the World Food Prize and World Food Day itself of an idea of scarcity which, when you come to examine it closely, is simply irrelevant to how nature actually operates.

Friends of the Earth member Rob Newman points out, “the problem isn’t population but the democratic deficit in deciding who grows how much of what where and for whom.” (10)

There is plenty of land on this planet; and plenty of food for its inhabitants. It simply comes down to a question of organisation.

As Bill Mollison puts it (11):

The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale, in our own gardens. If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone. Hence the futility of revolutionaries who have no gardens, who depend on the very system they attack, and who produce words and bullets, not food and shelter.

With this in mind, we can turn the perceived problem of Monsanto and Bayer being celebrated next week into a solution. The very fact that these companies are celebrated highlights the skewed perspective of organisations like the FAO and the United Nations themselves; and therefore the need to break away from this completely.

This we can, and are, doing. Not by telling those who are deep in this way of life to stop; but by joining together in the creation of a world which is based not on the fearful myth of scarcity but on the powerful potential of nature’s true abundance.

It is a world of food we live in. So happy World Food Day; for every day!

Further Reading:

References:

  1. World Food day, Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Food_Day
  2. Norman Borlaug, Science Heroes: https://www.scienceheroes.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=68&Itemid=116
  3. “Monsanto Digs into Seeds”. Wall Street Journal, 26/6/2012: https://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304458604577490600217020934.html
  4. “Monsanto Seed Wars Sprout Controversy”. Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News, 30/5/2013:
    https://www.genengnews.com/insight-and-intelligenceand153/monsanto-seed-wars-sprout-controversy/77899820/
  5. “A Controversy Exists.” GRACE Communications Foundation, 15/2/2012:
    https://www.gracelinks.org/blog/1149/a-controversy-exists-family-farmers-continue-to-take-on-mon
  6. Brofiscin Quarry, Environment Agency:
    https://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/research/library/publications/33833.aspx
  7. “’Nobel Prize’ of Agriculture Winner a Career Monsanto Man”. Nature World News, 22/6/2013:
    https://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/2572/20130622/nobel-prize-agriculture-winner-career-monsanto-man.htm
  8. “Save Our Bees petition”. 38 Degrees, 23/10/2012:
    https://blog.38degrees.org.uk/2012/10/23/save-our-bees-petition-hand-in/
  9. “Monsanto’s Winning the World Food Prize??” Sum of Us, 2013:
    https://action.sumofus.org/a/world-food-prize-monsanto-syngenta/?sub=taf
  10. Newman, Rob, 2013. “In my View”. Earthmatters magazine.
  11. Mollison, Bill, 1990. Permaculture: A Practical Guide for a Sustainable Future. Island Press.

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Charlotte Ashwanden

Charlotte Ashwanden (nee Haworth) I got my Permaculture Design Certificate in 2011, from Treeyo at Permaship in Bulgaria, and since then have been traveling the world learning about and practicing permaculture. Born in London, I've lived in a number of places in England, Spain, the Basque Country, and Italy. My mum lives in Leipzig (Germany) so I've spent some time there. In 2015 I got married in a pagan ceremony in a field to David Ashwanden and changed my surname to Ashwanden. A professional dancer, I do fire and hula dance and have recently become interested in dance meditation. Currently, I live in Thailand in a Forest Buddhism community school, so you can expect lots of tropical permaculture related articles in future.

5 Comments

    1. Always remember this equation: Increasing the food supply = Increasing the human population.

      To avoid this conundrum, it is necessary to educate those who just want to keep increasing the food supply (and damaging the environment in the process) along with education about other ways to think about this.

      And, Dean, over-population IS the root problem.

      1. Pat, To re-quote the quote in the above article just in case you missed it: “Friends of the Earth member Rob Newman points out, “the problem isn’t population but the democratic deficit in deciding who grows how much of what where and for whom.” I couldn’t agree more. And, perhaps you need to have another look at the Bill’s quote, also quoted above, “The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale, in our own gardens. If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone. Hence the futility of revolutionaries who have no gardens, who depend on the very system they attack, and who produce words and bullets, not food and shelter.” If just 10% of us, Pat, then there is enough for all. That is not Bill saying, there are too many people, that is Bill saying that with the right focus, there could be enough for all. I am not quite sure as to why you are not yet on to this, perhaps there is not something you are not understanding about the potential in permaculture? A close look at Zaytuna will reveal abundance in this return to Eden that convinces me that Bill is quite right and that the author of the above article is carrying the correct sentiment. As Monbiot would say, stop blaming the populations in the third world. What are you trying to protect? Is it the ecology or the lifestyle you have become accustomed to?

  1. Even if food is fairly distributed, growing population is still the elephant in the room. You cannot have infinite population growth with finite resources.

    As for Mollison’s quote, where’s the data to back it up? I’m not saying that he’s wrong but saying does not necessarily make it so. Further, what exactly is he saying? Are the 10% producing 100% of their food or 1% of their food? It sounds wonderful and it’s been quoted everywhere but ………

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