As Syngenta looks for deals – Peter Kindersley dispels the need for its products

The FT reports that climate change and the rising global population are putting pressure on farmers to improve productivity.

This in turn plays into the hands of companies such as Syngenta, which supplies insecticides, fungicides and genetically modified seeds.

A surge in prices for agricultural commodities (the S&P GSCI agriculture index is up 16 per cent this year) adds to the bull case.

Investors, starved of growth stories elsewhere recently, have been piling in, with Syngenta shares up 22 per cent since January. They now trade on 16 times forecast earnings.

 

Peter Kindersley: Feeding The World

With thanks to the sender.

 

‘GM is needed to feed the world’ is the claim commonly made by advocates of the technology, but it has nothing to show for these claims.

A report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations shows that 1 in 8 people still go to sleep hungry every day. So the theme this year was agricultural cooperatives as a key to feeding the world.

Study after study show that organic techniques can provide much more food per acre in developing countries than conventional chemical-based agriculture.

One report published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) found that 114 projects, covering nearly two million African farmers, more than doubled their yields by introducing organic or near-organic practices.

It seems hard to believe. Indeed, Achim Steiner, UNEP’s executive director, says the report gave him the biggest surprise of any that have crossed his desk.

Another study led by the University of Essex looked at similar projects in 57 developing countries, covering three per cent of the entire cultivated area in the Third World, and revealed an average increase of 79 per cent.

Research at the University of Michigan concluded that organic farming could increase yields on developing countries’ farms three-fold.

Even more important, as the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development points out, teaching how organic techniques work almost always boosts the incomes of small Third World farmers, because they no longer have to buy expensive chemical inputs.

This is vital, as three quarters of the world’s poorest people depend on small-scale agriculture to eke out a living. Those that have land often do not have enough, so have to buy food as well; half of the world’s undernourished people are smallholders and their families.

The landless are even worse off, and have to seek work as labourers. Again, a switch to organic agriculture can help, for it employs many more people, creating more than 170,000 jobs in 2007 in Mexico alone.

Lastly, the world’s biggest and most authoritative study by the World Bank, United Nations, World Health Organization, FAO,  GEF,  UNDP,  UNEP,  UNESCO (& 400 scientists) – the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development – IAASTD – backed organic agriculture as part of a “radical change” in the way the world grows its food. The report warned that continued reliance on simplistic technological fixes – including transgenic (GM) crops – is an approach unlikely to address persistent hunger and poverty. It clearly states that what the world’s poorest people need most is access to land and water, not expensive technologies they cannot pay for. GM wasn’t the answer.

Certainly, the present over-reliance on intensive agriculture has not succeeded in reducing the number of people going hungry last year it topped one billion for the first time.

The UN Deputy Secretary General said in 2012, over the last 20 years, food production has kept pace, so much so that, were it distributed adequately, there would be enough to feed every person on Earth.  Hunger is basically an issue of equity, not of shortage”.

None of this is to argue that all farming should go organic. An immediate drop in Western harvests would be catastrophic, and cause hundreds of millions more to go hungry because food prices would dramatically increase.

But a transition from what we have, which isn’t working, to more sustainable models is needed over time to get farmers off the current ‘treadmill’ (increased yields through oil based inputs leads to lower prices that lead to the need for more unsustainable inputs to stay in the same place and so on). Cheap food policies by rich world governments drive wrong behaviour at every turn.

Think about this? If we had more sheep and cattle on the land we would have better soils, more drought resistance, more natural nutrition for plants, animals and man, less need for so much grain – at least 40% goes to feed animals – less toxic chemical inputs that go with industrial practices – plus much better animal welfare!

All in all just plain old common sense….

Peter Kindersley

19th October 2012

 

 

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