Moseley reminds readers that the policy of food self-sufficiency of the previous era, of producing as much food within the borders of your country as possible, fell out of fashion as it was thought to be costly and inefficient. Global food prices were relatively low and stable in the 1980s and 1990s. Countries might produce some of their own food, but also trade for what they needed by exporting commodities.
This all began to change in the mid-2000s, and especially after 2007—2008, when food prices jumped globally by 50%, continuing to 2011-2012 (below). These price shocks created social unrest in some cases, and political leaders began once again to push for higher food production (Moseley and others 2010).
Moseley asks: will the use of GM seeds improve access to food by the poorest of the poor, either by improving their incomes or helping them produce more of their own food?
He answers: “Sadly, no. The most widely used GM crops today are controlled by corporate interests and their cost tends to put them out of reach of the truly poor. New seeds must also be repurchased every one to three years, making this a recurring expense”.
Whilst agreeing that there are potential benefits associated with GM crops, and that GM crops may make sense as a strategy for wealthier farmers to increase yields and production, he refers to growing concerns about gene escape from herbicide-resistant crops to other crops and weeds (Chapman and Burke 2006) which have led many farmers in the North to question the efficacy of GM crops (Hakim 2016).
Pesticide resistance also was predicted in 1999 and has been observed in recent years
In 1999 the BBC reported that results of research at the University of Arizona, into the breeding cycle of the pink bollworm moth, a common pest of cotton, suggested that the bollworm could rapidly become resistant to the insecticide produced within a GM cotton plant called “Bt cotton”, developed by Monsanto.
Following several reports of infestation in earlier years, this month India’s Business Standard reported that GM cotton crops have come under severe pest attacks; a substantial area from whitefly attack in Punjab and Haryana and the pink bollworm in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.
Moseley believes that agroecological approaches which help the poorest farmers to improve production and avoid unnecessary financial risk may hold some promise. They may be able to improve yields and manage pest problems through improved intercropping and agroforestry combinations, as well as more tightly integrated crop and livestock systems.
Though, as he acknowledges, these practices have long existed within traditional farming systems in the tropics, he believes that there is enormous potential for scientists to collaborate with local people to make improvements to these techniques.
Funding for work in this area has been limited, as agroecological approaches are unlikely to generate a financial return to justify or even recoup such investment and the returns in terms of human and environmental health are not quantified in their cost-benefit calculations.
But people’s research still goes ahead as part of their daily life, undeterred by lack of funding, see earlier work by Winin Pereira. In this early book (right), he says, in similar vein to Moseley, “Revitalising peoples’ science . . . its preservation and restoration appears to be the only way to rebuild a sustainable society”.
Recent reporting from Devinder Sharma relates many initiatives in different parts of the country. He wrote about the work of Ishwarappa Bankar of Hire Yadachi village of Haveri district in Karnataka (left), who has created a seed bank of traditional millet strains at his home.
Another memorable account comes from Fran Wilde (Action Village India), who forwarded an account of women’s collective farming in Kerala to us recently. Devinder Sharma and his friend and colleague from Kerala confirmed the success of this cheering initiative.