Opinion: Future of ag in small farms, biodiversity
I've just returned from Meghalaya in northern India, where the International Slow Food gathering was held. The event drew 1,500 people most days -- including farmers, harvesters, producers, United Nations and nongovernment officials. Why? Because...
I’ve just returned from Meghalaya in northern India, where the International Slow Food gathering was held.
The event drew 1,500 people most days - including farmers, harvesters, producers, United Nations and nongovernment officials. Why? Because the future of food, from what I and the U.N. understand, is not in industrialized agriculture; it is in small scale, organic biodiversity. I am keen to see that restored.
In India, two-thirds of the people farm, many organic. It is something to consider. I am interested in the small, local farmer.
I am interested in the words of the U.K.’s Prince Charles, who addressed the gathering, saying the future was in agrobiodiversity, not chemicals and genetic engineering. He also said there are 1 billion obese people in the world and 1 billion starving. I know which side we are on in North America, and I am interested in the balance.
Why India? Indian agriculture is in crisis. The crisis is in federal and international agriculture policies pushing small farmers to grow crops with chemicals. The farmers enter a cycle of debt, loss of soil fertility, increased poisoning of their lands, and ultimately, many die by suicide.
According to recent reports, in the past 20 years, nearly 300,000 farmers have ended their lives by ingesting pesticides or by hanging themselves. Many of them died from ingesting Monsanto products. It is time for peace with the land and peace with farmers.
War on the land
One of my favorite Indian places is called “Navdanya.” In 30 years, it has established 54 community seed banks across the country, and trained approximately 500,000 farmers in sustainable agriculture. Navdanya is an inspirational model, and I think it’s time to learn from it here on our land.
There is a war on the land. I drive from my quiet lake home in the midst of my reservation, White Earth. Our people fed ourselves and the settlers. As historian Mary Winyerd writes, “Dakota and Ojibwe women were deep into commercial enterprise. … [they] peddled sugar, wild rice, pumpkins, corn, squash and other agricultural products to the traders and the military. With virtually no food produced for the market by whites in Minnesota country in the 1840s, and fresh produce in high demand, Native women entrepreneurs, could set premium prices on their small surplus harvests.”
Like many indigenous peoples, our wealth was the source of our poverty; our lands stolen through the allotment era, the prairies plowed into farmland. As I drive to the south or west, I see equipment I cannot identify. The giant machinery are chisel plows or chemical sprayers. The equipment - cultivators, combines are as big as a house. They move down quiet rural roads. They take over the road, and take over the field. They have done much damage.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency reported 41 percent of Minnesota’s streams and lakes have excessive nitrogen. Minnesota’s industrial agriculture caused some 70 percent of the destruction of water quality in lakes, and the soybean and corn monocropping is a microcosm of national and international problems. North Dakota is the same.
You should not put things that end in “cide” on food. The more things that end with “cide” - pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, insecticides - the more I think of homicide, suicide, genocide.
Why is this important? Because plants contain complex nutrients, medicinal properties, cultural and spiritual connections, and feed the soil and the world. Some like nitrogen, some produce it.
They build topsoil. Singularly, tortillas are at 62 on the glycemic index, and beans are at 22. Put together into a meal, they are at 32. The magic of foods is a real medicine. There are more than 300 natural medicines in plants to reduce blood sugar.
“Those seeds are the old ways. They gave our ancestors life for all those years,” friend Frank Alegria tells me. I am thankful. I hope for their return.
Editor’s note: LaDuke is executive director of Honor the Earth, and an Ojibwe writer and economist on Minnesota’s White Earth reservation.