Alternative to GMO Foods: Rise of Sustainable Agriculture

Alternative to GMO Foods: Rise of Sustainable Agriculture

By Carmelo Ruiz Marrero

Out of sheer arrogance, Cartesian logic prevents the ancient knowledge of various peoples of the world from being incorporated into the corpus of science. He does not know that indigenous and rural cultures, whom he describes as superstitious and ignorant, have practiced sustainable agriculture for thousands of years, the new trend to which the West turns its eyes in search of alternatives to transgenic foods

The growing concern about the negative impact of conventional agriculture on the environment and consumer health, and the overwhelming rejection of society to transgenic foods, are leading more and more farmers and consumers towards organic (or sustainable) agriculture because it is healthier and more benign for humans and the environment.

In the United States, for example, the market for organic agricultural products grows 20% each year. This agriculture avoids the use of synthetic chemicals or at least keeps their use to a minimum. This trend is leading visionary individuals and organizations in industrialized societies to combine agriculture and ecology, and to seek ideas and inspiration from other cultures.

The Western scientific paradigm despises the traditional knowledge of non-Western cultures and classifies it as superstition and ignorance, or as simple irrational tricks of backward peoples who have not fulfilled their duty to modernize.

But it turns out that indigenous and rural peoples, supposedly backward and ignorant, have practiced sustainable agriculture for thousands of years and have advanced knowledge in a number of areas related to human health and environmental protection.

At the dawn of this millennium it is becoming more and more clear that the Western scientific paradigm was not the last word when it comes to human development. Eurocentrism gives way to an appreciation of other cultures, peoples and civilizations that were supposedly "primitive."

Let's see some examples:

. Traditional farmers in the Andes [South America] have developed some 3,000 varieties of potatoes. There are orchards in the Andean region that have up to 50 varieties, some resistant to cold, droughts, others adapted to different heights or soils, with different nutritional, medicinal or ritual characteristics.

. The indigenous people of the Amazon jungle grow 100 varieties of cassava.

. 5,000 varieties of sweet potato [tuber] are grown in Papua New Guinea.

. The indigenous people of the Amazon use 2,000 medicinal plants; traditional Chinese medicine uses 5,000.

. The International Institute for Rice Research is looking for a way to intercrop five plants of economic value in the same felling. But the Hanunoo, from the island of Mindoro in the Philippines, use 430 different plants in their agriculture and often intersperse up to 40 different plants in the same planting.

"This 'multi-tiered' harvesting system is so in tune with ecological factors that some consider these complex agricultural systems one of the modern wonders of the world," according to Nicanor Perlas, president of the Center for Alternative Development Initiatives in the Philippines. "They can achieve at minimal cost yields that are far ahead of intensive rice cultivation (green revolution)."

. Farmers in Sierra Leone can distinguish between 70 types of rice. They are classified according to numerous criteria: susceptibility to attacks by birds and insects, taste, ease of cooking, adaptability to different types of soil and humidity levels, among others. When they harvest, they save samples of the interesting material for future experiments. They get rid of inferior grains to keep their rice varieties pure; maintain experimental logging; collect data; they measure germination rates, and try to accommodate their rice to local ecological niches. In other words, they do what agronomists in industrialized countries do with the same rigor and sophistication.

Ancient knowledge remains valid, despite millennia of social changes and technological advances. A good example of this is the Vedas, a collection of hymns, mantras and prayers from the Hindu tradition. These writings offer advanced chairs in subjects as varied as astrology, medicine, law, economics, government, and agriculture.

On agriculture, the Vrkshayurveda (dedicated to plants), the Krshisastra (the science of agriculture) and the Mrgayurveda (animal science) offer detailed treatises on aspects such as livestock management; seed collection, storage and germination; on how to test and prepare grounds; grow plants; control pests; irrigation; meteorology, and the role of elements such as water and minerals.
The Vrkshayurveda, for example, contains texts with detailed instructions to combat pests and diseases in crops using a holistic approach to treating soil, seeds and plants, in order not only to combat harmful organisms, but to improve plant health, increase their resistance and enrich the soil with nutrients.

It is necessary to know and preserve this ancient wisdom if we are going to move towards a truly sustainable agriculture, in which no harm is done to humans or the environment.

Traditional agriculture is not mere technique. It is not a matter of simply replicating procedures.

To really understand how these peoples achieved such achievements, one must learn their research methods and their reading of the world. Put in one word, your worldview. Only in this way does a set of data become living and evolving wisdom.

In recent years a multinational group of researchers from various countries, including Bolivia, Peru, Ghana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, the Netherlands, India, Indonesia, Nepal and Sri Lanka, created the organization Compas (Comparing and Supporting Endogenous Development) to systematize their knowledge about traditional and indigenous agriculture, and support it through field experiments and intercultural dialogue. The members of Compas identified great cultural barriers that made their work difficult.

The knowledge they sought was much more than technical information; They recognized that it was necessary to accept the validity of spiritual beliefs, social and cultural conventions, that is, the worldview of indigenous people, in order to establish a genuine and respectful dialogue between cultures. In the course of their work, they concluded that agriculture is much more than the mere application of knowledge and technology to food production.

It is also culture, art, poetry, dance, dream interpretation, stargazing, promotion of mental and physical health, and a contact with the spiritual world.

The members of Compas concluded that the worldviews of the peoples they studied could only be understood from within, through involvement and participation in their culture and rituals. This clashes with Western investigative methodology, dating back to René Descartes, in which knowledge is obtained through detached, disinterested, and objective observation.

Cartesian logic, which visualizes the universe not as a living entity but as a machine, postulates a total and absolute separation between observer and observed, between soul and body, between mind and matter.

Observation is limited to what can be quantified. Everything else, flavors, smells, colors, emotions, ethical values, the human soul or the recognition of the existence of a world beyond the physical, are relegated to the category of subjective projections of the human mind, unworthy of being studied.

"Outside go the sight, sound, taste, touch and smell, and with them have gone since then aesthetics and ethical sensitivity, values, quality, form; all feelings, motives, intentions, soul, conscience, spirit", said psychiatrist RD Laing about this new paradigm. "Experience as such is banished from the realm of scientific discourse."

With the consolidation of Western scientific rationality, the idea that nature had to be subdued, modified in the image and likeness of an "imaginary obsessed with hierarchies, fragmentation and materialism", asserts Nelson Alvarez Febles. , Puerto Rican sociologist. "This way of understanding agriculture facilitated the hegemony of an agro-industrial production based on the abusive and massive use of synthetic fertilizers, agro-toxins, monocultures, hybrid seeds with a narrow genetic base, and dependence on mechanization and the massive use of irrigation. "

This mechanistic vision was applied to physics and from there it spread to other fields, not only to agriculture but also to chemistry, biology, psychology, economics and even political science.

Austrian physicist Fritjof Capra argues that it is from the indiscriminate application of this paradigm to all aspects of human existence that the extreme and unprecedented global problems that afflict humanity today arise, in particular the environmental crisis: the belief in certainty. Scientific knowledge lies at the very foundation of Cartesian philosophy and the worldview derived from it, and it was there that Descartes got it wrong. Twentieth century physics has forcefully taught us that there is no absolute truth in science, that all of our concepts and theories are limited and approximate. The Cartesian belief in scientific truth is still ubiquitous today and is reflected in the scientism that has become typical of Western culture.

Many people in our society, scientists as well as non-scientists, are convinced that the scientific method is the only valid method for understanding the universe. Descartes's method of thought and his view of nature have influenced all branches of modern science, which can still be very useful today. But they will be useful only if they recognize their limitations. The acceptance of the Cartesian vision as absolute truth and the method of Descartes as the only valid one to become known have played an important role in causing today's cultural imbalance.

At the end of the 20th century, Capra and other thinkers took note of the emergence of a new paradigm, characterized by a holistic and integrative vision, which is open to contributions from non-Western cultures and the recognition of phenomena beyond the physical world. This paradigm is challenging materialistic and mechanistic perceptions in fields as varied as psychology, medicine, economics, physics, and politics.

Nicanor Perlas describes this new development as a second scientific revolution: "This second scientific revolution rescues qualities that the first revolution methodologically stigmatized as subjective and unreal. Now it is scientifically respectable to consider life, consciousness and spirit as causative agents in themselves and different from material processes, "he says.

"The second scientific revolution ... recognizes the mind and spirit as operative factors in the universe ... therefore it provides the vertical dimension necessary for a deeper, more comprehensive and true integration of science, previously fragmented and reduced by a dogmatic and materialistic."

The creation of an ecological society, based on sustainable agriculture, will require revolutionary changes in our perceptions, which will not find a place within the Cartesian paradigm.


. Nelson Alvarez Febles, "Biological and cultural diversity, root of rural life". Biodiversity, January 2001.

. A. V. Balasubarmanian and K. M. Shyam Sundar, "Ayurveda: Cosmovision and traditional agriculture". Haverkort, Hiemstra et al. Taken from Food for Thought: Ancient Visions and New Experiments of Rural People. Zed Books, 1999. Bertus Haverkort and Wim Hiemstra, editors.

. Fritjof Capra. The Turning Point: Science, Society and the Rising Culture. Bantam Books, 1982. Prabha Mahale and Hay Sorée, "Cosmovisions in health and agriculture in India". Taken from Food for Thought.

. Nicanor Perlas, "The seven dimensions of sustainable agriculture". Taken from Biopolitics: A Feminist and Ecological Reader on Biotechnology. Vandana Shiva and Ingunn Moser, editors. Zed Books, 1995.

* By Carmelo Ruiz Marrero
Journalist based in Puerto Rico, collaborator of Ecoportal and other media.
Author of "Agriculture and globalization: GM foods and corporate control"

Video: Organic food - hype or hope? DW Documentary (July 2021).