Tuesday, August 16, 2011

No Monsatan for Gaza

Monsanto, or “Monsatan” as I prefer to call the GMO seed monopoly and pesticide giant, is well known for its evil practice of suing organic farmers for patent infringement when pollen from GMO crops blows onto neighboring organic farms, contaminating the seeds with GMO genes, so they can no longer be called organic, wiping out the livelihood of farmers like Percy Schmeiser, who spent a lifetime developing organic canola.
Schmeiser is a Canadian farmer who Monsanto successfully sued for patent violation after unlicensed Roundup Ready canola was found growing on his farm.  The company later admitted that it was possible for unintentional gene flow to have resulted in the initial presence of Roundup Ready Canola in Schmeiser's field.
Now, organic farmers are fighting back.  In March of this year a suit was filed by the Public Patent Foundation on behalf of more than fifty organizations, seeking a ruling to prohibit Monsanto from suing farmers or seed dealers if their organic seed becomes contaminated with Monsanto's patented biotech genes.
According to the Institute of Science in Society (ISIS), independent scientific studies in recent years have discovered a multitude of harmful effects of glyphosate (Roundup), including endocrine disruption, DNA damage, reproductive and developmental toxicities, neurotoxicity, cancer, and birth defects.
Monsanto’s Roundup has also “spawned a new generation of superweeds that can only be killed with super-toxic herbicides such as 2,4,D and paraquat.”  Roundup Ready crops require “massive amounts of climate destabilizing nitrate fertilizer. Roundup use is literally killing the soil, destroying essential soil microorganisms, degrading the living soil’s ability to capture and sequester CO2, and spreading deadly plant diseases.”
As an article in Mother Jones by Tom Philpott points out, Gaza doesn't need Monsanto's “Wonder Seeds”.  Just as Cuba did when the US blockade made it impossible for Cuban farmers to buy chemical fertilizer and pesticides, people in the Gaza Strip, trying to survive under occupation as well as the Israeli blockade, are turning to organic. 

Poor farmers cannot afford Monsanto’s expensive seeds, which, thanks to patent laws, would have to be bought from Monsanto every year, subverting the traditional farming practice of saving some of the crop as seeds for next year’s planting, which not only saves money, but over thousands of years has adapted seeds to the local climatic conditions of farmlands around the world.
Palestinian farmers are returning to the ancient technology that saves water, preserves soil nutrients, and produces abundant crops: diversified organic agriculture.  Even the United Nations is promoting organic agriculture as a response to scarce resources.  The Guardian newspaper quotes an official from the UN Gaza emergency food program,  “In so many other places, [organic] is terribly trendy and green. But in Gaza the resource scarcity is so bad this is actually becoming a necessity.”   The Hamas government has developed a ten year strategy  “aimed at skirting the blockade and developing sustainable agriculture," The Guardian reports.
Farmers in Gaza have little land and less water, and cannot afford the high cost of chemical fertilizer, even if it were available.  Palestinian farmers are forbidden by the blockade to purchase synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, which could be used to make explosives. All they are allowed to import is “fertilisers made from Israeli waste water run-off,” which is expensive—$200 per metric ton—and of  “uncertain safety.”  A local group called Palestinian Environmental Friends (PEF) has begun producing homemade natural, cheap, and environmentally friendly fertilizer by composting manure and crop residue collected from local farms. It only costs $100 per metric ton to produce, and the profits stay in Gaza.
Farms are also setting up “closed-loop aquaculture/crop systems that recycle nutrients and generate bounties of food,” such as fishponds that deliver water rich in nutrients via drip irrigation.
Gaza's movement toward organic agriculture as a response to its critical lack of resources is consistent with the new consensus among development experts that “low-input, locally adapted, appropriate technologies”, rather than expensive high-tech solutions, are the key to populations keeping themselves fed in spite of growing population and diminishing resources. And it certainly contradicts the agribusiness claim that organic food is a “luxury of the rich.”

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