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Why Are We Discussing Golden Rice…Again?

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Golden Rice is in the news again: this time because 107 Nobel Laureates have written to challenge the anti-science stance of Greenpeace which has opposed the adoption and testing of Golden Rice, among other genetically modified crops. The purpose of modifying rice in this case was to fortify it with Vitamin A. This would provide a much needed solution to the problem of Vitamin A deficiency which causes blindness and death in children in the developing world every year.

It sounds like a cause that would find widespread support and yet, for the past three decades, Golden Rice has been out of the reach of those who need it most. As I wrote earlier, this is a case where there are no corporations involved and there are millions of lives to be saved. Yet, it faces opposition that is not evidence based and blocks progress, trials of Golden Rice in the Philippines, for example, were attacked and destroyed by Greenpeace.

The boost given to the Golden Rice project by the support from the Nobel Laureates is encouraging but it is sad that we have to have the debate at all. In all the  years of opposition and fear mongering on the issue, millions of lives have been lost while no other effective solution has been suggested or implemented. It is ironic that those most vocal about opposing biofortification are often those least likely to need it. The voices in this debate are not those of the rural poor, often living at subsistence level, condemned to watching their children slowly lose their sight and their lives, because they are invisible to us. Greenpeace is worried about the possible impact on the environment (without proven evidence of harm), yet it remains impervious to the daily suffering of people, mostly children. Are they not a part of this planet and the environment?

One of the points Greenpeace likes to repeat is that it is a long, costly experiment that has not borne fruit. If we do not try it and test it, how can we know if it works or fails? Do we abandon the search for cures for ALS or cancer for example because it is costly or is taking time? Or is it just easier to ignore suffering when it is far from home? Vitamin A deficiency is not a problem in most western societies, Golden Rice will not appear on your local grocery store shelves. So why the intense opposition that will snatch away the choice for a cure from those who really need it?

The statement from Greenpeace and the response from the Golden Rice project is here. If you would like to inform yourself on the project, please read here.

I, and many others, will continue to support a technology which would spare millions from suffering and death. And I will hope for the day when facts overcome unfounded fears, Golden Rice is a reality and no more blog posts like this need to be written.

(Image Courtesy: “Rice Isolated on a White Background” by SOMMAI, freedigitalphotos.net)

#Farming Friday 48: So You Want To Be A Farmer?

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Today was a perfect early summer day: gorgeous sunshine, with a breeze to lighten the warmth. The sort of day when, driving past a farm on a quiet road; or heaping up your baskets with berries or summer squash at a pick-your-own farm; or, even watching a baby goat video your friend shared, you might say: “One day I am going to have my own farm.” And you would not be alone. There is a renewed interest in farming amidst the ongoing noisy debate on food issues.

But what is life on a farm really like? Like the pretty pictures on Instagram or Pinterest? Sometimes, yes. But what is often not visible is the sheer hard labor, the exhaustion of caring for animals, the regulations and paperwork that need to be followed and the overwhelming amounts of poop!

Still interested in following the farm dream? Here is an inside look, honest and also funny, from three people who did follow the dream and raised goats, pigs and hens.

(Image Courtesy: “Rustic Vermont” by EA, freedigitalphotos.net)

#Farming Friday 47: GMO Sugar- A Farmer’s View

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When a prominent company like Hershey announces that it will no longer be using sugar from sugar beets, it is touted in social media as a victory for anti-biotechnology groups. But does this really say anything about the safety of sugar from sugar beets for human consumption? What impact would this have on sugar production? And what might be a farmer’s opinion on all of this? A great read with informative links for further exploration from Wanda Patsche, who lives and farms with her family in Minnesota.

(Image Courtesy: “Beet Harvest” by xedos4 at freedigitalphotos.net)

Did you hear about the plane that didn’t crash?

A great place for answers to your farm questions!

Ask Me About Agriculture

Did you hear about the plane that didn’t crash?

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No, probably not.

Because that wouldn’t make for a very good story, would it?

You only hear about the rare plane that does crash because it makes for a story.  According to statisticbrain.com, the odds of being killed in a plane crash are 1 in 29 million.  So, I wouldn’t say that plane crashes are the norm, would you?

This same reasoning can be applied to agriculture.

You see posts or hear about a farm abusing their livestock; However, this is NOT the norm.  These people are horrific and should be punished to the full extent of the law.  These rare, awful stories get the media attention, but like a plane crash they are just that-rare.  You hardly ever hear about the normal farms that do the right thing, care for their livestock and the land, and provide for their communities and the world.

By now it…

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Comparing Campaigns – Political and Food

A Farmer’s Thoughts for Super Tuesday….

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We are deep into election season. Many of us are weary of the relentless negativity, name-calling, and stretching of the truth (no, let’s just call it what it is – lying) that fills television, radio and print media, social media and some of our everyday personal conversations.  This year seems to be especially nasty with candidates reaching new lows in terms of angry, destructive, irresponsible speech.  To differentiate themselves and shut out their competition, candidates at the national, state, and local level are mercilessly attacking not only their opponents of competing parties, but members of their own parties.  I’m not sure if those responsible for the attacks realize the depth of damage that is occurring due to this tactic. There’s now increasingly widespread distrust of anyone involved in government at any level, regardless of party affiliation.  As an elected representative at the county level, I can attest to increased skepticism…

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India’s 2016 Budget: Good for Farmers?

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India’s budget for the new financial year was announced yesterday. Earlier, the prime minister had described it as “pro-village, pro-farmer and pro-poor”. The announced objective of doubling farm income in five years is difficult to evaluate at this point but the additional support for the MNREGA scheme is expected to provide a boost to rural incomes.

The Economic Survey, identifying the roots of economic distress in the farm sector, noted: “The declining growth in agriculture owing to two consecutive drought years, and with decline in production and area sown of major crops, agriculture sector needs a transformation to ensure sustainable livelihoods for the farmers and food security for the population. The transformation in agriculture has to be steered by raising productivity in agriculture, by investing in efficient irrigation technologies, and efficient use of all inputs.”

The increasing scarcity of water, further exacerbated by climate change underscores the need for expansion of irrigation facilities and the allocation for this purpose may not be enough. Budgets in the past have also had the goal of improving irrigation but little progress has been made so more effort here would have been welcome.

While investment in irrigation is essential, the Survey also identified other stressors that need to be attended to: “agriculture requires a new paradigm with the following components: increasing productivity by getting “more from less” especially in relation to water via micro irrigation; prioritizing the cultivation of less water-intensive crops, especially pulses and oil-seeds, supported by a favorable Minimum Support Price (MSP) regime that incorporates the full social benefits of producing such crops .” Long term sustainable growth in agriculture needs more investment in research and extension so that new varieties that can withstand the changing growing conditions due to climate disruption are developed and farmers are informed about how to use these and other inputs effectively. How the government plans to achieve this is not clear.

The push for rural electrification and roads and the soil health card initiative are welcome steps forward. The push to bring more land under organic farming is a little confusing; for the vast number of rural poor struggling to eke out a living on poor quality soil without access to improved seeds or effective fertilizers, they are by default organic farmers. It is crucial that Indian agriculture avoid getting mired in the labeling game and focus on blending good farm practices that have been developed by our farmers over centuries and advances in agricultural biotechnology which have the potential to support drought and saline resistance, bring greater yields through pest resistance and via biofortification enable us to tackle widespread malnutriton and stunting.

On the whole though, the focus on agriculture is positive measure which will benefit the Indian economy as a whole. To sum up , from the Economic Survey again: “Few scientists think of agriculture as the chief, or the model science. Many indeed do not consider it a science at all. Yet it was the first science – the mother of all sciences; it remains the science which makes human life possible; and it may be that, before the century is over, the success or failure of science as a whole will be judged by the success or failure of agriculture.” –T.W. Schultz

With cautious optimism, it can be said this budget takes tentative initiatives in that direction of sustained progress.

(Image Courtesy: “Jodhpur, India, January 1, Unidentified Man Selling..” by Sira Anamwong, freedigitalphotos.net)

#Farming Friday 46: European Farmer Reflects on GMOs

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In which a farmer from the Netherlands comes to Iowa, meets farmers from all over the world: from large farms and small, some prosperous, some struggling; and discovers that there is more to the GMO narrative than the usual noise that fills the media and a new discourse is needed in Europe.

This is the first time I have been able to feature the views of a farmer from Europe in this series. I am particularly delighted about this because one of the most common comments thrown out in social media discussion is “Look at Europe”. Here we get to read the story of insights that emerge when Europe looks at the world. This is how the food system discussion should be, reflecting all or as many voices as possible, starting with those who grow the food.

 

(Image Courtesy: “Old Windmill in Keukenhof, Lisse” by Sira Anamwong, freedigitalphotos.net)