I’ve been terrible at posting… honestly, I still have good intentions of following up with a post on all of the 2013 World Food Prize events I attended (Frances Moore Lappé, Jim Hightower, Oxfam farmers from Africa, Dani Nierenberg) and a lot of the other great speakers I heard on campus last year (Ricardo Salvador, Sandor Katz, Ray Archuleta, Wes Jackson, and many others), unfortunately, my coursework and research keeps getting in the way.  So quickly, I was talked into joining Twitter last winter and use it to re-tweet a lot of the interesting, random, exciting, depressing, inspirational articles I read related to food, agriculture, climate, and environment in the U.S., Latin America, and around the world.  It’s kind of a Friday “Food News and Sustainability Update” thing via Twitter.  You can find me at @mariav_agroeco .  Re-tweets aren’t endorsements, etc., just articles (or headlines) that were interesting to me.

Finally, I wanted to quickly share an op-ed written by Mark Bittman that was published in the NYT on May 28 about Olivier De Schutter, the out-going United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.  I have been reading a lot of his reports and am impressed at his position on promoting structural change within the food system, specifically focusing on agroecology to promote sustainable food systems (my own research interest).  I thought Bittman’s piece described well why I’ve enjoyed learning more about agroecology and the work done by De Schutter.


So last night I had the opportunity to attend the 2013 World Food Prize laureates’ presentation “Scientific Discovery and the Fight to End Global Hunger” at Iowa State University.  This year’s laureates are three biotech industry leaders: Marc Van Montagu, Mary-Dell Chilton (Syngenta), and Robert Fraley (Monsanto).  I can’t say our views have a whole lot in common (they don’t, unless it’s opposite day) and I’m more excited for some of the other speakers who will be in Central Iowa later this week (Jim Hightower, Cardinal Turkson, Francis Moore Lappé, the 2013 Food Sovereignty Prize winners, and next week, Wenonah Hauter).

borlaug lecture 2013Here are some themes I noted in last night’s presentation though (NOTE: I don’t necessarily agree, this is just what was emphasized by the presenters):

  • increased use of biotechnology reduces the need for herbicide and insecticide use, so it’s a “greener” more environmentally-friendly technique; GM “improves the environment” (Fraley)
  • the world population is going to reach 9 billion by 2050 (or 9.6 billion even)–this is why we need biotechnology, there’s no other way to feed the population (this was emphasized by all three presenters)
  • the organic label is the label; we don’t need to further label GM food, besides, there is no study that has ever demonstrated GM seed/food as being unsafe (Chilton, Fraley, and Van Montagu)… According to Fraley there is “no need for rumors to persist, these are the most studied crops made by science” (I found “made by science” and “rumors” to both be disturbing)
  • in regards to the “enthusiastic adoption” of GE by farmers, “What control?… Nobody is forced to buy anything.” (Chilton).  Dr. Chilton and the others emphasized how much farmers love GM, but didn’t seem to address any possible other reasons for adopting GM seed.  I have classmates whose families adopted GM seed because of the ramifications of it being found on their land if they didn’t (expensive lawsuits and visits from Monsanto’s secret agents) and the decrease of seed savers (also a result of Monsanto’s secret force).  The Daily Show (of course) had a great clip about farmer risks of not adopting a few weeks ago, here is a link to that clip.

The last, perhaps most disturbing thing I heard last night, was the term ” sustainable intensification.”  I get the feeling that much like hogs are “harvested” instead of “slaughtered” the biotech industry is attempting to co-opt the lexicon of sustainability, or at least responsible/considerate agricultural practices.  There were some strange relationships between biotech and sustainable agriculture that I found really troubling, because obviously if these companies are big enough to control the entire food chain and have a big financial influence in the labeling campaigns happening in Washington state (for more information check out www.fooddemocracynow.org), they are capable of such a swift media switch.

The question and answer session appeared to be a set-up, all questions were about “how to stop this misinformation from continuing to spread” or “how to help people see how important the work you’re doing is.”  There were no real questions (questions of substance).  Like I said, I’m looking forward to the rest of the week’s speakers.

In a nutshell, you can see how it was a night for the defense of biotech.  I’m not in the camp to immediately dismiss, but I do think we deserve more credit as consumers and as humans to have some say in our food system than was granted to us last night.  If there are no health or safety risks, labeling GMOs would be an easy-please for most people; if enthusiastic adoption were so great, there wouldn’t be lawsuits and large fines; if biotech were truly a form of sustainable agriculture for smallholder farmers, there shouldn’t be any question about them choosing for themselves how to proceed in their own livelihood endeavor.  Fraley “admitted” that maybe where Monsanto hasn’t done such a great job was in it’s communication with the public and adoption of social media (which is where the rumors started), but I think if he (they) were all interested in transparency and communication, their defensive side might not have been the sole focus of their presentations last night.

What made me feel a lot better though was to be reminded that I’m/we are not alone.  Mark Bittman’s article “How to Feed the World” which ran in the New York Times yesterday (Oct 14, 2013) as a welcome relief.  (Click on the title to link to his article)  Bittman wrote

Yes, it is true that high-yielding varieties of any major commercial monoculture crop will produce more per acre than peasant-bred varieties of the same crop. But by diversifying crops, mixing plants and animals, planting trees — which provide not only fruit but shelter for birds, shade, fertility through nutrient recycling, and more — small landholders can produce more food (and more kinds of food) with fewer resources and lower transportation costs (which means a lower carbon footprint), while providing greater food security, maintaining greater biodiversity, and even better withstanding the effects of climate change. (Not only that: their techniques have been demonstrated to be effective on larger-scale farms, even in the Corn Belt of the United States.) And all of this without the level of subsidies and other support that industrial agriculture has received in the last half-century, and despite the efforts of Big Ag to become even more dominant.

Cheers to diverse crops, mixed plants and animals, trees, nutrient recycling, food instead of feed or fuel, and increased food security, biodiversity, and climate change mitigation!

On September 28, 2013, I participated in my first panel forum hosted by the Iowa chapter of the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) in Des Moines, IA.  The panel was entitled “Perspectives on Feeding the World” and panelists included myself (a student of Sustainable Agriculture and Sociology, Dr. Neil Harl (professor emeritus of Iowa State University and renowned agricultural economist), Dr. Greg Lamka (plant scientist at DuPont Pioneer), Carolyn Uhlenhake-Walker (retired science teacher and advocate/activist for healthy food and healthy farms in Iowa), and Barb Kalbach (active farmer and nurse).  The panel was more of a presentation session than a panel, just because there wasn’t a lot of time for questions/answers or discussion after the presentations, but it was an interesting view of what feeding the world means to different people with different backgrounds.

On September 30, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy released an article called “Science means having to say ‘I’m Sorry’” which I wish had been available for the panel or to share with the audience as a resource.  As the article points out “Saying “A then B” does not count as evidence: Science doesn’t support the “Green Revolution fed millions” narrative.”  I thought the article eloquently expressed what I hoped to share at the panel (so read it–it’s much more well stated than what I was able to put together in the midst of a crazy week of coursework), but if you still want to read my short-presentation, I’ll share it below.  I used these as notes for a presentation, not a word-for-word reading, so to be honest, I don’t know which parts came out, but you’ll get the gist of my talk.  As always, if you have any questions or want more information about resources used, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Perspectives on Feeding the World:

I grew up in Decorah, Iowa, about 20 miles from Norman Borlaug’s hometown, Cresco, where a “feed the world” sign greets you upon entering.  In the other direction I was about 10 miles from the Seed Savers Exchange.  These two approaches to feeding the world are definitely distinct, but is either one of them the right way to get the job done?

As a student in Iowa State University’s Graduate Program of Sustainable Agriculture, I am definitely learning a lot, and probably have more ideas than answers, but from my experiences abroad and my current coursework I am convinced that a sustainable approach to agriculture is the only way to make sure that the world’s population has access to quality food (or to “feed the world”).

I realize that the word “sustainable” is itself a can of worms, as everyone has his or her own definition.  Sustainable agriculture, to me, is agriculture which strikes a balance between the social, economic, and environmental dimensions of agriculture production.  As a sociologist, I tend to see things on a continuum, including sustainability: I believe everyone incorporates these elements in their production practices to some extent, but I believe that more sustainable practices have more equal emphasis on these components, rather than being pulled in one direction.

This lack of balance is one of the key reasons why I believe we currently aren’t feeding the world.

Food (for humans), feed (for livestock), and fuel are the results of agricultural production today; we are no longer solely focused on producing food for human consumption.  Modern agricultural practices, which include growing large swaths of monoculture crops and increasingly input intensive crops, as well as relying more and more on technology, may have seemed like an answer at the start of the Green Revolution.  However, at the present 40% of U.S. corn is being used to produce ethanol (Charles, 2013) and the majority of soy produced in the U.S. is used for cattle feed (Charles, 2013).  The majority of our fields require intensive chemical inputs, high use of fossil fuels, and intensive water use.  These inputs all impact environmental quality, climate change, our natural resources, and our well-being.  Chemical inputs were an early industrial farming technology, which has transitioned to GM crops.  Recently, Frances Moore Lappé wrote that

GMO proponents often argue that this technology supports the mission to feed the world, however most GM crops are used for feed for livestock, the development of processed food, or fuel—these are products that are not accessible to hungry people… GMO seeds continue farmers’ dependency on purchased seed and chemical inputs… and GMOs threaten sustainability because they continue agriculture’s dependence on diminishing and damaging fossil fuels and mined minerals, as well as a wasteful use of water (2013).

Our nation’s economic policies encourage these modern agricultural practices (monoculture production, input intensive crops, and increasing technology), as do our commitment to free trade agreements, which often hinder small farmers abilities to grow food for market, as the market is suddenly too big for them to compete.  Throughout my research and work experiences in Guatemala, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic I have seen the difficulties facing small farmers, as a result of the clear advantages for big, industrial-sized farms; it is easier for them to get out than get run over.

This is perhaps where I feel the most uncomfortable talking about the responsibility of U.S. farmers to “feed the world”: we don’t have to, the world’s population could feed itself; before colonization and the forced production of monocultures for export and colonial trade, it did.  It still can, if we remove the political, economic, and social barriers that are preventing nations around the world from growing food for human consumption.  I am not suggesting we abandon all farmers to return to “primitive” subsistence scale farming, but we would need to look at how our policy and practices influence farmers in other nations and here at home.

This begs the question: What would it take to feed the world and what would feeding the world look like?

The World Food Prize mandate emphasizes “the importance of a nutritious and sustainable food supply for all people.”  I believe that this is and can be a good guide for what feeding the world should look like and that agroecological farming practices are a place to start.

Agroecological practices allow diverse growers in diverse settings to use diverse farming practices; this means that farmers must know their land and know their crops to develop a system that will work for all entities.  My friend, Herberth, was one of the reasons I decided to study sustainable agriculture.  He is growing vegetables on a mountainside in El Salvador.  It is steep, almost a straight drop down to the river; I’m so uncomfortable with heights I could barely look from the top.  Traditional crops (corn and red beans) wouldn’t grow on such steep land, but Herberth worked with a local agronomy organization to get seeds and received some financial support from the local mayor.  Herberth’s land is the most terraced piece of land I have stepped on, but it works.  He is growing fruits and vegetables for his community, developing a new market in the region.  When I was visiting in June he was also helping the children at the elementary school create a garden and learn to grow produce as well.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to agroecology.  The diversity of the farmer and the land makes implementation more challenging (as it requires more knowledge or understanding), however, it also makes production more efficient and practical once this knowledge has been obtained.  This is a dialogue or a relationship of sorts between the farmer, the land, and the crop.
Personally, I do not believe that agroecological farming practices imply organic farming; although I do see organic farming embracing agroecology more than non-organic farming in my current research.  For me, agroecological farming practices embrace sustainable farming, evaluating the economic, social, and environmental components of production.  Economics must embrace a livelihood, not just for-profit production.  Social components include women and minorities as farmers and key actors in the food system.  It seeks a living wage for labor hours and fair labor hours for farmers.  Environmental factors are most commonly addressed when considering sustainable farming or agroecological farming.  These might include practices like using cover crops, no till tillage systems, or alternative pest management practices.  These environmentally-focused components of agroecology often focus on improving a farmer’s ability to adapt to changing climate conditions, which are already being seen in places like Guatemala, and here in the Midwest.

The United Nations Office of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has documented agroecology’s potential to double food production areas affected by hunger in 10 years (Moore Lappe, 2013).  Agroecological practices also fit well with the guidelines provided by the United Methodist social principles: it calls for stewardship of the land, the promotion of biodiversity, using as few chemical inputs as possible to promote safety and health, and food justice.  Food justice is perhaps the best way to describe my understanding of feeding the world.

Norman Borlaug said “Almost certainly, however, the first essential component of social justice is adequate food for all mankind.”  I don’t disagree and I believe this is why the mission of Seed Savers Exchange has been to collect heirloom seeds, so that while we explore ways to bring better nutrition to everyone (the goal of the Green Revolution was, after all, to feed the world), we are not putting all of our eggs in one basket.  We risk justice when we rely on a few monocultures because we have never seen a one-size-fits-all response that doesn’t have negative repercussions.  It is important for us to promote biodiversity in all its forms: growers, crops, locations.  Agroecological practices, is not a one size fits all response but is a dynamic, effective response to feed the world.  It can adapt and adjust to different circumstances and create a sustainable food supply for the world.  (Then we can talk about the rest of the food chain.)


To cite any part of this presentation:

Van Der Maaten, M. (2013, September). Perspectives on feeding the world. Iowa chapter Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA).  Lecture conducted from Walnut Hills United Methodist Church, Des Moines, Iowa.

Works Cited and Other Helpful Resources:


I tried to not read/skim and close every tab I read this week, so here are some Friday Food News and Sustainability Updates to keep you occupied this weekend (unless it’s as beautiful outside wherever you are as it is here–it’s much too nice to spend the weekend inside on the internet, these will still be here in the winter!):

First are two articles from The Guardian.  I’ll admit, I don’t remember to check The Guardian for articles (especially in their Global Development section), I always run across really interesting stories, like these, and then think to myself “I really should check The Guardian more regularly…” but it just doesn’t happen as often as it should.  Maybe posting these will be a good reminder.  The first article, “How lack of food security is failing a starving world,” is by Alex Renton, and is about G8 policy towards malnutrition.  He frequently complements the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation/Bill Gates’ support, however, the Global Development section of The Guardian is also supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (so there may be some conflict of interest/pandering/whatever it’s called (writing for brownie points?).  I respect the work of the Gates Foundation, even though I’ve heard some disturbing comments about their views on biotechnology (GMOs) in developing countries.  Anyway, an interesting article.  The second article from The Guardian, entitled “How can we build a sustainable farming system for all?,” by Mark Driscoll, lines up quite nicely with conversations my classmates/colleagues and I regularly have: there is no one-size-fits-all approach that results in sustainable farming; instead sustainable farming must consider the people involved (social), the place (environmental), and the profit (economics) and work to build a system that meets all of these needs, not just profit.

I found the article “How U.S. Foreign Aid can Feed More for Less” very interesting.  I have been listening to the debate about how best to provide foreign aid since I was getting my Master’s degree, but it sounds like we’re finally catching on to what promotes better aid practices.  We’ll see what DC decides, but I thought this article provided a good overview of the realities of what happens when we slowly send our own subsidized products halfway around the world, only to find out that they are culturally inappropriate, rotted on our U.S. Navy transportation, are just too late.

I don’t tweet, but if you follow Twitter, Food Tank’s list “118 Twitter Feeds Every Food Activist Needs to Follow” might be of interest to you.  I thought the list was great–these are all people I enjoy following on Facebook and in other realms.  I’m sure you could get lots of good information by following the suggested feeds, I would just have to figure out how to make more time in my day if I’m going to start tweeting too.  Maybe someday.

Fred Bahnson of the Washington Post published a faith-based take on gardening in his article “What Grows in a Garden?”  I really enjoyed it, as I can really connect my time weeding or trellising (last week’s work on the Student Organic Farm) to a spiritual renewal.  I know that’s not everyone’s view, growing food can be an emotional, physical, mentally challenging activity, but I hope everyone sees the beauty in it too.  It’s amazing to think that what you put into the ground as a tiny seed can emerge as a huge plant with beautiful flowers and, later, fruit that nourishes life…  For more thoughts on spiritual gardening I would encourage you to look at what my friends Tisa and Anne are doing in Colorado through their projects SAGE Community and Chadash Community.  (I know of others in the Boulder/Denver metro area, but would have to think about their names more; as always, if you want more information though, send me a message!)

Next up, a YouTube clip.  I’m not sure of the video’s source (so you can determine your own level of belief/accuracy of fact), but I found the video “Food Waste: A Story of Excess” to be very interesting.  I think it was a powerful reminder of how much food we throw out.  This is one thing we are struggling with at home, between our weekly CSA share and the woman my husband works with, who must think we’re starving, because she started sending a big bag of fresh veggies home with him each week as well, we are up to our ears in veggies.  We can’t cook/eat them fast enough.  I know there are options to further donate them locally, so I’m going to try to make that happen–we can only eat so much zucchini in a week.  On another note, two weeks ago we got turnips and turnip greens in our CSA bag.  I always used to think I liked vegetables, but I realized I only liked the small circle of vegetables I knew… so we’ll have to decide whether we finish the dish I made with the turnip greens (using the CSA recommended recipe) or donate it to our vermiculture population’s meal plan.  Yet to be determined.  We hate to throw away perfectly good food, but neither one of us is enjoying the taste.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel released an article about a report on female farmers last week.  The article, titled “Female farmers take a smaller, educational approach, report says” described the differences between decisions made between male and female farmers.  The findings are very similar to those my classmate/colleague Angie has been doing in her research with the Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN) here in Iowa.  “The report also shows that women farm differently than traditional male farmers do. Put simply, they’re raising food, not crops, said Adcock — with a focus on producing healthy food for their families and communities and keeping the land healthy for future generations.”  I’ve been conducting interviews for a research project I’m on at school and can say the same thing: women’s responses are much different than men’s responses to some questions.  Whether that’s a nature or nurture response is a whole different study, but there are definitely differences.  For more about female farmers, check out my classmate/colleague Shari on her farm in Illinois!

I don’t know which Congress-person started the most recent anti-environment tirade, but they’ve all been making the news this week.  So much so that Scott Slesinger wrote a sad/depressing update about the House of Representatives currently sitting on the Hill called “61 Reasons This is the Most Anti-Environmental House of Representatives in History.”  As my own representative (who represents my district, but does not represent me) recently made waves for his racist comments regarding immigrants and promptly followed up with some climate change denial, it’s not hard to believe that this House is anti-environmental in the least.  At a state level, Iowa’s government is taking some heat for continuing to promote Big Ag/Corporate Ag policies, instead of what citizens want.  An editorial in the Des Moines Register pointed out that “The fact is, the political leadership of Iowa — including the governor, the secretary of agriculture and too many members of the Iowa Legislature — is far more attentive to the interests of big ag groups than the interests of ordinary Iowans who enjoy boating, swimming and clean drinking water. That’s because big ag spends a lot of money on elections and lobbying.”  I’m ignoring Limbaugh’s comments altogether and just stop there.

For more depressing U.S.-based news, this link was insightful: “10 American Foods that are Banned in Other Countries”  I really just don’t understand why labeling food for Americans to be independent and make their own decisions is so un-American.  I know, I know.  It’s not an issue of American independence and individual thinking, it’s about whatever is best for the neoliberal capitalists’ corporations and their profit margins–that’s the true America… but I wish health and well-being ranked above profit, just long enough for people to see that it could be a both/and scenario–we’re definitely not limited to the ridiculous capitalism vs. socialism debate that’s been going on for 5+ years.  (Sorry, end of rant.)

On a happier note, this video (another YouTube video) is being praised as a ray of hope for food activists: a 14-year old girl articulately described why she believes GMOs should be labeled (in spite of the tv host being not so articulate).  I know we (in the U.S.) are in for a big and long fight against Monsanto and other biotech/ag corporations, but the message is spreading and this video was an exciting reminder of that.

A long, long time ago, I wrote about quinoa and my love-hate relationship with it (I love how it tastes, that it’s super healthy, that it’s easy to cook and can be used in many dishes; I hate thinking about what it does to the Andean farmers who grow it, whether the farmers, for whom it’s a staple crop, can afford to not sell it, whether they have enough food or are suffering as a result of quinoa’s new super-food status, etc.)  Yesterday on NPR’s All Things Considered Dan Charles asked “Can Quinoa Farming Go Global Without Leaving Andeans Behind?” questioning whether, if quinoa can in fact be produced outside the Andes, Andean quinoa farmers will be able to survive without controlling the global market.  (P.S. He has links to evidence that I shouldn’t hate quinoa, which is nice for my conscience.)

Thomas Friedman wrote an op-ed for the New York Times this week called “Kansas and Al Qaeda.”  He described his most recent project about how climate and environmental stresses helped trigger the Arab awakening in the Middle East.  He wrote that “the connection between the drought in Kansas and the rise in global food prices that helped to fuel the Arab uprisings.  But I stumbled upon another powerful environmental insight here: the parallel between how fossil fuels are being used to power monoculture farms in the Middle West and how fossil fuels are being used to power wars to create monoculture societies in the Middle East. And why both are really unhealthy for their commons.”  In Kansas, Friedman met with Wes Jackson of The Land Institute whose 30-plus year focus on growing perennial grains is an effort to promote more sustainable, low-input agriculture.

Finally, I wanted to share a hometown update.  My hometown, Decorah, Iowa, is a small, beautiful community in northeast Iowa that was recently threatened by the fracking industry (also called frac-sand mining).  Luckily, people realize we live (either physically or in spirit (me)) in a beautiful town and that natural beauty is one of our town’s best assets.  The County Supervisors put a two-year moratorium on fracking in Winneshiek County (and the supervisors in Allamakee County–next door–did the same thing).  So residents and county officials have been attempting to learn as much as they can in these two years to make informed decisions, as it will likely get worse before it gets better (apparently we’re almost perfect for fracking…).  So I wanted to share with you “Bus trip to land of frac-sand mining provides insight to ‘new’ industry” by Lissa Blake, which was published in my home-town newspaper this week.  Having worked with the mining resistance movement in Guatemala, it was too easy to put faces with the situations she described seeing in Wisconsin.  In Guatemala sharing stories of what really happens when the mining industry moves in next door has been the best way to keep the industry from expanding (although it’s not easy), so I wanted to share these stories with you too.  It’s amazing how we can be so far apart from other people who are facing similar challenges (corporate threats, threats to our water, soil, wildlife, and livelihoods, temptation for individual greed instead of communal good) and yet be so connected; this was happening as we visited our friends in El Salvador who are still fighting a mine that wants to come into the village.  Solidarity is amazing.

Happy weekend!  May you enjoy the beautiful weather (or the warmth/comfort of home) and celebrate this week’s victories and prepare for next week’s challenges.

Dunnings Springs in Decorah, IA

Autumn at Dunnings Springs in Decorah, IA

The 2013 World Food Prize winners were announced, with much controversy, earlier this summer (while I was traveling).  The World Food Prize (WFP) is considered to be one of the most prestigious prizes in food and agriculture and is being awarded this year to three chemical company executives, including Monsanto’s executive vice president and chief technology officer, Robert Fraley.  I ran into an article by Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé that ran in the Huffington Post on June 26, 2013.  The article is titled “Choice of Monsanto Betrays World Food Prize Purpose, Say Global Leaders.”  It’s a great article–I try to only post my own thoughts, but they’ve so wonderfully summed up my thoughts, sharing seemed like the best option, so I have linked the title and am re-posting it here:

“This statement is supported by 81 Councillors of the World Future Council, a network of global luminaries who “form a voice for the rights of future generations,” and/or Laureates of the Right Livelihood Award, often called the Alternative Nobel. Supporters’ names appear below.”

 In honoring the seed biotechnology industry, this year’s World Food Prize — to many, the most prestigious prize in food and agriculture — betrays the award’s own mandate to emphasize “the importance of a nutritious and sustainable food supply for all people.”

The 2013 World Food Prize has gone to three chemical company executives, including Monsanto executive vice president and chief technology officer, Robert Fraley, responsible for development of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Yet, GMO seeds have not been designed to meet the Prize’s mandate and function in ways that actually impede progress toward the stated goals of the World Food Prize.

Almost twenty years after commercialization of the first GMO seeds, by far the most widely used are not engineered to enhance nutrient content, but to produce a specific pesticide or to resist a proprietary herbicide, or a combination of these traits. Even in reducing weeds, the technology is failing, for it has led to herbicide-resistant “super weeds” now appearing on nearly half of American farms.

GMO seeds undermine sustainability in other ways as well.

While profitable to the few companies producing them, GMO seeds reinforce a model of farming that undermines sustainability of cash-poor farmers, who make up most of the world’s hungry. GMO seeds continue farmers’ dependency on purchased seed and chemical inputs. The most dramatic impact of such dependency is in India, where 270,000 farmers, many trapped in debt for buying seeds and chemicals, committed suicide between 1995 and 2012.

GMOs also threaten sustainability because they continue agriculture’s dependence on diminishing and damaging fossil fuels and mined minerals, as well as a wasteful use of water.

This award not only communicates a false connection between GMOs and solutions to hunger and agricultural degradation, but it also diverts attention from truly “nutritious and sustainable” agroecological approaches already proving effective, especially in the face of extreme weather. The Rodale Institute, for example, found in its 30-year study, that organic methods used 45 percent less energy and produced 40 percent less greenhouse gases and outperformed chemical farming during drought years by as much as 31 percent.

Further evidence from around the world is showing how ecological methods dramatically enhance productivity, improve nutritional content of crops, and benefit soil health, all without leaving farmers dependent on ever-more expensive inputs. The United Nations, through its Office of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, has documented ecological agriculture’s potential in hungry regions to double food production in one decade. Chaired by former World Food Prize awardee Dr. Hans Herren, the 2008 International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report, developed by 400 experts and endorsed by 59 governments, calls for redirection of agricultural development toward such sustainable practices. Agroecology and food sovereignty are emerging solutions shaped and chosen by scientists and citizens worldwide.

Note that the World Food Prize mandate is also to recognize contributors to food “for all people,” but GMO seeds make this goal harder to reach. Most GM crops are used for feed for livestock, processed food, or fuel — products not accessible to hungry people. Moreover, the planet already produces more than enough food for all, and 40 percent more per person than in 1970; yet today 870 million people, still suffer from extreme, long-term undernourishment because they lack power to access adequate food. Developed and controlled by a handful of companies, genetically engineered seeds further the concentration of power and the extreme inequality at the root of this crisis of food inaccessibility. Monsanto, for example, controls 90 percent of the U.S. soybean crop and 80 percent of the country’s corn and cotton crops.

The choice of the 2013 World Food Prize is an affront to the growing international consensus on safe, ecological farming practices that have been scientifically proven to promote nutrition and sustainability. Many governments have rejected GMOs, and as many as two million citizens in 52 countries recently marched in opposition to GMOs and Monsanto. In living democracies, discounting this knowledge and these many voices is not acceptable.

The 81 signatories below are Councillors of the World Future Council and/or
Laureates of the Right Livelihood Award:29 COUNCILLORS OF THE WORLD FUTURE COUNCIL (An asterisk indicates the signer is also a Right Livelihood Award Laureate but listed only once.)

*Vandana Shiva, Founder, Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology
*Frances Moore Lappé, Co-founder, Small Planet Institute
*Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians
*Dipal Barua, Founder and Chairman of the Bright Green Energy Foundation
*Hans-Peter Dürr, Nuclear physicist and philosopher
*Sulak Sivaraksa, Co-founder, International Network of Engaged Buddhists
*Ibrahim Abouleish, Founder of SEKEM
*Chico Whitaker, Co-founder, World Social Forum
*Manfred Max-Neef, Prof Dr. h.c. (mult.) Manfred Max-Neef, Director, Economics Institute, Universidad Austral de Chile
*Alyn Ware, Founder and international coordinator of the Network Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (PNND)
David Krieger, President, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
Rama Mani, Vice Chair, Academic Council on the United Nations System
Alexander Likhotal, President, Green Cross International
Thais Corral, Co-founder, Women’s Environment and Development Organization
Pauline Tangiora, Maori elder, Rongomaiwahine Tribe
Anna Oposa, Co-Founder, Save Philippine Seas
Scilla Elworthy, Founder, Oxford Research Group, Founder, Peace Direct
Katiana Orluc, Director of Development/Strategic Affairs, Thyssen-Bornemisza, Art Contemporary (TBA21)
Riane Eisler, President, Centre for Partnership Studies
Ashok Khosla, Chairman, Centre for Development Alternatives
Hafsat Abiola, Founder and President of the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND)
Rafia Ghubash, President, Arab Network for Women, Science and Technology
Daryl Hannah, Actress and advocate for a sustainable world
Vithal Rajan, Founder, Trustee of Agriculture Man Ecology [AME], Foundation of India
Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director, The Oakland Institute
Herbert Girardet, Honorary Councillor, World Future Council
Ana María Cetto, Research professor of the Institute of Physics and lecturer at the Faculty of Sciences, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Nicholas Dunlop, Secretary-General, Climate Parliament
Motoyuki Suzuki, Chairman, Central Environmental Council of Japan


Alice Tepper Marlin, President & Founder, Social Accountability International, USA (RLA 1990)
Alla Yaroshinskaya, Russia (RLA 1992)
Andras Biro, Hungarian Foundation for Self-Reliance, Hungary (RLA 1995)
Angie Zelter, Trident Ploughshares, United Kingdom (RLA 2001)
Annelies Allain, International Baby Food Action Network, Malaysia (RLA 1998)
Anwar Fazal, Director, Right Livelihood College, Malaysia (RLA 1982)
Augusto Juncal, Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais sem Terra (MST), Brazil (RLA 1991)
Bianca Jagger, Founder and Chair, Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, Nicaragua/UK (RLA 2004)
Birsel Lemke, Turkey (RLA 2000)
Daniel Ellsberg, USA (RLA 2006)
David Suzuki, Canada (RLA 2009)
Erik Dammann, Future in Our Hands, Norway (RLA 1982)
Bishop Erwin Kräutler, Brazil (RLA 2010)
Evaristo Nugkuag Ikanan, Instituto para el Buen Vivir, Peru (RLA 1986)
Felicia Langer, Israel/Germany (RLA 1990)
Fernando Funes-Aguilar, Grupo de Agricultura Orgánica, Cuba (RLA 1999)
Fernando Rendón, Co-Founder and Director, International Poetry Festival of Medellín, Colombia (RLA 2006)
GRAIN, International (RLA 2011)
Hanumappa Sudarshan, Karuna Trust & VGKK, India (RLA 1994)
Helen Mack Chang, Fundación Myrna Mack, Guatemala (RLA 1992)
Helena Norberg-Hodge, Founder and Director, International Society for Ecology & Culture, UK (RLA 1986)
Hunter Lovins, Natural Capitalism Solutions, USA (RLA 1983)
Ina May Gaskin, USA (RLA 2011)
Irene Fernandez, Tenaganita, Malaysia (RLA 2005)
Janos Vargha, Hungary (RLA 1985)
Prof. Dr. Johan Galtung, Norway (RLA 1987)
Juan Pablo Orrego, President, Ecosistemas, Chile (RLA 1998)
Katarina Kruhonja, Center for Peace, Nonviolence and Human Rights-Osijek, Croatia (RLA 1998)
Martín von Hildebrand, Founder and Director, Fundación GAIA Amazonas, Colombia (RLA 1999)
Melaku Worede, Ethiopia (RLA 1989)
Prof. Michael Succow, Founder, Michael Succow Foundation for Nature Conservation, Germany, (RLA 1997)
Mike Cooley, UK (RLA 1981)
SM Mohamed Idris, Sahabat Alam Malaysia-Sarawak, Malaysia (RLA 1988)
Monika Hauser, Founder, Medica Mondiale, Germany (RLA 2008)
Nicanor Perlas, Center for Alternative Development Initiatives, Philippines (RLA 2003)
Nnimmo Bassey, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Nigeria (RLA 2010)
Pat Mooney, ETC Group, Canada (RLA 1985)
Raúl A. Montenegro, President, Fundación para la defensa del ambiente, Argentina (RLA 2004)
Ruchama Marton, Founder and President, Physicians for Human Rights, Israel (RLA 2010)
Shrikrishna Upadhyay, Executive Chairman, Support Activities for Poor Producers of Nepal, Nepal (RLA 2010)
Sima Samar, Chairperson, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Afghanistan (RLA 2012)
Stephen Gaskin, PLENTY International, USA (RLA 1980)
Suciwati, widow of Munir, Indonesia (RLA 2000)
Swami Agnivesh, India (RLA 2004)
Tapio Mattlar, Kylätoiminta / The Finnish Village Action Movement, Finland (RLA 1992)
Tony Clarke, Executive Director, Polaris Institute, Canada (RLA 2005)
Uri Avnery, Founder, Gush Shalom, Israel (RLA 2001)
Wes Jackson, Founder and President, The Land Institute, USA (RLA 2000)
Zafrullah Chowdhury, Gonoshasthaya Kendra, Bangladesh (RLA 1992)
Percy and Louise Schmeiser (RLA 2007)
Jacqueline Moudeina (2011)

On Sunday I met a woman who is working with the local Sierra Club and aware of several other organizations, including Occupy the WFP, Iowa CCI, and The Methodist Federation for Social Action, to bring attention to the original purpose and goal of the WFP: to promote “the importance of a nutritious and sustainable food supply for all people.”  These organizations are working to bring an exciting group of people to Iowa (where the WFP is awarded each fall) to raise awareness about work being done in sustainable agriculture and sustainable food systems.  While I’m not excited about the actual 2013 WFP winners, I am excited for the “non-winners” who are coming and will be sharing more about their work.  (I’ll post an update with names of WFP alternatives when I have a better schedule/list.)

WFP logo

Occupy WFP logo

Here are three stories I saw this morning that I wanted to share (I’m sure there are a lot more out there, but now that I’m working I don’t have as much time as I used to to peruse all media outlets I wanted…):

The first story is from EcoWatch, an environmental news service.  “Goats Replace Herbicides at Historic Landmark in Washington D.C.” is great!  The goats are serving as an eco-friendly mowing, aerating, fertilizing service, much like the goats used in Chautauqua State Park in Iowa a few years ago.  The article has a lot of information about how they reached the decision that goats were the best option and some photos and video of the goats hard at work.

Aren't they cute?  And effective?  And environmentally-friendly?

Aren’t they cute? And effective? And environmentally-friendly?

The second story was also posted by EcoWatch, but written by the Union of Concerned Scientists (I like both of these sites, so when I go back to school and am not sharing the interesting things they’re posting, I’d recommend taking a look there).  Anyway, the Union of Concerned Scientists released a 2013 study, The $11 Trillion Dollar Reward, that confirms that increasing our fruit and vegetable consumption could save more than 100,000 lives and $17 billion in health care costs from heart disease each year.  (The short video is great–it explains the whole study in just a few minutes.)  I saw the UCS infographic a few weeks ago, but it’s impressive to think how (relatively, theoretically) easy it would be to improve our health, our economy, our lives…  but then again, just thinking about the challenges (corporations, politicians, etc.) that are standing in the way.

Plant the Plate Infographic from the Union of Concerned Scientists (http://ecowatch.com/2013/investing-healthy-food-save-us/)

Plant the Plate Infographic from the Union of Concerned Scientists (http://ecowatch.com/2013/investing-healthy-food-save-us/)

Finally, the United Nations declared 2014 the International Year of Family Farming (IFYY)!  Today (Aug 9) is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People and the Food Tank has posted Five Initiatives Supporting Indigenous Farmers. Many believe that family farmers, and particularly indigenous farmers, are the means to saving our food system and ending hunger and poverty.  I’m really excited for the upcoming year, as indigenous farmers and food sovereignty are what I’m leaning towards for my dissertation research (which is still a few years down the road).

Here are some of my favorite pictures from my work with the Maya Mam population in San Marcos, Guatemala (2009):

Walking through the milpa to the cemetery for mass to celebrate All Saint's Day

Walking through the milpa to the cemetery for mass to celebrate All Saint’s Day

Sign in Maya Mam in San Miguel's Central Park to clean up trash as a demonstration of respect for the land

Sign in Maya Mam in San Miguel’s Central Park to clean up trash as a demonstration of respect for the land

SMI2009 dia de todos los santos

Family celebrating All Saint’s Day together in the cementery

SMI2009 familia

One of the families that invited me to share their All Saint’s Day picnic in the cemetery at the graves of their loved ones

SMI2009 family farms

Family farms = milpas (plots of corn) in Guatemala

SMI2009 hermana maudi

Sharing lunch with Sister Maudi and her family

SMI2009 reunion comunal

Community meeting in San Miguel