Carmelo Ruiz: The tragedy of genetically modified crops and the promise of agroecology
Biotech corporations claim that their GM crops provide countless benefits for consumers, farmers, the environment and the world’s hungry, including reduced use of pesticides, high yields, and environmentally sound weed and pest management. For the future, they promise crops with increased nutritional content for the hungry in the third world- like the famous “golden” rice-, and “climate-ready” crops that will resist the extreme weather events linked to global climate change. But there are scientists, farmers, activists and citizens that dispute these claims and rosy scenarios (1), and question even whether these foods are safe at all (2), and whether the underlying scientific assumptions of the technology of genetic engineering are valid in light of the most recent developments and discoveries in the fields of genetics and genomics (3).
There are alternatives to the industrial mode of agriculture, with its toxic agrochemicals and GM crops. And these alternatives can be found in the young science of agroecology. This new field is simultaneously a science, an agricultural practice and a social movement, and began in Central America in the 1970’s and 80’s with the Campesino a Campesino (peasant to peasant) movement. Campesino a Campesino, which has now spread all over the world, is an innovative participatory and horizontal farmer-to-farmer learning method that owes much to liberation theology’s methodology of critical thinking and social action, and to Brazilian educator Paulo Freire’s pedagogy of the oppressed. It can be thought of as an ecology of the poor, or as a campesino ecology.