John Vidal, the former Environmental Editor at The Guardian, has written a compelling piece about the $66 billion takeover of the world’s largest seed company- Monsanto – by the second largest pesticide company, Bayer.
Vidal reports that the huge deal, set to be approved June 7, 2018, “has been called both a ‘marriage made in hell’ and ‘an important development for food security.’”
The new mega-company, which Bayer just announced would stop using the controversial Monsanto name, will control “nearly 60% of the world’s supply of proprietary seeds, 70% of the chemicals and pesticides used to grow food, and most of the world’s GM crop genetic .” And, they will have a huge influence in the way farmers around the world grow their food.
In his piece, Vidal contrasts the vision for modern agriculture that Bayer-Monsanto represents, a highly-consolidated marketplace dependent on biotech innovations and expensive (and proprietary) high-tech seeds and pesticides, with the traditional model of a patchwork of diversified, low-tech but resilient small farms.
Small farmers support a diverse array of food crops and “rich food cultures,” like the Indian plant researcher featured in Vidal’s story who is cultivating over 1,300 types of traditional rice, which he than gives to other farmers to grow, further select from and improve, and share.
These sorts of “open-source” seed banks, reported on before on Hygeia, are a stark contrast to the Bayer-Monsanto model, where seeds are patented and farmers are not allowed to save seed for planting next year, and in fact will be prosecuted if they do so.
Vidal claims that after 20+ years of high-tech agriculture, farmers are running out of “agri-optimism.”
“Yields of most staple crops have barely increased in years, seeds and herbicides are becoming more expensive, and the promised health, safety and nutritional benefits of new industrial crops have failed to materialise.”
Instead, small farmers around the world are turning to sustainable and ecologically-grounded farm systems to increase yields and total food production of a given piece of land, and are using innovative marketing strategies to “avoid the new corporate monopolies.”
Vidal presents some interesting examples of how traditional knowledge from farmers around the world could contribute to “modern” agriculture.
Let’s hope they can keep progress moving forward once the Bayer-Monsanto acquisition is finalized and the new mega-company starts to flex its muscles. See “Bayer Announces Plans to Shed the Monsanto Name — But Will the New Bayer Differ from the Old Monsanto?” for more on how to tell whether the new Bayer will support sustainable ag systems, or just become Monsanto on steroids.
John Vidal, “Who should feed the world: real people or faceless multinationals?,” The Guardian, June 5, 2018.