“When President Obama announced a new program during the recent G8 summit to help bolster food and agriculture in developing nations through corporate “pledges,” I was most struck by his choice of partners in the effort. A Reuters report on the announcement read:
The initiative includes a new partnership with agribusiness giants such as DuPont, Monsanto and Cargill, along with smaller companies, including almost 20 from Africa, which will commit some $3 billion for projects to help farmers in the developing world build local markets and improve productivity.
Those three companies are the good food movement’s equivalent of the law firm Dewey, Cheatem & Howe — not the folks it wants to see put in charge of anything, much less “feeding the world.” These companies believe that exporting western-style industrial agriculture to the developing world (Africa in particular) is key to ensuring enough food for a growing population. And they maintain this position despite the growing evidence that industrial agriculture can’t solve the problem.
As a recent report in the journal Nature on the best way forward for agriculture explained, current models suggest that industrial ag just won’t cut it:
… conventional approaches to intensive agriculture, especially the unbridled use of irrigation and fertilizers, have been major causes of environmental degradation. Closing yield gaps without environmental degradation will require new approaches, including reforming conventional agriculture and adopting lessons from organic systems and precision agriculture.
Unfortunately, this “unbridled use of irrigation and fertilizers” is the form of agriculture that Monsanto, DuPont, and Cargill know best.
So I was concerned when I ran across this new study, which found that to date, human-caused groundwater depletion is a greater contributor to sea-level rise than climate change. The U.K. Guardian explains:
Trillions of tonnes of water have been pumped up from deep underground reservoirs in every part of the world and then channeled into fields and pipes to keep communities fed and watered. The water then flows into the oceans, but far more quickly than the ancient aquifers are replenished by rains. The global tide would be rising even more quickly but for the fact that man-made reservoirs have, until now, held back the flow by storing huge amounts of water on land.
“The water being taken from deep wells is geologically old – there is no replenishment and so it is a one-way transfer into the ocean,” said sea level expert professor Robert Nicholls, at the University of Southampton. “In the long run, I would still be more concerned about the impact of climate change, but this work shows that even if we stabilize the climate, we might still get sea level rise due to how we use water.”