Pesticides Debate and Sustainable Agriculture: With or Without pesticides?
Few weeks ago the Green Office VU received two opposing representatives of the pesticides sectors: Syngenta and ASEED Europe.
On one side, Syngenta, a global agricultural organization that produces pesticides and seeds and export them around the world. On the other, ASEED Europe. A non-profit organization formed by conscious citizens that thrive to stop the use of pesticides, organizing campaigns and protest agains the big giants of the industry. We also had the pleasure to host one of our professors, Dr. van Gestel who together with a group of PhD students is carrying out a research about the impact of pesticides on different soil organism. This was a shift from the now well-known impact of these products on bees.
Syngenta was formed in 2000 by the merger of Novartis Agribusiness and Zeneca Agrochemicals. It operates through Europe, Africa and Middle East; North America; Latin America and Asia Pacific. Its representative, Jan Bowman (Sustainable Agriculture and Stewardship manager for North Europe), was passionate about sharing their position regarding the use of pesticides. According to Syngenta, we cannot grow enough food to feed the growing population without the use of “crop protection”. Indeed, Mr. Bowman was persuading in explaining the techniques Syngenta uses to ensure responsible use of their products. The Organization invest into research and development, as well as in education of farmers about. Syngenta focuses on prevention through breeding of crops with a resistance to certain diseases, to create “better seeds”; making crop protection “more green”, developing pesticides which are environmentally friendly. But we wonder… What criteria is used to measure sustainability? What do they mean by “more environmentally friendly” Who decides? They also spoke about promoting better application, not too much, not in the wrong place. But what is too much? What are the boundaries?
ASEED Europe (Action for Solidarity, Equality, Environment, and Diversity Europe) is an international campaigning organization, giving importance to involving youth in direct democracy activities. ASEED Europe targets the structural causes of environmental destruction and social injustice.
(To read more about the Pesticides Debate at the Green Office, check ASEED Article here)
When it was the turn of the ASEED spokesperson, Tjerk Dalhuisen, the environment at the Green Office was expectant. We all wanted to hear ASEED “response” to the claims of Syngenta. Tjerk was eager to speak. He started by showing the crude results of the undiscriminated use of pesticides. The images of birth defect, and the barren fields resulting from the use of deathly poison (as he called it) were shocking. ASEED not only explained that nature is more than capable of providing food for all of us in the world, as it has been doing for thousands of years, but that also crops do not need protection. That is their essence and nature. They protect themselves, and had survived for as long as we know them and they will continue to do so.
According to the IAASTD (2008) The world is facing a paradigm shift. Hundred of researched carried out by the UN scientific, from all over the world indicated that the current agricultural system is at it’s end, Agro-ecology is the way forward. The current economical model is not sustainable: It is exploiting and poisoning the earth, affecting climate and biodiversity.
Intense agriculture, with the aim of pesticides, has negative impacts on fertile soil, the very thin layer of the earth that societies depend upon. The UN estimates that in the current pace of erosion and soil destruction we have 60 years left. From the perspective of organizations as ASEED, pesticides producers are “Bee-killers”. Syngenta and Bayer are the main producers of neonicotinoids (better known as ‘beekillers’). The industries of pesticides and pharma, have big lobby groups.
At the end of this second presentation we were all moved by the reach of this discussion. We are not only talking about soy fields, bees killing or air sprayed pesticides… We are talking about our own plates. The food we put in our and our families bodies every-single-day. At the same time, the fact that humanity is growing at an unprecedented rate is undeniable.
Will the nature be able to feed all of us? What are the planetary boundaries? We seem to be pushing them to the extreme, and the results are starting to be visible to us. Climate change is the ultimate response of our planet. Early signs are just the “tip of the iceberg”. Icebergs that will disappear completely, if global warming continues to rise.
Toward the future
We most Improve agriculture, health and biodiversity. We must get informed. Science for the sake of all, push towards a way of living where humans are not trying to dominate nature but are part of natural balances.
So, do you know how important YOU are? Your actions and every day choices have such an impact that sometimes is hard to realize. From the water you left running while brushing your teeth, to the plastic that wraps all the food you buy at the supermarket. From the new pair of shoes you just got, to the sofa you are seating on right now.
All of it comes with a trade off, and now we are starting to pay for it. The price? Our planet.
I believe in the power of one. The strength that every one of us have to change our reality. Humans are the dominant force of change in the planet.
- Statistics about food waste per year per person 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted every year worldwide (could feed 3 billion people).
- The average family can waste 180 gallons per week, or 9,400 gallons of water annually, from household leaks. That’s equivalent to the amount of water needed to wash more than 300 loads of laundry.
- By 2025 and global agriculture will 1 trillion cubic meters of water per year
- Only 2.5% of the world water is fresh, from that only 1% is accessible to us
- Cattle produces 120 kg of methane gas (greenhouse gas) per year
- 16 kg of grain can feed 20 people BUT 1 kg of beef can only feed 2.
We share the planet with another 7 billion humans. All of them, just like you, want food, shelter, security, education, entertainment, some even want and iphone and a laptop, and many more things. But, can the planet earth supply indefinitely to all of our demands? Obviously not. Globalization, expansion of economies, and the growing population more and more people are demanding more and more goods. The question then becomes: How far can we push the planetary boundaries before we end it?
At the end, its is a circle. It all comes back to you, at your home, to your every day decisions on separating the garbage, or stopping buying plastic bottles but have a reusable one, or bring your own mug to the office. Or take public transport most of the days, and even better: your bike. You are doing this for you. Because this is your planet, and your children, or the children of your friends, will inherit this amazing place. We can decide to give them the chance to see its colors, its animals, the waterfalls, the ocean, the glaciers, the clear skies, the fresh air, the forests, the beaches. That gift that was given to us. What you leave behind is what matters the most.
Be aware of how important you are.
- ASEED Website
- J. Bouwman’s (Syngenta) presentation (April 5th, 2018)
- T. Dalhuisen’s (ASEED) presentation (April 5th, 2018)
- Dr van Gestel’s (VU) (April 5th, 2018).
- IPES-food Report: From Uniformity to Diversity: A paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems
- 2017 Guardian article on UN report on pesticides
- ASEED’s reaction to 2017 study on organic agriculture: Feeding the world with organic agriculture is not easy, but it’s possible
- La Via Campesina’s (European coordination) new publication: Pesticides out!
- UN ‘myth’ pesticides are necessary to feed the world. The Guardian (Mar, 2017).
- Images: ASEED Europe