What do food and hunger have to do with agriculture?
That's a question I've been asked from time to time, and I can understand why. In the U.S., food doesn't come from the Earth, it comes from a supermarket. We've lost touch with our agrarian roots.
Only 3% (or less) of the population in the U.S. works directly in agriculture. Compare that to the the U.S. at the turn of last century or to the Global South of today and it's a different picture.
In Kenya, over 70% of the people work in agriculture, and of those about half are subsistence farmers.1 So for Kenyans, agriculture means even more than food; it also means jobs. Anything that negatively impacts farmers – especially small scale farmers – negatively impacts millions people, many of whom live on just a couple dollars a day.
This is where seeds come into play. In the U.S., what few farmers we have usually get their seeds from a supermarket of sorts: one of the big bioengineering companies. This is another difference between the U.S. and the Global South, where seeds are still saved in large quantities in some communities.
Seeds are food. So when the Gates Foundation and others propose to give away tons and tons of seeds in Africa, it can sound like a great idea.2 But their free seeds require chemical inputs, lack the genetic diversity of local seeds, and cannot be saved, so farmers go into debt buying inputs, and if the crop fails, they have no reserve. What those free seeds are actually doing is indebting the farmer to the seed companies – in a way, stripping them of their freedom.
Take this story from Kenya as an example:
Like most of the farmers in this area, the Tumaini women explained, they had followed the advice of outsiders (mostly large-scale foreign NGOs) who told them that yields would increase if they purchased special seeds rather than saving their own and applied chemicals to their crops. But the women soon learned the long-term consequences of these methods. When the rains stopped, crops didn't produce well and debts mounted. Stripped from years of chemical use, the soil couldn’t retain what little moisture was left, nor was there enough water to dissolve the chemicals. Yields declined and farmers could no longer afford the inputs—chemical fertilizers, genetically engineered seeds, pesticides—that they believed were necessary to cultivate their land. Farmers became poorer and hungrier. (Read the full story at www.yesmagazine.com)
Seed saving gives farmers a measure of self-sufficiency that buying genetically engineered seeds cannot. Saving seeds is the first step towards food sovereignty, and food sovereignty is what keeps people fed.
So the New Green Revolution in Africa is a threat to farmers, which is a threat to the majority of the people there. You can read the full story of the Kenyan villiage online, and read up on AGRA at AGRA watch, or straight from the horse's mouth.