Pity countries can’t choose their neighbours. Most prefer those they have something in common with to get along. But all are stuck with geography. One such unlucky nation was Mexico. First it had a major chunk of its lands stolen by the US (one-third of present US territory was annexed from Mexico). Then the Americans came and helped themselves to Mexico’s biodiversity – part of the naturally endowed, incredibly nature-rich, hot-wet lands around the planet’s waist.
The American mindset at this point was to keep Communism at bay by gaining control over an area far bigger than the former British Empire. Conscious of growing disgruntled populations that could revolt, agriculture was considered a solution.
The Rockefellers conveniently passed off rural Mexico as backward like any colonized country. (They didn’t think in terms of who was responsible, such as the colonizers). — Except that, at the time Mexico was self-sufficient and actually exported food to the US! Today it’s been reduced to 1.5 million of its rural poor working as migrant farm-labour in the US.
Nevertheless, Mexico as a living laboratory to develop high-yield crops, became the US’s first stop before South and Central Asia. Strange, because the US had already made a mess of its own agriculture. Farmers overproduced so that prices dropped rock-bottom which ruined them, while jobless consumers had no money to buy food with. Later, the US government resorted to dumping subsidized surplus on other countries, undercutting and ruining their farmers instead.
America’s real reasons lay elsewhere. For at least a century, it surreptitiously spirited away seeds from all over the world through its diplomats, navy and traders. Now they sought to develop a ‘one-type-fits-all’ agricultural procedure in Mexico – according to historian Nick Cullather who quotes Dr. Norman Borlaug on this. That would eventually con people into give up their indigenous seeds and buying only corporate seeds and chemicals.
In some ways, Mexico is much like Pakistan; sleepy-hot climate; tortillas like chapattis; and big landlords like our feudals who monopolize the best land growing export cash crops, leaving peasants to feed the local economy. It gave the Americans the opportunity to invent the same sales pitch to peddle their not-so-Green-Revolution wherever they went, including India and Pakistan – declaring that our farming methods were too outdated to feed booming populations.
The Rockefeller Foundation, always around for funding long-term investments such as food and agriculture which the US government views as a key instrument of global control, helped set up the Mexico Agricultural Programme in 1941, and Dr. Norman Borlaug with it. He was an agronomist who knew a lot of biology, but he overlooked the ecological part. He knew that every seed evolved to fit the local soil, climate, temperature, rainfall, wildlife and other environmental factors. This accounted for hundreds or thousands of varieties of the same grain, fruit or vegetable scattered all over the world. It didn’t make sense developing a few more superfluous varieties when everything possible had already evolved. So why did he do it?
Some wheat varieties fell over in the wind so that grain would be lost. So Borlaug took a variety with the most heads of grain and crossed it with a dwarf wheat with a strong, squat stalk to take the weight of larger grains. He merely sourced the best characteristics to manually cross-breed them into one super-wheatplant that would produce bigger and more.
Any farmer could have done that. It was common sense. The reason why peasants drew the line was because most foreign species, even if related, were not suitable for local conditions. Borlaug had a ‘solution’ for that too – he altered the conditions! Soil was taken out of the equation; he gave any soil all needed nutrients (or so he thought) in the form of chemical fertilizers, so that soil was nothing more than a medium to hold up the plant.
Since the hybrid needed far more water, Borlaug added more irrigation; and mechanization since it was designed for large-scale farming. That the toxic chemicals would poison all the soil microorganisms to death did not bother or stop him. He was making soil life redundant just as he tried to make natural seeds redundant – by giving nature a makeover.
The problem with hybrids however is, they don’t breed ‘true’ to be like the parent seed after the first generation. They revert to being like only one or the other of their original parent lines; not both, and definitely not super.
All the chemical fertilizers and other inputs made hybrid farming prohibitively expensive for peasants who couldn’t compete, and lost their lands to debt when they tried. But then, they weren’t the intended beneficiaries. Instead, lands they lost would augment big holdings.
The idea was to make the landlord addicted to double, treble, quadruple the yield before the hybrid fizzled out. It produced bumper crops for the first few years. By then, more and more chemicals were needed to produce the same or less, and natural seeds largely disappeared, so that farmers would be forced to return to purchase company-produced seeds.
The scheme was well-tested before they arrived in India and Pakistan at a propitiously-picked moment when rains and harvests were down. Agriculturally-clueless leaders panicked when warned about mushrooming populations and famines. A crucial fact kept suppressed was that the weather followed a pattern of periodic drought or semi-drought every 11 to 13 years, for which preparedness and grain stocks always tided people over. The myth that Borlaug’s so-called green revolution saved a billion from hunger was fabricated, constantly slipped into Hollywood movies and documentaries.
So Borlaug, the Rockefellers and the US government, succeeded in a monstrous way with the HYV or high-yield variety seed (later renamed High-Response Variety, since it depended on huge volumes of inputs). HYV monoculture was directly responsible for rapid loss of three-fourths of global biodiversity through mass poisoning of the environment, along with mass loss of rural livelihoods the world over. That was Borlaug’s legacy – a road to hell paved with good, but highly faulty intentions — which the agro-chemical multinationals pursued with other motives.
Public relations and propaganda through advertising-dependant media was always a vital part of Monsanto’s arsenal. His chemical-dependant agriculture was good reason for Monsanto to sponsor the so-called “Borlaugh Summit on Wheat for Food Security” held in Mexico last week. The delegation invited from Pakistan was led by Dr. Ifthikar Ahmad, currently Chairman, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) — the same who was forced to resign as Director General of the National Agricultural Research Council (NARC) in 2011 when he was found trying to get genetically-modified seeds approved sans field trials, based on documents prepared by Monsanto itself.
Delegates included Dr. Imtiaz Hussain (PARC); Dr. Attiq-ur-Rehman Rattu (NARC-PARC) and Dr. Makhdoom Hussain, Ayub Agricultural Institute Faisalabad — since the Borlaug Summit focus was on wheat; and surprisingly, the DGs of Agriculture Research from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Sindh.
Dr. Ifthikar was probably unaware that the Borlaug events were being live-streamed and minuted, because he stated that 90 percent of Pakistan’s cotton acreages were of Bt cotton — without revealing that most of it was not approved and spread illegally. He claimed GM corn approval was forthcoming, although trials – or debates – haven’t even begun; and invited foreign investment in Pakistan’s agriculture – without even a by-your-leave.
He then invited everyone to Pakistan late April to attend Borlaug’s 100th birthday and commemoration of “50 Years of US-Pakistan Cooperation in Agriculture” — although it’s been a very unhappy and disastrous experience for peasants and small farmers. Our agriculture is at the tipping point of takeover, this time by manufactured dependency, with our own ‘keepers’ giving it away.
The writer is a former journalist and currently director of The Green Economic Initiative at Shirkat Gah, a rights and advocacy group.