Posts tagged with: agriculture

“For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.” -Isaiah 61:11

Jean Marie owns a restaurant and farm in southern Rwanda. After his first year in business, he worked with Urwego, a local micro-finance partner with HOPE International, to secure a loan to purchase more animals and improve his land’s fertility.

Today, he employs 8 people, supports 11 orphans, and has 5 children:

His story is another great example of how something as simple as access to capital can be a key to achieving success and stability in the developing world. And yet Jean Marie’s story points to something even more crucial: a love for Jesus, faithful obedience, and the fruit of both across family, community, and enterprise. (more…)

Self-described “lunatic farmer” Joel Salatin took over the podium last night at the Thursday night plenary session of Acton University 2015 and delivered an engaging and interesting address to the gathered attendees. We’re pleased to share the video of Salatin’s presentation with you below.

Our religious shareholder activist buddies in As You Sow and the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility can welcome Neil Young in their ill-advised battle against genetically modified organisms. Seems ol’ Shakey – as Young is known to his friends, family and hardcore fans – has released a song that could’ve been written from all the GMO falsehoods and scare tactics spread by AYS and ICCR, including:

More than 60 percent of all processed foods available today contain GE ingredients such as soy, corn, or canola; and because in the U.S. there is no mandate that GE food be labeled, most consumers are most likely unknowingly consuming them. ICCR members call on food and beverage companies to apply the precautionary approach in decision making until such time as science can rule out any harmful side-effects and further advocate for the consumers’ right to know through proper labeling of GMO ingredients in all products. Moreover, seed and chemical companies are asked to monitor and disclose potential health effects, particularly unknown allergenic effects; environmental impacts of GMOs; and respect for and adherence to seed saving rights of traditional agricultural communities. – ICCR

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are plants or animals that have had their DNA modified by laboratory processes to have specific characteristics. When the first genetically modified (GM, also known as genetically engineered, GE) crops were introduced, the biotechnology industry claimed they would increase crop yields, decrease pesticide use, improve nutrition, and more. However, in the fifteen years since GMOs were first commercialized, they have delivered negligible benefits and raised significant environmental, public health, and food security concerns. (more…)

In the following clip from the PovertyCure series, Doug Seebeck explains how U.S. agricultural subsidies have significant negative consequences both at home and abroad — misaligning human action, distorting market signals, and diminishing opportunities for the least of these.

Haiti used to be self-sufficient in rice. Now they get all their rice from the U.S. This is what we do to Africa. We subsidize our agriculture. We overproduce. Then we ship it as aid with a handshake, and we put them out of business. We disempower them. But you’re also putting the U.S. small farmer out of business. And it gets bigger and bigger and you’re squeezing out free enterprise….

How do I best love my neighbor in this rapidly integrating world…so that everybody has the ability to have what I have? It doesn’t mean we give it away. It means allowing them to succeed.

(more…)

[Part 1 is here.]

Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning, details how the growth of government-corporate cronyism during the past 120 or so years has been largely a phenomenon of the socialist left. Wendell Berry misses this crucial historical insight in his running critique of capitalism, and his missing it draws him into flatly inaccurate claims, as when he asserts that “the United States government’s agricultural policy, or non-policy, since 1952 has merely consented to the farmer’s predicament of high costs and low prices; it has never envisioned or advocated in particular the prosperity of farmers or of farmland …”

This makes it sounds as if the government is largely uninvolved in agricultural markets, letting the winds of the free market blow wherever they wish. It’s true that the U.S. government has moved away from buying and destroying food as it did under FDR in the Great Depression, a statist attempt to prop up commodity prices while countless Americans went hungry. But even since 1952, and in a dizzying number of ways, the American government has been busy erecting all manner of protections for American agriculture, from fat subsidies on rice and other grains to import quotas on sugar, price supports on milk, and a long-running policy of paying farmers and ranchers to idle parts of their land. (more…)

800px-Hartmann_Maschinenhalle_1868_(01)In a marvelous speech on the origins of economic freedom (and its subsequent fruits), Deirdre McCloskey aptly crystallizes the deeper implications of her work on bourgeois virtues and bourgeois dignity.

For example, though many doubted that those in once-socialistic India would come to see markets favorably, eventually those attitudes changed, and with it came prosperity. As McCloskey explains:

The leading Bollywood films changed their heroes from the 1950s to the 1980s from bureaucrats to businesspeople, and their villains from factory owners to policemen, in parallel with a similar shift in the ratio of praise for market-tested improvement and supply in the editorial pages of The Times of India… Did the change from hatred to admiration of market-tested improvement and supply make possible the Singh Reforms after 1991? Without some change in ideology Singh would not in a democracy have been able to liberalize the Indian economy…

…After 1991 and Singh much of the culture didn’t change, and probably won’t change much in future. Economic growth does not need to make people European. Unlike the British, Indians in 2030 will probably still give offerings to Lakshmi and the  son of Gauri, as they did in 1947 and 1991. Unlike the Germans, they will still play cricket, rather well. So it’s not deep “culture.” It’s sociology, rhetoric, ethics, how people talk about each other. (more…)

apple harvestIt is time to pick the apples. Row after row of trees, marked Gala and Honeycrisp and Red Delicious: an abundance of fruit that must be harvested in a relatively short time. And there is more to it than just yanking a piece of fruit off a branch:

[T]he job is more difficult than you may think, so WZZM 13 sent reporter Stacia Kalinoski out into [orchard owner] May’s orchard to show what the work is really life…

Stacia Kalinoski did just that and found out picking apples really is, as May says, “an art form.”

The trick to picking the fruit without the stem or the spurs of the tree is to twist.

“When you yank that apple you will get finger bruises on that apple,” he said.

But the twist takes practice and is what slows new workers down. Stacia also learned you’ll also bruise the apple and others just by lightly tossing it in the bag.

“Lay that apple in that bag,” explained May. “You’re handling eggs right now.”

(more…)

Golden RiceA piece of news analysis over the weekend by Amy Harmon, a national correspondent for the New York Times, captures well the dynamics of the current debates about the merits of genetically-modified organisms (GMO’s).

Harmon writes specifically about the case of Golden Rice, which has some attributes that should inoculate it against common concerns about GMO’s. Golden Rice is not monopolized by a corporate entity, and has been developed specifically to address urgent health concerns in the developing world:

Not owned by any company, Golden Rice is being developed by a nonprofit group called the International Rice Research Institute with the aim of providing a new source of vitamin A to people both in the Philippines, where most households get most of their calories from rice, and eventually in many other places in a world where rice is eaten every day by half the population. Lack of the vital nutrient causes blindness in a quarter-million to a half-million children each year. It affects millions of people in Asia and Africa and so weakens the immune system that some two million die each year of diseases they would otherwise survive.

Harmon also observes that “beyond the fear of corporate control of agriculture, perhaps the most cited objection to G.M.O.’s is that they may hold risks that may not be understood. The decision to grow or eat them relies, like many other decisions, on a cost-benefit analysis.”

Get_Your_Hands_DirtyAs I argue in my latest book, Get Your Hands Dirty, there is a theological basis for the development of genetically-modified foods. The cost-benefit sorts of reasoning has its place, but as I argue, “The limits of all these arguments about GM food are essentially the same: they argue primarily, if not solely on the basis of pragmatic concerns. While these arguments are attractive, especially to American common sense, they are neither comprehensive nor adequate in and of themselves.”

A Christian examination of GMO’s cannot be limited simply to arguments about expediency. It is necessary to first establish that a moral basis exists for this type of human activity. As I examine the case of GM foods through the lens of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation, I conclude that such a “biblical-theological framework provides some important general affirmations of the genetic engineering movement with regard to food. This reality is in some respect directly related to the truth of human exceptionalism, the priority of human life over and against that of animals and particularly plants.”

So while expediency cannot be the sole arbiter validating GMO’s, the human cost associated with either acceptance or rejection of such foods are relevant. There are some legitimate concerns about GM foods, at both the level of principle and practice. There are no perfect solutions. But even so, as I put it, our “default position should be in favor of innovations which have a realistic possibility of substantively increasing the fruitfulness of the earth.”

Monsanto PlantWriting over at the Live58 blog, Catherine Sinclair describes her transition from uncertainty regarding GMOs (genetically-modified organisms) to outright opposition: “After doing some more research, I’ve come to the conclusion that we should avoid GMO as much as possible.” This a conclusion that we might think is counter-intuitive, to say the least, for an organization committed to ending the scourge of global hunger and poverty.

Sinclair’s main indictment of GMOs comes down to the agribusiness giant Monsanto: “Because they are companies seeking profit, seed developers like Monsanto do whatever they can to control the agricultural industry.”

It’s important to distinguish the theoretical and ethical basis for genetic modification from the actual behavior and practice of corporations like Monsanto. Too often the two are conflated. In my new book, Get Your Hands Dirty, I have an updated discussion of a theological framework for evaluating GM foods. As I caution at the conclusion of my examination of GM foods, “nothing in this framework presumes any particular policy outcome in the realm of law, and so, for instance, concerns about the use of property rights as a means to tyrannize or monopolize particular industries ought to be considered.”

Making such a distinction allows an approach that is more nuanced and responsible than simply identifying Monsanto with GMOs in general. So, for instance, a self-identified “hippie” writes in Slate:

I think Monsanto is evil, that patenting seeds and suing farmers is unethical, and that some GMO crops (like Roundup Ready Soybeans) lend themselves to irresponsible herbicide and pesticide use and cross-contamination.

But I’m also not going to let my anti-corporate sentiments get in the way of a diverse and promising field of research. (emphasis added)

Genetic modification and the cronyism that is so endemic to big agribusiness simply aren’t identical. That distinction strikes me as a helpful starting point for responsible discussion of GMOs.

For a critical but balanced examination of GMOs in theological context, check out Brad Littlejohn’s treatment of his “inner Luddite” at Mere Orthodoxy.

When we consider poverty alleviation, what areas should be focused on to yield effective and sustainable results? In the blog article, “The fruits, the roots, and the soil,” PovertyCure’s Mark Weber asserts that it is oftentimes the neglected aspects that are most necessary for long-term prosperity. We can often be lured by attractive, short-term assistance approaches, rather than recognizing and building the strong foundations that allow individuals and communities to thrive. We need to focus on the soil.

He says,

We poverty junkies spend a lot of time examining the fruits and the roots. But what of the soil? Humanitarians generally focus on the former, i.e. physical needs such as food, water, clothes, and medicine. Development types generally focus on the latter, i.e. infrastructure, agriculture, education, and various government or multilateral programs. Send out an agronomist to analyze a section of land for agricultural fertility, and his primary focus will be on the nature and fertility of the soil. We can have all the fancy technology in the world, we can genetically engineer seeds for pesticide resistance and higher yields, we can till the land with the powerful machines, but if the soil is sterile, nothing will grow.

Microfinance pioneer Muhammad Yunus touches on the soil issue in his poignant metaphor of the bonsai tree:

View the entire article on the PovertyCure Blog.