While eating caviar and sipping on fine wine, wealthy elites at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos hobnobbed with an assortment of academics, government leaders, and environmental activists to discuss their plans for a global transition in agricultural production. They all agreed that the conventional practices now feeding the world need to be scrapped and replaced by organic-style farming, which they claimed would help fight climate change and make food systems more secure.
They emphasized tying aid to the world’s 600 million smallholder farmers with efforts to “encourage” the adoption of organic methods, which they described with all the familiar buzzwords, such as “regenerative” and “sustainable. But the new fashion is “agroecology,” which not only prohibits modern pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and GMOs, but discourages mechanization as well.
One wonders if these entitled leaders took a momentary pause in their deliberations to consider the ongoing suffering and starvation in Sri Lanka, where past president Gotabhaya Rajapaksa took this kind of advice and bought into the fantasy of becoming the world’s first “fully organic and toxin free” nation.
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Amid cheers from Davos-type eco-extremists, Rajapaksa proudly announced his plans at the 2021 Glasgow Climate Summit. Almost overnight, he banned agrochemicals and forced growers to adopt organic farming and become “in sync” with nature.
Shortly after in July 2022, Rajapaksa fled for life amid mass protests and chaos as agricultural output dropped by 40%. Even today, more than 43% of children under five suffer from malnutrition there.
The Davos elites trumpet organic agriculture as the way to end food insecurity, even though it yields 35% less food per acre on average and could not possibly sustain the current population, let alone the almost 10 billion predicted by 2050. Their Swiss experts admit, and researchers confirm, that it cannot be scaled-up to feed even half the current world population.
In fact, every sustainability goal touted in Davos would be undermined by a shift to organic. Being 35% less productive means 50% more land needed to grow the same amount of food. Massively increasing farmland means cutting down forests and destroying habitat. That would devastate biodiversity and produce 50% to 70% more greenhouse gasses (GHGs).
Organic promoters should admit that organic farmers use lots of pesticides. They’re just older, less-targeted pesticides like copper sulfate, which are broadly toxic to humans and wildlife and must be used in greater amounts because they’re less effective.
Just weeks before the WEF at this year’s Conference of the Parties, a.k.a. the UN Convention on Climate Change in Egypt (COP27) and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Montreal (COP15), leaders were singing the same bad tune, calling for “regenerative agriculture,” “sustainable intensification” and the word on everyone’s lips: “agroecology.”
This cocktail of sustainability terms is just unsustainable peasant farming rebottled, and these efforts are the bastard children of policymakers infected with activist-fed misinformation.
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It’s not just that more land is needed for organic. GHG emissions are increased because farmers must till (plow) fields or flood them to control weeds, rather than use modern herbicides. Replacing 100kg of synthetic fertilizer requires 2-3 tons of organic compost, and organic manures made from farm waste contain phyto-accumulated heavy-metal toxins from soils, promoting dangerous runoff.
Yet the European Green Deal – a prime example of failing organic policies similar to those tried in Sri Lanka – was still touted at these meetings.
Conventional agriculture tripled farmland productivity between 1948 and 2019. Globally, it boosted cereal production over 300%. Though the cognoscenti pretend otherwise, conventional agriculture has adopted many truly regenerative practices. In no-till agriculture, farmers use herbicides, like atrazine and glyphosate, to control weeds instead of machine tilling.
Yes, atrazine and glyphosate reduce erosion and create higher-quality soil. They also reduce CO2 emissions by 280,000 metric tons and save 588 million gallons of diesel annually—equivalent to the emissions of 1 million cars. And, no, these herbicides are not bad for people and the environment. Atrazine does not leach into groundwater, as Health Canada showed in response to EU’s atrazine ban; and glyphosate does not cause cancer, as evidenced by the world’s largest and longest health study.
The wealthy elites steering the WEF and COP could make progress toward their laudable goals if they base their policies on such demonstrable facts, rather than fashionable organic fantasies.
Yet the pseudo-ecology haunting COP27, COP15, Davos and the EU channels the planet’s food security, biodiversity, and GHG mitigation efforts toward disaster, as Sri Lanka could attest.
So these leaders fly home on their greenhouse-gas-emitting jets, unaware or uncaring about the human and environmental damage their policies are promoting.