The Green Revolution–Whoops! The Women of Bangladesh Offer an Alternative

The more we try to manage a problem with a technological magic bullet, the less effective we may be in meeting our goals. Take, for instance, the case of high producing variety (HVP) rice in Southeast Asia. The HVP rice provides more calories, but its introduction several decades ago wound up amplifying both vitamin A and protein deficiencies among those who grew it. Not only were the HVP rice strains lower in protein than traditional varieties, but the mono-cropping of HVP rice did away with carotene-laden greens that formerly grew in the rice paddies, along with the fish traditionally raised there.

In a parallel fashion, genetic engineering today may look good on one level, but work against its own purported goals on another.  Take the current “roundup ready” soy sold by Monsanto.  It works in conjunction with the herbicide Round Up to prevention competition in soy fields.  But the “round up ready” gene is spliced into a low-producing variety of soy-a variety rejected some time ago in hybrid breeding programs because of its low yield.

If we want to increase yields, as the “roundup ready” seed promises, why not return to higher yield varieties along with care of the soil– as opposed to low yield varieties plus with Round Up with all its health and environmental hazards?  Of course, then there are no profits for Monsanto?

There is another serious problem with genetically engineered crops:  one that caused British farmers to burn test fields of genetically engineered soy-and the European Union to reject imports of genetically engineered grains.  Through a  mechanism we can neither understand nor control, genes migrate from one plant or field to another. That is, gene reproduction in plants is not entirely contained within single plants.  This is a serious issue with the Monsanto “terminator” genes engineered to create sterility-as a protection for the Monsanto gene patents.  But what if the terminator genes migrate to crops whose seeds we want or need to save?

To return to Southeast Asia and HVP rice, bioengineers are currently working on “golden rice” containing carotene to address the problem of vitamin A deficiency there. But as some local people understand, what they need is something entirely different from a more heavily engineered super-rice.

Thus the women of Bangladesh began the Nayakrishi Andolon, or New Agricultural Movement, practiced by 25,000 households by 1998. This movement fosters biodiversity in the context of the Hindu belief that all life is interconnected through the single spirit that animates it. This movement has come to its striking success, two of its members recently told Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen, co-author of The Subsistence Perspective with Maria Mies, by simply doing what brings them joy even as it makes their land beautiful.

These women have led a local movement to replace the beesh, or “poison” of the Green Revolution with a diverse ecosystem which uses no pesticides or chemical fertilizers (phasing these out if necessary); practices mixed cropping; multi-cropping, and agro-forestry; integrates habitat for livestock, poultry, and semi-domestic birds and animals; and practices seed saving and genetic conservation. The farmers in this movement assess the productivity of their fields not by the yield of a single super product, but by the sum of their diverse products. They have not gotten back all 12,000 varieties of rice indigenous to this area, but some individual farmers grow more than 110 varieties. And their methods have been so good for the land that some now grow rice using only surface water rather than drawing up ground water. This movement is an obvious success.

It takes a local community in partnership with nature’s diversity– rather than a single technology developed somewhere else-to reclaim a land. As in this case, global development projects which purport to bring “progress” to a third world community might well take a moment to learn something from the communities they hope to serve.  Maria Mies’ “subsistence perspective” offers some guidelines for doing this.

It is important to note that though the women farmers of Bangladesh have reclaimed their lands in these ways, areas of Bangladesh are currently hard pressed to deal with rising waters in the Bay of Bengal resulting from climate change. As the documentary, “Afloat”,  indicates, what the people of Bangladesh face will be faced by all of us if the global community does not join in ameliorating climate change.

293 Responses

  1. I was impressed with how the Bangladesh women worked from the foundation of their own cultural/spiritual beliefs despite the interference of so-called technological development from some place else. The local community in partnership with nature’s diversity yields amazing results. The concept of “we know what is best for you” is another structure of colonialism and of Patriarchal Hierarchy. The fact that the women chose to have “power with” the land instead of “power over” brought about amazing results. The fact that the women acknowledged that everything in the universe is alive and connected wo/manifested the results through the response of the land when it was honored and nurtured instead of poisoned and violated. We also see that the joy the women experienced in working with the land is an extension of the joy we all can experience when we begin to honor, nurture, love, and care for everything around us including mother earth herself. We also see the productivity of biodiversity when we dare to honor diversity of life on the smallest level it is sacred and responds in wonderful ways. I am happy for the Bangladesh women who followed their inner knowing and worked with the land instead of against it such as in the example of those from the outside who think “we know best.”

  2. A wonderful comment, Frances. Thank you for your eloquence and insight. Truly, such success deserves to be celebrated– as well as modeled. As they and you both testify, hierarchy and mono-culture are unproductive in more ways than one!

  3. Sometimes what is best for one area isn’t always for another area. People that know their local areas are better equipped and have the knowledge of what works best to grow their crops appose to all the scientists from universities in the world. It seems like when we try to manage things instead of letting nature take it’s course, we may be able to produce more but the quality is not as good. Our bodies need nutrients over calories. I believe in quality over quantity. This green revolution used chemicals and pesticides to produce massive crops, which in turn has caused problems with the rice such as wiping out thousands of varieties and making them vitamin deficient. I was amazed the women of Bangladesh were able to grow crops with no poisons and get some of the varieties back while letting nature’s ecosystem take over.

    • Hi Laura, thanks for your comment. These women were amazing– they persisted and combined diverse crops with the knowledge of their lands–and they actually got a greater yield if you count the total of ALL crops instead of one “super-crop”.

  4. We often think that if something has been genetically engineered then it must be better for us. As seen in this article, this is not necessarily the case. We must be responsible for our actions and in order to do this we need to adhere to such principles as the precautionary principle. If we are not 100% sure it is safe to use in our environment or on ourselves then it should not be released for use. We need to be responsible for our actions, we need to get our consciousness back and not be so fiscally driven.
    It is wonderful that the Bangladesh women were able to bring their land back to the beauty it once had, ridding it of the poisons that were being introduced to it and replacing it with a form of permaculture, providing a mixed crop of diverse products, as well as a habitat for a variety of animals. This knowledge of how to grow rice was no doubt a knowledge that had been passed down for generations. However, we are often led to believe that the old ways are old fashion and need to be replaced by the new modern ways. As we can see by this example, the old ways are often the better way.

  5. I have the pleasure of role-playing as a feminist theorist in my Theories of Feminism Class at OSU, and I am honored to play the character of Vandana Shiva. I have been learning about her and reading her work in several of my classes this term, which has given me an opportunity to do some in-depth research of the issues surrounding the globalization of agriculture. Because Monsanto et al. hold all the money and lobbying power and have the full force of world government and trade, not to mention military force, behind them, they can market all the falsehoods they want to about their products (the GMO seeds AND the pesticides ad fertilizers needed to support them). But as this article illustrates, their products do not hold up to their promises, and despite the millions of dollars spent on their development, their crops are STILL not superior to what nature can produce through traditional farming and breeding techniques that respect and celebrate life rather than try to own, control, and turn a profit from it.

    It infuriates me that so many people wax poetic about helping people in “undeveloped” countries create sustainable livelihoods for themselves, yet many of the people who have concern for this don’t even know what Monsanto is, much less how enormous its role in the global food system is. If people in the U.S. really want to help people to have a high quality of life in “developing” countries, there needs to be a mass push for 1.) required GMO labeling on food, and 2.) education about biotech corporations and pressure to end practices such as terminator technology, the patenting of ANY lifeforms, and an end to corporate appropriation and legal ownership of indigenous knowledge/heritage (i.e., a texas-based corporation owning the genetic information of basmati rice which was developed by the people of India over thousands of years).

    • Hi Rachel, the ignorance coupled with the potential for corporate abuse you point out is hardly a recipe for a good outcome. Shiva is one who has worked tirelessly to right both of these potentials for disaster in her “no patents on life” campaign. A great role to enact, I think!
      Also check out the page here on “Indigenous Peoples”: it has an overview of the status of these peoples with respect to the environment–following the recent UN guidelines on the rights of indigenous peoples and a UNESCO website emphasizing the importance of indigenous environmental knowledge.

  6. As with any fairly new technology, there are bound to be some hits and misses. I was interested to learn that the “roundup ready” soy was a low yield variety since that is something that didn’t come up in my crops class. When it comes to terminator crops some people are afraid that they can cross contaminate other plants but the farmers get upset because the seeds are sterile and governments are concerned that the genes could cause other crops to become sterile and that then there would be a famine. All and all it is probably good that there is a moratorium on using that technology. It is also interesting to note that for Golden Rice to be really effective the consumers need to be healthy so that their bodies can absorb the nutrients and a lot of the places people want to grow it have populations that aren’t very healthy. The story of the variety of plant life (biodiversity) reminds me of Gaviotas and how they discovered that letting other plants grow around their pines actually benefits the trees too (Weisman, p. 175).

    http://csip.cornell.edu/curriculum_resources/CSIP/Dudley&Schneider/What_is_Crop_Genetic_Engineering-Student_Version.doc
    http://www.parl.gc.ca/information/library/PRBpubs/prb0588-e.htm
    Weisman, Alan (1998). Gaviotas: A village to reinvent the world. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company.

    • Hi Teresa, thank you for your thoughtful comments.
      Note that there are differing versions of genetic engineering based on who finances the support for its development (sad but true): note the list on the website of the Union of Concerned Scientists of EPA scientists and regulators comprised by corporate and political pressure. So I would suggest folks also visit a site like this which has no sure pressure attached to get a balanced view of things. Also “Rachel’s precaution reporter” at rachel. org with respect to genetic engineering.
      I think the central issue is not necessarily that this is a new (and therefore untried) technology– though that is a point, but in this case, that it is based on a monocrop (rice) that replaces a natural diversity that once provided amply for nutritional needs of both people and the land– in this instance, why engineer such a crop in the first place?
      I had not heard the point that people must be healthy enough to digest the nutrients in this rice– but it seems a bit of a strained point, since how then will they get nutrients from the engineered crop if they can’t assimilate it? By contrast, greens, as well as providing vitamin A, are a natural digestive aid (especially bitter greens). There is some data that indicates certain genetically engineered crops are not digested well and may lead to allergic responses in some people, but I wouldn’t pin this on the health of those involved as opposed to the unsuitability of the crop for the human body.

  7. It is amazing that grassroots efforts often bring the best results to the environment. Truely it has roots in the “local community in partnership with nature’s diversity”. We have seen many examples of this concept in this course from indigenous knowledge like the Kayapo to contemporary citizens wishing for a more enriched lifestyle such as Wangari Maathai and the women of Bangladesh. It would be interseting to know if the majority of thses reform methods and techniques are spearheaded by women. It seem much of the literature I have read implies this connection. Could it be the nurturing nature of the female to find an acceptabe means of taking care of lher family and the environment in combination?

    I do not know much about genetically modified crops but it seems to be chemical wasteland full of a nonrenewable source. I f the target populations are primarily third world countries why would they need a crop that must be purchased each year in order to yield a product. That does not seem to be a definition of sustainability. As we are also learning that each species holds a specific and distinct identity within the ecologcal system why is it necessary to erradicate multiple variations of a species, such as rice, in order to produce one “super” species. If a pesticide or natural phenomena struck that super species then the potential for the extinction of that crop escalates. Biology tells us that we need a variety of nutrients to effectively sustain life and all those nutrients are found naturally in the environment. It seems that we need to heed the wisdom of the past and cultivate crops that do not have the capability of genetically changing the consumer.

    • There are many well taken points here, Colleen. Biodiversity and nature’s resilience (the resilience we depend upon for survival) are intricately interwoven, as you point out. You might be interested to know that the UN has recognized the fact that the lands which are currently the most biotically diverse are under the care of indigenous peoples: they thus propose that we emphasize biocultural diversity in honoring natural resilience in the face of climate change. There is a note concerning of where modern indigenous peoples stand with respect to this issue with resource links here:http://holdenma.wordpress.com/culture-and-environment/indigenous-peoples/.
      Your last point about genetically changing the consumer is interesting: it is certainly true that our technology always changing us. Best to keep this a conscious process, rather than an inadvertent one.

  8. It amazes me to think about all the problems that all creatures–human and non-human alike–are facing right now, and how many of the problems were a result of human interference and/or manipulation of our environment (whether it be genetic or environmental or geo-political). As is the case here, removal of genetically-manipulated material and a return to simple farming practices are better for the earth and the people tending it.

    Yet once again I can’t help but think that, even though we can do these things, does not mean that we should.

    Once again, thank you for sharing.

    • Hi Stasey, thanks for your comment. Good perspective, but I have a caveat to add: I think we can combine methods in order to make them complementary (I would not wish to label all modern technology or science bad). And I wouldn’t call the methods involved in Bangladesh aren’t in some ways as simple as planting a single supposedly all purpose rice. The restorative methods take patience, listening to and working with particular landscapes, and fostering biodiversity, all in the context of dynamic cultural knowledge.

  9. I couldn’t help see the movement of the Bangladesh women and compare it to the regrowth of the savanna that took part in Gaviotas. It seemed to me that the standard between the two movements was community involvement and an interest in keeping the environment local and learning from it. In Gaviotas, the Gaviotans learned more about their own nature through transporting transplanted pine trees in clay rather than black plastic bags. Also, they would trim the roots prior to transplantation, and while this may not have done anything, no one disputes that eight years later these trees were 50 feet in height. It just goes to show that if people learn from their environment and take care of it, they will not need to throw in mass amounts of pesticides or minerals to get things to grow out of it.

    • A very hopeful response with respect to both Gaviotas and the New Agricultural Movement in Bangladesh, Tony. Let’s hope we can wean ourselves from oil-pesticides and limited mineral resources in order to take care of basic needs such as food.

  10. When humans start to disturber mother nature we never know what’s going to happen. Sometimes we can find life saving drugs but most of the time we can end up hurting the only world we have. The fact that the women of Bangladesh started to plant a rice crop without using modern day pesticides and a healthy crop is still being produced, just goes to show us that we don’t always need to interfere with mother nature.

  11. You know what they say, “natural is always better”. The New Agricultural Movement is just one example of how this statement is true. I’m sure everyone agrees that science and technology can help in many positive ways in all fields of life. However, when people’s interests become financial (for example, spraying plants with chemicals to produce larger fruits, and in turn make more money), then that system will eventually fail.

    • Thanks for your comment, Yousef. A focus on monetary gain alone surely hampers science, as indicated by the many examples here: http://www.ucsusa.org/. Can you also sense that there may be some worldview issues at play here, as well, in the attempt to use a “one size fits all” new technology for all environments that is a monocrop (that is, gives no consideration to the interactive importance of other life in an ecological system?

  12. What good news you bring in this essay! It’s so good to hear of movements such as the Nayakrishi Andolon that are rejecting GM (the wonder crops) ploys. I was recently reading about this “golden rice” that is labeled as the “grain of hope.” Turns out that the rice may be too expensive for the poor of the countries that it is intended to benefit to even purchase after harvest. Also, there is a push for golden rice to replace other rice varieties, which would further limit the biodiversity of the crops grown in these countries. For example, 75% of India’s rice production comes from only 10 varieties of rice and soon almost all of its production may come from just the golden rice.

    It seems like we don’t learn from history. You’d think we would look back on some other times that countries put too much faith in mono-crops and the disastrous results (i.e. Ireland’s potato famine).

    • Hello Dazzia, thanks once again for another thoughtful comment. This is important additional information on “golden rice”. As we fail to learn from history, we reap the consequences. Cleverness and arrogance is a very bad combination: we can engineer the genes in such products, but we need to ask if we really need them, or , in precautionary principle terms, if there isn’t another safer (and often cheaper) alternative, as in the case in this essay.

  13. What a cool article and story surrounding these Bangladesh women! “These women have led a local movement……” (The Green Revolution–Whoops! The Women of Bangladesh Offer an Alternative/Holden).
    It is such a joy to hear of people who are willing to “take action” even when others refuse to hear or take heed of a problem. These women are to be commended for taking the lead when others would not listen to their concerns. They are an example to all of us and in what we should also be doing.

    It reminds me of some people’s view surrounding political elections. Many people do not vote because they do not think their vote really matters. From an environmental perspective, if we all take that approach, then no or little change will occur. These women are taking the “Gaviota steps forward” in their own part of the world!

    Good for them,

    Paul

  14. We have to be very careful when changing what nature has already provided us with. There is a reason certain things are the way they are, and often, this natural existence yields the best benefits for the most organisms. It is wonderful that such a small group of people could encourage great change and actually discover a link back to the healthy world we had before genetic engineering and nasty pesticides. The return to nature, organic processed and materials, and caring more about the earth will surely allow us to live longer, healthier lives while preserving our precious resources.

    • Thanks for your comment, Allie. Good point about there being a reason why things are the way they are–based on a history of those things’ developing together in natural systems. When we change one thing, we should realize just how extensive the effects will be. And though this seems like a small group of people given the largeness of our planet, note that this movement has effected over 25,000 households. I think this is hopeful model indeed.

  15. Dr. Holden,

    Thanks for sharing your followup response. Yes, the story of the Nazi prisoners planting their own gardens fully well knowing that they would not reap the harvest……that is simply powerful! What we CHOOSE to do today affects tomorrow for everyone!

    Paul

    • Yes, Paul, “On the last day of the world I should want to plant a tree” is not just a statement of a powerful poet (W. S. Merwin), but of Martin Luther King, who said, “If I knew the world were ending tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree”>

  16. The idea that these women are fostering biodiversity of plants certainly is fitting. I think many times women believe they’re uncapable of fostering such great feats when actually the opposite is true. It is so encouraging, also, that this happened in the realm of food since it gives life. Also, whenever we can help and encourage farmers it is giving back and showing reciprocity for all the hard work farmers do.

    I’ve read a bit about Monsanto in Michael Pollan’s “The Botany of Desire.” It addresses a few items, including the apple, marijuana and the potato. I also read about a newly engineered plant (BOT322) that they’re wanting to or already have put into the market which resists fungi (or mold?). And, entertaining the idea that these bacteria, fungi and mold can take many lives, I suppose that is somewhat good. Our food must be safe. But, at what cost? I would not want to eat Round Up. And as you say, genetically engineered food oftentimes does not offer the same nutrition.

    The biodiversity that these women are seeing is a great example for us. I’m glad to have read this. I had read in one of my texts that rice farming is a large contributor to CO2 emissions…way more so than cattle. I wonder how these ladies are addressing this issue.

    • Thank you for your response, Tina. This IS a heartening example: it is time for us to learn from such “subsistence” farmers instead of pushing on with often inappropriate global development plans.
      As for rice and CO2 — carbon emissions are related not just to the product per se, but the WAY it is produced. Rice that is mono-cropped takes clearing land, many pesticides and fertilizers, machine input etc. and thus is high carbon–as is cotton, by the way, which is outrageous in both carbon emissions and water usage. This rice is differently raised, as it is raised in part of an ecosystem that includes nurturing forests and replanting them rather than cutting them to create and maintain paddy land. It is grown largely without irrigation and no pesticides and fertilizers: and thus is a model of how to grow an otherwise polluting crop in a sustainable way. I don’t know of any who have tested the carbon emissions of growing rice in a way that not only uses no petrochemicals, but is putting back trees and raising the water table.
      The way it is grown causing carbon emissions is true for many an agricultural product: we used to think that transportation to distant places was the worst contributor to carbon emissions in food. A recent study indicates that it is the WAY the food is grown instead: another reason to buy sustainably grown organic food.

      • Thank you for clarifying about the rice and CO2. I’ve heard that petrochemicals affect estrogen, and testosterone levels while decreasing progesterone.

        • These refer especially to chlorinated hydrocarbons, Tina, which have a “pseudo-estrogen” effect. That is, they actually replace estrogen in the body. Also implicated in things like breast cancer for this reason. Chlorine in swimming pools has the same effect– this is why some EU countries have a long time ban on bleaching paper with chlorine (there are better alternatives and some recycled papers we can buy in the US is bleached with non-chlorine bleach– a better alternative).

  17. Hearing about Monsanto and it’s Round-Up-Ready soy takes me back to 2002. The environmental group I was involved in at school was protesting against GMO’s and Monsanto in particular. I heard a story about an organic soy farmer with fields next to Monsanto. The GMO soy migrated into the organic farmer’s fields. He was sued by Monsanto for “stealing” the patented soy genes, AND he could not sell his crop because it was no longer organic. I think the worst aspect of Round-Up Ready crops is that they are intended to be sprayed with Round-Up. Seems counterintuitive. On the lighter side, it’s always great to hear stories of people moving toward biodiversity and away from monoculture. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Christine, I think the farmer you are referring to is a Canadian farmer named Schmeiser, who fought this suit for years and finally has won a decision that requires Monsanto to pay for cleaning his field of the gmo crops he neither asked for nor wanted. Quite a famous and precedent-setting case.

      • Wow– I just looked the case up. I didn’t realize it was “pending” for so long. It took ten years to set it right, but congrats to Schmeiser! Thanks for passing the info along!

  18. When studying discussions on this topic, I am especially concerned with the negative effects these genetically modified agricultural products can have on our organism and this is something which needs to be examined much more closely. Do we really know what dangerous types of goods are exhibited visibly and sold in the supermarkets? Unfortunately, most of the time we do not know, but in some instances where we know it, we such products are still sold? Just to insure the survival of a certain company and a whole industry? The example of the New Agricultural Movement in Bangladesh is a very good one, because it indicates how western countries can still learn things from underdeveloped countries. Although for milleniums human beings have not used chemical fertilizers and pesticides, humanity still continued to survive. So why should our species should be critically endangered now without the use such unnatural methods?

    • I’m with you on this one, Nick. Seems that we need to be careful that we aren’t too clever for our own survival: we are smart enough to genetically engineer these things. Now we have to be careful not to be so seduced by our own cleverness that we don’t look at the ethics and the entire environmental context involved. Just because we can invent such things does not mean we should–or that they are the best alternative for meeting our current food production needs. I think we also need to be careful that the science in this regard is not compromised or undercut by corporate funding, as we see in the very important lists of researcher funding on Integrity in Science and Union of Concerned Science websites linked here.
      Thanks for your comment.

  19. The first sentence of this essay couldn’t be more true. We are control freaks. We tried to control mosquitos around Klamath Lake in Oregon, so we brought in midges to eradicate them which in turn has caused a serious midge problem as they breed faster. We plant one thing to wipe out a problem and it then becomes a bigger problem.

    • Thoughtful example of the negative effects of trying for a single fix in a complex environment, Pam. In fact, this is the “control” that isn’t and our very survival demands that we smarten up as we make current decisions that effect the earth we share.

  20. The power of creativity and freedom may be our only hope. Freedom of thought, not from outward facist regimes, but from the brainwashing “normalcy” perpetuated in society. Question everything – a wise quote from my history professor when talking about the establishment and success of the Nazi regime.

    The Gaviotans are free and creative. Refusing the naysayers and conformist attitudes which insist upon retrofitting or mimicing our current status. Why not start over? Why not just try? The barriers to inception are in our mind’s eye; perception is unique to every individual – human or otherwise.

    The women in Bangladesh said they had a better idea, and they acted on it. Ideas without actions are just ideas; actions don’t always work out, but the attempt is essential. However, the attempt should not be to shirk or manipulate nature – we know that now. Making fundamental alterations in our biology is dangerous and we are part of the Earth and the Earth is part of us.

    • Great points, Jenna. We do need all the creativity we can get–and the freedom to use it, to use it, I might add, wisely– as your last line indicates.
      I like your point about ideas and actions.

  21. This article does a good job of pointing out the tradeoffs experienced with genetically modifying foods. We need to fully examine all impacts before we bring these products to market. How will these changes impact our nutritional balance and what long term affects will these modifications have on our bodie? Do we know enough about the chemicals and pesticides we are using, or do we run the risk of discovering long term cancer causing agents in these widespread farming products? We also need to fully examine the impact it will have on the environment around us because after all, every square mile on earth is technically our backyard. If we abuse our earth, we will not be able to enjoy its wonderful resources years down the road.

    • You raise some important questions of concern with respect to genetically engineered foods, Jason. My sense is that until we have some solid answers to these, we shouldn’t be using humans (or other lives) as an experimental population to find our the effects of consuming these foods. I very much agree that all life being part of our “backyard” and we should have an attitude of gratefulness and wonder toward the resources that sustain us– for wonderful they are indeed.

  22. It is always amazing how people usually come back full circle to find out that nature truely has perfected the best products. It seems whenever man gets involved, there are worst results. Nature already has everything in place for us, we just need to learn how to work with it. The round up ready soybean is another scarey deal.

    Thanks,

    Troy

    • Thanks for the comment, Troy. I agree about the round-up ready soybean. Learning to work with nature gives us a large enough standard by which to measure our progress, I think. Good point!

  23. I remember reading about the golden rice before. It’s quite an interesting topic. GMO’s have been and always will be a heated topic of debate in my opinion. Just the other day I was in a pet store and they had these zebra danios that have been altered to glow! I was intrigued, so I investigated a little. http://www.glofish.com states that these little critters have had a phosphorescent gene spliced into their DNA many generations ago. The glowing trait is even passed down through breeding, the fish aren’t injected with dyes. To me, this is interesting because these fish were created for the initial purpose of testing water quality. Now they have been marketed to the public. I am going to say that there is a real fine line (that is rather out of focus at times) as to what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to GMO’s. I am guessing that if there were a major breakthrough that was for the betterment of human kind as a result of GMOs, people might look the other way for a few exceptions. But, my opinion lies with those that are for finding a natural way to improve our situation. The Gavoitas book is a great read and has so many cool ideals.

    • Thanks for your comment, Chris. As we are navigating this “fine line” with gmos, I think we need the precautionary principle and full information. We might not look the other way concerning a breakthrough product that we thought benefited us if we knew all of the downsides involved in doing that. On the other hand, if we only hear the glowing (no pun intended on your example here!) reports of those who create a product and are poised to make money from its sale, we haven’t enough information to judge whether we really want to cross that “fine line”.

  24. I think many farmers could learn from these practices, which parallel the success stories of Gaviotas. Neither Bangladesh’s new agricultural movement nor the new rainforests growing in Columbia were the result of “high yielding” monocrop practices. Instead, their embrace of diversity adds untold strength to each of the various plants in their poly-crop environments.

    And for those of us that aren’t farmers, we could learn from the proliferation that occurs in an environment of diversity.

    • Nice points on diversity, David. The links between biodiversity and cultural diversity are precisely what has motivated the UN to work on supporting what they call bio-cultural diversity on a global scale. I think this point also goes to honoring the knowledge of those who truly understand the particularity of place– and how to respond to it.

  25. Ok..I’m sure all of us have heard the statement…”You get what you paid for.” Well, we (U.S.) as one the richest nations are getting exactly what we paid for…our own bad advice. Why is it that the poorest (money wise)countries have this working with nature thing figured out? Because they actually care about nature and have given the respect to listen and watch what nature needs…they are not sitting in some board room trying to figure out how to fix the economy and divise quick forceable methods on how to grow more and bigger potatoes for larger profits. As far as logic, paying attention, respect, caring, holistic management, and many other worldview issues that an educated and rich (money wise) country preaches about, we sure haven’t applied any of it to nature…or our economy for that matter.

    Local communities managing their local land and nature…wow, what a concept! It doesn’t amaze me that the Bangladesh women have figured this out. Actually, I don’t think it so much “figuring it out” as much as it is: Common sense…Respect, that is actually practiced with nature. What amazes me is that we can’t figure out biodiversity…we continually try and manage each ecosystem (e.g., farms, rangelands, forests, and national parks) for quick profits.

    • Great comment, Patrick. We are sure enough saddled with our own views: bigger and better is one of them. And then there is the assembly line attitude: figure we can assimilate all nature to industrial farming the same way we (I’m speaking all colonial nations here) tried to assimilate all indigenous cultures to the conquering one. And then there is the idea of magic bullets (more like smoke and mirrors)– linked to the idea of striking it rich for the poor man.
      The particularity of place means that what may seem to work in the lab where we get to control the environment is not going to behave the same way in the real world.
      The thing that these traditional farmers have over the technological input from without is that they actually LIVE on the land– humans all over the globe are in trouble when we lose this type of land-based knowledge in remaking the land and dislocating its populations– directly or indirectly, as in the case of the migration of desperately poor into cities. We should we immensely grateful to those like the Bangladeshi women here–for they are our only hope in addressing this otherwise devastating dynamic for both people and the earth we share.

  26. This essay certainly speaks to the knowledge the women of Bangladesh have over their land. I wish more funds could be directed towards research that could find natural alternatives to pesticides rather than funding research to make super foods that produce their own chemicals. We certainly have a lot to learn from those who listen to and respect the earth.

    • The problem (from the current profit point of view) is that such natural methods cannot be patented and sold– time to change our system such that we reward those who do work to sustain life. I would like to see, for instance, a shift to organic produce and research into natural systems…
      Good point, Anedra!

  27. What an inspiration! It is truly beautiful that these women took in upon themselves to create a better place that wasn’t supporting the green revolution. I often wonder when a potato at a restaurant arrives on my plate that is about three pounds. First I think, no wonder Americans are likely to be overweight. Then, I stop and think what has went into this potato to make it so obscene and huge, I am sure nothing that my body needs. Another topic this reminded me of was how young women are developing so much faster now, scientists believe it is because of some of the growth hormones cows get and they are being transferred via milk. Making something more efficient does not always produce a great response. I believe these ladies knew the importance of lovingkindness and applied it to their own community and personal lives. Great work!

    • I think these women are inspiring too, Lorena. And I don’t know about your three pound potato. I do know that the “delicious” apple was grown because it was so readily transported… but consumers have pretty much rejected it lately because of its relative lack of taste and I have barely seen it anywhere in the last few years. Maybe we also ought to rejects any potatoes we can’t lift with two hands!

  28. It’s interesting to think about how everything is connected. When the Southeast Asians started to produce the HVP rice, they couldn’t have known how it would affect the carotene-greens, fish, and each other. Obviously, technology and nature don’t tend to mix well. It’s not surprising that it takes everyone working together to fix a problem that is hard to overcome. Problems that affect whole nations can’t be fixed by only one person or just a small group of people. This is why it’s so important for people worldwide to react to our mistreatment of nature and work together to fix our problems.

    • Thanks for your comment, Sarah. I certainly concur about people working together–though I think we can begin as individuals–and model the changes we want to see for others. And I think it isn’t technology itself that doesn’t mix with the natural world– technology simply means “tool”– and many more than human species have these as well as us. The issue is what kind of technology. What was wrong with the HPV rice approach that someone MIGHT have seen at the beginning?

  29. This article interested me because it shows the strength of the women in Bangladesh. It’s not easy to say no to a super-crop like genetically modified rice and promises that this super-crop will solve all their problems. However, through the wise insight of their religion they pursued creating a diverse biotic community. Through diversifying their crops they improved not only their diet but also the land quality and local economy. This story is a great example that technology isn’t always the solution, that biodiversity is always a plus, and that individuals do have the power to make a change for the best. I also found it very interesting that the women came to these conclusions through the focus of their religion. It made me realize how much environmental views are determined by one’s ethics (which most often are related to one’s religion)

    • Very nice points about the interdependent ideas in this example, Karen! I would say yes to all these lessons learned– with the modification that technology is not the problem–but a particular type of technology is– I think that we could say that these successful women used a very sophisticated form of technology to heal their land.

  30. I loved that this article showed how modern farming techniques are not always the most ideal. While there are many positive advances that have been made, many are simply for profit. The Bangladesh women’s resourcefulness was refreshing, their using older techniques to grow better rice was great. I liked that instead of showing their power over the land by manipulating it, they worked with the land and were able to be more successful.

    • You have a key point about working with the land rather than manipulating it (or attempting to do so from a lab that is not even physically connected), Rebecca. I’m not sure that modern farming as much as modern industrialized farming is the problem. Thanks for your comment.

  31. The women of Bangladesh serve to remind us that small movements can have enormous success. Through following their Hindu tradition they were able to improve the health of their community, the quality of the land they grow their food upon and the local economy. This must not have been an easy feat as Science is most often seen as the best way to solve issues. These women prove to us that is not always the case and provide an example of how landscapes can be restored without the aide of scientific engineering and chemicals.

    This is a prime example of how the precautionary principle should be put into practice to prevent future harm. As we do not know what the consequences are of using these genetically modified seeds, we should not use them.

    However, I am heartened by the fact that these women sucessfully overcame the patriarchal nature of dominator science and provided an alternative that partners with the environment. This grass roots movement provided proof that through partnering with nature, not only do we win, but so does the environment.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kathleen. Perhaps we should better say movements that are largely unremarked in the modern industrial world, given the number of farms involved in this movement (25,000). Your point still holds, as does your point on the precautionary principle.
      Cheers to such grassroots movements: there are more of them on this website. Paul Hawkens estimates there may be 100,000 grassroots movements for social and environmental justice scattered throughout the globe that fall under the raider of mainstream news–and often, so it seems, mainstream science.

  32. This reminds me of the ongoing disaster in Lake Victoria where the invasive Nile perch was introduced to control the native fish population. Now the perch has almost eliminated all the native species of fish in the lake. We are constantly trying to control nature when it is nature that is more powerful than we will ever be. All the genetic engineering of plants and animals is going to erase all the variety that is needed in case of disease. If we reduce all our crops to only the most productive varieties and then we become dependent on the unnaturally large yields of that crop. Then if for some reason that crop fails we are not going to be able to feed our selves. The women of Bangladesh have the right idea. In the short term farming a variety of crops might seem to be inefficient however if we look at the much longer span of time we will learn that it is more beneficial. I just hope that it doesn’t take another wide spread famine to figure it out.

    • It is a scary proposition that genetically engineered seeds are poised to intentionally eliminate biological diversity with their “terminator” seeds and inadvertently with uncontrolled gene spread. It is hard for me to think how much denial (or greed?) the folks engineering such things have to use in order to keep fighting (and it is a fight, there is much public resistance to these globally) to invent and distribute them. Certainly, we could use our human ingenuity for a better cause, like healing the planet and protecting the diversity that took millions of years to emerge!
      Barbara Kingsolver pointed out that we grow very close to such a famine when we rely on a single seed variety–we have seen this in the past. The good news is that there are those saving seeds and working to protect genetic diversity.
      Thanks for your comment, Zane.

  33. I have just been working on the lesson about technology and domestication and this article is very applicable to that discussion. I love the fact that this group of women has done what technology couldn’t do by creating a productive, sustainable, and natural area that is not harmful to the earth or to humanity. And they did it by “domesticating” their land in cooperation with the natural environment rather than through domination. From the lecture notes, these women have developed “technological practices in dialogue with a natural world.” I respect their work very much, and I hope that other people can learn from their example that when we see the natural world as our partner, one that needs to give and receive just as we do, we will be so much more successful!

    • Thanks for your comment, Jennifer. I would say that these women did indeed use technology, but as you point out, a technology “in dialogue with the natural world”. Partnership with the natural world in the context of traditional knowledge can yield some wondrous results–results of the kind we certainly need in our world today!

  34. It is wonderful to hear about women/people empowering themselves and taking back their food. I have read about the mistake of the Green Revolution in Africa as well. Now people eat only corn and no longer grow a variety of traditional foods. How could have Westerners ever thought this was a good idea? I can’t understand how teaching people to grow one crop and expecting them to get all the nutrients they need from it is a good idea or even vaguely “Green.”

    I don’t understand why people in the US are not rejecting genetically modified food. It is such a huge unknown and doesn’t look good for our future. It also made me think about the “Doomsday Seed Vault” that is being built in Norway and Monsanto is an investor. I tried to find information about it on the internet, but I didn’t find any information from a trusted site. From what I read it sounds as though the vault is another way to keep a diversity of seeds that are not GM away from people and under the control of those who are invested in the project.

    • Seed saving is a very important issue, Christina. Gmo crops are bought in the US, it is my opinion, because they are not labeled as such–Monsanto has fought a trenched battled to prevent this, since their market research tells them an overwhelming majority of US consumers would NOT buy gmo crops labeled as such.
      I don’t know about the Norway site, but I know there are many seed saving groups throughout the US–many of them based on local seed exchanges from personal gardens. I think this is especially important with Monsanto’s “terminator” seeds out there to prevent their seed from reproducing– which unfortunately has genes that migrate into other crops.
      Especially check out Vandana Shiva’s work with seed saving.
      Thanks for your comment on this important issue.

  35. This article was fantastic! I personally, love it when the ‘brightest minds” get together and make something “wonderful”, but it turns out not-so-wonderful AND the common person, indigenous or not takes the problem and fixes it. I”ve never understood why the people working with the “problem” isn’t asked for more input. This is in any field. If more input from the people in the trenches (or directly working with the item) had more say, the end result would be more profitable for the companies, better product for consumers and better all around for the environment. Unfortunately, status is given to the “learned” and not so much the common people. This is similar to ignoring the wisdom of our elders. And Western world thinks they know everything… what a laugh- we don’t know anything. Hopefully we’ll have time to learn.

    • Hi Christy, I’m glad you liked this… I think a major problem here is the notion that there is a “one size fits all” technology when technology needs to be carefully suited to place– and thus it is important, as you note, to gain the advice of the peoples involved. These women created a wonderful model for healing both the arrogance and the mistakes of our attempts to “fix” the third world according to our standards.

  36. Oh, how I wish Monsanto could be eradicated! They are EVIL. Everything I hear about the company involves something horrible for the environment, whether it be their pesticide use that is disorienting honeybees, or their recent attempt to pass a bill through Congress that would’ve made organic farming illegal due to ‘health concerns’ about ‘unsanitary conditions.’ How ridiculous! The human race has survived and thrived with natural agriculture for thousands of years. I know our grandparents ate much better quality, natural food than the general population does now. How did Monsanto manage to have such a tight grip on the world food supply? Through dishonesty and secrecy. We need to demand proper labeling so that we can be informed about our purchases.

    The story of the women of Bangladesh is very powerful, and demonstrates what is possible when we work with the land and listen to our hearts and bodies rather than accepting what an outside corporation or culture tells us what to do that doesn’t jive with our instincts. Good for them! If we design our gardens in a way that mimics nature (which is diversified) then all the plants complement each other in a natural symbiosis. I think it is an important point, that we too should demand of the farms we support with our money, to “assess the productivity of their fields not by the yield of a single super product, but by the sum of their diverse products.” The food is more nourishing, and we feel aligned with nature and experience the joy of stewardship, instead of complicating and endangering matters by bringing genetically engineered crops and chemical fertilizers and pesticides into the picture.

    • I absolutely agree with you on the point of labeling, Natalie. There is no ethical reason why consumers should not know what they are buying. Following nature’s model–and the diversity naturally created in ecosystems is an important point, as you indicate here.

  37. Genetically altered foods are quite scary! We have survived centuries with the natural food provided to us. We learned which foods we could or could not eat through those before us. Are we now going to have to relearn what foods we can or cannot eat? Which ones will provide us the proper balanced nutrition?
    How do we know certain components of these “new” plants will not cause toxicity or intolerance down the road?
    I applaud the women of bangledesh! I find it encouraging that they took a stand and found a system that works amazingly well without all the gene splicing!

    • Thanks for your comment, Danielle. I agree that gmo foods are “scary” for a number of reasons, such as gene migration, allergic responses– and the fact that our bodies have learned to digest particular foods over thousands of years.
      The women of Bangladesh are indeed amazing.

  38. Nice article. In my opinion, anything out of nature or human made can have side effects either on human or nature. Modifying the nature means playing with the whole nature system. I know those genetic engineers want to help poor people to get their essential food from genetically modified food but that could harm the nature or the human because the engineers still not sure about the side effects of GMF.

    • Thanks for the comment, Duaa. One of the worst case scenarios with the dangers of GMO foods is the fact that genes migrate between crops in ways that we cannot totally understand, much less control. Thus Monsanto’s “terminator” gene (placed in crops to protect its patent, so that farmers cannot save seed but have to buy it every year) has the dangerous potential to migrate into other crops and devastate the world’s seed supply. This is one of the reasons that British farmers burned GMO test fields growing near their lands.

  39. This is a prime example of western technology swooping in and trying to help the locals because “they know what’s best.” They come in with the idea that they needn’t know anything about the local landscape, history, and culture of an area before essentially subscribing a “fix.” Weather motivation comes from ignorance, (thinking it doesn’t matter) from profit (ex Monsanto), or both, it is not a good situation because the value of diversity and of the individual farmer is lost. I first heard about the women in Bangladesh when I was fortunate enough to hear Vandana Shiva speak. It’s very inspiring to hear about a success story like this one in which women took it upon themselves to stand up against what they knew in their heart was wrong and working with the land reciprocally instead of fighting it and trying to control it. The more I learn about indigenous and local knowledge, the more I feel it is so important to listen to them. Sometimes, we set ourselves on an agenda and are so absorbed in carrying out our plans that we forget to step back and listen. Even with good intentions, if we are narrow minded we miss out on the larger picture; and it’s the larger picture that is often most important in issues like these. I think we all can learn from what the women in Bangladesh have accomplished.

    • Unfortunately, Kirsten, you describe the dynamics of too much of current global development. I’m so glad you were able to hear Shiva when she came to OSU last year. This is an inspiring success story indeed! You have a great point that our “good intentions” don’t get us very far (can even be destructive toward others) if we don’t take a holistic view–and honor local knowledge. Thanks for your comment!

  40. The whole idea of genetically modifying things too meet our current “needs” or desires, is really quite creepy. I don’t like at all the idea of patenting seeds. I can’t understand what about that could have ever sounded like a good idea. It’s almost like paying to hike a mountain, or go to a beach. Who thinks they have a right to own things like that? Beyond that though, is all the implication that come with stepping over the line and modifying genetics. The effects it has on other plants surrounding and eventually the effects it will have on people who eat the food. Who knows, maybe soon we won’t be able to reproduce either if our food can’t even reproduce itself.

    • I agree with you about genetic engineering, Alyssa. You can check out the website of the Union of Concerned Scientists (linked under “science” here) to read some details on just how “creepy” it is. Seed production (and the diversity of genetic material that allows seeds to survive environmental stress is, as you indicate, one of the cautions around gmos.

  41. It is so arrogant to think that the West can “fix” the problems of countries that are in crisis just because we are developed and technologically advanced, when the reason many of the countries are in crisis is because of the Western lifestyle.
    This is a conundrum that the West cannot seem to figure out.
    In reference to what you stated above, it might do the West some good to take a moment to learn from the communities it wishes to help. In most cases the people that belong to the land have the answer that serves them (not the West, although in a inter-connected way it does) and the Earth best. Corporations need to learn (and be accountable) to keep their greedy hands out of the pockets of these rich lands so that the people that live there are free to use their ancestoral intuition to support themselves from the Earth. Like Wangari Maathai, who led African’s Greenbelt movement by planting trees in Kenya and knew best what her land needed, we must allow the stewards of the land show us what is needed to heal the land.

    • Hi Jessica, I think you have an important perspective here. “Development” more often helps the developers than the communities that are developed. It is important to give these communities power over their resources not only to prevent their exploitation, but in order to make development truly effective.

  42. I think one of my favorite parts about this essay is that the women of Bangladesh actually stuck to what they knew was right. They weren’t crippled by the “power” of the westerners who swept in and tried to change everything around. Especially since it would have been so easy to just give in and accept the change, these women must have had to fight to keep things the way that they had been and to keep them functioning properly. I think that is a beautiful picture. I hope we are able to learn from those women. As you mentioned, we as America, so big and powerful, would do well to learn from our neighbors in this world.

  43. It’s interesting that the solution to Vitamin A deficiency resulting from HVP rice was to genetically engineer it more. I think that the women of Bangladesh have it right. Instead of genitcally engineering crops to become super-crops, maybe we should focus more on crop diverstiy and sustainable harvesting. It seemed to work for thousands of years before now. Why wouldn’t it work now? And someday soon we may all be relying on these farming techniques as the climate continues to change.

    • I do think it is an overkill perspective to engineer rice for vitamin A rather than replanting greens, Hannah. In this sense, the federal report on geoengineering our climate in response to climate change had it right. How can we think we can control the climate of the world if we can’t modify our own behavior to stop producing carbon?

  44. This article is of particular interest to me because, as I hate to admit, I personally worked in GMO research and on rice crops high in vitamin A. After moving to Hawaii in 2001 I accepted a position at a prominent biotechnology company as a genetic research associate. This is what eventually led to my interest in organics and environmentalism. Many of the projects I worked on were particularly controversial, and after doing the research for a few years, I began to question the ethical nature of the work. In general, the products are created to produce profit for the shareholders, so there is little if any true motive to “feed the world.” Many of the products are used in ethanol production, and other industrial processes. The primary problem I slowly recognized was that the science is hardly science as all. It’s really more accurately described as bioengineering, because in many cases they are simply tweaking genes they don’t completely understand. Long sequences of junk DNA get manipulated in transformation process, and inadvertent changes are rampant in the transgenes. The foreign genes are inserted using a highly imprecise means and as a result many plants are transformed in the initial process. Through years of observation and breeding, deformities and other undesirable characteristics are slowly eliminated and bred out. This elimination process eventually leads down to a single line of the plant. So, in the beginning the transformation is not precise, the DNA changed that is not fully understood, and only by observation are the “undesirable” characteristics removed through continual selection. The problem here is that there are changes taking place they can’t control, don’t recognize, and the whole GMO breeding protocol is by process of elimination. Once the products meet the minimum criteria, they are pushed through feed trials, scientific screenings, and biased politicians swayed by powerful lobbyists. As a result, before the product is even understood it’s in the market place and environment. Which brings up another point, the GMO companies claim that there trials are out of the food chain until they are complete, but all the while I was working on these projects I observed birds, chickens, pigs, and cows sneaking into regulated fields to eat. These animals are often consumed by locals and thus in the food chain while they are highly experimental. The entire process is highly unethical, loosely regulated, and has little consideration for anything but the bottom line on the next quarterly statement. So for me, the argument the GMO’s can help feed the starving planet is putting hope and trust into a technology that is not worthy on many levels. The companies producing these foods are little more than political powerhouses using food as a means for profit, and there is little if any true ethical concern for feeding hungry people, unless they can pay that is. For example, GMO products are mass produced for high paying oil companies, but not starving people in sub-Saharan Africa who have no money to pay for them. Now that I have a firsthand understanding of these things, I see organics as our only true means of achieving a realistically sustainable food production system.

  45. Wow! What a powerful article and a beautiful example of how technology can incorporate a sense of partnership with the natural world. Success from technology does need to come through domination – this leads to failure. We must recognize our connection with the natural world in order to care for it and allow it to care for us.

  46. It is mind numbing that a CHEMICAL company like Monsanto is producing food crops. It is just so inherently wrong! National Public Radio did a radio program on this recently, focusing on the new genetically engineered eggplant species about to be cultivated in India. The headline was that the Indian government had finally put the brakes on the project after unexpected public outcry. The government now plans to do their own testing on the eggplant species, but prior to the uproar, only the chemical company itself had done any testing. It’s like leaving the fox to guard the henhouse. A professor on NPR remarked that there was a totally new protein introduced in the species. Why did that not warrant testing before this??

    • Good point, Taylor: a chemical company producing food crops raises immediate issues. In terms of testing, you will see more problems with this in the current post here on why gmos cannot feed the world.

  47. Out of good intentions….why are good intentions never thought through prior to launch? I am surprised by the next step of creating a new variety that has the carotene missing from the first round. At this point wouldn’t it be cheaper and faster to just grow normal rice?

    I was inspired by the women of Bangledesh, what a success and a testiment to what people can do when they desire change.

    • I too am inspired by these women working for the survival of their people and their land, Bernadette. It does seem that we can’t really call something a “good intention” if we push a change on others whose consequences are not thought through.

  48. There are many negative consequences to using genetically altered or mono- super crops. They are often incomplete; to me it is like picking one human being to form a colony. It is the diversity in humans that makes so many things possible such as art or music or any other great accomplishments, no one person is the best at everything. Plant species are similar, some strains of the same plant grow faster, others have a higher yield, some grow larger. As in the case of Monsanto and their roundup ready seeds, trying to isolate or use one strain for a certain set of characteristics serves to ignore not only the good qualities of the other strains but also the reason there are many strains; the reason there is biodiversity.

    • Great arguments for biodiversity, Brandon. Interestingly, those who worked to breed hybrids more favorable to humans for hundreds of years (e.g. peasant farmers in Peru and Eastern Europe) left portions of natural landscapes open to support biodiversity. There is something to be said for long term perspectives on a landscape rather the attempt to use one type of instant fix for all places.

  49. This is the same scenario as Gaviotas by Weissman. The Fantastic First-World comes to save the day for poor little Third-World countries and messes them up royally in the process due to lack of consideration for regional differences. GMO rices is not a good idea anywhere but in Bangladesh they had it all worked out with fish in the ponds and another manner of vegetable growing in there too. Multiple crops side-by-side and sustainable. Certainly the West was probably just growing one crop of rice in one area as our agricultural philosophy is apt to have us do. Standardizing growing processes is not a good idea or helpful due to the wild diversity of the planet. As Gaviotas said, why not let the third world fix their own problems? Third parties know too little to be of any true help. It’s wonderful that Bangladesh women are taking matters into their own hands it is more fitting and logical than to take up the practices of a nation far away. Many places in Europe will not even purchase our crops due to our irresponsible agricultural practices, this fact speaks volumes, does it not?

  50. Once again, modern scientists are using their vast capacity for brilliant thought and trying to reinvent nature. They (scientists who have chosen to apply their intelligence to the consumer world) fail to consider that generations of people have survived far longer and far more successfully without the interference of technology. It’s true that we have extenuating circumstance with the climate change issue we have going on, but they have to recognize that we need to return to our natural beginnings to repair the damage that has been caused by our technology. That is proven by the fact that this entire community has managed to improve their situation exponentially by using natural, sustainable methods that were used hundreds of years ago by their ancestors. It’s unfortunate that the homes of many of these people are facing destruction/being destroyed by a climate that is being affected not by them, but by people who live thousands of miles away in a false sense of security because they are not suffering the affects acutely enough yet. Someday, those people will also be sitting in a flooded homeon top of a hill wondering what on earth happened.

    • I think the “brilliant thought” of those who inventing this hvp rice is an obvious irony– though perhaps expressive of a self-image that caused much of the damage to these rice farmers. It is certainly sad that they are now facing the results of the global warming created by industrialized nations. Time to change our behavior in whatever way we can to help. Thanks for your comment, Maria.

  51. I don’t think there is another company I dislike more than Monsanto. This is a company who, along with Dow and others have been poisoning people for decades and getting away with it. If we are going to move past our deadly dependence on multinational corporations like Monsanto, we need the wisdom of these women of Bangladesh and of women all over the world who know how to care for the earth.

    • Indeed, Michele. I just heard that Monsanto controls something like 80 per cent of the germ plasm in the world’s seed stock of major crops. We cannot let a corporation so focused on profit above all have such a precious thing in their hands.

  52. The need to play with nature in order to control and create is a theme in patriarchal societies. Without thinking about what is being loosed on the world and what the possibilities are. We have great computer generated simulations for the effects for earthquakes and other “disasters” but the effects of altering the genetic make-up of our food don’t seem calculatable. There are too many variables, to many ways for things to go :wrong”. The unintended consequences are massive.

  53. It just seems sinful that by introducing the HVP rice strains they effect was not only deficiencies in Vitamin A and protein but a loss of the greens and fish too. How horrendous that must be for the people who live there to have lost so much when they probably didn’t even know the new rice was such a high risk gamble. When you ruin someone’s home, it just seems logical that you fix it. That’s what happens if I have a car accident. I don’t mean for it to happen but I am still responsible for fixing the other person’s car. Isn’t it even more important to take responsibility for your actions when it involves peoples homes, livelihoods, even the earth?

    I totally agree with not using engineered seed trying to produce a higher yielding plant. The way it has always been done in the past is you find the genes you want in a plant in the wild and breed it with a plant that has the basics you need for your terrain. Then you just keep working at it till the generation comes down the pike with just what you need and whala you have the perfect seed for your eco system and no chemicals or toxins. That’s how roses, native corn, and many other plants have been breed for many generations. The terminator gene is specifically what I am talking about. I am on my organic farm, breeding my seeds through natural selection and next to me is a Monsanto farmer. Now all my years, maybe even generations of work is down the tubes because the Monsanto farmer’s terminator gene plants migrate that terminator gene to my plants and they are now sterile.

    I am really impressed with what the women in Bangladesh have been doing. It is just like I was saying. By using what nature provides and working with nature rather than against it you can get what you need for now and the future. It is so true that First World Countries that want to step in and help ‘the less fortunate Third World Countries’ need to step back and see how well the third world countries are doing without their help. Bigger doesn’t make you better or brighter. Often times the very reverse.

    It is very heartening to see that third world countries are gaining back at least some of what was lost and maybe a full recovery will be in their near future.

    • If the hvp rice introduction was not sinful, it was certainly stupid, Cendi–and at the very least those responsible for this shouldn’t be rewarded with money for their failed and destructive projects.

  54. This is a great example of how a little ingenuity makes all the difference. These women realized that more pesticides was not the answer. Through agricultural practices that were common in their area for hundreds of years they learned that technology was not better than a green revolution. I searched for roundup ready soy on the internet and the first site had a scull and crossbones at the top of the page. Even Wikipedia gave the toxicity levels that Monsanto is not readily divulging. Deteriorating conditions in the world’s crop gene banks is a serious problem as new pests are getting harder to combat and there is a serious loss of biodiversity in crops. The women of Bangladesh seemed to have conquered what farmers in America are having a hard time doing. I wonder if it has anything to do with large corporations dictating how farmers farm. It seems that this technological magic bullet has been shot.

  55. There are numerous things I would like to address from this essay. First the “super rice”, it is so typical to just try to invent another genetically engineered food. Because this time it will really work? Right, I bet that same comment was made when HVP rice was introduced. Once again trying to solve a problem with a “technological magic bullet.” Why are people so obsessed with finding this magic cure-all? When there is a problem with something you normally start over. What happens most the time you just patch the problem up, is it will last a bit longer but then becomes a bigger problem. Maybe look at how it was originally done as an answer, not only would it be a better answer, but in this case the right one. Next the “Terminator” gene, that is absurd and unreal. I have yet to hear of this, how do they get away with using something with this potential of danger? Not that I want it marketed, but the Monsanto marketing team could have used a better word than Terminator, of course that would draw negative attention. Also a great work to the women farmers of Bangladesh. It sure seems like the movement has made a change, no matter how large it’s a positive thing. I also had no idea that 12,000 varieties of rice are available, let alone indigenous to one area. I did a bit of research and found that it was hard to pinpoint an exact number of varieties of rice found. It seems as though its over 100k different varieties from what information I could find, who knew. Thanks for having my response.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Jonathan–and your motivation in looking up the rice varieties. I guess “terminator” sounds good to those wanting to protect their patents, though I myself can’t image this ever sounding good in reference to growing things!
      It does seem foolish to take a mistake and make it bigger, thinking are fixing anything in the process. Since when did we decided that if a little something doesn’t work, we just have to make it bigger and better to get it running?
      Biodiversity within as well as between species is something to treasure. There is some research that indicates the monoculture which pollinating bees are fed as they are trucked from one place to another to pollinate our crops is partly responsible for their lowered resistance to many diseases. In Britain they are planting hedgerows of wild crops near fields to try to deal with this, but they haven’t sold it to US agribusiness yet, seems they don’t want any “wasted” space.
      And if you see Food, Inc., you will appreciate these women of Bangladesh all the more: it will certainly arm you with some info with which to protect your kids– or some directions to go in which to look for it. More such info is on the websites under the links here.

  56. This was really informative for me to read. Being the rice lovers that my family and I are – I had no idea that just for that one area the large number of (types) of rice there are. The fact that these women pursued a way to not only regain a healthy form of food, but also affected so much more of their environment with their success is encouraging. I cringe to think about other foods I enjoy and what methods were used to produce them.

    • I find these women very inspiring as well, Mary. And I would just be sure you are not eating rice from China: a recent study indicated that the mercury load on the bodies of Chinese citizens comes mainly from rice (rather than fish, as with ourselves). The reason is likely mercury from coal burning plants settling in the soil where rice is grown–and the fact that this population consumes so much more rice than fish.

  57. I really admire the women of Bangladesh for having the courage to do what is right. I think we all need to get back to basics and stop thinking science is the answer to everything. There is so much to be gained if we all worked together instead of against each other. Especially with scientists, farmers, consumers, and government. Instead everyone is out for themselves and the all might dollar.

    • There is indeed so much to be gained by working together– within our cultures and between the global that make up the diversity of our human heritage. My sense is that we have too much to do to make enemies out of our potential allies. Thanks for your comment, Jennifer.

  58. Here we go again wtih a big company trying to use a bad situation as a form of profit instead of being more concerned with an actual solution to the problem. Sure hunger is a problem that we need to work on. But in this case it is obvious that the underlying thought was the bottom line profit instead of the outcome. The sacrafice of the greens or the fish, which is also food, was substantiated as long as the financial reports showed a profit. That’s about the same scenario as digging an oil well so deep underneath the ocean that a human can’t reach it. Not to mention the fact that this well wasn’t equipped with the proper functioning safety equipment to avoid a catastrophy such as the one we are facing in the gulf with the oil spill. Sure we need oil. But in this case we had the technology to get the well in place and to start it pumping oil but we can’t stop it now that we have started it. Wow, how careless. Perhaps the oil well shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Perhaps the earth is just crying out for us to stop our thoughtless inconsiderate ways.
    I think there is a valuable lesson to be learned form the women in Bangladesh. If we work together with nature instead of against or around nature we could find solutions to many of the problems faced by mankind to include hunger, global warming, depletion of natural resources, etc.

    • What corporations who engineer such rich do not tell us, Mildred, is that if we want to end hunger, we must concentrate not on production (we produce more than enough food to feed the world) but distribution. And we must consider the aspects of globalization that drive small farmers off their land into cities where they starve, etc.
      We should not allow ourselves to be blackmailed into bad choices because we want the laudable goal of feeding people.
      And you are absolutely right about what these women can teach us about alternative and sustainable production.

  59. With every article I read about Monsanto the more and more I dislike him. I think it’s wonderful what the women of Bangladesh are doing to regain their land, good for them! We have seen a lot of instances where working in harmony with nature and with our communities can make a bigger difference than first imagined, and this is another great example of this.
    This is also another reason why GMO foods should be banned! They are capable of taking over other crops, which is most certainly not a good thing. They don’t offer the same nutrition and we don’t know nearly enough information about the impact GMO foods have on our bodies in order to call them “safe”, and the information we do have points to an opposite conclusion. Yet they still line our grocery store aisles. I hope that more of us can follow the example the women of Bangladesh provided us.

  60. I have alot of respect for people standing up against big corporations. Its really reassuring that a grass roots movement like this can prosper and take back the land while at the same time sticking it to the big bad corporations.

  61. (PHL 443 Student Reply) I agree with this article in stating that we do not always see the bigger implications of our actions when we begin to bioengineer food and resources. I still find it appalling today that the FDA does not require companies to tell their consumers whether or not they are eating bioengineered or cloned meat! It is impossible for us to determine what the potential side-effects and consequences will be of manipulating our environment to such an extreme.

  62. I greatly enjoyed the brilliance displayed by these women. While Western science poured money, time, and resources into creating the “perfect” crop, the Bangladeshis looked within themselves and to nature to find a solution to the problem. Rather than forcing nature to do their bidding, the worked to create the original, successful rice crops that previously existed and sustained their people. Too often, in our arrogance, we look to create something that we believe is better instead of enjoying the benefits of expertly created world. This was a beautiful example of wisdom vs. knowledge.

  63. I dont understand if these genetic engineers only think about the short term, and that is why they are constantly trying out new products. Or if they are only money hungry and don’t care about the affects it has on the people and local crops, and thus they invent new “better” enhanced crops. Either way i think we need to not rely on this genetically enhanced crops as much. We were just fine for thousands of years, why fix something that is not broken? I agree, it takes a whole community not just some chemical to make a change for the better.

    • I agree that we need not to “fix” a natural system that not only is not broken, but has taken millions of years to grow into balance. I don’t know that I can guess at the motives of corporations like Monsanto– though the way they behave certainly makes it look like the profit motive (and perhaps amassing some power as well) makes them blind to all else. Thanks for your comment, Brandon.

  64. What I found so interesting about this article was the talk about how plant genes are able to migrate to other plants and fields. The idea that different genes are being reproduced by plants from separate fields is pretty extraordinary. This could be very useful information for scientists that are still learning about the reproduction of most plants and pollination. This could explain why alot of specific plants can be the same plant, however be different colors, have different sunlight and water preferences and reproduce differently than another alongside of it. I thought that this discussion, and then linking it to the talk of the HVP rice was very interesting.

    • Interesting, yes. Responsible, thoughtful? No. These scientist introduce these new geneitically inhanced species to the wild, only to introduce problems along with their new discovery. So how do they fix this problem? Invent some new genetically alterning idea, and thus creating another problem. We need to learn from the people of Bangledash. Take care of our crops, organically, there will be more biodiversity, and more prosperious life.

    • Thanks for your reply, Jessica. Such migration is dangerous– as the government of Norway said in a public document after reviewing the evidence (see our quote of the week). It is one of a number of reasons why we cannot guarantee the safety of biotechnology in its current state.

  65. I really like the comment told to Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen and Maria Mies, co-authors of The Subsistence Perspective; “By simply doing what brings them joy even as it makes their land beautiful.” Meaning that the woman of Bangladesh who started the New Agricultural Movement not only helped bring more biodiversity to their crops but also brought them joy. What a beautiful thing, to do something that makes you happy and helps bring back the much-needed biodiversity of the land. By supporting an ecosystem that is able to sustain itself without pesticides or bioengineered plants these woman are able to bring back the much needed crops and plant life that will be able to sustain their people who are a very important part of this ecosystem.

    • Thanks for your comment, Julie. I think this is a lovely point to pick out. And traditions that are in touch with the natural world have this option: of doing satisfying and joyful things at the same time that they work in tune with the natural world. That is, satisfying human needs and fitting into natural systems at the same time. I agree that this is a wonderful dynamic.

  66. I’m familiar with some of the issues around gmos, such as farmers having to buy new seeds every year because of terminator genes and the potential migration of genetic material. But one thing I hadn’t heard was that the Round-up Ready soy was actually a low-yield variety that isn’t in mainstream use. That’s ironic, considering that the seeds are marketed based upon increased yields.
    I agree that we need some local agriculture movements. Local crops and farming methods are adapted to particular environmental conditions, which should result in better harvests than trying to grow crops that are unfit for the region. Local farmers probably also grow a few different crops, unlike large industrial farms, which is good for the soil. But one of the biggest advantages, to my mind, of a local movement is that it empowers the population. The Bangladeshi community didn’t need international aid or supervision to better their situation; they did it themselves.
    The end of the article, which mentioned the rising sea level in the Bay of Bengal, made me think of a semi-related issue. In India, there was an enormous development project planned for the Narmada River. Dams would provide electricity and water for irrigation to relieve areas prone to drought. However, the dams would also create reservoirs that would displace thousands of poor, indigenous people. I saw a documentary on this issue a few years ago, but I’m not sure how it ended up. The project was tied up in litigation at that time.

    • I haven’t heard of this project in India and also don’t know how the dam project would up, Tivey. As with our article on side effects, we need to evaluate these in building something like this dam. “Helping” folks out of their homes seems problematic to me. Good summary here of some of the problems with gmos, Monsanto style. Thanks for your comment.

  67. Professor Holdren,

    I think one of the subtle undertones in this essay is that, unfortunately, a lot of times the “need” to shift to an alternative form of agriculture (like genetically engineered crops) is actually based on profits for big companies, rather than if it is better for the environment. It seems that an example is provided here of a very effective “natural” way of producing agriculture is more beneficial than a high tech alternative.

  68. I feel the use of GMO’s present yet another case where our ignorance of our relatively small scientific knowledge base has allowed for extremely risky decisions to be made where we can’t possibly grasp all the possible consequences. If our experience in the field is only just beginning to pick up speed, then how can we possibly predict all the outcomes? It is not always a matter of our disregard for outcomes we did predict that end up being news making mistakes, sometimes there are simply results from our experiments in new technologies that sort of pop up out of the blue. This is how the progression of technology goes with one mistake creating the basis for the next new idea. I think one way in which we could solve this problem involves understanding the power of our technologies rather than try to understand even more of its possible risks. We could attempt to consider all possible outcomes but will likely still miss a few along the way. Understanding the power of the technology however at least provides a grasp of what power would be required to remedy a mistake. Apply this to the “terminator gene” from Monsanto, or the risks that were taken by BP in their deep sea oil drilling. Understanding the level of power needed behind solutions, to these risks becoming reality, could provide a new impression of what exactly our technologies are getting us into.

    • In the case of gmos, documents from Monsanto (as in the case of Dow, Monsanto economic partner/owner in the 1950s– see the documentary Toxic Secrets) indicate their own data predicted some of the negative/dangerous effects we are seeing in Monsanto gmos. The issue is not surprises, though we HAVE been surprised by some technological results of whole system results to innovative chemicals— like depletion of the ozone layer-which is why we need a whole systems approach and the precautionary principle in response.
      There is also prejudice in the experimental methods underlying industry-supported experiments. Just as over half of the scientists working at the EPA during the recent Bush administration were told to hide their experimental results if they were unfavorable to industry (according to a survey by the Union of Concerned Scientists), a recent study found that industry experiments were four times more likely to favor their products that independently funded research: http://pagingdrgupta.blogs.cnn.com/2010/08/02/study-questions-industry-funded-trials/
      There are some blatant cases, as you indicate, as with the terminator gene or BP drilling where the risks seem pretty apparent without experimentation. And for all that we do not know, I think we absolutely need the precautionary principle. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  69. We definitely do have a tendency to rely too much on modern science, thinking technology can solve all of our problems. We spend so much time and money looking for some sort of technology to address climate change in a manner that would allow us to continue living as we currently do (i.e. through iron fertilization to remove existing carbon from the atmosphere, or carbon capture and storage [CCS] so we can keep burning dirty coal), when that effort would be better spent improving technologies we already have (i.e. wind and solar). Better yet, we could simply reduce our “need” to begin with, for example, by driving less or conserving electricity, and save money in the process. While looking for that “magic fix” to save us from ourselves, we continue in the bad behaviors in the belief (or rather hope) that in the end we won’t have to change a thing, which just exacerbates the whole problem. Then again, conserving energy would also lead to a reduction in profit for companies and their executives, and even researchers developing such technologies, hoping to come up with the billion-dollar solution.

    The example set by the women of the Nayakrishi Andolon offers a solution: remember how life is interconnected, and our place in that web. Our actions obviously influence the environment we live in, and yet this hasn’t always been a bad thing. Like these women in Bangladesh, we need to practice conservation and work with nature, rather than trying to control her.

    • Thanks for your comment, Crystal. We do too often rely on technology of the wrong kind (“magic fix”) the women of the New Agricultural Movement also relied on technology– but technology of a different kind. Good point about carbon capture to keep ourselves from evaluating our own actions or changing our lifestyles–and expand our views so that we are working with the natural world as if we really belong here and plan on staying around as a species. Thoughtful response!

      • I would also say that, not only did these women use technology of a different kind, but they had a different attitude toward technology. Rather than using technology as the “cure”, they used it merely as one tool in pursuing their goals, in combination with other tools, such as knowledge and community. It appears similar to the differences in the approach to medicine or healing; compare the Western tendency to pop a pill to ‘cure’ an illness to the indigenous practices of holistic healing, caring for mind, body and soul simultaneously. The latter actually heals the illness while the first merely addresses the symptoms of it (which means it probably isn’t going away–just like climate change). The question comes down to whether or not we want to actually heal the damage we’ve done.

        • Very nice insight, Crystal, about the change in type of technology but the shift from its use as a “cure” to a more holistic approach– and actually, I believe that knowledge and community are forms of human technologies as well, as are all “tools”. I very much like your analogy with healing rather than masking the symptoms: a wonderful vision to hold up the idea of a healing technology.

  70. The whole concept of GMO’s is very scary. I applaud England and others in the European Union for having the courage to confront the multi-nation corporate agricultural mega-giants and ban the hybrid seeds. Following the Monsanto trail we are seeing the consequences of globalized agriculture and corporate greed. This trail follows the HPV rice and the suicides of farmers in India who had planted the modified seeds and because they can’t afford the fertilizers now needed and can’t grow any other traditional crops as the herbicides have stripped the soils of life. It is very encouraging to read about the New Agriculture movement where Bangladesh women are taking back control of their lands and crops.
    In Mexico many farmers have rejected the Monsanto corn and are carefully cultivating heirloom corn that has been successful for over 2000 years. Unfortunately, there are genetically engineered stalks of corn popping up on roadsides “accidentally”, though none is grown in the heirloom areas. Once these migrate to the heirloom crops they are changed forever and will requires all the Monsanto chemicals to grow. The farmers are fierce in protecting their native crops but as stated in the essay, genes migrate from one plant or field to another.
    There are also green agriculture groups here in the US and Europe who are collecting and protecting heirloom seeds and plantings to assure we have access to them in the future. Though I would assume that these be mainly used in smaller scale, Sustainable Agriculture farms.

    • Thanks for sharing this information, Maureen. I find this technology scary as well–not a little because it is in the hands of a corporation that has so ruthlessly pursued economic profit over and against the welfare of the farmers that use its seeds, not to mention, their carelessness with respect to the environment as a whole. An action that undercuts their credibility further in my eyes is their all out campaign against the labeling of their products.
      The heirloom corn situation is a difficult one– since there is so much gmo corn currently grown and migrating into other fields, I understand that corn is the only grain (currently) where buying organic does not guarantee a non-gmo product.
      I think there is great hope in the work and knowledge of those like the New Agricultural Movement.

  71. The title of this made me think for quite some time about how so many people within so many developed countries have all been influenced through media, advertisement and government policy to think that the answer to our environmental impacts is the green revolution and this is something that requires technology to be successful. And although this is the message we hear, is not packaged that way, and when the message is presented and then interpreted superficially; “we are saving the earth by purchasing this product and by participating in these programs to lessen our footprint”. What ends up being delivered and served to people is in large part accepted and implemented to the level they can afford. Peoples’ response to our environmental impact is based on their interest and level of understanding of the advertisement campaign lobbying for commodity based support and change through consumerism. Support for the whole argument for climate change and our negative impact on the environments direct relation to climate change is an indicator of the campaigns success.

    A goal of monetary gain has been realized in producing and distributing genetically engineered crops which end up on our dinner tables and in our refrigerators’, and is an issue that must be addressed head on and responded to, just as these women have done. To acknowledge that big business ideas are in some instances implemented to promote and sustain big business and not for perpetuation of the green movement big business claims to support; and to acknowledge this technology of round-up ready soy bean has been created to generate economic gain and not to help support biodiversity and the earths healing which we must be an active part of is gutsy, overdue and inspiring.

    By implementing a process that historically has been so successful, so simple and easy, not complicated, costly, not demanding support by big industry and technology, these women connected the community with this project. No revolutionary method that has been created in order to force a need onto the consumer was the reason for the effort. In a community based way, these women have responded to industry and specifically that facet of industry that is focused on justifying the need for a product by utilizing a “positive method” or “real behavior based need” and manipulating it for gain; like the need to be environmentally minded to protect our future.

    And a method that truly benefits the environment has been utilized in this process; by nurturing the land by planting differing crops in close proximity to one another, introducing livestock to the same areas, not using chemicals, “This movement fosters biodiversity in the context of the Hindu belief that all life is interconnected through the single spirit that animates”. It seems that what makes people forget this is money. “Money cannot buy a healthy earth”; however is not what the advertisements are selling.

    • We also need to be aware that it’s not just “media, advertisement and government policy” that promote ideas such as the green revolution, it’s also non-governmental organizations that claim a desire to ‘help’ people in ‘developing’ countries. Take the Gates Foundation, which seems to be working pretty hard in promoting GMO crops to these nations as an ‘answer’ to food ‘shortages’ (to be clear, I don’t think we have a shortage–I think the problem actually lies in how food is distributed, instead). The foundation claims that only science can feed the world, and that everyone complaining about pushing ‘frankenfoods’ on poorer nations is just paranoid or unwilling to accept reality–this, despite numerous research reports that point out that GMO crops, in reality, underperform compared to organic agriculture (including reports presented by the UN). However, the prestige that follows names such as Bill and Melinda Gates lends added credibility to the idea of GM foods to many. My point is, even those groups that claim they want to help the world need to be given closer scrutiny, along with the government and the media.

      • Good perspective, Crystal. An excellent example concerning the Gates Foundation: science (if we take its broader definition as observation-founded knowledge) might well help us feed the world– but then we need the right kind of science. My sense is that these Bangladeshi women have a more legitimate scientific approach than did those who created the agricultural scheme that failed them.

      • Hi Crystal,

        I have seen what non profits can do to steer good efforts and hard working people away from the task at hand and towards something focused solely on monetary gain.
        I don’t know very much about what Bill and Malinda Gates GM foods connections are and are not, but it seems that someone so smart must be able to recognize that we were producing food on this planet for thousand of years before this type of engineered option existed.
        I also do not know very much about the logistics and fully realized impacts of food delivery, but would think that there needs to be a way to deliver food to more locations over shorter distances. I think the only way to be able to do this is to have more and larger sized high yielding natural produce farms without pesticides and herbicide use. These farms mat need to be diverse enough to provide nutrient rich soils and natural fertilizers by using byproducts from livestock.
        Lizzy

        • I think you have a point worthy of discussion here, Lizzy. I might argue that diversity cannot come on small plots– especially if they are strung together with other small plots. Urban gardens and trees are a case in point.
          On the other hand, habitat does mean space.

      • Hi Lizzy,

        Yeah, I was pretty shocked when I first discovered Gates promoting GMOs in ‘developing’ countries, too, thinking that surely I must have misread something. Then again, people that seem so intelligent in one sense so often disappoint me in other ways.

        Actually, when I was referring to food distribution as a problem, I didn’t actually mean delivery methods, per se, although you’re right in suggesting improvements in that arena as well. What I was really referring to is the system by which people are actually starving because they can’t afford food, not because there’s not enough food to go around. With all the food waste that exists, I find it extremely difficult to believe that supposedly “higher-yielding” GM crops are needed to solve world hunger–instead we have to come to the realization that access to food is a fundamental human right, whether you have money or not.

        • The distribution issue is one that Food First (linked here) highlights. Thanks for bringing up this very important idea, Crystal.
          And I think we need to get the word out the “high tech” is not necessarily the magic bullet in the feeding the hungry department. Bread for the World (also linked here) also has a great analysis of the way that globalization has created or exaggerated hunger in poor countries.

    • Thoughtful response, Lizzy. I like your designation of the work of these women as (among other things) “gutsy”. Perhaps on one level what they have done seems simple (since it takes no input from complex technology or big business), but it takes one thing of serious complexity– community, both among the farmers and on their land, as they help create a sustainable agricultural community that includes so much biodiversity. Thanks for your comment.

  72. What a great essay! Is not that I don’t support scientific research, but I have to admit that it brings a smile to my face when the natural processes of an environment reveal that they know themselves better than science. Obviously, nothing understands diversity better than nature itself. These Bangladesh farming communities have simply adopted natural practices and integrated their various needs with the needs of their surroundings. These Bangladesh women have clearly paid attention to the land and have adopted a reciprocal relationship within their setting while recognizing the lack of productivity under a mono-cultural vision. Not only am I happy for what these women have produced for, their society, but I’m thrilled with the knowledge that this kind of ecological success is becoming more and more well recognized in other cultures and receiving exposure like this.

    • I appreciate the feedback, Ryan. like the balance in this response, Ryan. Science could get its act together– as a number of scientists have done– and put it — and act out its best potential. Seems to me that these women from Bangladesh expressed real “science”– no matter what one calls it.
      Thanks for your comment.

  73. It is wonderful to hear when people who live on and love their land push back against multi-nationals. We need to stop looking for corporate solutions to problems that corporate-created. The new farming practices in Bangladesh are proof that we have the solutions we need.

  74. This artical is a perfect example that sometimes scientific research, and certain programs may not be what is best for a perticular problem. The women of Bangladesh should be very proud of what they have discovered, and set a wonderful example for others with similar ideas. The simple solutions are there for us as a society to help preserve our earth. If we continue on the path that we are on we have no shot at preserving the environment. This is the first I have heard of this, and I am very excited. I hope there is more methods of farming like this in the future. Good article.

  75. I love that the Nayakrishi Andolon is being practiced by 25,000 *households.* It really brings to mind the image of individuals coming together to create a sustainable community. It’s disappointing to think about how much time and effort these corporations put into researching new ways to profit from the land (creating dangerously altered strains of plants) rather than ways to learn from the environment. If they put their energies into learning from the landscape or populations they wish to “help,” it would become clear that biodiversity is the key to a truly sustainable method of growing authentically successful crops and feeding any population. It’s disturbing to think about how unaware the general population is of the dangers of genetically altered crops and monoculture. This essay also reminds me of the current problem the world is facing with our bee populations dying off. Another example of how altering the natural order simply for profit has devastating effects on all living beings in the long run.

    • Hi Lauren, thank you for another thoughtful comment. Altering the natural order simply for profit provides dangerous results indeed, as you indicate. I agree about the wasted monies on gmos– with all their destructive potential– when corporations might instead develop partnerships with local populations–and perhaps even spread local knowledge like that expressed by these households. Of course, this is a very different approach than the locking up of knowledge for private profit– but it is one we can all live with for the long term. It would also save the immense costs of legal suits and lobbying paid by the like of Monsanto– not to mention, the ad campaign to portray themselves as “green” just in case the gmo labeling they have been fighting for so long actually gets put into law.

  76. This article was very interesting. I watched a documentary awhile ago called “The World According to Monsanto” and it was eye-opening to say the least, with lots of similar information. I’m fascinated by the discussion about genetically modified foods because I wonder how they affect us and what the long-term consequences will be. Reducing the diversity of food we eat has to have some type of effect on us. From this article, it seems the amounts of vitamins and protein were affected because a lower-quality crop was used as the prototype. One of the consequences I hadn’t considered is the effects of mono-cropping on other crops and animals, which happened in Southeast Asia with the fish and greens. It makes sense that one crop could affect those around it and the animals which live nearby, but it’s very sad that it can also lead to the absence of those same crops and animals. This is a very worrisome effect because genetically modified foods are becoming more common. How many species and plants will become obsolete in certain areas or even extinct because of genetically modified food? What if keystone species are affected and what would it mean for us?

    • Hi Kelsey, thanks for your comment. The best word I know about gmos and yield is the Union of Concerned Scientists report on this issue. Mono-cropping is, as you indicate, an effect of gmo cropping not always considered. It is a worrisome effect indeed– it is my sense that we need to be much smarter in terms of our technological choices. We really need to take better care of the land that feeds us.

  77. I think this article reinstates the belief that nature is one with us as humans. The women of Bangladesh were hurting at the same time their land around them was hurting. I clicked on the link for the New Agricultural Movement and read about the Bangladesh women and their struggles they were facing. The women leaned on the land as the land leaned on them. They were able to use each other to produce a brighter future. I understand the debate between genetic engineering versus the New Agricultural Movement, and I see an immense amount of advantages in developing our land with the methods and/or similar methods of the women of Bangladesh. However I took something deeper from this article. This class has proposed a new outlook on our relationship with nature-to be one, equal, treat the earth with nurture and care as you would for someone you love. The story of the women of Bangladesh and their perseverance reiterated the bond that can be developed between a human being and nature. We must treat nature with genuine care if we want our natural resources to keep producing for us. The success of the Bangladesh women was based on biodiversity in the context of the Hindu belief that all life is interconnected through the single spirit that animates it. Although science and technology can prove that the green revolution is not the right answer I think that an easier concept explains it perfectly- Treat the land as you would want to be treated. It is not technical and there is no scientific explanation behind it, but, I truly believe that Nature will develop for the good of the people when the people respect the land. How can we destroy nature’s natural ways and expect our earth to still produce properly for us? Having the belief that nature is just another object to our potential dispense will end up leading us to destruction. We cannot survive without nature and the gifts it produces, so why are we taking advantage of a system that is keeping us alive?

    • I appreciate your very thoughtful response, Courtney– including checking out the New Agricultural Movement in more detail.
      You have many points to think about in this response, but what “treat the land as you would wish to be treated” made me think of an incident in Uprisings for the Earth (Osprey Orielle Lake) which relates how an elder/grrandmother developed her relationship with the land. She saw the plants she harvested as “little sisters”– whose likes and dislikes we could ascertain just as we did those of family members with whom we wished to get along. There is such tenderness toward the world in that stance–and such knowledge that derives from that gentle observant intimacy.

    • And indeed, it takes some amount of greed, as well as sheer stupidity to “take advantage of a system that is keeping us alive”.

  78. Geneticially modified food doesn´t sound so tasty when it is said out loud. All of this type of food cannot be good for our body´s. We need to do something to fix this. Let things grow the way they are supposed to. Wait it out don´t abuse the product in such a way that the product isn´t even what it is supposed to be anymore. Take chicken for example, and all of the Tyson Brand chicken farmers.

    • I agree with you on the less tasty! I think if the labeling and declaration parts of packaging mandated that the food was ‘genetically modified’ be in the product, people would feel differently about eating things. Ultimately, each of us has a choice, and government can’t tell you what to eat through labeling, but it might be a start!

      • Our choices, however, are not supported when gmo material is not labeled. Monsanto’s strategy seems to be to prevent labeling until these are so widespread everyone will accept them.
        This may well be good for their profit, but problematic from both an ethical and environmental point of view.

  79. This article emphasizes a key point here when we talk about genetically modified foods, corporate profits are at stake! The idea of helping Bangladesh or any other area sounds great, but again intimate knowledge of the natural processes and surroundings must be had in order to do it right. I have now doubt that our scientists and corporations can in the short term ‘create’ foods in barren areas, or ‘fix’ hunger in countries, but in the end, nature wins out. Without knowledge of what the chemicals/pesticides/hormones will do to the surroundings, the result is destruction of other things that are needed. Balance should be the goal instead of quickly trying to fix things without proper thought. The new strain of rice may have worked if the corporation/scientists would have incorporated local traditions and planting techniques in combination with ‘better’ strains of rice.

    • Creating balance instead of trying to quickly fix our problem is totally what is needed. We live in a time where technology and information is moving at such a fast pace that we quickly patch up one problem and move onto the next without really thinking things through. You have a good point of incorporating technology with local traditions, this seems like it would be the best way to start finding a balance. We can only manipulate nature so much before it backfires on us in my opinion.

      • Balance is an important issue as you also said in your previous comment–and entails knowing more about an ecosystem than a quick study from the outside will give us.
        And we have, as you indicate, created problems whenever we try to manipulate nature so much that we throw off ecosystem balances.

    • Nice points, Brad. Profit does seem to override fitting technology to place– and particular cultural traditions as well as particular landscapes. Of course, taking the time to make such a careful fit between technology and particular places does not give you the same quick fix profit.

  80. Brian, creating balance instead of trying to quickly fix our problem is totally what is needed. We live in a time where technology and information is moving at such a fast pace that we quickly patch up one problem and move onto the next without really thinking things through. You have a good point of incorporating technology with local traditions, this seems like it would be the best way to start finding a balance. We can only manipulate nature so much before it backfires on us in my opinion.

    • Hi Tiffany. What your comment indicates is the necessity of care in introducing technologies as well as the importance of taking advantage of local knowledge. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

  81. This essay really harps on one of the major misconceptions fueling the Industrialized Agricultural system.

    A belief based the the failed logic that the only way to feed the massive populations of our world is through industrialized food production. WRONG

    This idea is so inaccurate I have no idea how its pervasiveness has not been stamped out by all the millions of educated ecologists who know the benefits of biodiversity.

    And on another note: what do we propose is going to happen if their was ever a major destructive force that was able to damage electricity and oil used for our processed food systems?

    We would surely die. Obviously there would be know way for us to provide ourselves with enough nourishment and sustinece to support the vast numbers of people we now have.

    On the flip side of this however, if we adopted subsistence strategies like the women of Bangledesh in this article, and supported biodiversity and chemical free farming, every community would have a chance at surviving.

    I find it ironic that the main reasons for establshing the ass-backward policies we now have for food production, is the same rhetoric that rationalizes making us sooo sick and un sustainable.

    • Great point about the misconceptions of the “industrial agricultural system”, Shana.
      You might well express amazement that we might believe it actually increases yields, for instance, given the hard data that is contrary. Sadly, I think I do know at least some ways that people come to believe this: the deluge of advertising on the part of the biotech industry–and the assumptions about technology and progress in our worldview. Time to evaluate things a bit more carefully. Indeed, with the burgeoning human population, we cannot afford to do otherwise.

  82. I just ran across this story that you might find interesting–Bangladeshi women, at it again!

    ‘Sari squad’ protects Bangladesh wildlife sanctuary

    http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/asiapcf/03/04/bangladesh.wildlife.eco/index.html?hpt=C2

  83. I found this article quite depressing because I never really knew all the harm that bioengineering does to us. However I am glad that the New Agricultural Movement has made progress is restoring what was damaged. Hopefully this will cause other groups to see the bigger picture of our future and the preservation of our planet instead of trying to make/save money. I think that more information about the benefits of biodiversity need to be out there for the public to be aware of so groups can try and fight for biodiversity. This gave me a lot to think about.

    • I glad you are thinking, Michelle– I am sorry that you found this depressing. I am hoping that information like this will allow us to see our potential. I can’t think of a better example of the potential for reclamation than the transformation these women effected on their land. More examples are in the report featured in the current quote of the week sidebar.

    • I too wish that people would see the bigger picture. It seems like money always makes the final decision, when did people and animals become less important than a fat wallet? Hopefully we can start to mend these bad behaviors.

  84. It’s depressing to see companies chasing after one failure with the same methods. After one GM rice led to nutritional deficiencies instead of improvement, the attempted solution is another GM rice, rather than crop diversification.

    When your job is to create technological solutions to problems, it’s hard to realize that you should just leave a problem alone. But sometimes technology is creating or inventing problems that wouldn’t exist if we stayed with traditional methods. (Although population growth does make it hard for traditional agriculture to fend off starvation.)

    • One definition of “insanity” is expecting different results from trying the same actions over and over again.
      The increasing need for food and the decreasing fertility of the land due to some current large scale agricultural techniques makes it all the more imperative that we use working alternatives such as the ones of the Bangladeshi women. Thanks for your comment, Anders.

    • I couldn’t agree more with your first sentence. “It’s depressing to see companies chasing after one failure with the same methods.” As you state it is hard with the increasing population to produce enough food; but is the best way to overcome this issue, growing food that is genetically modified that does not give us the nutrition we need to survive? Although we have all of this new technology – we seem to be determined to find the answer in our new inventions. However, the best way might be the simplest, to get back to our roots and do it the ‘old fashion way’.

      • If you like check out the latest essay on this site, Ellie: on sustainable technology. It gives a link indicating that we cannot continue to draw from the land without replacing what we take from it.
        Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  85. This is a great story about how what we really need around here is biodiversity. It is encouraging to see people in other parts of the world realizing that and makes me hopeful that we will start to realize it here in America too. It is sad to see that these companies care more about protecting their patents then understanding what they are doing and protecting the environment. Hopefully America follows the EU’s lead and starts to ban this type of thing.

    • Biodiversity is a key to reclaiming the land–even as it is key to resilient natural systems. We should indeed be following the EUs lead if we are not exercising the lead ourselves.

  86. This is a great example of how nature can truly develop and give us the best products with us staying out of it. There are many times when we interfere and can’t understand why products are not better – we are bringing new technologies that should improve the outcome, right? Not always, this article is an example of just that. These women knew their land and wanted to see a change – so they took initiative. I think a key theme to point out is how these women used the land they had to create such a great product. They didn’t change the land to fit their needs; they worked with what they had. It is almost scary to think what we are eating – do we even know what is in all this genetically modified food?

    • I am glad all the essays here are not upsetting to you, Ellie. Those these women adapted to the land rather than seeking to adapt it to themselves, I think we also cannot say they “stayed out of it”– since they pitched in to restore their beloved land.

  87. I think this is a great example of how a grass roots movement can really make a difference. Until our politicians get out from under interest groups thumbs, it will be up to both local NGO’s, grass roots movements and even local governments (not to mention individuals) to bring about a change in how we grow our food. Unfortunately since GMO aren’t labeled its hard to know what to avoid in the grocery store! I suppose one alternative is community and personal gardens, but then you wonder where is safe to get the seeds from?

    • Good point about grass roots, Stephanie. We might also note that in this case, the women had traditional knowledge and community to fall back on.
      See the essay here, “why gmos won’t feed the world” for tips on how to avoid them.

  88. This essay just goes to show that before something is produced and released, it needs to be tested repeatedly. It also needs to show no side effects during the testing.
    Why some one would spray pesticides anywhere near a crop they eat is beyond me. I know huge crops of the vegetation we consume have been sprayed and that its to help the crop. Do they not understand they are going to be eating it? Or that it’ll run off into the water and they will be drinking it?
    The women had a wonderful idea and I am amazed so many people are doing it. I was also suprised at the biodiversity of the farmer who has 110 varieties. That’s great!

    • I love examples of success like this as well, Yolanda. It is a sad result when things meant to produce more corps poison us or the land we depend upon for sustenance. When you put the question as directly as you do here, it does not make any sense whatsoever to poison our food. Seems somehow the humans-above-nature worldview also gives rise to the idea that we can poison our food but not ourselves! As we have seen with the recent report on environmental toxins implicated in the cancer epidemic, that is not exactly working out.

  89. The lure of money and exceptional yields has led many to abandon their traditional farming ways and convert to mono-cropping and genetically modified plants. It takes communities, such as the women of Bangladesh who initiated the Nayakrishi Andolon, to realize the devastation both environmentally and socially that those choices created to make a change for a better life. People need to understand that while the promised financial benefit may not be as large, a happy, healthy, holistic life is part of the payment for their traditional farming methods; as well, choosing the mono-cropping, genetically modified alternative doesn’t guarantee more money, it simply guarantees more money in the hands of those supplying the seed crop.

    • It is apt that you said the “lure” of exceptional yields, rather than the actual production of such yields, Rory. A report of the Union of Concerned Scientists called “Failure to Yield” exposes the lack of promised yield in genetically engineered crops.
      It is important, as you note, to analyze who exactly profits from such businesses. It is certainly not the hungry of the world.

  90. The rice problem in Asia continues to worsen because humans keep attempting to make a better variety of rice which is posed here. This constant production and re-production of rice to give it more nutrients, carotene, and Vitamin A will only continue to make this rice less and less valuable to the nourishment of the human body because humans are trying to make it something it is not. Why not just go back to the traditional ways and leave out the engineered rice varieties just because it is cheaper and easier to produce such large amounts? Isn’t it better to have less and still have life?
    I think by using the word ‘posion’ when referring to pesticides people are going to get the point a lot faster and will remember the posed threat it is having on us. We need to make it clear that these are not just chemicals that help make our gardens better but they are killing the human race off along with numerous other animals and plants.

    • Good point, Cyria. Pesticides are poisons: that only refers to what they are developed to do, which is poison things. And I find it relatively ignorant to think that things that are conceived to say, attack the nervous system of other living organisms– does not effect us. That’s what comes of the idea that we are so much bigger and stronger than the rest of natural life–and unfortunately, others have to deal with the results of this, like the growing number of children who are coming down with cancer.
      Thanks for your comment.

    • I agree Cyria, why couldn’t we just be satisfied with the rice that we used to grow. I’ve always been told, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” We are trying to turn rice into something it isn’t an in return it’s not as healthy as it used to be. I believe that since we are always looking for something bigger or something better, that it has started to become our downfall.

      • I think the only reason we are not satisfied with what nature has produced over so many thousands of years of natural selection is that it is usually free (though there are those trying to patent some of it)–and therefore there is no money to made from it in a society like ours where money (unfortunately) means so much.

    • I also find it to be a slap in the face of traditional rice farmers who grew thousands of varieties of rice, but now their rice is in danger of becoming homogenized due to the hybridization of GMO seed. The creation of a super-rice is the perfect example displaying Western domination as not only the villagers will be dependent on one corporation in providing seed, but also need the chemicals to grow it all while the land is being stripped of nutrients. I like your word choice of having less but still having genetically diverse life!

  91. The more articles I read of yours about GMO’s, the more I begin to believe that they cause may harm to the environment than the benefits they try and bring. Then we are left with low-yielding plants and soil which has lost its richness. I’ve realized that the native plants that survive in a certain environemtn are there because they are supposed to be. They can handle the climate, and reproduce at an efficient rate which is why they have stayed in their native area for so long.

    • Very good point, Troy. There is a difference between helping natural selection along in supporting seeds or crops adapted to one’s area and genetically engineering something that is supposed to work globally. The latest tragedy is the “sudden death syndrome” of livestock feed genetically engineered Round Up Ready grains. Sometimes the solution is not instant and global but takes some careful work and complex thinking. I mentioned the 800 pounds of produce grown in small city yard: not everyone is so motivated or industrious, but we only need to multiply that a small percentage of the time to handle much more of our hunger problem than gmos are doing–and without the negative consequences. Thanks for your comment.

  92. It was interesting to read this article. The women really took responsibility into their on hands. Things for one culture might not always work for another and these people found something that is helping them. They are working with the land and in turn the land is working with the people. Even though the rising waters will effect the land, at least the people are finding ways to survive.

  93. There is a broken western idea of “transplanting technology” that is clearly disproved in this article. The idea I’m trying to relate is that an idea conceived and tested in a lab or on a small scale clearly can have huge repercussions in practice. This article was really a feel good story in that the local women fixed took initiative to fix the problem themselves instead of relying on a scientific or regulatory solution. A great example of spirituality or beliefs (in biodiversity) providing a solution for a problem caused by science.

    • “Transplanting technology” is, as you have well put it, a “broken western idea”– since its one-size-fits-all homogeneity tramples local knowledge– the one thing that seems best equipped to give us the means to make any technology truly work. This is a great example of what can be done better, indeed!

  94. While living in the villages in eastern Gujarat, India as an Indicorps Fellow, the introduction of pesticides (what the villagers called “European medicine”) was just starting to emerge and I was able to discuss this use with numerous elders. A few of them were willing and curious to try it, some were skeptical or didn’t care to even learn about this new technology. I was surprised to hear that those that did end up using the chemicals refused to use it on the plot of corn that the harvest for their household consumption; the pesticides were used only on the plots in which the farmers intended to sell their grain. They seemed unsure about the affects of it and were not concerned about yield when it came to their nutrition of their own consumed grain. I found this to be poetic as they were willing to give Western technology a shot but trusted their own methods of farming when it came to the health of their crop and their family’s nutrition.

    • Thanks for sharing this experience, Priti. It is also fitting that the food on which they used pesticides was more likely to be sold back to its source– Western society.
      The elders’ perspective parallels that of the Bangladesh women in many respects, and might well save the grief caused by “poison”.

  95. Often enough in school we are made to work in teams. We are taught to work with many types of people and that everyone has their own strengths. Does it not hold true that a variety of plants would work together in a team to grow best? An ecosystem can not function with only one super genetically modified plant. I think it only makes sense that the world needs diversity to survive so all of nature can work together in a “team” to sustain itself. I did not even know that there were thousands of varieties or rice. But it would seem to make sense that different varieties would work well together because one will be producing while the other is growing and while the first is done and decomposes it will nourish the next species as it grows. Or some sort of cyclic process like this.

    • Thoughtful point, Carly. The roots of many trees are intertwined underground–and many “teams” of trees seed together. A Chehalis elder told me one could find their way in the woods by observing these “streams of trees” that seeded and grew together. In fact, I have always felt that a single plant we protected by leaving naked ground all around was a sitting duck for whatever insect, etc. wanting to attack it. You never see any lonely plant growing like that in nature.

  96. It’s concerning that GMO genes may be “leaking” into populations of non-GMO crops. Heirloom crops are typically open pollinated so are at risk for being infected with GMO genes. It would be such a pity to lose those beautiful and unique heirloom races created and maintained over generations. Can you imagine a world in which all the beautiful, diverse heirloom tomatoes are eclipsed by those tasteless, mass-produced Beefsteak tomatoes?

    • This is concerning indeed, Amy. And it is not only that gmo genes “may” be leaking (good word!) into other crops, there is substantial evidence that they have done so. That is one reason that British farmers burned gmo test crops next to their fields– to avoid such contamination.

  97. This article provided a great example of how if we are good to the Earth, the Earth will be good to us.

    I can’t say that all genetic and hormonal modification to food is bad because I do not know enough about the subject to confidently say so. I will say, however, that I see a different in my own body based on the foods that I intake. A few years ago, I became very health conscious when it comes to my food and have slowly transitioned to eating organic and all-natural foods whenever possible, (of course there is always the guilty snack or dining-out occasion here and there). After switching to a far more natural diet, void of hormonal alterations and genetically modified foods, I noticed that my skin, digestion, energy, sleep, and general health improved significantly. While it may be less convenient because natural produce often produces smaller and/or less product, the nutrients it provides is immeasurable.

    Food is something that the natural world provides for us – without the help of man. It seems to me as though the more that man interferes with our food, the less healthy and nutrient-rich our nourishment becomes. It would be interesting to look at the diet of an average person today vs. the diet of an average person 500 years ago. While they have access to less variety of foods, I would think that their meat and produce would be far better for humans that what the norm is today.

    When it comes to nourishing less developed countries, I believe that the producers of rice and like foods should be far less concerned with caloric value and amount of crops yielded than with the nutrients contained by their products. As the article stated, there may be more calories in the food but the people will still have vitamin deficiencies. I think it is great the the women of Bangladesh finally see this as an opportunity to return back to the natural way of production and reject the widespread notion that we can control every aspect of nature – even the kind the keeps us alive.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal experience with healthy foods, Amanda. Be careful of (our modern?) presumptions about indigenous food variety: indeed, biodiversity was a keystone of diets in the Pacific Northwest, with literally hundreds of foods being used (see “Biodiversity in the Pacific Northwest” here).
      I think you bring up a central distinction: we may either work with the land to obtain our food– or try to control it according to our whims. We are seeing the sad consequences of the latter. A further lesson in this situation, I think, is that “development” is not about imposing any technology (by caloric standards or any other) from the outside. These women who knew their land knew how to heal it and best care for themselves and their families. Unfortunately, many of these same women now have to deal with flooding caused by climate change.

  98. Wow. What an awesome agricultural endeavor. I like the idea of variety, not only for the soil, but as sources of nutrition. Instead of a single ‘super food,’ getting all necessary nutrient through variety, as nature intended. Growing a single crop that dominates the land is a lot like putting all your eggs in one basket and probably mostly benefits a large agra-business conglomerate instead the community sustaining it. Thanks for getting the word out on collectives actively working towards (and successfully achieving) healthy, sustainable communities.

    • You are welcome, Amy. We ARE omnivores, which means that one super food is unlikely to nourish us– much less the land, as these wise and enterprising women illustrated with their alternatives. They are facing another serious challenge now (see video Afloat on our links page) with floods due to global warming. Time for the industrialized worlds to be responsible by cutting our carbon output and our toxic/reductionist approach to development.
      Thanks for your comment.

  99. There are many benefits of organic farming all over the world. With the use of traditional farming knowledge people have proved that they are able to produce higher yields and have lower capital investments. A disadvantage of traditional farming is that it is time consuming and very labor intensive.

    This story is a perfect example of what can happen when people take a stand and do what is right. We in the U.S. need to push the government to required companies to label GMO ingredients.

    • Traditional farming such as this can be both time and labor intensive, as you point out. But I am also thinking of all those Iowa corn farmers who need to take a second job to support all their machinery, their chemicals and the gmo seed they buy. I am wondering if these women in Bangladesh do not feel less put upon by their own workload. Thanks for your comment.

  100. Wow it sounds as though these women and this culture really have it figured out. When can they come implement their ideas in the U.S.? It’s unbelievable that some farmers have over 110 different kinds of rice that they are actively growing. Also impressive that have the technology in their rice for it to use the standing water instead of the ground water. Its inspiring that these women diverted from the pack to produce environmentally sound and health conscious options for themselves and their community.

  101. These women of Bangladesh really have their way of life figured out. How could it not be figured out if there are roughly 12,000 varieties of rice and on average an individual farmer grows more then 110 different varieties. In the US that is not the case we grow very few varieties of rice and soy in our fields. I find it very sad that US companies like Monsanto are able to genetically engineer crops that are able to grow in the harshest of climates, but have hardly any nutritional value. We shouldn’t be trading nutritional value for crops that can grow anywhere, by doing this we are harming ourselves. We need to stop the genetic engineering of crops I know the scientist may be doing this with the best of intentions, but it is really affecting the nutritional value of those engineered crops and the survivability of the natural ones.

  102. It is sad that whenever there is a problem western society looks for some sort of technology to fix it. However most of the time the technology is only aimed at fixing one symptom instead of curing the problem. And the Bangladeshi women have taught another important lesson that biodiversity is important part of the world.

    • The technology we use to fix our problems is only as good as its inventors–and as Einstein once observed, we cannot solve our problems by repeating the same thinking that caused them.
      The Bangladeshi women thrive on partnership with nature’s biodiversity rather than clever human inventions.

  103. I personally think that bio-engineering still holds promise. I would agree that many GM crops may not be ready for use, but that does not mean that the field of study is useless or all harming. Is there harming in trying to make a crop more sturdy, so if there is a drought or other uncontrollable natural disaster, that more of the crop survives than dies? Or in the case of malnutrition, adding additional nutrients to a dietary staple like rice? Genetic engineering is still in the early stages, and as living systems are complex, it might take awhile for scientists to reach a mastery over the process, but the possibilities and benefits merit that the research continues.

    • I have to say I disagree. When corporations like Monsanto are spearheading the research, and busy engineering “terminator” genes that threaten not just one crop but the entire food supply, genetic engineering of crops simply isn’t safe. The entire system of food production needs to be changed to a more biodiverse local system, and until that happens, until corporate profits are not the force behind such scientific developments, genetically engineered crops will never solve our problems.

    • My sense is that these same ends have been accomplished through hybrid crops and biodiversity in dynamically farmed whole systems. Have you read Barbara Kingsolver’s comparison of hybridization to genetic engineering? In her book of essays, Small Wonder.

  104. How heartening to hear of a local group making such a difference in their community by providing an alternative to the one-size-fits-all system of industrialized monoculture farming. We should all take a lesson from these women and build similar sustainable food initiatives in our own communities. This is the way real revolutions happen, grassroots, from the ground up.

  105. I am so glad to read this article, because I think that one of the least discussed issues in sustainability (but one of the most important!) is soil health. Most of the pesticides – and many of the fertilizers – are destroying soil health. Losing productive soil is terribly problematic when thinking about how very many people are dependent on the crops produced from big-businesses agricultural train-wrecks of farming techniques. Not even taking into account the impact of genetically modified food on human bodies (not pretty), I don’t understand how anyone can look at the research on the impact of genetically modified crops on the ecosystems they are grown in without becoming anti-GM crops. They are producing less healthy products in much less healthy ways.
    I’m thrilled to hear about women using grass-roots organizing to make serious changes to farming in Bangladesh – the New Agricultural Movement seems like an amazing example for us to follow!

    • These women are inspiring indeed, Anna. Soil health is very important–and as you point out, we cannot continue to degrade this and still feed ourselves. More on this issue is in Angus Wright’s “The Death of Ramon Gonzales”– see the “trouble with progress” on this site.

    • I agree Anna,

      I think that knowing about soil health is just as important as knowing about the health of the plant. This article reminded me of the book titled, The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollen, who discusses the effects of big business agriculture. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

      I found it so inspiring that these women took it upon themselves to address the problem and they are a great example that shows how grass roots networks can really make a positive difference to our world.

      • Pollen’s book has some very good info on this society. A classic scholarly work that addresses the issue of the drawbacks of modern agriculture in terms of things like soil health, water usage, and chemicals, is Angus Wright’s The Death of Ramon Gonzales.
        These women of Bangladesh are indeed inspiring!

  106. Is agribusiness poisoning the world’s food supply in an aggressive strategy of control over food production and consumption worldwide? Has agribusiness really become so egotistical that they are really competing with nature over the profit share of seed potential? Are they so threatened that farmers might use seed from last year’s harvest to plant this year’s crops (as they have done since time immemorial) that they have engineered sterile seed into the market place? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Do we have a chance to stand against the agribusiness juggernaut aided and abetted by world governments?

    Yes.

    Just look at what a group of women in Bangladesh are doing. They understand sustainable rice production because generation after generation, their family members have grown up along side of it. They are the true experts of this food staple and they don’t even have to wear white lab coats in sterile rooms in basement laboratories. Just smiles. Because they intrinsically know what they are doing and they like doing it.

    I know I am just one person, but I am a consumer. I’m finding out that is my greatest identifier these days. I don’t want to feed my family mutated food or turn them into guinea pigs while corporations tweek the bejesus out of seed hybrids. Talk about Francis Bacon and torturing nature, he’d love this! There needs to be resources which identify markets that sell sustainably unaltered food, like rice from these women in Bangladesh. One person can be a revolution.

    • Thanks for sharing your passion and personal ethical stance with respect to the natural world that sustains us, Justin. Growing our food in just (with respect to other humans) and sustainable (with respect to the environment) is essential–and these women can inspire us all in this!
      And it is with tragic consequences that so many of the queries you pose in the first part of your comment can be answered with a “yes” if we consider the actions of particular biotech actions.

  107. The female farmer’s of Bangladesh have a very good idea going back to early agriculture. Artificial fertilizers only work to enhance the nutrients that vegetables and fruits already provide to the environmental. But it takes different fruits and vegetables to provide different nutrients. The western thought of only growing for profit a single vegetable until the soil is depleted is a non sustainable design. With all growth there needs to be a variety and cycle.
    As for genetically engineered genes I’m not against them, but I do not agree with the Monsato companies business model. Many of their practices in gene splicing and farm land takeovers are deplorable. I think with the right kinds of plants genetic engineering would be useful, but for plants that already grow well enough without being modified it just takes the right kind of farming techniques to grow a bountiful crop and not deplete the nutrients of the land.

    • Nice balance in this response, Kayli. I am reminded of the aphorism: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it– even if it brings one a profit and especially if it has huge costs in soil fertility and human health in the process.

  108. I am so glad to read this article, because I think that one of the least discussed issues in sustainability (but one of the most important!) is soil health. Most of the pesticides – and many of the fertilizers – are destroying soil health. Losing productive soil is terribly problematic when thinking about how very many people are dependent on the crops produced from big-businesses agricultural train-wrecks of farming techniques. Not even taking into account the impact of genetically modified food on human bodies (not pretty), I don’t understand how anyone can look at the research on the impact of genetically modified crops on the ecosystems they are grown in without becoming anti-GM crops. They are producing less healthy products in much less healthy ways.
    I’m thrilled to hear about women using grass-roots organizing to make serious changes to farming in Bangladesh – the New Agricultural Movement seems like an amazing example for us to follow!

    • These women are inspiring indeed, Anna. Soil health is very important–and as you point out, we cannot continue to degrade this and still feed ourselves. More on this issue is in Angus Wright’s “The Death of Ramon Gonzales”– see the “trouble with progress” on this site.

  109. I have to say kudos to the women of Bangladesh for their insight and forward thinking. Biodiversity is an essential element in managing natural resources and protecting various species. Foresters, ecologists, biologists, etc., have learned after many years of scientific research and practice, what these women have known all along, which is biodiversity in nature is a key factor in survival and sustainability. The more I learn about indigenous people, the more impressed I am with their knowledge and skills to effectively manage various resources and their uncanny ability to act in ways that are truly sustainable. Modern scientists can learn a great deal by listening to and observing indigenous people in their treatment of nature.

    • I think the lessons — like the value of biodiversity– expressed here, are directly linked to the experience of generations of place-based knowledge, in which each thing is inter-related in fitting its particular ecological niche.
      Of course, in order to understand such knowledge, we need to pay attention, as these women obviously did.

    • Indigenous peoples ability to understand the needs of the land like the needs of their own child, is quite remarkable. It is impressive to see the women of Bangladesh work to phase out or eliminate chemicals as they work with the land and animals of the area. Working with nature is described as a “local community in partnership.” How many of us can say that we are working within the natural boundaries of our communities? It would appear that nature is ready to teach anyone who would listen as demonstrated by these women. Thus learning sustainable ways is not so much a mystery as it is a return to our roots within the natural environment.

      • Thanks for sharing your perspective here, Chris. What you well describe is place-based technology– and as your comment reminds us, we need to be in intimate touch with a particular landscape in order to set such technology in place as a “local community in partnership” with the land.

      • I agree that nature is ready to teach any who are willing. I also believe nature is forgiving to those who are trying to go back to the ways that indigenous cultures have always known.

        • In addition, there is this wonderful thing about the natural world that is allowed to expressed its own vitality by humans: it heals us even as we work to heal it.

      • Indeed, for example back in the day my grandparents would farm and grow their own food. In the summer they would grow as much food as possible and then can what they could to get them through the harsh winters in Michigan. This was the way to live in terms of being self-sustainable. Nowadays, we are working over 40 hours a week, with a family, and life is very busy. Sometimes it’s hard to grow a garden, but I all wish we could get back into our roots of being self-sustainable.

        • Good perspective, Kayla. Even if we haven’t time to grown and preserve all this food, we ought to at least know how to do this– I can’t imagine knowledge more important to a secure future, not to mention, this also allows knowledge of the choices we make as consumers. Without this knowledge, we can more easily be sold “fake” food–and forget how important the natural world is to our subsistence.

    • I agree with you. Modern science may also know what the indigenous people have learned over the years but they are being funded by companies that have other motives. Mostly just to make money, I think this is what is skewing research and letting methods that negatively affect populations getting approved. This is why sometimes its just best to let the locals do what they have been for years, and everything will just work out.

      • Good point on locally-based decision-making–which is too often undermined in a profit-first mentality– especially on the part of people from elsewhere.

      • I’m glad you made the point that modern science may know the same things and have reached the same conclusions as indigenous people, but that the results are often twisted because of concerns about money and profit. I think that sometimes we set science and tradition up against each other, when really they can work in perfect harmony. If we could see that clearly and put the good of both together, I think we could accomplish great things.

  110. Reading this article took me back to a film I watched last year called ‘FRESH’ and how Joel Salatin who owns Polyface Farm in Virginia runs his farm by duplicating how the natural ecosystem works. It seems that the Bangladesh women have known this all along. When will all nations realize that Monsanto seed is not sustainable, that it causes more damage than good and will eventually help destroy our very existence.

    • Polyface Farm is a true example of sustainable agriculture in every sense of the word– and its tactics could not be more clearly opposed to those of Monsanto.

  111. I am glad to read that these women took charge of their own lands and were able to get comparable yields, very impressive! Different regions have different climates and ideal crops. The local population would be most effective at identifying the best ways to grow crops; often they may already know what is effective from the many years that the indigenous populations existed. Chemicals, pesticides, and companies with large marketing budgets are convincing people to move away from traditional methods and creating more problems than solutions. I was impressed with the Bangladesh women’s efforts.

  112. The amazing women of Bangladesh make me think of Wangari Maathai (may she rest in peace) who formed the Green Belt Movement (GBM) in 1977. Maathai got into activism because of the Kenyan women from the countryside who expressed to her their need for water, food, firewood, and income. She quickly realized that everything they needed came from the environment, which had been destroyed by deforestation and cash crops that had taken over the land. Over the past decades the organization has planted over 40 million trees, employed over 100,000 people, started 6000 tree nurseries operated by women, and empowered women to take control of their lives. It wasn’t easy and there were a lot of problems, mostly from the government who tried to block what the women were doing. But they did what they had to do and succeeded.

    I have no doubt that the women of Bangladesh will do the same thing with their Nayakrishi Andolon and it will continue to grow and spread. I like what Farhad Mazhar says in “Hope for Bangladesh,” “Absolutely we would be better off if everyone trying to ‘help’ us just went home.” They seem to be doing just fine on their own because they know the land and care about the environment and their people.

    • Thanks for bringing up the Green Belt Movement– I also have a short tribute to Wangari Maathai on this site that lists some other amazing things she did:
      http://holdenma.wordpress.com/2011/09/27/wangari-maathai-1940-2011/.
      Certainly she cannot be too well honored.
      Now of course, the people of Bangladesh are suffering from climate change induced flooding. We need not only to go home– but to take back the results of our actions (which of course, means changing them to reverse the climate change from which these people are suffering but not causing).

    • Hi Cheryl,

      Thanks for bringing up Wangari Maathai. I think her work and life can serve as a inspiration for all. The GBM is grassroots organization at its best. I hope the the women of Bangladesh are able to thrive in such a strong way. I hope that the climate change does not destroy the great progress that the women of Bangladesh have made.

      • Climate change is so much an issue of environmental justice– I hate to imagine how bad it would be in Bangladesh without the work of these brave women.
        I just heard research indicating gmo soy in its “round up ready” configuration (which constitutes 80 per cent of the gmo seed used) acts as an antibiotic and chelating agent such that the soil/plant connection no longer works the same way, leading to the fact that it takes twice as much water to sustain a RoundUp Ready crop as a non gmo one.
        Soil scientist Don Huber maintains that we would not be suffering at the same level from the current drought in the US if we were raising the older non-gmo crops.

  113. There are several frightening issues discussed in this article, one being that genes migrate from one plant or field to another. This coupled with the fact that genetic engineers cannot be 100% positive about the effects there “inventions” might have on people or the plant. If the “terminator” gene found in HVP migrated to an endangered species, the ability to fight this threat of extinction is unknown. I find it tragic that the response to HVP causing deficiencies in vitamin A, leads genetic engineers to create another genetically engineered food to solve the problem.

    The New Agricultural Movement created by the women of Bangladesh is amazing. I am glad that they were brave enough to fight for what they knew is right for themselves and the environment. They are fighting so hard, the rest of the world needs to fight equally hard to stop the rapid destruction climate change is having on all people. Eventually, we in the industrialized countries will no longer be able to “other” the rest of the world, it will be at everyone’s front door soon enough.

    • Excellent perspective about our inability to continue to “other’ the rest of the world, Odessa. I find the loose way that many chemicals as well as gmo seed are put into the environment scary indeed. This is why I think the EU institution of the precautionary principle is so important– we need to know what we are doing before we release such things into the environment.
      In this sense, the awarding of the Nobel Prize to the EU is perfectly in line with rationality.

  114. This short essay was a pleasure to read because it illustrates how the Green Movement was beneficial and worked for a community. These women should be honored for their determination and strength to build a better and healthier lifestyle for their generation and other generations to come. I think the major influence too is that they are not competing in a profit-capitalist economy, rather they are competing for a longer and healthier life. When people are not urged into a capitalist market, they seem to focus on better products, thus the Green Revolution.

  115. I believe that they women in this essay are absolutely amazing. Genetically modified crops look great on the outside but can be so dangerous and destructive to our bodies, our land, other crops and even the lively hoods of the farmers themselves. Monsanto is a company known for feeding off of farmers and putting them out of business by burying them in debt and lawsuits. They have a high disregard for not only the human beings that work for them but also the land. I believe that science can be helpful in may ways, but when it comes to GM foods, i believe that they will cause more harm than normal farming. These women are exactly what this earth needs and are a great example for others to follow.

    • I agree with you on the inspirational character of these women, Molly. They have a profound and effective way to counter the destructive results of particular technologies that we might well learn from.

  116. These woman are the smart ones. They are returning to way of farming that was used long before them. They are using their resources like nature and its creatures to advance their crops. At times it is best to let nature show us what it is capable of. In Mayan culture, they used a slash and burn method. Producing a crop on one field, cultivating it and then burning what was left. The next year they would use a different plot. This allowed the ground to regenerate and let nutrients return to the soil. What has lead us to believe that we need genetically engineered crops/seeds to begin with?

    • Thanks for sharing this insightful perspective, Melissa. It is indeed smart to let nature show us the way, as you indicated-and isn’t that what the best science should be all about– learning from natural processes in their historical context? That is, as they repeat or exhibit the consequences of human actions on them.
      These women farmers in Bangladesh are indeed, as you phrase it, “the smart ones”.

  117. I find it interesting that the Green Revolution perpetrated a big lie of progress. Because the externalities were not taken into consideration, that progress came at the expense of something more valuable than higher yields–the ecosystem. Companies like Monsanto and other GMO perpetrators are profiting by decreasing biodiversity which is well known as a factor in sustainability. It is amazing how some smaller countries and cultures have proven the Green Revolution to be a farce. These instances make a case for how much potential there is for capitalistic cultures to learn about sustainability.

    • Not only did “progress” become a “lie” (as you aptly put it) with these results– since it was not progress at all. But it not only cost ecosystem damage, but the yields it promised were forthcoming only in the short term, for single crops (the loss of others caused nutritional deficiencies among their harvesters), but at great cost for chemicals for those who could not afford them, and water usage that was not available.
      In short, as the Union of Concerned Scientists reported in their assessment of actual yields of genetically engineered crops– part of the lie of “progress” was that the new crops actually failed to yield less than the traditional one (see the Union of Concern Scientist’s “Failure to Yield”).

    • The destruction of biodiversity is the green revolution.The problem is that even it there is a higher yield the first year or two, something always goes wrong. The small countries and old cultures, know how to receive high yields, and keep the earth healthy. It is unfortunate that these large company’s benefit by destroying biodiversity and destroying whole communities lively hood.

      • You are right in that destruction of these older cultures also results in the destruction of biodiversity. As the essay “Indigenous Peoples” here notes, the substantial portion of the world’s current biodiversity is now on the lands of indigenous peoples.

  118. Monsantos is only worried about one thing and that is the bottom line. THey many have at the beginning wanted to help provide nutrient rice foods to third world countries, but as time passes there focus got blurred and now money and power are the main concerns. Monsanto denying that there crops fail to yield is a example of their lack of concern over people and the environment. The people the provide the seed to rely on crops to live. To say that it is a lie is a clear lack of compassion.
    These women use no pesticides and have good health biodivers crops. They do not need monsanto to keep afloat. With there biodivers crop they are able to keep the soil/ground healthy and full of nutrients. These women are not just thinking in themselves but in future generations to come. The see the effects of mono- cropping as a “means to a end” they do not want this for future generations. They want to be able to pass down there land and traditions to their daughters. They do not need the huge amounts of pesticide to grown numerous crops.

    • I took a biology class a couple years that made reference to the rice mentioned in the essay. The teacher said it was a colossal failure because the modification of adding vitamin A to the rice gave it a yellow color. The locals refused to eat the rice because it was not their traditional rice. These kind of experiments end up being not only science experiments, but social experiments that come at a great cost to the cultures and biodiversity of the world.

      • Yes, these women do not need there help to have successful crops. The fact that climate change is going to start causing so many problems for these women. It seems that Monsanto’s is profiting from global warming. They seem to be finding ways to add more hazardous chemicals to the environment. With most of their crop needing three times more pesticides then a non genetically modified crop, they add to global warming and profit from it.

      • The problem with this rice was also that to get enough of the vitamin to be of any use was so high that it was no benefit to anyone! what was the point in this? Not only did this not help one bit, but like you said it is not the rice that the people wanted.

        • Indeed: ecological systems– including our bodies, work as a whole, just like these traditional food systems, which included greens and fish as well as rice. Thanks for your comment.

      • Good perspective, Sarah. Thanks for sharing more details on this failed experiment– an essential point to remember that scientific “experiments” are also social in nature.

      • a good point about the locals not wanting to eat this new ‘improved’ rice, since it wasn’t their traditional rice. I would have said no also! I’m sure whatever they added probably also changed the flavor!

    • Good point, Laura– these women do not (and did not) need corporations such as Monsanto to “improve” their lives (and make a profit for themselves).
      Now they especially don’t need global warming, which is causing sea level rise and serious problems for the coastal peoples of this beleaguered country.

  119. If only our women (and even men) felt so strongly about the GMO in our country right now. If we all voiced disgust at the Monsanto GMO business, maybe something would change. If we continue to let the government control our food sources by giving special contracts to these corporations, and appointing the businesses heads to environmental and FDA positions, we won’t get anywhere, no matter what the people have to say.

  120. Issues such as this demand to be highly scrutinized. While there is such a big demand for food across the world. Farmers everywhere are turning to opportunities such as this to maximize production, and certainly things like this do some degree of that (these helped Asia turn from primarily food production into more industry). However, when we make these changes they should be more evaluated not only by scientific means but by ethical means. The population who receives this food should be involved with making these decisions as well

    • Hi Miles, thanks for you comment. We certainly need place-based approaches rather than a one size fits all blanket approach.
      There are also some serious concerns as to what the long term benefits of the “green revolution” are in terms of land degradation: see the Union of Concerned Scientists’ report, “Failure to Yield” on the data that indicates bioengineered soy yields were actually less than some traditional seed– and had the added deficits of needing more pesticide, water and chemical fertilizer– as well as causing more topsoil loss.
      Wright’s The Death of Ramon Gonzales goes into detail on the same issues.
      Vandana Shiva’s analysis in India indicates that even if a single engineered crop produces more, the multiple (rather than monocrop) yield of traditional crops tends to outproduce it in total. In many places in Asia, the single crop focus led to local malnutrition, since rice varieties planted as monocrops did away with traditional “weed” greens and fish harvested along with rice (thus deleting protein and Vitamin A from local diets). Neither the greens nor the fish could survive the chemicals needed for monocrop rices.
      Holistic and long term approaches are very important.

  121. I am true supporter of “Bright Spot” problem solving, which I first read in the book “Switch” by the brothers Heath. However, I feel compelled to express my concern of ignoring solutions that work today. Whether ultimately it is the best choice to use GMO foods, the golden rice is not a corporate product, but the products of many different industry tools and gifted licensing of a technology. Having spent many hours reading up and checking references on Golden Rice, I support it. The nutritional benefits have been much improved, and the suffering has, from my research, been substantial. .

    I do not think it should be the only solution. Trying to recreate agri-economic conditions that support indigenous foods and cultures should be the target. But to block solutions where a technology was used for pure humanitarian reasons just because it shares qualities with other products that are heinous in outcome and original intent is creating a new dualistic thinking. I very much respect and support Shiva, but on this point I must voice dissent.

    I would not block bottled water from a village with contaminated wells because the bottle water represents all that is wrong with disposable western ideology. bottle water would be a fix until a more sustainable method to accessing resources could be put in place. I would not block medical treatments involving radiation because it is akin to a nuclear power plant.

    There are appropriate and inappropriate uses for all technologies. It is not black and white, but a very patchy quilts with many grays.

    GMO might be part of the way we get back to a sustainable planet. It is a tool that should not be in the hands of profit minded larger chemical companies, but used to target individual problems on a local scale. Like all solutions, they should be implemented with forethought, risk assessment, and with built in back doors.

    ]

    • I wonder what you think of our essay here on sustainable technologies, Kate– in which we support the point that technology is not good or bad in itself- -indeed, there is no human society, perhaps not even any mammal society without technology.
      As to golden rice, it obviously (in conjunction with “monocultural agriculture”, including the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides that did away with protein sources and greens) was aptly judged as part of a package of “poison” technology by the women of Bangladesh.
      This essay doesn’t actually mention gmo technology in general– though there is another essay on that point here, “Why GMO foods won’t feed the world” that may be the place to register your concerns.
      Certainly we should not ignore “solutions that work”– which they obviously did not in this case. All told, we need some focus on place-based technologies that fit local conditions.
      As for bottled water, I do know that there is a project that purifies water using (and reusing) bottles of water and sunlight– and thus uses bottled water in a very different way than our throw-away society, or the corporations that are locking up clean water supplies in order to bottle and sell it elsewhere. And not incidentally, filling the oceans with plastic.

  122. To start, I am curious how the WTO views the women of Bangladesh and if it has made any noise about their success over the corporate, HVP rice? After reading the lesson 4 lecture notes and being appalled at all the WTO has opposed (most alarming to me was the breastfeeding campaign cancelled in Guatemala), I imagine the organization has something to contribute/destroy in regards to Bangladesh.
    A project I began with my students a few years ago in biology encouraged them to research a particular area around the world, learn about its biome, and then discover how the area builds homes. One of the purposes of this project was to demonstrate to students that people in other areas do not build homes without windows because they cannot afford windows, but because windows are not necessary there. Or, to understand some areas build homes out of mud, clay, and straw not because they cannot afford wood and steel, but because those resources are available in their area and meet the needs for shelter. Too often, in our society, our kids learn to pity those in other countries who do not live in houses like ours. Instead, our kids should be learning from them, for their knowledge is necessary for a sustainable future. The women of Bangladesh demonstrate this well.

    • I don’t know the answer to the WTOs response, but I do know that the Trans Pacific Partnership (which has been aptly termed the “WTO on steriods”) would make it even harder for local folks to maintain their standards, since the TPP would allow them (or their governments) to be sued by corporations who see local activities as interfering with their profits.
      A great project to do with your students to teach the importance of place-based analysis of technologies!
      Keep up the good work.

  123. I was provided another reason to give up modern grains (rice, corn soy) from an unexpected place: a wetlands class. These modern grains are much higher in nutrient content and/or calories than some of the indigenous grains, but they are useless in many ways to waterfowl. They rot. They cannot hang around in the ecosystem for long before become the fodder for microbes and not migrating birds who desperately need food to be there when they arrive. Water fowl is worldwide and everywhere there are wetlands. I love the idea of additional support for improved agricultural choices (choosing indigenous millets, and low chemical farming in my definition) coming from the conservative “hunting” crowd. Like music, it is sometimes easier to hear if there are a dimension of voices and sounds working together toward the same end (instead of the same “noise” over and over) — a way to win over the more corporate minded consumers/voters/legislators that are open to the cause.

    Hooray for Ducks Unlimited. :-)

    • When you say there are more nutrients in the modern grains, it depends on which nutrients– they may be more calorie dense, but be missing many micronutrients that exist in wild foods. Phytochemicals, for instance- which seem to be especially important for the immune system.
      Have you seen the recent studies on the problems with feeding corn and other grains to beef? Michael Pollen makes a good case that the antibiotics needed to sustain cattle in concentrated feed lots, for instance, result from the ravaging of their digestive systems by being corn fed– when the cattle are evolutionarily prepared only for grass.
      Maintaining our choices is certainly in line with nature’s biodiversity.
      It does seem to me that the “corporate types” will only be convinced to change when we shift our values away from profit first and/or simple convenience. Some shifting to do for sure!
      Thanks for your follow up comment.

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