A recent gathering of researchers and smallholder farmers in Istanbul yields insights.
A few years ago, I was at a biotechnology trade meeting listening to a panel on GMOs. Throughout the two-hour session, the panelists all sang the praises of the technology—not too surprising at an industry event. (At the time, the GMOs under commercial planting were limited to seeds genetically engineered to produce an insecticide and/or resist a proprietary herbicide.)
What was unexpected was what came next: One of the speakers took the mic to say those opposed to GMOs should be tried for crimes against humanity. Seriously. Sure, the comment may have been a gross misuse of the term, but a similar sentiment runs throughout the messaging from the biotech industry that says we can’t feed the world if we don’t embrace the technology.
If my experience last month in Turkey is any indication, the notion that GMOs are the only way to feed a growing population is way out of step with both the leading thinkers on food and farming and the world’s smallholder farmers—who produce much of what the planet eats and 80 percent of the food in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
These farmers may not have money on their side, but I saw the power of strength in numbers at the Organic World Congress. Held this year in Istanbul, the conference brought together people from 81 countries to discuss the latest research from organic farm fields and to share private and public developments that promote organic agriculture.