NOTE: Last week - from 16 to 20 June, BIO held its grand business convention - BIOtech International, at the San Diego Convention Center, and according to the post-convention press release the event attracted 20,108 people at $2,300 a piece!

Given the monies also pouring into Monsanto's coffers during the global food crisis triggered by the Bush subsidised ethanol boom, the state of ag biotech would seem to be bouyant.

But interestingly, at exactly the same time as the big BIO bash was underway in the States, a more modest number of people from over 100 countries were meeting in Modena/Italy for the 16th IFOAM Organic World Congress, to consider such issues as the pressures on biodiversity, the risks of GM technology and the long term needs of agriculture in a world where emissions of greenhouse gases and dependency on fossil fuels desperately need to be reduced.

And during IFOAM's session on GM, it became clear that the GM industry is coming under growing pressure from within its US heartland - with Monsanto's GM hormone injected into cattle (rBGH) being increasingly phased out under food industry pressure; increasing concern among big food manufacturers over GM regulation, and Obama committed to GM labelling.
Small farms best for environment: organic group
By Mathias Wildt
Reuters, June 20 2008

MODENA, Italy - Small-scale, not industrial farming, is the answer to food shortages and climate change, organic farmers argued this week.

Meeting at the Organic World Congress this week, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements IFOAM -- -- criticized a recent U.N. food summit for touting chemical fertilizers and genetically modified (GM) crops rather than organic solutions to tackle world hunger.

The World Bank says an extra 100 million people worldwide could go hungry as a result of the sharp rise in the price of food staples in the last year.

At the U.N. food summit in Rome this month, the World Bank pledged $1.2 billion in grants to help with the food crisis.

"The $1.2 billion the World Bank says will solve the food crisis in Africa is a $1.2 billion subsidy to the chemical industry," said Vandana Shiva, an Indian physics professor and environmental activist speaking at the forum in Modena.

"Countries are made dependent on chemical fertilizers when their prices have tripled in the last year due to rising oil prices," she said. "I say to governments: spend a quarter of that on organic farming and you've solved your problems."

She said industrial farming was based on planting a single crop on vast surfaces and heavy use of chemical fertilizers, a process that used 10 times more energy than it produced.

"The rest turns into waste as greenhouse gases, chemical runoffs and pesticide residues in our food," she said.

In contrast, organic farms could increase output by 10 times by growing many different species of plants at the same time, which helped retain soil and water, she said. "In a one-acre farm in India they can grow 250 species of plants," she said.


The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization Director General Jacques Diouf said last December there was no reason to believe that organic agriculture can substitute conventional farming systems in ensuring the world's food security.

"You cannot feed six billion people today and nine billion in 2050 without judicious use of chemical fertilizers."

Shiva has began a civil disobedience campaign in India against the patenting of natural seeds, particularly of crops that resist flooding and drought and can better withstand climate change.

"We need this worldwide. Seeds are for everyone," she said.

According to IFOAM, a quarter of greenhouse gases are emitted by industrially farmed crops and livestock. The proportion rises to 40 percent when including the emissions caused by transporting commodities around the world.

IFOAM members also criticized the production of fuel from grains, citing a U.S. university study that it took 1.3 gallons of fossil fuel to make 1 gallon of ethanol from corn.

The United States and Brazil defended their use of corn and sugar cane to make ethanol to fuel cars at the UN food summit saying it was a minor factor in food price inflation.
How organic agriculture contributes to combat desertification

The 2008 theme of the Day is 'Combating Land Degradation for Sustainable Agriculture' and because the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements representing is convinced that Organic Agriculture can contribute significantly to mitigate and even reverse the negative impacts of unsustainable land use and to stem further desertification it joins the international community to mark 17 June World Day to Combat Desertification.

Desertification refers to land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities like conventional agriculture. Desertification is caused mainly by overcultivation, overgrazing, deforestation and poor irrigation practices, which result in organic matter loss, soil contamination, erosion, soil compaction and sealing, salinization and long-term loss of natural vegetation.

The international community has long recognized that desertification is a major economic, social and environmental problem of concern to many countries in all regions of the world. As early as 1977, the United Nations Conference on Desertification (UNCOD) adopted a Plan of Action to Combat Desertification (PACD). Unfortunately, despite this and other efforts, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) concluded in 1991 that the problem of land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas had intensified, although there were "local examples of success".

Desertification is a worldwide problem that directly affects over 250 million people and a third of the earth’s land surface. It is especially concentrated in developing countries. Since 1990, about 6 million hectares of productive land have been lost each year around the world. Desertification causes food insecurity, famine, poverty, and human displacement that can give rise to social, economic and political tensions. Thus, the vicious circle of further poverty and further land degradation continues.

Combating desertification requires an integrated approach. Organic Agriculture [1], including techniques such as windbreaks, shelterbelts and reforestation, should be promoted and strengthened with socio-economic measures that address insecure land tenure systems and promote sustainable human settlements.

Organic Agriculture helps to improve soil fertility, prevent wind and water erosion, improve water infiltration and retention capacity and reduce surface and ground water consumption and contamination all measures contributing to bringing land back to life.

Gerald A. Hermann, IFOAM’s President, emphasizes that “Farm practices that do not take care of the soil and its organic and living content undermine the very resource agriculture depends on the land.”

Angela B. Caudle de Freitas, Executive Director of IFOAM, strongly advises that "Governments, development agencies and donors should promote Organic Agriculture in their agricultural development efforts to reverse desertification where it has occurred and to prevent it from expanding. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) should encourage governments to adopt Organic Agriculture as a tool to combat desertification.”

[1] Organic Agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of live fo

Name: Neil Sorensen
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Company: International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM)
Address: Head Office Contact Charles-de-Gaulle-Str. 5 - 53113 Bonn
Country: GERMANY
Phone: +49-228-92650-10
Fax: +49-228-92650-99