Right Kind of Green: Agroecology

Colin Todhunter

Image source – foodtank.com

The globalised industrial food system that transnational agri-food conglomerates promote is failing to feed the world. It is responsible for some of the planet’s most pressing political, social and environmental crises.

Whether it involves the undermining or destruction of what were once largely self-sufficient agrarian economies in Africa or the devastating impacts of soy cultivation in Argentina, localised, traditional methods of food production have given way to global supply chains dominated by policies which favour agri-food giants, resulting in the destruction of habitat and peasant farmer livelihoods and the imposition of a model of agriculture that subjugates remaining farmers and regions to the needs and profit margins of these companies.

Many take as given that profit-driven transnational corporations have a legitimate claim to be custodians of natural assets. There is the premise that water, seeds, land, food, soil, forests and agriculture should be handed over to powerful, corrupt transnational corporations to milk for profit, under the pretence these entities are somehow serving the needs of humanity.

These natural assets (‘the commons’) belong to everyone and any stewardship should be carried out in the common interest by local people assisted by public institutions and governments acting on their behalf, not by private transnational corporations driven by self-interest and the maximization of profit by any means possible.

Common ownership and management of these assets embodies the notion of people working together for the public good. However, these resources have been appropriated by national states or private entities. For instance, Cargill captured the edible oils processing sector in India and in the process put many thousands of village-based workers out of work; Monsanto conspired to design a system of intellectual property rights that allowed it to patent seeds as if it had manufactured and invented them; and India’s indigenous peoples have been forcibly ejected from their ancient lands due to state collusion with mining companies.

Those who capture essential common resources seek to commodify them – whether trees for timber, land for real estate or agricultural seeds – create artificial scarcity and force everyone else to pay for access. Much of it involves eradicating self-sufficiency.

Traditional systems attacked

Researchers Marika Vicziany and Jagjit Plahe note that for thousands of years Indian farmers have experimented with different plant and animal specimens acquired through migration, trading networks, gift exchanges or accidental diffusion.

They note the vital importance of traditional knowledge for food security in India and the evolution of such knowledge by learning and doing, trial and error. Farmers possess acute observation, good memory for detail and transmission through teaching and storytelling. The very farmers whose seeds and knowledge have been appropriated by corporations to be bred for proprietary chemical-dependent hybrids and now to be genetically engineered.

Large corporations with their seeds and synthetic chemical inputs have eradicated traditional systems of seed exchange. They have effectively hijacked seeds, pirated germ plasm that farmers developed over millennia and have ‘rented’ the seeds back to farmers. Genetic diversity among food crops has been drastically reduced.

The eradication of seed diversity went much further than merely prioritising corporate seeds: the Green Revolution deliberately sidelined traditional seeds kept by farmers that were actually higher yielding and climate appropriate.

Across the world, we have witnessed a change in farming practices towards mechanised industrial-scale chemical-intensive monocropping, often for export or for faraway cities rather than local communities, and ultimately the undermining or eradication of self-contained rural economies, traditions and cultures. We now see food surpluses in the West and food deficit areas in the Global South and a globalised geopoliticised system of food and agriculture.

A recent article on the People’s Archive of Rural India website highlights how the undermining of local economies continues. In a region of Odisha, farmers are being pushed towards a reliance on (illegal) expensive genetically modified herbicide tolerant cotton seeds and are replacing their traditional food crops.

The authors state that Southern Odisha’s strength lay in multiple cropping systems, but commercial cotton monoculture has altered crop diversity, soil structure, household income stability, farmers’ independence and, ultimately, food security.

Farmers used to sow mixed plots of heirloom seeds, which had been saved from family harvests the previous year and would yield a basket of food crops. Cotton’s swift expansion is reshaping the land and people steeped in agroecological knowledge.

The article’s authors Chitrangada Choudhury and Aniket Aga note that cotton occupies roughly 5 per cent of India’s gross cropped area but consumes 36 to 50 per cent of the total quantum of agrochemicals applied nationally.

They argue that the scenario here is reminiscent of Vidarbha between 1998 and 2002 – initial excitement over the new miracle (and then illegal) Bt cotton seeds and dreams of great profits, followed by the effects of their water-guzzling nature, the huge spike in expenses and debt and various ecological pressures. Vidarbha subsequently ended up as the epicentre of farmer suicides in the country for over a decade.

Choudhury and Aga echo many of the issues raised by Glenn Stone in his paper ‘Constructing Facts:Bt Cotton Narratives in India’. Farmers are attracted to GM cotton via glossy marketing and promises of big money and rely on what are regarded as authoritative (but compromised) local figures who steer them towards such seeds.

There is little or no environmental learning by practice as has tended to happen in the past when adopting new seeds and cultivation practices. It has given way to ‘social learning’, a herd mentality and a treadmill of pesticides and debt.

What is also worrying is that farmers are also being sold glyphosate to be used with HT cotton; they are unaware of the terrible history and reality of this ‘miracle’ herbicide, that it is banned or restricted in certain states in India and that it is currently at the centre of major lawsuits in the US.

All this when large agribusiness concerns wrongly insist that we need their seeds and proprietary chemicals if we are to feed a growing global population. There is no money for them in traditional food cropping systems but there is in undermining food security and food sovereignty by encouraging the use of GM cotton and glyphosate or, more generally, corporate seeds.

In India, Green Revolution technology and ideology has actually helped to fuel drought and degrade soils and has contributed towards illnesses and malnutrition.

Sold under the guise of ‘feeding the world’, in India it merely led to more wheat in the diet, while food productivity per capita showed no increase or actually decreased.

Nevertheless, there have been dire consequences for the Indian diet, the environment, farmers, rural communities and public health.

Across the world, the Green Revolution dovetailed with an international system of chemical-dependent, agro-export mono-cropping and big infrastructure projects (dams) linked to loans, sovereign debt repayment and World Bank/IMF directives, the outcomes of which included a displacement of the peasantry, the consolidation of global agri-food oligopolies and the transformation of many countries into food deficit regions.

Often regarded as Green Revolution 2.0, the ‘gene revolution’ is integral to the plan to ‘modernise’ Indian agriculture.

This means the displacement of peasant farmers, further corporate consolidation and commercialisation based on industrial-scale monocrop farms incorporated into global supply chains dominated by transnational agribusiness and retail giants. If we take occurrences in Odisha as a microcosm, it would also mean the undermining of national food security.

Although traditional agroecological practices have been eradicated or are under threat, there is a global movement advocating a shift towards more organic-based systems of agriculture, which includes providing support to small farms and an agroecology movement that is empowering to people politically, socially and economically.


In his final report to the UN Human Rights Council after a six-year term as Special Rapporteur, in 2014 Olivier De Schutter called for the world’s food systems to be radically and democratically redesigned. His report was based on an extensive review of recent scientific literature. He concluded that by applying agroecological principles to the design of democratically controlled agricultural systems we can help to put an end to food crises and address climate-change and poverty challenges.

De Schutter argued that agroecological approaches could tackle food needs in critical regions and could double food production in 10 years. However, he stated that insufficient backing seriously hinders progress.

And this last point should not be understated. For instance, the success of the Green Revolution is often touted, but how can we really evaluate it?

If alternatives had been invested in to the same extent, if similar powerful and influential interests had invested in organic-based models, would we now not be pointing to the runaway successes of organic-based agroecological farming and, importantly, without the massive external costs of a polluted environment, less diverse diets, degraded soils and nutrient-deficient food, ill health and so on?

The corporations which promote chemical-intensive industrial agriculture have embedded themselves deeply within the policy-making machinery on both national and international levels. From the overall bogus narrative that industrial agriculture is necessary to feed the world to providing lavish research grants and the capture of important policy-making institutions, global agri-food conglomerates have secured a perceived thick legitimacy within policy makers’ mindsets and mainstream discourse.

The integrity of society’s institutions have been eroded by corporate money, funding and influence, which is why agroecology as a credible alternative to corporate agriculture remains on the periphery.

But the erosion of that legitimacy is underway. In addition to De Schutter’s 2014 report, the 2009 IAASTD peer-reviewed report, produced by 400 scientists and supported by 60 countries, recommends agroecology to maintain and increase the productivity of global agriculture.

Moreover, the recent UN FAO High Level Panel of Experts concludes that agroecology provides greatly improved food security and nutritional, gender, environmental and yield benefits compared to industrial agriculture.

Writer and academic Eric Holtz-Gimenez argues that agroecology offers concrete, practical solutions to many of the world’s problems that move beyond (but which are linked to) agriculture.

In doing so, it challenges – and offers alternatives to – plunder which takes place under a prevailing system of doctrinaire neoliberal economics that in turn drives a failing model of industrial agriculture.

The scaling up of agroecology can tackle hunger, malnutrition, environmental degradation and climate change. By creating securely paid labour-intensive agricultural work, it can also address the interrelated links between labour offshoring by rich countries and the removal of rural populations elsewhere who end up in sweat shops to carry out the outsourced jobs: the two-pronged process of neoliberal globalisation that has devastated the economies of the US and UK and which is displacing existing indigenous food production systems and undermining the rural infrastructure in places like India to produce a reserve army of cheap labour.

The Declaration of the International Forum for Agroecology by Nyeleni in 2015 argued for building grass-root local food systems that create new rural-urban links, based on genuine agroecological food production. It went on to say that agroecology should not become a tool of the industrial food production model but as the essential alternative to that model.

The Declaration stated that agroecology is political and requires local producers and communities to challenge and transform structures of power in society, not least by putting the control of seeds, biodiversity, land and territories, waters, knowledge, culture and the commons in the hands of those who feed the world.

It involves prioritising localised rural and urban food economies and small farms and shielding them from the effects of rigged trade and international markets.

It would mean that what ends up in our food and how it is grown is determined by the public good and not powerful private interests driven by commercial gain and the compulsion to subjugate farmers, consumers and entire regions.

There are enough examples from across the world that serve as models for transformation, from the Oakland Institute’s research in Africa and the Women’s Collective of Tamil Nadu to the scaling up of agroecological practices in Ethiopia.

Whether in Europe, Africa, India or the US, agroecology can protect and reassert the commons and is a force for grass-root change. This model of agriculture is already providing real solutions for sustainable, productive agriculture that prioritise the needs of farmers, citizens and the environment.


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Oct 27, 2019 4:49 AM

The True Story of the Genetically Modified Superfood That Almost Saved Millions
The imperiled birth—and slow decline—of Golden Rice.


Oct 12, 2019 5:41 PM

Mailman here. Some welcome data on Global Warming:

Here is the actual global mean temperature data. As can clearly be seen by anybody who actually looks at the data, planet earth is warming up. Science is data driven; politics is fueled by lots of hot air.

Land-Ocean Temperature Index (C)

Year No_Smoothing Lowess(5)
1880 -0.17 -0.09
1881 -0.08 -0.13
1882 -0.11 -0.17
1883 -0.18 -0.20
1884 -0.28 -0.24
1885 -0.33 -0.26
1886 -0.31 -0.27
1887 -0.36 -0.27
1888 -0.17 -0.26
1889 -0.10 -0.25
1890 -0.35 -0.25
1891 -0.22 -0.25
1892 -0.27 -0.26
1893 -0.31 -0.26
1894 -0.30 -0.24
1895 -0.22 -0.22
1896 -0.11 -0.20
1897 -0.11 -0.18
1898 -0.27 -0.17
1899 -0.18 -0.17
1900 -0.08 -0.20
1901 -0.16 -0.24
1902 -0.28 -0.26
1903 -0.38 -0.29
1904 -0.48 -0.32
1905 -0.27 -0.35
1906 -0.23 -0.37
1907 -0.40 -0.38
1908 -0.43 -0.40
1909 -0.49 -0.42
1910 -0.44 -0.42
1911 -0.45 -0.40
1912 -0.37 -0.36
1913 -0.35 -0.33
1914 -0.16 -0.32
1915 -0.15 -0.31
1916 -0.36 -0.30
1917 -0.47 -0.30
1918 -0.31 -0.31
1919 -0.28 -0.30
1920 -0.28 -0.28
1921 -0.20 -0.27
1922 -0.28 -0.26
1923 -0.27 -0.25
1924 -0.28 -0.24
1925 -0.23 -0.23
1926 -0.12 -0.23
1927 -0.22 -0.22
1928 -0.21 -0.20
1929 -0.37 -0.20
1930 -0.16 -0.20
1931 -0.10 -0.19
1932 -0.16 -0.18
1933 -0.28 -0.17
1934 -0.13 -0.16
1935 -0.21 -0.14
1936 -0.15 -0.11
1937 -0.03 -0.07
1938 -0.01 -0.02
1939 -0.02 0.02
1940 0.12 0.06
1941 0.18 0.08
1942 0.06 0.10
1943 0.08 0.09
1944 0.20 0.07
1945 0.09 0.04
1946 -0.08 0.00
1947 -0.03 -0.04
1948 -0.11 -0.07
1949 -0.11 -0.08
1950 -0.18 -0.08
1951 -0.07 -0.07
1952 0.01 -0.07
1953 0.08 -0.07
1954 -0.13 -0.07
1955 -0.14 -0.06
1956 -0.19 -0.05
1957 0.04 -0.04
1958 0.06 -0.01
1959 0.03 0.01
1960 -0.02 0.03
1961 0.06 0.02
1962 0.04 -0.01
1963 0.05 -0.02
1964 -0.20 -0.04
1965 -0.11 -0.05
1966 -0.06 -0.06
1967 -0.02 -0.05
1968 -0.08 -0.03
1969 0.06 -0.02
1970 0.03 -0.00
1971 -0.08 0.01
1972 0.01 0.00
1973 0.16 -0.00
1974 -0.07 0.01
1975 -0.01 0.02
1976 -0.10 0.04
1977 0.18 0.08
1978 0.07 0.12
1979 0.17 0.17
1980 0.26 0.20
1981 0.32 0.21
1982 0.14 0.22
1983 0.31 0.21
1984 0.16 0.21
1985 0.12 0.22
1986 0.18 0.24
1987 0.32 0.27
1988 0.39 0.31
1989 0.27 0.33
1990 0.45 0.33
1991 0.41 0.33
1992 0.22 0.33
1993 0.23 0.33
1994 0.32 0.34
1995 0.45 0.37
1996 0.33 0.40
1997 0.47 0.43
1998 0.61 0.45
1999 0.39 0.48
2000 0.40 0.51
2001 0.54 0.53
2002 0.63 0.55
2003 0.63 0.59
2004 0.54 0.61
2005 0.68 0.62
2006 0.64 0.63
2007 0.67 0.64
2008 0.55 0.65
2009 0.66 0.65
2010 0.73 0.65
2011 0.61 0.67
2012 0.65 0.70
2013 0.69 0.74
2014 0.75 0.79
2015 0.90 0.83
2016 1.02 0.88
2017 0.93 0.92
2018 0.85 0.96


Seamus Padraig
Seamus Padraig
Oct 11, 2019 5:39 AM
Oct 11, 2019 1:21 PM
Reply to  Seamus Padraig

Like the photo of His & Hers SUVs in Al Gore’s backyard.

Oct 9, 2019 1:52 PM

2 points in this post: 1) about Peroxide footprint.
2) The queen of peroxide solution to climate activists in Australia

A lot of talk about Carbon Footprint.
What about Peroxide footprint? and precisely, effects of Peroxide as in hair dye, on waterways and land.

Look at this, and this.

Let’s say a quarter of all human beings spending 5 decades of bleaching their hair with peroxide. Where does all the stuff go? Can you imagine now adding a large proportion of Chinese women bleaching their hair red, brown and blonde (as they are now religiously doing)? Where does all the peroxide go? Chemicals soaking the brain, and then washed in waterways? What effects, what damage that is causing? Do we know?

The second point can make our blood boil, The Queen of Peroxide, shown above, Kerri-Anne Kennerley, a social influencer, with 50 years in presenting on Australian radio and TV, is in the news today, endorsing supergluing climate activists to the road and using them as ‘a speed bump’, suggesting to drivers to run over the protesters.

Not enough?
she suggests a more human approach: “Put them in jail, forget to feed them”

Not enough?
“Some of the aged care homes around Australia, that would really sort them out.”. So appropriate following recent scandals of care homes neglecting and abusing the elderly in their care.

Connecting different points gives us interesting perspective on what is going on: How much damage, she is doing with her lifestyle, and getting more women onto the Peroxide bandwagon. Never forget her assault on those on believe in saving the Earth, and us, as creatures protecting and sharing the same ecosystem with sustainable practices and respect to the environment.

Oct 9, 2019 6:36 AM

number xx India centric article from Colin T.: China, Brazil etc. do not exist for him.

Contrary to what you read ATL I can tell you from 3 decades personal experience that food quantity is not a problem even for the poor. Africa or other places might be struggling with that but not India.

in India it merely led to more wheat in the diet,
Wheat needs much less water that rice, so good.

Some foreign NGOs are quite busy tarring India’s image abroad and the get well paid for that: luckily the present government woke up to this and is putting them under scrutiny.

Oct 9, 2019 2:07 PM
Reply to  Antonym

Keep writing, you may still get an award for schizophrenic logic and mind pollution.

Oct 10, 2019 3:07 AM
Reply to  hollyPlastic

I never bleached my hair, nor my brain…

Oct 9, 2019 1:55 AM

It is important to reiterate the wholesale deception of what is falsely termed ‘the green revolution’. It is not green and not a revolution. It comes in the colors of various poisonous substances, with genetically modified plants that are doused with carcinogenic cashcows.
My gratitude goes to you for tirelessly pointing out the obvious. Not only do you have my backing, but moreso I am pulling on the same string in a continent that is gang raped by agri-chemical/GMO corporations in the same fashion India is. The only explanation for this fact is manifold – corruption, blackmail/coertion, and naïveity in regards to the fairy tales about the ‘green revolution’ by multinational corporations. Why is it so difficult to overcome the denial about the fact that these fascist corporation speak about a ‘greenback revolution’? The mafia like methods are similar to the federal reserve printing money at will.
The solutions will require regulations by an uncorrupted government, which is sort of wishful thinking when the masses are strapped with regimes that only answer to these transnational corporations. One solution would be:
1) No, you can’t get that patented. You did not invent the plant and your altering the genetic code will enter the public domain.
2) No, you will not make shitloads of money with toxic cocktails that destroy the soil, which then requires to grow your Frankenstein plants.
3) No, you may not receive any subsidies for pharming.
4) No, you may not claim any tax excemptions.

As a matter of fact, food security requires that nationalization of all agri-culture and splitting up into smaller co-ops that are supervised by people that will never settle for anything else than healthy organic food.

Personally, I envision a holistic approach to organic farming. Utilizing age old techniques – like terra petra – in a perma culture set up that wastes nothing and recycles everything as it should be. It would burst this frame to go only into superficial aspects of this concept. But it should be noted, that it is the same system that has been used for millenia with great success and in total harmony with Mother Earth.

And the fact that it works so well is also the reason why I am very disappointed that all the climate change demonstrations do not mention the need to immediately change the ways we grow our food.

Oct 9, 2019 2:00 AM
Reply to  nottheonly1

Apologies. ‘Terra Preta’ of course.

Oct 9, 2019 12:06 AM
Oct 9, 2019 6:44 AM
Reply to  Ramdan

Oct 9, 2019 11:23 AM
Reply to  milosevic

Thank you. 🙂

Rhys Jaggar
Rhys Jaggar
Oct 8, 2019 9:24 PM

From first hand experience I can say the following:

1. Saving seeds produced where they will subsequently be sown improves germination frequencies, increases yields and decreases losses to pests. Proven for peas, dwarf beans, climbing beans, broad beans, tomatoes, chillis and marigolds.
2. Heirloom seeds saved by the user yield harvests as fast as many F1 hybrids.
3. No dig horticulture increases yields and decreases time to harvest year on year, provided that annual composting takes place.
4. Resilience to drought increases with no-dig/compost regimens.
5. Weeds can be virtually eliminated in small scale horticulture using annual composting and no dig methods. No Roundup is required.

Rhisiart Gwilym
Rhisiart Gwilym
Oct 8, 2019 11:51 PM
Reply to  Rhys Jaggar

Rhys, regarding annual composting, if you follow Emilia Hazelip’s insights – drawn from Fukuoka’s pioneering work and her own long-time hands-on, practical food-producer’s experience – you can do as she did (dead now, alas, rather too young). Then you can forget the composting work, with bins and such, and simply let the sky do it for you, in situ. In Emilia’s growing practice most of the soil’s fertility-maintaining humus food comes from the sky; as much as 97.5% if you include legumes in your crops, as explained in this sweet video:

Oct 9, 2019 8:14 AM

Remarkably informative video, full of technical details. Bears out Colin Todhunter’s thesis. As a city boy born and bred as well as being a Laboratory researcher, I should not like to live like that; but my Prof. loved it and lived The Good Life whenever he could, till his hand was hard and his nails were black. Worked on his 3 acres so late at night that his children bought him a miners helmet with lamp.

Oct 8, 2019 11:58 PM
Reply to  Rhys Jaggar

I really like the concepts of “do-nothing farming” (Masanobu Fukuoka). I have seen the results myself, the impressive improvement on soil conditions even after just 1 year of implementation…and then, the harmony between the farming and the rest of the environment… really encouraging.

Oct 9, 2019 1:27 AM
Reply to  Ramdan

There is a Koan that goes like:

Comes spring,
grass grows on its own.

The article is spot on, albeit a regurgitation of the truth about the status quo in farming. And that is pharming when it comes to the industry behind the ‘green revolution’, that is nothing but a green enrichment scheme.

When you observe how not only the grass grows on its own, but everything else as well, the thought must cross one’s mind “why are there so many toxic substances – poison – involved in growing food?” Why is this fact not emphasized more often? Is it not obvious that, when the methods to grow food involve unhealthy methods, that the harvest can’t be healthy either?

As I fancy and implement ‘Modern Stone Age Technology’ to grow plants and vegetables, the results are only subject to problems I can not influence, or only with great efforts. Financial efforts. Recently we have had a problem of plant deaths like never before. For me it has to do with the indiscriminate spraying of toxic substances into the atmosphere that will rain down on our plants. The death of plants is not limited to their size. Any plant that is not in perfect health is vulnerable to die quickly. From seedlings to fully grown trees. Most people look for the reason in their own growing methods. As of now, I am working to get a number of people together to buy a laboratory to analyze soil samples and rain water.

I have seen the harvests from sealed greenhouses that employ permaculture. The yields are mindboggling. The question why this method is not employed on a large scale is easily answered. Corrupt regimes in cahoots with criminal corporation that have the best PR manipulators on the payroll keep convincing the masses that the ‘green revolution’ works. It does not. What really works without poisons of any kind is sealed permaculture. Just like the Findhorn Garden – only protected from nasty airborn stuff.

Oct 9, 2019 2:08 AM
Reply to  nottheonly1

To my “fortune” I live in a place where access to chemicals is almost cero and no toxic spraying (I literally live in the middle of nowhere…almost 🙂
Hope you guys figure out without much cost how to solve the low yield and plant mortality…

I tried to share the link to this short documentary on natural farming in another post, but clearly, I don’t know how to do it, cause youtube screen is not showing!!
So, here it is, if you are interested…the case is that is not just about farming but more than that, a sort of philosophy somehow close to Zen …very interesting and inspiring.

“Final Straw: Food, Earth and Happiness”

Oct 9, 2019 6:48 AM
Reply to  Ramdan

Oct 9, 2019 10:02 PM
Reply to  milosevic

‘Natural farming’

Goodness me! The solution to unshakle ourselves from cancerous practices is so readily available. I guess, bought politicians are the real problem.

Thanks for posting this, folks!

Oct 12, 2019 9:39 AM
Reply to  nottheonly1

The most important decisions and processes in the world are being controlled by criminal entities. Peoples’ good nature means they are unable to fathom just how evil those who have infiltrated and subverted world systems are. There is an agenda and there is a conspiracy

Oct 9, 2019 5:23 AM
Reply to  Rhys Jaggar

I have heard that in Hawaii, some pig farmers use a method called Korean Natural Farming (developed by Korean farmer / agricultural researcher Cho Han-kyu) using local micro-organisms that help to eliminate smells and effluent among other things, and which enables the farmers to raise pigs close to communities. One result of KNF is that it eliminates laborious work because the micro-organisms and fermented plant materials do most of the work of fertilising soils .

Oct 9, 2019 7:38 AM
Reply to  Rhys Jaggar

Words of Wisdom from Rhys. Thanks for someone with actual experience. Darwin’s Principle of Compound Interest: The ROI increases through successive resowing of moderately successful seed over long periods.

So what is to be done? Must we little people wait, as little shrew-like mammals waited in the age of dinosaurs, for some global catastrophe to clear out these gigantic corporations? I have dreamed for decades of a technically savvy civilization based on smaller units — but seen the opposite evolve.