Nutrition organic produce

Published on April 12th, 2013 | by Joe Starks

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Organic Farming Vs the Green Revolution

When we hear about organic farming we think of clean, unadulterated food, while when people hear about the green revolution labs with genetically mutated seeds and plants come to mind. Is it really a battle between nature and science though? What have each to offer to the world and what do we really mean by organic farming and the green revolution?

Organic Farming

Organic farming is a way to grow crops which follows certain very strict guidelines:

  • No chemical fertilizers are used on the soil
  • No pesticides are sprayed on the plants
  • The seeds used to produce plants have not been genetically altered

Organic farming follows the ideal that the way our great grandparents used to farm was safer, healthier for us and better for the environment. Why don’t they use chemical fertilizers you might wonder? Well the fact is that chemical fertilizers have an overabundance of the minerals a plant needs to grow. This is to make sure the plants are saturated and no yield is lost. A side effect of that is that the excess of the chemicals gets washed by rain into the local water sources. The chemicals then help phytoplankton (tiny single cell plants) grow in the water exactly the same way it helped the crops. These plants turn the water green and murky, taking up all the oxygen and causing the animals that breathe underwater to asphyxiate. This phenomenon can cause whole lakes to die out and rare animal species to get extinct.

Why do we not use pesticides in organic farming? This question has a simpler answer: Pesticides are not only bad for plants, but also for humans. If we spray too many pesticides on our plants they too, like the chemical fertilizers, get washed into the local water sources and can be consumed if the spraying happened close to the harvest of the crops. One terrible example is DDT, which was hailed a miracle against pests until it was discovered that it caused terrible side effects on marine life and even humans. Its use has been forbidden (it is now considered a weapon of chemical warfare!), but other pesticides can cause their own problems just as well.

Why not use genetically altered seeds/plants? The only scientifically valid reason for this is because genetically stronger plants created in a lab will cause local flora to grow extinct in some cases. Genetically altered plants are created in a way to withstand weeds and be strong. Weeds may not be as useful to us as crops, but the loss of a plant species should always be a sad thing that should be prevented.

The Green Revolution

In short, the green revolution is a series of technological feats and discoveries that helped many places in the world where food was scarce to improve their crops. The “father” of this revolution was Norman Borlaug. Borlaug improved his country’s (Mexico) yield of crops in such a dramatic way that the Rockefeller Foundation sought to spread his plan to other nations in hope to diminish global famine. The revolution has been extremely successful in South America and India preventing a great famine from starting in the latter.

The basic idea of the green revolution is to improve the yield of crops by using:

  • Chemical fertilizers
  • Pesticides
  • Genetically altered seeds/plants

As you can see the goals are exactly the opposite of organic farming.

Why use chemical fertilizers? In many countries where the soil is not as fertile or the water as abundant chemical fertilizers can help plants yield a lot more crops, which can save a population during draught and famine. By offering all the chemicals needed by a plant you can grow more plants in one field making a country richer and more stable, as food is one of the most basic needs of a population.

Why use pesticides? Often pests can destroy a whole year’s work overnight. Such pests can be immense clouds of cicadas, plant pests, fungi and others. For a farmer whose life depends on these crops the pests are equal to killers and pesticides seem to be the only way to salvation. Not all pesticides are as dangerous to the environment and in some countries crops could not be grown in abundance without them.

Why use genetically altered seeds/plants? These plants have been improved in such ways that they can withstand different harsh climates so that even during a draught a country can farm crops. Often the weather is too wet/dry or too harsh for normal crops to grow optimally. While on a bad year people died of famine, now they can rely on their genetically toughened plants to yield them some food.

What is the Verdict?

As much as Organic farming sounds like the natural and ethically correct thing to do for the environment, the green revolution has saved thousands of human lives. The first is an ideal, while the second has been a practical solution to a lot of people’s pain. At the moment only a middle path seems viable and further research on crops and farming is mandatory.

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