Organic Consumers Association


Previous Page

Click here to print this page

Make a Donation!


"Sustainable World" Conference Provides Vision for Organic & Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable World Coming

The Institute of Science in Society Science Society

General Enquiries sam at Website/Mailing List
press-release at ISIS Director m.w.ho at

ISIS Press Release 08/08/05

Sustainable World Coming


Independent scientists, economists, politicians, and
activists met to share knowledge and ideas for sustainable
food systems as the industrial model is close to collapse.
Rhea Gala reports on the Sustainable World First
International Conference

Independent scientists join forces with global civil society


Independent scientists from four continents joined national
politicians and many interested individuals and groups to
discuss strategies for changing agriculture worldwide to a
diversity of locally-based sustainable systems that can
provide food sovereignty and security to all and protect the
earth from the ravages of global warming. This was the
occasion of the Sustainable World Global Initiative's first
International Conference, organised by ISIS, which took
place 14-15 July, starting in the UK Parliament in
Westminster, London, to a near-capacity audience that
includes people who have come from Scotland, Wales and
Ireland, Belgium, Australia and South Africa.

The need to move away from large-scale high input industrial
monocultures has long been accepted by many people as being
essential for providing livelihoods to the many millions of
small farmers in the South and the relatively few farmers
remaining in the North, who are also responsible for
conserving our plant and animal genetic diversity that have
been decimated by decades of industrial monocultures. There
is now an added sense of urgency as the industrial model is
showing all the signs of failing under global warming, and
water and oil, on which industrial monocultures are heavily
dependent are both rapidly depleting.

Policies that promote food export and contravene human
rights in the South also exacerbate global warming by adding
food miles, or worse, encouraging "food swaps" - shipment of
the same food commodities such as milk and meat - across the
globe. World cereal yields from conventional industrial
agriculture have been decreasing for four years in a row; so
it was highly significant that speakers shared their
experience of sustainable agriculture systems from around
the world, which outperform the industrial model in
productivity while restoring autonomy and responsibility to
farmers, and result in greater social participation within
the local community.

But what policy and structural changes are needed to
implement truly sustainable food systems?

The big picture


Dr Mae-Wan Ho, director of ISIS and member of the
Independent Science Panel opened the proceedings by
introducing the Sustainable World Global Initiative. She
berated governments and political leaders for their
overwhelming commitment to the prevailing neo-liberal
economic model that underlies social inequity, environmental
destruction and global warming and emphasised that there is
a wealth of existing knowledge that can both provide
sufficient food for everyone and ameliorate climate change.

Chairperson Peter Ainsworth MP introduced Alan Simpson MP
who declared that irreverence, heresy, and the breaking of
rules were necessary to raise awareness in the face of
deepening water, energy and food insecurity. He warned that
by 2025, 6bn people will suffer water stress, causing 'water
wars'; yet decades of overproduction by agribusiness is a
major cause of water depletion.

He advocated the removal of patenting and intellectual
property rights and, instead, to reinstate the public
ownership of useful technologies that save resources.
Woking, an English town with a population of around 100 000,
for example, currently controls and produces 135% of its
energy from renewable sources. Alan warned strongly against
the nuclear option. He said that there are dissenters in all
parties who believe in the return and development of diverse
and sustainable food production and the right of all
countries to meet their own food security needs without
external interference. He spoke in favour of localised
sustainable systems that are connected and informed

Sue Edwards apologised for Dr Tewolde Berhan Gebre
Egziabher's absence and presented his paper that posed the
question 'What does the word 'sustainable' mean in the
context of food for everyone?' It means that food must be
available to the very poorest person now, and into the
indefinite future. There is currently both plenty of food
that is overeaten by some, and plenty of hunger, even where
food is present.

If people were to become the sole inheritors of the Earth,
which is threatened by mass extinctions caused by
capitalization/commercialization of all our resources, then
we shall all be dead, he said. Therefore a more equitable
system is urgently needed that is committed to reducing or
at least maintaining populations at a sustainable level; and
at the same time, the devolution of power back to local
communities from which it was usurped. All people need to
have the land to grow the food of their choice . Tewolde
warned against GM crops that represent a further decrease in
diversity and an increase in the privatisation of nature.

Dr Mae-Wan Ho stressed the enormous scope for mitigating
global warming by making our food system sustainable, by
halting deforestation, replanting forests for agroforestry,
and harvesting biogas from agricultural and food wastes that
at the same time conserve nutrients for crops and livestock.
She presented a model of sustainable development -
illustrated by a "dream farm" - that depends on maximizing
internal inputs to increase productivity and hence carbon
stocks and sinks, which, she believes, should replace the
dominant model of infinite, unsustainable growth

She showed how the carrying capacity of a piece of land is
far from constant, but depends on the way the land is used.
Thus, by maximising internal input to support diverse
productive activities, it increases the wealth of the local
economy and hence the number of people that can actually be
supported .

Michael Meacher MP spoke of the five factors that would
force government to change their policies sooner or
probably, much later, unless we put informed and relentless
pressure on them. The factors are: the dependence of current
systems on oil for which demand is exploding; population
movement due to water stress because we have squandered and
polluted our water; the intensity of climate change that
will affect us in many ways, the decrease in biodiversity
that undermines our future, and escalating food miles that
will cause gridlock.

Meacher advised the promotion of low input mixed organic
agriculture that saves ten times the energy of industrial
holdings, while factoring in all the external costs of
industrially produced food, thus exposing the lie in the UK
government's 'cheap food' policy. The development of a
sustainable food policy would inform governments while
reminding them of better policies that they pay lip service
to but neglect. A new approach to environmental and social
accounting would highlight problems of overexploitation of
people and nature and offer alternatives that would bring
the public on board.

The Common Agricultural Policy


A lively conference dinner was followed by a stimulating
discussion about the Common Agricultural Policy led by
Caroline Lucas MEP and Martin Khor, Director of the Third
World Network. It was generally agreed that the Common
Agricultural Policy and the Agreement on Agriculture at the
World Trade Organisation have similar effects on family
farmers in both North and South, but Martin stressed that in
the South, farmers are likely to actually die from losing
farming livelihoods, there being no social welfare payments
to fall back on .

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho raised the question of why trade when
people's livelihoods are not assured? Why produce for export
before a country is self-sufficient in food as many Third
World countries could be? Isn't this concentration on trade
a case of the tail wagging the dog?

There was general agreement to make policies as fair as
possible for small farmers in the South while working to
curb the powers of transnational agribusiness.

Knowledge-based actions for sustainable food systems


Friday brought a crowded agenda: a host of speakers with
interesting experiences to relate.

Peter Bunyard of the Ecologist magazine gave a telling
account of how the destruction of the Amazon rainforest
affects global weather. The Amazon plays a crucial role in
regulating and stabilizing world climate, which is thrown of
balance when vast areas of rainforest are cleared to produce
soya for animal feed, from which Brazil earns $8bn annually.

The Sahara and Amazon Basins are connected by weather
systems that are the inverse of each other and the
circulation is recharged by the Amazon, which is now
failing, turning it into a carbon source instead of a sink.
The oceans are losing the ability to regulate terrestrial
temperature, and that too, will affect climate irreversibly.
Sustainable forest use, which clears only small areas of
forest that can renew themselves over 40 years, also avoids
throwing the forest ecosystem out of balance. Can we return
to these ways, perhaps by compensating Brazil and other
countries such as Argentina for lost revenue, or cancelling
their national debt to begin with?

Sue Edwards spoke about sustainable agriculture in Tigray
Ethiopia. She and Tewolde have been working with local
communities to build their knowledge, confidence and
independence, in creating local infrastructures that support
food security. They found that compost applied on crops such
as faba bean, finger millet, maize, teff, wheat and barley,
resulted in an increase in yield over chemically fertilized
crops. This occurred from the first season, and also in
subsequent seasons when no compost was added, through soil
improvements by previous composting. Ponds and gullies were
made to conserve water, and grass crops for animal food and
thatching proved very successful. This ecological
agriculture adds to local sustainability through decreasing
or eliminating external inputs particularly fertiliser, and
increasing animal, crop and soil biodiversity, water
resources, and social and economic equity.

Erkki Lähde, professor of silviculture from Finland showed
how an industrial forestry model has proved to be
counterproductive for over a century. In this model a forest
is clear-cut and a monoculture replanted, with all economic
gain coming at the point of clearance. But his research
shows that natural forest, with many species in a special
"all sizes" distribution, are the most valuable both in
biodiversity and economic terms. Sustainable systems all
contain many species of many young plants with fewer and
fewer older individuals. In the case of trees, standing and
fallen dead trees also add to local biodiversity while the
living forest continues to evolve. Individual trees are
selected for cutting in line with a social model that
supports multiple use, more jobs, and which accords with
public opinion and mitigates global warming. This model is
diametrically opposed to the current dominant model that
offers low diversity and the easy technical option of the

Caroline Lucas is concerned that past gains of the EU on
environmental issues could easily be lost due to the
pressures of an enlarged EU. This includes the sliding away
of the EU's sustainable development strategy, and failure to
resurrect this strategy at the centre of a new EU agenda.
Industry is pushing for less environmental regulation and
for voluntary agreements only in the new joining countries .

While the EU was set up to help keep peace in Europe, now it
is simply about trade and being the most competitive economy
in the world. In the recent referenda on the EU
Constitution, people voted against it because they are not
served by the EU in meaningful ways, they feel the EU is
remote and self-serving. The EU could have seized the moment
to put sustainable development as the new big idea, with
economic models that protect the environment, regulating
multinationals and advocating protective tariffs for poor
countries. Europeans would have loved it and other countries
would have followed suit.

Hywel Davies MD of Weston A Price Foundation from
Switzerland gave an account of the relationship between
early coronary artery disease and the lack of nutrient dense
food in the western diet. Autopsies on children who died of
accidents showed thickening of tissue inside arterial muscle
laminae due to multiplication of cells and large deposits of
calcium phosphate. These, he said, derived from an excess of
vitamin D and other additives present in large quantities in
babies' feeding formula and many common foods. They contain
supplements to compensate for nutrition removed by food
processing, but cause problems that can only be remedied by
understanding the importance of natural nutrients to our
health and well being. For this reason, we must grow the
food that meets these requirements.

David Woodward of the New Economics Foundation described a
starting point for addressing the economic inequalities of
our current agricultural or other neo-liberal trade systems.
It showed how people and the planet can be factored into
economics, taking a global view while narrowing the gap
between producer and consumer prices. The effects of the new
economics aim to increase the sustainability of production
while reducing environmental damage.

Jakob von Uexkull president of the World Future Council
initiative described how those in power have lost their way,
treating people as consumers but not as citizens. In the
face of corruption, inertia and cowardice we need an
alternative voice to get things changed and implemented in
the interests of a sustainable world.

The World Future Council will work closely with national
legislators from all over the world to develop step-by-step
reforms and legislation to overcome the current
"implementation gap".

Pietro Perrino director of the former Gene Bank of Bari,
Italy, one of the worlds largest, described a forced merger
with much smaller institutions engaged in genetic
modification of crops plants. He told a disturbing tale of
how his large germplasm collection is endangered by the
merger. He suspects that with the rise of DNA libraries and
a research agenda that prioritises GM crops, plant genetic
resources that cannot be patented may be an impediment to
corporate control; but in any case they are not valued. He
asks whether this 'problem' has ocurred at other genebanks
around the world, and who should look after these priceless

Joe Cummins, professor of genetics from Canada said that his
country would be the first where farmers legally lose
control of their seed. Terminator technology provides the
ultimate control of seeds production by multinational
corporations. Seed with terminator technology was developed
and owned by Monsanto, but that technology (which involved
preventing the embryo in the seed from growing) faced
worldwide criticism and it was withdrawn by Monsanto. .

Now a new generation of GM crops that are based on control
of morphogenesis have spawned a new crop of patents for
multinationals, those GM constructions employ toxins
including diptheria toxin or even ricin to prevent viable
seeds from being formed. The genetic modifications are very
likely to persist and spread to crops in the wider
environment. Whereas sterile seed guarantees sales to
companies; sterile crops have no utility to the farmer, the
consumer or the environment.

Dr. Lilian Joensen from Argentina described how corporations
in Latin America have coopted 'sustainable agriculture'
using a façade of involvement in social programmes. NGOs
have collaborated with them, and propaganda extolling the
benefits of free trade have enabled massive destruction of
virgin ecosystems and their conversion to soya production.
Monsanto's Roundup Ready soya is grown on this land, as well
as conventional and certfied organic soya, mainly to feed
livestock in Europe and China.

Soya is the main agricultural source of greenhouse gas. In
Paraguay, peasants are being killed to clear their land for
more soya. Latin American Indgenous and peasant movements
are seen as a threat to US corporate interests. Brazilian
Amaggi, the world's main soya producer, says that small
holdings don't have economic viability and industrial
holdings are needed for competition on world markets.

Dr. Julia Wright of the Henry Doubleday Research Association
spoke about Cuba's experience when support from the Soviet
Bloc collapsed in the 1990s and most of its fossil fuel
resources were lost. The resulting non-industrial production
promoted self sufficiency, human scale plantations,
ecological techniques, and urban rural migration. By 2000
yield had doubled, wages trebled and calories increased by

A policy of non-foreign land ownership and a non-wasteful
culture helped the transition from fossil fuel dependency.
Julia explained that if the government had been committed to
organic agriculture, the gains especially in food quality
would have been much greater.

Ingrid Hartman from Humboldt University, Germany, spoke
about the status of soils and their temporal, spatial and
social dimensions. She described how little we know about
soil because their cycles of development can last from
millions of years to only a few months. And that what we
destroy in them through pesticide and fertiliser use causes
a deficit of services in the present, but especially in the

Soils have a cultural and historical significance that
contribute to human rights and are vital for our survival,
therefore we should protect them and at least do them the
service of making compost to aid renewal.

Hannu Hyvönen, a freelance journalist from northern Finland
showed a fascinating video illustrating how increasing the
fruit species grown in his locality has countered the
genetic erosion caused by fifty years of industrial
agriculture and promoted a resurgence of zeal and community

First the old fruit varieties, mostly apple, had to be
sought from near and far before they died out, and grafted
to a modern variety. Local people then participated in
selecting the tastiest ones as they have for centuries, and
these were planted from seed in their thousands for future
selection. Old varieties of plum and cherry that thrive near
the Arctic Circle are also being rediscovered and saved.

Lim Li Ching, researcher for the Third World Network,
previously with ISIS, spoke for Elenita Neth Dano who was
unable to attend. Lim described a project for conserving
agricultural biodiversity through participatory plant
breeding in the Philippines. In this scheme schools are
conducted within a community near areas of industrial
production to reclaim plant varieties with traits suited to
local needs and conditions.

This farmer-led initiative has trained over 1 148 farmers,
given them control over their crops, restored traditional
varieties to the farm, and increased local awareness of
environmental issues. Lim also described a very successful
biodynamic system in Mindanao that treats the farm as a
living organism.

Martin Khor of the Third World Network then congratulated
ISIS for bringing the conference to reality against a tide
of mainstream thought that gives credence only to more
competition. As it is obvious that independent farmers can
create and develop as many viable and interesting farming
practices as there are independent farms, we must at all
times stress the services that these farmers offer to the
environment as well as the good food that they produce.

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho closed the conference by thanking everyone
and quoting Schwartzenegger, governor of California: "We
know the science, we see the threat, and we know that the
time for action is now." Schwartzenegger set tough targets
for reducing California's emissions of greenhouse gases to
2000 levels by 2010, to 1990 levels by 2020, and to 80%
below 1990 levels by 2050. More than 100 mayors in the
United States have also pledged to decrease greenhouse gas
emissions, despite President George W. Bush's continued
refusal to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol.

All in all, an extremely lively conference with plenty of
audience participation. The breaks were invariably buzzing
with activity and energy.

Thanks to conference sponsors: Fondation pour une Terre
Humaine, Third World Network, Green People, Ecological
Society of the Philippines, International Institute for
Sustainable Development, Alara Organic, Josephine Sikabonyi,
Alan Simpson MP, Michael Meacher MP, Caroline Lucas MEP,
Weston A Price Foundation, HDRA organics and the New
Economics Foundation. See list of sponsors of the
Sustainable World Global Initiative here:

Available conference papers and power points can be viewed