VIDEO: Agricultural Science and Technology is Stuck in a Rut

Presented at the 10th International Permaculture Conference in Jordan and recorded by Craig Mackintosh who gives the following introduction.

“I’ve been a fan of Maarten Stapper’s work for a while now. In fact, further below you’ll find an article I wrote, way back in 2007, about his experiences at the hands of his former employer — Australia’s publicly funded CSIRO agricultural research body. I’d recommend you read the article before watching Maarten’s IPC10 Convergence presentation, as it’ll give you a good backgrounder on his valuable work and his commendable ethics. I say ethics because instead of compromising his principles so as to retain favour with those putting bread on his table, he stood his ground… and got sacked instead.

Agricultural Science and Technology is Stuck in a Rut – Dr Maarten Stapper

Habits, perceptions, expectations and assumptions determine what we see and want to see when we study complex, biological, living systems. Multi-disciplinary research projects, from my Australian experience, are unable to get to the causes of system problems and keep working on symptoms as it seems impossible to study interactive connections between various parts of landscape (and human body!). Most participating scientists in collaborative projects remain the specialists who know more and more about less and less. They are generally not able to make connections with the holistic whole to see ‘the big picture’. They reduce the problem to find their answer, being reductionist.

For example, genetic modification (GM) is not a solution to feed the world as it tries to link the cause of some issues related to a few genes in complex, dynamic genomes. It is a technology based on reductionist science and it treats symptoms of problems not their cause. Hence degraded soils need to be improved, not adjustment of genes to cope with poor soil conditions with, for example, nutrition, acidity, soil borne diseases. In all organisms, genes switch on and off to adapt. Plants on healthy soils become more productive as improved conditions determine different gene expressions. It is therefore a considerable concern that there are no published studies to show GM impacts on long-term soil health. Also missing are generational animal feeding studies. Such research would be a relatively cheap way to convince protesters that GM food is, in fact, safe. Why are there no such official publications when unauthorised ones show many health problems in 2nd and 3rd generations?

Science is not objective. Personal values, experiences, and intended outcomes influence scientists to remain with the current paradigm as they formulate the hypothesis to be tested, develop the experimental design, pose the experimental questions, and complete data collection. This realization is another aspect of the big changes that will be required for a paradigm shift to take place in agricultural science—the way we learned to see the world. Worldwide agricultural research and development (R&D) has been falling since the success of the Green Revolution. However, food security issues can’t be resolved by more R&D without a change in direction! If we have learned anything from the mistakes of the Green Revolution, it is that the next successful modernization in agriculture will be through eco-technology, where farming works with, not against, nature.

Despite endorsement by UN agencies for agroecological farming systems, where is the public agricultural science in the developed world researching this field? At CSIRO I was unable to secure funding to conduct research on regenerative, biological farming systems. As a result, I left CSIRO in controversial circumstance in 2007 to continue working with farmers on biological agriculture as a private consultant and teacher. This was shown on ABC television in the June 2nd 2009 Australian Story ‘Back to Earth’ with more than one million viewers.

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