Oct 18

by Miriam Garvi

The green revolution led to large-scale, resource-intensive, heavily subsidized industrial farming crowding out small-scale farming in most parts of the world, making it increasingly difficult for people anywhere on the globe to make a decent living from farming the land. A revolution that augmented yields of a selected handful of crops up to a certain point, whilst boosting sales of pesticides and fertilizers for agrochemical companies, the environmental and human costs of which are gradually coming to light. Now a biotech revolution for agriculture and food is taking its place, where scientists make customized plants and corporations tailor species characteristics to fit their business interests. Whilst pesticide plants may be falling out of grace with the environmentally aware, the promotion of GMO species is tuned towards the “feeding the planet” debate, with new seed products pushed onto the markets of developing countries under the label “feeding the poor”. What is to be left untouched?

Golden Rice and BioCassava Plus are examples of new seed products promoted to replace subsistence crops of developing countries. Sorts of supra-nutritional strands for those corners of the world where malnutrition remains a real issue (unlike more affluent parts of the world where we suffer the causes of over-nutrition). What’s the big deal, you may wonder? Well, it is manifold. Firstly, better solutions are out there, found in nature, and viably implemented. The rich diversity of existent genetically pristine species that can naturally grow in challenging environments and produce all the nutrients that are needed for people even in arid areas to have well-balanced and healthy diets is impressive, as shown for instance by decades of work and research by the Eden Foundation in Niger, West Africa. But to know more about this, one needs to be asking the right questions, questions that seek to understand how we can work with nature, rather than change nature to suit our dominant purpose. And of course there would be little money in it for big corporations, which might help explain why the Gates Foundation is actively supporting the opposite solution that leave Third World farmers at the mercy of “benefactors” rather than providing them with the means to sustain themselves independently. If we really wanted to think progressively about farming, then we would be looking into such options as perennial farming - which merits have long been known, but fail to gain wider support as it is a less lucrative business option for those controlling the resources upon which farmers are increasingly dependent. And we would be researching and debating the functional trade-offs of promoted products such as golden rice in terms of how gearing the plant to produce vitamin A hampers its production of other elements such as vitamin E, chlorophyll and giberellic acid that have important natural functions.

biocassava-plus

Research offers unique opportunities to better understand the function and purpose of various mechanisms in nature found at macro and micro levels. This fascinates me, but also instills a combined sense of awe and responsibility: marveling at the intricate beauty, at the combination of simplicity and complexity that I fail to see in anything man-made, whilst knowing that unless we learn to take care of this rich canvas of resources it will slip through our fingers, and we will be left with poor imitations of our own creation. For me, the choice is simple. I love the beauty of the uniquely diverse. I want people all over the world to have the means to support themselves. I want them to be able to lead dignified lives that are fulfilling to them and have constructive rather than destructive implications for other people, the nature on our planet and the generations who will inherit this earth after us. I wish some of these goals would move into the agendas of powerful corporations and foundations, though I have no illusions that they ever will. What I do know, however, is that there are more people out there who as myself find meaning in dedicating ourselves to causes that can provide good fulfillment for people, in a way that builds on and enhances purposes found in nature.

Viable and constructive alternatives matter. They offer people a real choice. And that definitely makes the effort worthwhile.

Jun 29

by Miriam Garvi

In this age of technological advancement, so much that was once unheard of has come within our reach. Old barriers are broken as we venture into space or create clones of the living. The enormity of resources that are poured into making scientific progress and creating markets for technology is a testament to how strongly the world holds on to its belief in the power of knowledge.

This last decade is favoring growth-oriented strategies that rely on innovation, entrepreneurship and venture capital to generate such growth that will be valued on financial markets. Little is said, however, about what kind of ideas are brought about and whether we believe that they are actually doing good, not just promoting a strategic agenda. The questions that we do not raise are fundamental in their simplicity: what is the purpose, and whom is it all for?

Our belief in knowledge springs from the assumption that any added building block brings the world enlightenment. In our efforts to exploit and manipulate nature so as to satisfy the growth agendas of our times, the natural is no longer good enough. Instead, we welcome industrially-processed substitutes that are labeled «improvements». And so we put ourselves at the mercy of streamlining profiteers, buying frozen chicken that has been «neutrally marinated» in water and food conservatives simply because someone just realized that the artificial replacing the genuine was a profitable strategy. Less of the genuine; more of the artificial, even as more people around us suffer from cancer and we see our nature going down the drain.

Implications of knowledge, but what of wisdom?

Red mountains of Colorado

The source of wisdom?

What good is technological advancement, unless it allows for meaningful progress and prosperity for mankind? Can we claim to be enlightened, if we consume what is at our disposal, with no concern for the legacy that we will be leaving behind?

Devolution tells us that everything started from a high and has been slowly deteriorating ever since. In this light, the need is imminent to move away from a foundation that is flawed, looking to discover a different source, one that will give rise to meaningful richness in all its diversity.

Jun 18

by Miriam Garvi

With so many quasi-ideas out there being endorsed by the big money, it is funny how difficult it can be for people with real commitment to find the resources they need to do something good. Quasi-ideas have a remarkable way of ending up in fancy packages, and they are never on display without their wrapping.

So when the dean of a business school I happen to know very well becomes involved with a company for mobile learning, proposing to supply teaching programs for the people of Africa or for hundreds of millions of farmers in China, I am intrigued. Being “of the world, by the world, and for the world” is deluxe wrapping indeed, but what benefit is intended for the citizens of African countries or the farmers in China, and how does it relate to their true needs?

When hearing this, I wonder whether teaching the world through a mobile interface is in fact a superior pedagogical idea, or if it is simply an easy way of re-churning pre-recorded messages to the greatest possible audience.

mobile-teaching1

During the Internet boom almost ten years ago, e-learning was hot, and any business adding an e- prefix to its idea could retain astonishing amounts of venture capital. Today it appears that by changing the prefix to m- (mobile learning or m-learning) and dreaming of conquering the world, pockets will be filled once again. Only this time instead of JP Morgan and others we have government institutions such as the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) willing to endorse any dreamer of a «mobile academy» that will target the Third World. But to what purpose?

So many ideas are brought about not because we believe they will be good for the world, but because they might be an opportunity to make more money, enhance careers, or make better connections. And with the right packaging, the client becomes the excuse that legitimizes us making ourselves the beneficiary of it all.

Every once in a while, I have this wish that we would do away with the glossy paper and the fancy bows and see things for what they actually are. And in that light, we might come to recognize those treasures that are truly worth their weight in gold. The ones that impress without the wrapping.

Those are the ideas worth fighting for.

Oct 16

by Miriam Garvi

The other night I watched a disturbing documentary by French freelance journalist Marie-Monique Robin on the Monsanto corporation, one of the global leaders in plant biotechnology: Le Monde selon Monsanto, or in English The World according to Monsanto.

Le monde selon Monsanto

This documentary invites us into the the world of genetically modified organisms, where the agricultural technology corporation able to lobby its patented products out onto the market is building a solid and prosperous basis for controlling world agriculture. It is a world where the treasures of nature are being crowded out by a small kernel of patented seed varieties designed for large-scale monoculture.

Now, a visit to Monsanto’s web site should quench whatever fears we might have that this corporation would abuse its dominant position. This, so Monsanto claims, is a corporation that cares, that pledges to make the world a better place for future generations. That values civilized ideals of health and safety, honesty and integrity, respect and transparency.

Monsanto’s pledge

Incidentally, these professed values do not tally with the corporation’s strategy of growth and control, which is securing lucrative royalty revenues at the expense of biodiversity and of the autonomy of farmers-turned-stewards bound to their supplier of seeds and fertilizers by strict legal agreements.

The world according to Monsanto and its likes is a streamlined society where people are made dependent for their living on the access to patent-controlled resources. In their battle for ownership and rights to the life-giving seeds that control world food production, such corporations make the gorilla game look like the amateur league.

Is this the future we want for our children?

Oct 2

by Miriam Garvi

Since his speech in Davos last January, Bill Gates has been receiving accolades for launching his version of capitalism, which he has labeled «creative capital».

Creative capital à la Bill Gates (“Microsoft”) is a wonderland vision where global corporations satisfy their hunger for new markets by introducing technology to the poor, making everyone prosperous in the process. According to Gates, this will generate both profit and recognition, whilst making astonishing headway in the fight against world poverty. An improved variant of corporate social responsibility that we simply cannot do without.

And since the speech, creative capital has been center-stage.

The stage

But beyond the shimmering rhetoric, however, what does his suggestion really mean? Are we to understand that for the first time in history, the profit maximizing agendas of global corporations find themselves in harmony with the needs of the poorest of the poor? That products and services will now be created that can really help people out of their miseries?

Inspired by professor C.K. Prahalad’s fortune at the bottom of the pyramid, Gate’s version of creative capital envisions to reach untapped markets with technological salvation, making the rest of the world dependent on the know-how of those controlling the innovation.

This is not an eradication of poverty through profits, but a strategy for creating the capacity to consume where there would appear to be none. It would seem that our global society welcomes the poor as consumers, as long as they are not empowered.