28 November 2009

“Roundup-Ready” Thinkers

John Maxwell


By the time you read this it should be official – the end of the Triangular Trade, the traffic in human flesh, sugar and consumer goods between Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean begun 500 years ago. It will soon be transformed by "Globalisation" into a cat's cradle of exploitative relationships in which the exploiters and the exploited will remain the same, only the terms of trade will be transformed to protect the guilty.
Europe's trade commissioner, Catherine Ashton, told the world's press on Wednesday that within the next few days the Europeans are close to a deal to end the world's longest-running trade dispute and bolster the World Trade Organisation, whose Doha negotiations to free up global commerce have at times been held hostage by the row.
What Ms Ashton meant was that the former Caribbean, African and Pacific colonies of Europe will at long last lose the tariff protection which kept their lands addicted to producing bananas and sugar as against producing food for their people. It was a serious addiction for these nations, comparable to but worse than addiction to crack or alcohol, distracting the addicts from productive thought and activity and promoting the short-cut, Anancy mentality.
In Jamaica the end of plantation banana and sugar cane may bring enormous benefits to our national health and well-being.
Plantation economics depend heavily on labour-sparing techniques. No longer are weeds eliminated by hoes or harrows but by spraying ferociously poisonous chemicals which are 'biocides', in Rachel Carson's formulation, enemies of life which kill everything. In plantations such as Jamaica or Central America the biocide of choice is, as in the rest of the 'civilised' world, a Monsanto Chemicals product called Roundup.
Roundup is a package deal. The farmer buys soya bean or wheat seeds from Monsanto which has altered the genes of the seed to make the emerging plant resistant to Roundup – or glyphosate as it is known in the world of chemists. Roundup is not a simple product; it contains other chemicals – catalysts – to intensify or accelerate the penetration of glyphosate, so making it more potent.
The problem with these so called surfactants and accelerants is that some are even more toxic than glyphosate and they are not simply more poisonous to weeds, they are more poisonous to everything, including fungi, worms, rats and human beings.

A recent article in the journal Toxicology reports that very low doses of Roundup not only disrupt human hormone function but also kill human liver cells within 24 hours of exposure.

"The toxicity of some of the formulations was independent of how much glyphosate - the active herbicide in Roundup - they contained, suggesting it is other "inert" ingredients that may alone - or in combination with each other and/or the weed-killer - assault the cells. This study's results are similar to prior studies that find human embryo cells are affected more by the Roundup formulations and an inert ingredient than by the active ingredient."

What is even more alarming is that all formulations of the weed-killer – even and perhaps especially those with reduced glyphosate levels – were potent hormone disruptors. Hormone disruptors mimic or suppress the action of human hormones producing premature puberty in young girls, for instance, or feminising boys and deforming their genitalia.

There is worse to come.
Soils are composed of organic (living) and inorganic (non-living) material. Worms and fungi are among the organic components of coil, rock and sand are inorganic. In good soils these components are in balance and harmony. In vegetation killed by Roundup the normal balance of fungi is upset, penicilliums are killed while toxic fungi of the fusarium family begin to flourish.

Jamaica is 'Roundup-ready'

The fusarium family includes fungi that kill bananas, and, in St Elizabeth, melons of all kinds, cucumbers and others of that family. Dr Robert Kremer and other soil scientists at the University of missouri now believe that fusarium is a natural, secondary characteristic of Roundup use. Fusariums turn up even in the grain produced by the Roundup ready plants, capable of killing innocent people eating breakfast cereal, for instance.
This little tale of Roundup – the Great Panacea – should allow us to see that we need to be more careful in our decision making. The bean counters, the armies of MBAs, will always be Roundup-ready. Others among us realise that thirty years after the introduction of Roundup we still know very little about it or its long term dangers. As Rachel Carson said, more than forty years ago, we should understand that it has taken life on earth hundreds of thousands of years to adapt to most of the chemicals naturally found on earth. We are crazy to believe that – within the lifetime of any human being – we can adapt to the hundreds of thousands of new chemicals introduced annually.

Growing our own food

Now that we have the liberation from globalisation in bananas and sugar, it may be useful not only to look at what we may have escaped but at the opportunities we can now investigate. Edith Clarke gave me her collection of the Journal of the Jamaica Agricultural Society, from 1920 to 1954, one or two of which have been borrowed/stolen in the 30 or so years in which I have been their custodian. I am in Amsterdam at the moment so I cannot quote from them but there is an entry in one of them which has stuck in my memory since the day I first read it.
The entry is entitled "A small holding" and is a report from Mr Hanson, a famous Agricultural Instructor who was writing about a small farmer near Clonmel, in St Mary. This man had on his holding of slightly more than an acre about a thousand different plants, from coconuts to sweet basil, from ginger and turmeric to annatto and calomel, varieties of potatoes, tomatoes, oranges, grapefruit,cocoa, coffee and tea (as in Earl Gray), black pepper and capsicums. His land was always producing something he could eat or trade or transform into a marketable product. He was self-sufficient and proud. Professor Kari Levitt was so impressed by this story that she used a copy of it as an illustration in her book on the George Beckford papers on sustainable agriculture.
In the JAS journal and in the memories of Jamaicans, many of them relatively young, there exists a template of a Jamaican culture that is mature, autonomous, and self-respecting.
It is a culture that is capable of regenerating the Jamaica that knows its people and their capacity better than the British or the IMF ever could. We need to devise a process to sweep away the politicians, commentators and private sector leaders who promote the Roundup Ready culture and its toxic contaminants at every level and class.


Our connection with the Triangular Trade could not have ended at a more opportune time. The World Summit on Food has just ended without Jamaica making any serious contribution to the discussion.
We know that there are millions of people starving all around the world. The Cubans say say that none of the millions of children sleeping on the streets is Cuban, but the Americans, the British and most 'advanced' societies in Europe and elsewhere cannot say that. We certainly cannot.
Where would we start?
We should already have a pretty good idea of how many people are short of food in our communities, how many people especially children, go to bed hungry.
If we know that we can calculate the amount of food needed to bring them back into the society. What and how much food does a child or an adult require?
We know that an acre of well treated land can produce ten to thirty tons or more of sweet potatoes. We know how much corn and cassava can be produced on an acre of land in Trelawny and St Ann, how much pumpkin can be produced on an acre of land in St Elizabeth.
We may not understand but we are at this moment in a state of extreme emergency and we need to move fast. About two years ago I forecast this moment and suggested that we needed a bipartisan approach to the problem.
At that time Mrs Simpson-Miller was Prime Minister and I suggested that she should ask the leaders of the society to volunteer their energies, abilities, money or machinery to tackle the problem before it became unmanageable. I would like to suggest that instead of concentrating on whether UTECH should get the Trelawny stadium it might make more sense to devise an Emergency production plan and a distribution system to go with it.
We need to get thousands of idle acres into production and we can worry about systems of tenure later . I really do believe that such an effort may be one thing that most Jamaicans would find themselves willing to support.

Copyright©2009John Maxwell jankunnu@gmail.com

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