Feeding the world

April 16, 2008 at 8:11 pm | Posted in International | Leave a comment
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Photo by Flickr user Roger B. (Creative Commons)

Well, that didn’t take long. I wondered how soon it’d be before the cheerleaders of genetically modified crops started emerging from their lavish, Monstanto-funded labs to make hay out of the current food crisis, but this borderline-rant from Henry Miller wastes so much energy assailing the UN that he kinda forgets to explain to the scientifically-illiterate among us why seeing melon-sized satsumas in our supermarkets is a really great thing. He doesn’t get close to addressing the concerns a lot of people have about the consequences of this technology.

First, although I still haven’t seen a decent argument against the fears of cross-pollination, that’s largely irrellevant. Why? Well, if GM were to be introduced on farms as part of everyday crop production, surely the crop yield and profit margins would be so high that before long it’d become as widespead as using fertiliser & pesticides. So if cross-pollination is an inevitable side effect, we’ll have set in motion a mutation of our food that’s impossible to reverse, and even if cross-pollination never happens, the practice would still be spread by force of economics, leaving only a few purely organic producers ploughing a lonely furrow.

Lastly, if the pro-GM argument is about not only feeding the world, but empowering it to produce for itself, are GM crops really going to help? Who’s going to be growing the food; poor black farmers in Africa growing crops for themselves and for the world, or filthy-rich Monsanto Megafarms on whom the developing world will become utterly dependent in order to live?

All that said, I’m neither a fundamentalist on the issue nor as informed as I’d like to be (argue about it in the comments if you like), but when the technology’s in the hands of so few, it’s easy to fear a corporatisation of farming that could hurt as many people as technology’s advocates claim it could help.

Photo by Flickr user Roger B. (Creative Commons)

Update: An opposing (and doubtless more informed) view can be found in this interview with Robert Paarlberg, whose new book argues that the west should help a somewhat reluctant Africa implement new farming technologies

Rebels without a clue

March 11, 2008 at 10:40 am | Posted in Celebrity, Drugs | 2 Comments
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A UN report claims that drug use is bad for Africa; media reports on how it’s bad for celebrities 

Over at Obselete there’s a lengthy post about the trend towards blaming all the world’s problems on celebrities. Last week, a UN report blamed the Dohertys, Mosses and Winehouses of the world for glamourising drug use and criticised our judicial system for being too lenient on these strung-out snort machines. Septicisle rightly points out that the endless ambulance-chasing of Doherty and Winehouse, their physical deterioration and very public breakdowns hardly leave the impression that drug use is glamourous, and also notes that without an obsessive and intrusive media making money out of stalking them, there’d be no such stories in the first place:

All of this though is still missing the most obvious point: that without the sanctimonious media that feels fit to follow a “celebrity’s” every movement, and indeed has the power to both make that individual’s image in the first place and then later to destroy it if it so desires, the public at large that are apparently so influenced by celebrity behaviour would never know about it in the first place.

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Newspapers of course love to have it both ways: they denounce the behaviour of celebrities in comment pieces and leader columns while their sales and showbiz pages depend on capturing that very behaviour which would otherwise go unnoticed.

But in the media’s obsession with celebrity, a far more important part of the report was missed; namely, the toll that the drug trade is taking on the failed states of West Africa. Sunday’s Observer featured some first rate reporting:

By day, Guinea-Bissau looks like the impoverished country it is. Most people cannot afford a bus fare, never mind a four-wheel drive. There is no mains electricity. Water supplies are restricted to the wealthy few, and landmark buildings such as the presidential palace remain wrecked nine years after the end of the war. But this wreck of a country is what the UN – which declared war last week on celebrity cocaine culture – calls the continent’s ‘first narco-state’. West Africa has become the hub of a flow of cocaine from South America into Europe, now that other routes have become tough for the traffickers.

With the old lines of supply becoming more heavily-policed, the drug barons of Columbia established a trade route through countries like Guinea-Bissau, in large part because their state is so weak that politicians and police officials are easily bought-off. It is this terrible situation that prompted Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN’s anti-drugs office, to write this passionate comment piece:

And yet for every rebel with a cause, there are 10 others without a clue. While some well-meaning pop idols and film stars might rage against suffering in Africa, their work is being undermined by the drug habits of careless peers such as Kate Moss. For the cocaine used in Europe passes through impoverished countries in west Africa, where the drugs trade is causing untold misery, corruption, violence and instability.

Of course, Kate Moss is not directly responsible for the drug trade in Africa and it’s still far too easy to blame celebrity substance abuse for making it more widespread amongst the general population. That said, anyone who has ever bought or used cocaine is still an indirect accomplice in the misery of millions. And for those celebrities who lend their voices to campaigns on behalf of Africa and yet still find time for the odd line, it’s the vilest kind of hypocrisy.

Costa’s piece ends with this pointed plea: if you don’t care what the drug does to you, at least spare a thought for what it can do to others.

Too true. But no one’ll ever write a pop song about it.

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