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Green-eyed monsters

Next time you run into a bunch of eco-loonies howling from the rooftops about the number of innocent Iraqi children killed by Anglo-American sanctions or the number of Africans whose lives are blighted by the alleged predations of globalisation, you might want to take some comfort from the realisation that what is really going on here is a massive exercise in guilt-displacement.

Green campaigns, you see, are not just a laughable manifestation of Western illiberal neurosis. They actually kill real people in the real world. There is no better illustration of this than their the long-standing (and shameful) war against DDT, an extremely useful chemical spray that has a proven track record in stopping the spread of malaria but which the greenies regard as a ‘toxin’ that must be eradicated in order to ‘improve’ the environment.

Using their customary formula of junk-science, scare-mongering, moral blackmail and religious fervour, the enviro-mentalists have managed to persuade Western governments to lean on the governments of developing countries to prohibit the use of this life-saving bit of technology.

This is neo-imperialism of the worst kind. Western greenies seem to regard the Third World as a sort of benevolent plantation where they can administer their muddle-headed, quasi-mystical, do-goodery to the poor, benighted fuzzy-wuzzys.

The results have been disastrous but the good news is that the ‘noble savages’ have had just about enough of this crap:

Kenya’s leading research center has come out in favor of using DDT to stem the toll of malaria in the country, reigniting a bitter debate between those who want to protect the environment and those who favor saving African children.

With the announcement, Kenya is poised to join a handful of other African countries, which are disregarding donor-nation admonitions that the chemical is an environmental disaster.

Proof (as if any more were actually needed) that one can afford to play along with these self-indulgent parlour games and humour the participants until such times as actual lives are on the line as a result. The Kenyans have rudely (and justly) reminded the world that they are critically vulnerable to the consequences of fashionable clap-trap in a way that over-stuffed and ridiculously coddled Western metropolitan elites are not.

“DDT is not the only weapon against malaria, but given its success in other parts of Africa, it would be of great benefit for malaria control in Kenya,” Richard Tren, director of Africa Fighting Malaria, in Johannesburg said yesterday. “Not using DDT, in effect, condemns Africans to die.”

Dr. Davy Koech, director of KMRI, said DDT is one of the most effective pesticides against the anopheles mosquito, which transmits malaria. He said malaria in Kenya has reached epidemic proportions.

Every person engaged in this campaign of prohibition should hang their heads in shame and ignominy.

Cheap and effective, DDT was once considered a modern miracle for dealing with malaria and insect pests in agriculture. It was used during World War II, when entire cities were sprayed to control lice and typhus. DDT was used to eradicate malaria in the United States, but it was also used by the ton for agriculture, where it killed birds. DDT was named the culprit and vilified by Rachel Carson in her 1962 book “Silent Spring,” leading to its ban in the United States in 1972.

I wonder if that book has even been objectively scrutinised?

Zambia recently decided to reintroduce the chemical for malaria control, and Uganda announced that it would begin using DDT again.

“In Europe, they used DDT to kill anopheles mosquitos that cause malaria,” Ugandan Health Minister Jim Muhewezi told the Monitor newspaper in Kampala. “Why can’t we use DDT to kill the enemy in our own camp?”

Because, Mr.Muhewezei, some Westerners regard ideology as being more important than life itself.

I sincerely hope that this outbreak of common sense continues to spread. I also hope that this episode goes some way to persuade sensible people in the Third World that their lives will not improve until they dismiss the idiotic ravings of Western socialist cranks and start to embrace the enlightenment of technology, capitalism, progress and property rights.

And, if there is any justice in this world, Western enviro-mentalists will all be rounded up and prosecuted for crimes against humanity.

[My thanks to Chris Cooper for flagging up this issue on the Libertarian Alliance Forum]

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36 comments to Green-eyed monsters

  • Guy Herbert

    Actually much of the material in _Silent Spring_ has been objectively scrutinised, not least because a panic is great for stimulating research funds.

    Some of it stands, but much of the interpretation in the book or quoted in the book is now known to have been wrong. But negative, reassuring, results don’t get much publicity. It has become a holy text.

    Worse, it is one of those unread holy texts. Most greenies have read the title, and formed their conception of what’s in it on that basis and folk-wisdom.

    There’s something else peculiar, too. Carson was genuinely worried about birds (and useful insects). But somewhere along the line the received wisdom extended the danger to humans–“pesticides are poisoning our kids”. Is it a sociological law, I wonder: Do all moral panics have to include some kind of threat to “our children”? Can anyone come up with one that doesn’t?

  • David Packer

    Didn’t young master Carr write a paper for the LA on the theme of the use of children to stifle rational debate? Something about the Child Bomb I seem to recall.

  • David,

    Yes that was my first effort for the LA. I was so proud when Brian agreed to publish it but, reading it again about a year later, I was faintly embarrased by its amateurishness.

  • The Economist ran an excellent article on the use of DDT and its misrepresentation in December 2000.

    The article can be found here.

    The last two sentences summarise what is reported here.

  • S. Weasel

    Many aspects of Silent Spring have been extensively debunked. Carson made some elementary statistical mistakes (or deliberately diddled her data…who knows?). I was hoping Amazon would suggest some “instead of” titles – no, but some of the current reader reviews are pretty articulate.

  • One of the tools we can use against the eco-fascists is a demand for specificity.

    Example: Malaria, which DDT rendered near to unknown, has escalated dramatically since DDT was suppressed by governments. Worldwide caseloads are in the millions. I don’t have exact figures available, but let’s take, as a reasonable guess, about 3 million per year.

    In Third World conditions of poverty and medical care, malaria has about a 3% fatality rate. So those 3 million malaria cases will include about 100,000 deaths.

    Libertarian: “So you’re willing to kill 100,000 people to ban this chemical, just to make things safer for a few species of birds?”

    Eco-Fascist: “Well, you have to consider the long-term risks involved in permitting the rampant destruction of the ecosystem just to save a few lives that would probably be cut short by some other disease or tragedy.” [If you find this response implausible, you can insert your preferred demurrer instead.]

    Libertarian: “So we can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs, eh? All right. Imagine that I have here a complete Doomsday Book for the whole world, all six billion people. I want you to select the names of the 100,000 people you’re willing to condemn to death by malaria this year alone to make the world safe for the peregrine falcon.”

    I’ve tried this. It works. But a word of warning: It’s very powerful. Use it only against the irredeemably vicious, the sort who really would be willing to condemn thousands of human beings to save the peregrine falcon. Because you won’t really be talking to him; you’ll be trying to sway everyone else who’s listening. If the audience isn’t already half-convinced that your opponent has a serious moral flaw, you’re better off with other tactics.

  • There’s a group planning to protest against Greenpeace’s “Eco-manslaughter” (a meme I’d like to see spread far and wide). The article is here.

    P.S. Francis, I like that suggestion. I’ve known a couple of people that would work on.

  • S. Weasel

    Ooooh, Kathy! It’s an “African American civil rights group, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)”!

    Innis believes that policies advocated by Greenpeace are keeping the developing world’s poor from attaining running water, electricity and modern agricultural techniques that would allow more food to be grown on less land.

    “It’s time to hold these zealots accountable for the misery and death they cause,” Innis stated.

    Two protected species duking it out. That’s better than watching a spotted owl and a snail darter fight to the death in a steel cage match.

  • I have met Innis and is best thought of as the Anti-Matter Jessie Jackson. If the two ever touched, the world would end in a huge explosion.

    He is a great guy.

  • >Green campaigns, you see, are not just a laughable >manifestation of Western illiberal neurosis. They >actually kill real people in the real world.

    Quite. I have ranted about the “Organic food” movement a lot. The removal of “toxins” (pesticides) that have been shown scientifically to be harmless is a big part of this this, but much worse is the refusal to use fertilizers. (Of course, there are some genetically modified crops that dramatically reduce the need for pesticides, but we will not go into that here).

    The invention of the Haber-Bosch process, which allowed fertilizers made from entirely inorganic material to provide nitrogen to plants, and thus dramatically increased the amount of arable farmland and made it possible for the world to feed its population, is one of the most wonderful scientific breakthoughs of all time. To argue that it is somehow wrong to use it, as proponents of organic food do, is simply obscene. There are no scientific arguments against using it at all.. Chemically, nitrogen from fertilizer is exactly the same thing as nitrogen from dead plants. And yet there is a theological objection to it.

  • ellie

    I wonder what the European ‘green’ position is on GM foods? Just more examples of lethal abstractions.

  • A blogger friend of mine (who I will not link to because his journey away from the left has scarcely begun, and visits from too many Samizdatistas is something he might find traumatic) told me that he departed ways with Greenpeace when they gave him a leaflet describing GM food as full of “‘alien viral DNA” and thus unsafe to eat. I think this is pretty typical of how most European greendom feels about the subject.

  • Unfortunately, Green antipathy to genetically modified crops has long since actually become formal EU policy, and it’s already costing lives in Africa.

    Last year when yet another in a long line of famines threatened sub-Saharan Africa, the US offered a huge amount of corn (maize) to feed the starving, and several African nations turned it down because most of the corn we grow is genetically modified. They were afraid that some of the seeds might be diverted and planted, which might “infect” the rest of their seed stock. If so, it would have become impossible for them to ever export food to Europe during good years.

    They were being strongly pressured by Europeans to turn that corn down and let their own people starve, rather than let evil genetically modified corn in. Some of the rhetoric about it “poisoning their people” discounts the fact that we Americans have been eating the stuff for years with no ill effects. The real reason for it was EU anti-GM regulations, fostered by the Greens among others.

  • BigUTe

    Nailed it. It’s always amused me how fat happy American Environmentalists (a.k.a. “Neocommunists”) can sit back in their easy chairs and preach on to some poor farmer in Central America that he can’t clear his land so he can raise cattle and increase his economic status. Hypocrites deserve the cruelest of fates.

  • G Cooper

    Michael Jennings writes:

    “Chemically, nitrogen from fertilizer is exactly the same thing as nitrogen from dead plants. And yet there is a theological objection to it.”

    I’m in a deeply awkward position here. I agree with you entirely about ‘organic’ food (and I’ve longed for the day when someone could tell me what ‘inorganic’ food might be) but your comment about nitrogen isn’t showing the entire picture.

    There is perfectly respectable scientific evidence that the indiscriminate use of bulk manufactured ‘straight’ fertiliser does inhibit the growth and preponderence of valuable soil micro-organisms, earthworms and so on.

    Is this a problem in commercial agriculture/horticulture? In some senses, I suspect it could be – and this is where we hit a problem. At the kernel of the ‘organic’ argument is a reasonable idea: that soil is a complex environment and needs to be treated with some respect. What the eco-loonies have done is extrapolate this good common sense into a position of madness where, for example, using a well documented poison such as Rotenone is widely regarded as acceptable, while a organophosphate such as Malathion, is treated like it had just bubbled out of Saddam’s cauldron, despite its well-recognised safety record.

    The point I’m fishing around for is that we do need to be as scrupulously honest with our facts as the wooly hat brigade is utterly dishonest with theirs.

  • Steve Bodio

    Ummm– can one be pro- peregrine falcon, libertarian, and inject a note of moderation into this? Read any of (pro DDT)epidemologist Robert Desowitz’ books on disease, like “the Malaria Papers”, and you will find that there is a perfectly acceptable compromise. “Broadcasting” DDT on swamps etc. is wasteful, kills many non- target species, “grows” selected populations immune to pesticides, and builds up residues in the system. Desowitz says that the proper use of DDT is ON THE WALLS OF HOUSES, where it kills the actual mosquitos spreading the diseases in a place harmless to the environment, and lasts for a long time. International aid societies, bureaucracies, and kleptocratic goverments found it easier to just dump tons of chemicals, rather randomly, than to teach the people to use it efficiently. Similar groups to the first agitated for a total ban. Libertarians should argue for proper use, not a ban nor indiscriminate spraying, and for education.

  • Steve Bodio

    I have no idea what constitutes ‘proper use’ so I am not going to argue for it. However, as regards ‘education’, by which you really mean know-how and experience, then I’m all for it but you don’t get either of those benefits by imposing stupid prohibitions (as I am sure you will agree)

  • Catherine

    All I can say is…thank you. I think I will send this to the Greenie, Pro-Nader professor who preaches from “Jihad vs. McWorld” about the possible “Blowback” from his enviro policies. Pompous a-holes.

  • Carson’s book and the DDT fiasco are hammered to a pulp by Edith Efron in her brilliant book “The Apocalyptics,” by far the finest, most meticulously researched and argued savage beating the Greenies have ever received (imagine Lomborg but without the restraint). It is, of course, out of print, but WELL worth the effort of tracking down a used copy.

  • Carson’s book and the DDT fiasco are hammered to a pulp by Edith Efron in her brilliant book “The Apocalyptics,” by far the finest, most meticulously researched and argued savage beating the Greenies have ever received (imagine Lomborg but without the restraint). It is, of course, out of print, but WELL worth the effort of tracking down a used copy.

  • G Cooper: The point I was trying to make was that the nitrogen is the same wherever it comes from. A plant cannot tell the difference between “organic” and “non-organic” nitrogen, and biologically the food you end up with is the same. (This is difference from pesticide use, where you end up with traces of pesticide in the final food – these are normally harmless but it is at least possible to tell the difference in a lab). A lot or organic food believers seem to think that using fertilizer means there is something wrong with the resulting food, and this is just complete (and dangerous) nonsense.

    As you say, overuse of fertilizers can do unpleasant things to the soil, and can pollute watercourses and the like, so it is necessary to farm intelligently with them. (It’s also possible to do environmental damage with purely “organic” farming methods, too). So point taken. It’s never a good idea to be too dogmatic. The trouble is just how much the opposing side gets up my nose on this issue.

  • George Stewart

    I’d agree with the libertarian line here mostly, but I share some of G Cooper’s and Steve Bodio’s reservations.

    Another thing: at the end of the day, organically grown food just seems to taste better.

    I don’t know why, or how. It could be something as simple as that most supermarket food comes from far away and has been frozen before delivery whereas organic food is often more local and hasn’t been frozen; or it could be some other reason. But I think to deny that organics taste better is to deny the evidence of your senses. And you get into trouble if you deny the evidence of your senses, no matter how good your arguments are.

    Just don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, is all. I know it’s tiresome to admit it (it makes the situation more complicated), but there are _some_ good arguments on the Green side. Their position just doesn’t arise out of thin air, ludicrously. What hyper-Greens do is take legitimate Green points and misuse them. The misuse of those points doesn’t deny their validity, where any.

    Another way of looking at it: just as the US Republicans have sometimes been in thrall to their lunatic fringes (the Buchanans, et. al.) , just as US Democrats are at the moment still somewhat in thrall to their loony Left fringes (although that is now changing); just as Arab moderates are intimidated by their lunatic fringes (though that is now changing since the bully boys have been intimidated by the US); so we have to consider the possibility that the majority of Greens are in a similar position: they would be moderates, but they are intimidated by their own lunatic fringe. If we think of them in this way, then the better tactic appears to be to get them to build up the courage to shuck their lunatic fringe, rather than decry the whole Green notion, and put them on the righteous defensive.

  • Actually, if organic food tastes better, that is the best argument I have heard in favour of it. It still doesn’t really justify a sort of theological purity in how and why the food should be produced. (I would prefer a scientific effort to actually produce food that tastes better).

    I have no disagreement with many of the aims of many Greens. I would much rather see the rainforests preserved, the rivers not polluted, species not go extinct, the fish stocks of the oceans remain stable, the earth not to get too hot, and many other things that Greens state that they are in favour of. However, I believe that the way to achive these things is through better technology, not through resisting technology and hankering for some non-existent past when everything was in its natural balance or some such.

    And, quite simply, I do not believe that the way to preserve the environment is through doing things that will keep people in the poor world poor. I don’t think that economic development is necessarily the enemy of the environment.

  • Mark Buehner

    I highly encourage everyone to check out a man named Norman Borlaug. By bringing high yield crops to places like India and Pakistan, this man has personally saved more human lives than possibly anyone else in the history of man. And no-one has ever heard of him. http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/97jan/borlaug/borlaug.htm

  • This whole debate reminds me of the saying “the dose makes the poison.” For instance, someone can be a lifelong smoker, yet a higher dose of nicotine than they get from the cigarette is deadly. The saying holds true for pesticides such as DDT (as was stated above, proper use is not blanket use), fertilizer, and environmental activism.

  • G Cooper

    George Stewart writes:

    “Another thing: at the end of the day, organically grown food just seems to taste better.”

    Just to follow up on this point, there are several reason why this may be – and none of them (as Michael Jennings quite correctly says) are likely to be because plants can somehow mystically differentiate between Nitrogen from, say, dried blood, or from ammonium sulphate.

    More likely, the ‘organic’ grower uses different varieties, may well use supplements such as seaweed (which can affect flavour) and (probably the key factor) his crops grow more slowly and develop better flavour because of that.

    Much the same is true of meat animals, where breed, slow growth and good husbandry are the keys, not ‘muck and magic’.

    As in many other aspects of their half-baked campaigns, the Greens have taken sound, basic principles and spun them into a psychopathology of misanthropy.

  • Spoons

    You can see an interesting microcosm of the battle over “Silent Spring” over on the amazon.com website.

    Despite the book being decades out of date, there are TONS of reviews for it. Almost all are 1 star or 5. The 5 stars ooze eco-goofiness. The 1 stars talk about the people the book condemned to death.

    There’s also a ‘battle’ of sorts on the “Was this review helpful?” Green scientific illiterates click yes on all the PRO reviews, and no for all the CONS. Non-sheep do the reverse.

    Unfortunately, the scientific illiterates are currently winning. Want to help change that?

  • CPatterson

    Seasonal vegetables taste better, whether grown organically or not.

    One major disadvantage to organic vegetables is food poisoning. Ecoli and other nasty bugs exist naturally in the environment. Some people assume that organic = safer, and don’t thoroughly clean organic foods prior to eating.

    Unfortunately, the obsession with organic foods extends to preservation methods. Some of the more fanatical believers are even anti-pasteurization (I believe it has something to do with vitamins lost in the pasteurization process). There was a large food poisoning case in California a few years ago involving un-pasteurized apple cider, ecoli as I recall. The parents of the sick children were shocked, “But we bought the juice because it was all natural and organic. It’s safer for our kids.”

    I despise the “It’s organic, all natural, therefore it’s safe” argument. When confronted with a spouter of that idiocy, I usually respond by pointing out that so is snake venom, nightshade, foxglove and galerina mushrooms, none of which I’m planning on putting in my mouth at any point in the near future.

    On a side note, regarding “natural” fertilizer:

    If some company collected every single leaf, blade of mowed grass and other vegetable waste in the US, it still wouldn’t be enough to provide mulch to every farmer in the US. (I’m assuming that manure is beyond the social pale for the proper environmentalist.) I do wonder how the environmentalists would explain the olfactory pollution caused by the giant mulch piles. Wooyee, that stuff stinks while rotting.

  • xit1254

    Great article, great blog, and great comments! You’re going into my favorites list.

  • George Stewart

    Definitely agree about the organics not necessarily safer thing! We’ve occasionally had some real rotten bits and pieces! (And a real stinker of a free range chicken once – probably less pumped with chemicals, which obviously has a good and bad aspect.) Still, as I say, there’s a definite taste difference, for whatever reason (as with genuiine free range eggs, meat, etc.).

    One reason I forgot to mention: of all the Green fringe things, I’ve always thought that permaculture has some plausibility, as a concept at least (don’t know enough about it to be sure – I’ve just browsed pamphlets at festivals, that kind of thing 🙂 Permaculture folks say the problem with monoculture is the soil gets kind of “exhausted” – sort of loses a certain kind of subtle biochemical richness and complexity that it has when lots of different things are grown on it (as in a forest, for example). Perhaps, if organic farmers grow differently, rotate their crops differently, so the soil doesn’t lose the subtle richness permaculture folks say it loses with monoculture, then that might be a reason for the better taste?

    Anybody here know more about permaculture to say yea or bollocks?

  • L Lizardi

    More on taste. I’ve noticed the organic=tasty connection, although careful observation at Berkeley Bowl (!) of organic vs inorganic produce as well as regular visits to my local farmers market suggests that the taste has to do with exotic varieties and small growers attentive to taste, rather than organic per se. But since most farmer’s markets out here stress organic, it’s difficult to tease out the differences. At the Bowl, one can do direct comparisons, and on the whole, for produce in season (e.g. tomatoes in August, citrus in January), the non-organic produce is slightly better. On the other hand there are several varieties that are only available from an organic source–e.g. some weird and wonderful limes, perfect for daiquiries that I have never seen anywhere else.
    Disclaimer, I used to work for a company that produced genetically engineered tomatoes, so you can guess my biases ; ).

  • BigTroutz

    I am not a Green. I am an Entomologist by training. There are plenty of less damaging, less persistent pesticide alternatives to DDT. The fact is, it only takes 20-25 mosquito generations (much less than 10 years) for substantial pesticide resistance to develop, so countries currently using DDT broadcast into the environment will soon need to use these alternatives anyway. DDT nearly wiped out a number of bird species in North America and no different effects will be observed in Tropical regions where the number of species is much higher.

    I agree with Steve Bodio. If you must use DDT, use it in more intelligent ways. However, you will soon need to switch over to another pesticide regardless.

  • Spoons

    “There are plenty of less damaging, less persistent pesticide alternatives to DDT.”

    There are no alternatives to DDT that are as effective and as inexpensive as DDT. While the Western world can afford to piss away money on unnecessary alternatives, the developing world cannot. Unfortunately, those are the countries where people are dying from malaria.

    “The fact is, it only takes 20-25 mosquito generations (much less than 10 years) for substantial pesticide resistance to develop, so countries currently using DDT broadcast into the environment will soon need to use these alternatives anyway.”

    Where are these supposed countries? No one is using DDT anymore.

    “DDT nearly wiped out a number of bird species in North America and no different effects will be observed in Tropical regions where the number of species is much higher.”

    Absolute fantasy. Did. Not. Happen.

  • veryretired

    Millions of people around the world firmly believe that numerous diseases are caused by pesticides, the food supply grown by modern farming methods is poisonous, and that the overall health of people in industrialized countries is deterriorating. These beliefs have been drummed into them by repeated “emergencies” and “crises” in every media outlet. The obvious facts that the number and longevity of people in the West has risen dramatically, that our population now enjoys a world cuisine presented at any local supermarket, and that major health problems and starvation are endemic in the very cultures which cannot or will not adopt modern farming methods, all this is ignored because it isn’t “newsworthy”. An educational system that leaves great numbers of people poorly educated regarding rules of logic, scientific methods, and a basic vocabulary of science and technology allows every technical question to be reduced to a “National Enquirer” style of shock and tear-jerk journalism, where moms crying into the camera about their childrens’ birth defects or lingering illnesses that they ABSOLUTELY BELIEVE are caused by XXXX(fill in the demon of the month) trumps all scientifc data and empirical evidence. This is not about some book or any particular chemical, but must be addressed at the systemic level. Freedom is not an abstraction, but a series of specific choices that individuals should be allowed to make in order to live their lives. If the choices made are based on valid information and educated opinion, then the outcome would tend to be positive. But if major questions are decided based on who can scare the living bejesus out of the most people with distorted examples and tragic anecdotes, then there is no telling what stupidities will end up being enacted as needed public policy. This seems to be the whole point of Lonborg’s valuable book, which is a call to arms to reinvigorate the educational and public information systems. Nothing less will do to overcome the constant pressure to allow the”vanguard of the environment” to further limit everyone’s choices in the name of the latest eco-crisis in vogue at the moment.

  • Mitchell Root

    As a biologist and farmer, I would like to thank Mark Buehner, above, for linking the article about Norman Borlaug. In fact, I’ll link it again, just in case you missed it. Useful insight into global can be gleaned (pun intended) from it, purely in addition to reading about how much good a single person can do.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/97jan/borlaug/borlaug.htm

    And now, let the quoting begin:

    “By producing more food from less land, Borlaug argues, high-yield farming will preserve Africa’s wild habitats, which are now being depleted by slash-and-burn subsistence agriculture.”

    Exactly.

    “Opponents argue that inorganic fertilizers and controlled irrigation will bring a new environmental stress to the one continent where the chemical-based approach to food production has yet to catch on.”

    New environmental stress, is it? The status quo, which consists primary of intruding on the jungle, discovering new tropical diseases, and still not being able to produce enough food… is worse for both the humans *and* their environment. That’s just the sort of thing that has me fed up with frothing-at-the-mouth environmentalists: they not only make the world a worse place, but also give vaguely intelligent environmentalists (such as myself) a bad name. The earlier comment about every group having its radicals was correct; I simply wish that it was not.

    When thinking about agriculture anywhere in the world, it is best to keep in mind a very useful generalization henthforth known as Rule Number One: Farmers are extremely conventional. They will often adopt procedures that are used by an overwhelming number of their cohorts, but in the absence of consensus, the traditions of any given farm family tend to be upheld for generations.

    The “modern” techniques used by farmers–even in the US– are not necessarily the “best” ones by any stretch (see Rule #1), which isn’t to imply that there is only one right way, or that differing situations don’t require different methods. It’s just that sub-optimal chemical usage and erosion-encouraging tillage practices are still common in the US. We need to intelligently choose *which* modern methods to teach farmers in developing nations, lest they achieve recurring bittersweet results, or return to inefficient traditional practices (see Rule #1 for either scenario).

    On the hotbutton issue of genetically-modified crops… I don’t want to debate whether any given modification to any given crop is safe and/or wise. I do, however, become very angry whenever an ignorant activist turns on ‘sneer mode’ and starts complaining about GMOs (as they are wont to do). They will almost invariably bring up herbicide-resistant varieties, and then declare that farmers want such things so that they can pour on “tons” of herbicides. This ignores both the reasons behind the GMOs, and the monetary cost of the dire prediction.

    In general, there are two types of herbicides: those that control grass-like weeds, and those that control ‘broadleaf’ weeds. For those not in the know, corn is a grass, while soybeans are broadleaf. The two motivations for herbicide resistance are making weeds of the same type as the crop easier to kill, and making it easier to plant a different type of crop the next time around (crop rotation, which is both wise *and* supported by greenies).

    The motivation is definitely not to enable the use tons of expensive herbicide, because farmers couldn’t *afford* to do that sort of thing. Which isn’t to say that chemicals aren’t overused, because farmers also can’t afford to scientifically investigate what the exact right amounts should be. Thus, neighborly advice or something remembered from a magazine becomes the farm’s policy, which is, of course, self-perpetuating (Rule #1).

    If you’re looking for some buzzwords for good modern techniques, “no-till,” “low-till,” and their descendants have many benefits over conventional plowing, including inherent weed control. Some special equipment is needed, which is why you want to think about this before you give the third-world farmers some equipment. Also– irrigation is a double-edged sword. I can’t get into it here, but intelligence is key to productive long-term irrigation.

    You know– if I’m this verbose, I should probably start my own blog. 😉

  • I watch big brother